How far is too far?
By Wessel Venter
This is a question which is likely familiar to all of us. “How much can I have of that thing before it gets to be too much?” Or, “If I do X, will it be fine as long as I don’t do Y?” Such questions arise when new boundaries are being explored. A new setting in which one finds oneself, a new relationship, or just a new found freedom. We need to know where the lines are so that we can colour between them.
Often we have an intuition about these boundaries and rules. They were taught to us by our parents or guardians, or we learnt them from great moral teachers. But sometimes we struggle to see where the line starts and ends. Sometimes lines which had always seemed intuitively clear appear blurred when examined closely. This happens when we suddenly encounter the boundaries where they had not been before: cutting across our desires and urges.
One of the words in the Bible translated into English as “sin” means, literally, “to overstep (boundaries)”. It specifically refers to the boundaries around our lives which God has placed there. To overstep means to go beyond the purpose for which we were created. This is an idea much bigger than simply the breaking of singular and arbitrary rules. As human beings we have limited foresight and not a good understanding of the consequences which our actions can have. A sin is rarely as harmless as we might think it is.
Using this language of boundaries, one perspective which one can have is that, if you do know where clear boundaries are (even if only in general), why would you want to push that boundary to the limit? If on the other side sin lies, then why would you want to see how close you can get to it? Should the appropriate response not to be to steer as clear of it as possible? This is certainly not a call to be prudish and cloistered. However, keeping this in mind does create a framework in one’s mind for evaluating one’s own actions and motives.
We as human beings have a natural tendency to try and justify ourselves, even when we are wrong (Genesis 3:12-13).
Given that we are in the world and cannot (and should not) lock ourselves away from it, and that our desire should not be to seek out how to snuggle up to sin as closely as possible, how do we live this out, practically? There are a few things which can be done. Firstly, if you find yourself in a compromising situation, the best advice is to get out of that situation as quickly as possible. “Flee from sexual immorality”, said the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 6:18). Although this was said in the context of sexual temptation, it is good advice to apply to other things as well. Here “fleeing” does not mean leaving the country and changing your name; you simply need get out of the current compromising situation to one which is safe. A good example of the latter would be amongst friends who can hold you accountable and look after you if necessary.
When not in a compromising situation, a couple of things can be done as well. The first is to critically examine your own desires and your reasons for wanting to justify them. Play the “devil’s advocate”, if necessary. This is a good way of self-discovery. We as human beings have a natural tendency to try and justify ourselves, even when we are wrong (Genesis 3:12-13). It is against our nature to examine and accept criticism. Such self-examination will not necessarily lead to a change in your attitude and desires: it depends on how honest and objective you were beforehand.
The last thing that I would like to mention is to speak to your pastor and Christian friends whom you trust and whose opinion you value strongly. Have conversations with them where you seek to understand God’s purposes. What is His ultimate purpose? How do rules such as “do not murder” and “do not steal” fit into them? Are prohibitions such as not having premarital sex arbitrary, or is it part of a bigger picture you are not currently seeing? If our sins (past, present and future) are already forgiven in Christ, then what are the consequences of sinning now to fulfill our desires? Honest and in-depth discussions around questions such as these should help you to understand why the conflict inside of you is there in the first place and in what way everything (God’s purposes, your internal conflicts, etc.) tie together.