The Secret to Self-Control: How to Keep Boundaries You Want to Break

How do you keep boundaries you want to break?

I struggled with that question a lot while we were long-distance dating. When we weren’t together, my commitment to our physical boundaries was fierce.

But when I was finally in his arms and no one was around, I didn’t want to keep our boundaries at all.

With time (and the perspective of hindsight), I came to realize I was approaching the question all wrong. I was missing this:

The secret to wanting to keep your boundaries is welcoming God’s grace to work in your life before sexual temptation shows up.

You might think of God’s grace as only applying after you break your boundaries. Grace is, according to GotQuestions.org, “God choosing to bless us rather than curse us as our sin deserves.” And that’s absolutely right.

But what we tend to forget is that literally every good thing we receive is grace from God. We don’t deserve salvation, and we also don’t deserve anything else (Romans 3:23 and 6:23).

And yet, God abundantly blesses those who love him (Ephesians 1:3). His gifts are active and timely in your life — exactly when you need them.

Exactly when you want to break your boundaries.

So, I want to share with you three forms of grace that I believe God offers you when you’re fighting against sexual sin.

1. Grace for past sexual sin

1 Corinthians 6:9 says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” and goes on to list sexually immorality as something that separates a person from God.

That can be a scary verse to read. Yet, I’m glad verses like these exist. Without them, I might not know that I need grace.

After explaining that sexual immoral people will not receive God’s kingdom, Paul writes, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)

Through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God offers grace upon grace to sexually immoral sinners like you and me (John 1:16). His grace erases the eternal consequences of your past, present, and future sin (Psalm 103:12).

The knowledge of God’s grace is revolutionary for sexual purity because it liberates you from feeling like you’ll never recover from your past.

It’s a lot like my relationship with the cookie jar. If I consider how many cookies I’ve eaten, I know I shouldn’t eat another one, but I also feel self-defeated. What hope is there of changing now?

But God’s grace says there is hope through Jesus. Endless hope, actually.

Before you can want to keep your boundaries, you need to trust Christ to transform you. Ask yourself, “Do I believe — truly — that God can change my heart?”

2. Grace through your boyfriend

Once when I was visiting my long-distance boyfriend (now husband), we were in a car alone and I started to cross a physical boundary we’d established.

I remember knowing and not caring that we’d be sinning. And I remember my boyfriend stopping me and saying, “Ruby, I don’t think we should do this. Let’s stop.” And we did.

I don’t know what would have happened if he hadn’t stopped us. And while I know that God would have forgiven us if we’d pressed on, I also know that in that moment, his grace came early through the self-control and love of my boyfriend.

A boyfriend who loves Jesus more than you is one of the most gracious gifts God can give you in the fight against sexual sin (and a whole lot of other sins).

See, in any relationship, you’ll face three difficult scenarios of sexual temptation:

  • Situations where you’re both tempted
  • Situations where you’re tempted and he isn’t
  • Situations where he’s tempted and you’re not

With the last two categories, you have an advantage because one of you is still thinking straight.

If you’re upfront about which situations and types of touch are tempting for each of you, you can help each other in your weaknesses. That’s what love does.

When you’re fighting on the same team against Satan instead of against each other, your defense is strengthened. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

I know it’s not easy to wait for a man who is wholeheartedly following Jesus. But there is great danger in dating someone who either does not understand or does not live like he understands the truth of the gospel. You are missing half of the team.

3. Grace through will power

For most of my life, I knew Jesus had died to save my soul. But I thought it was my responsibility to save my body.

So, I tried to fight for sexual purity all on my own. I thought I could “will” myself to honor God with rigid rules, body shame, and fear of others looking down on me.

But that strategy didn’t work so well, because that’s not how life with God works. God doesn’t abandon us to stumble around in sin once we start following him.

Philippians 2:12-13 says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

If you’re a believer in Christ, God is working in you in two ways. He helps you want to please him, and he provides the power for carrying it out.

Relying on God for the ability to want purity relieves so much pressure. Titus 2:11-12 says,

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age.”

God’s grace trains us and changes how we live. It’s the glue that keeps your resolve (what you want to do) in line with your actions (what you actually do).

The simplest way to keep boundaries you want to break is to ask God to help you want to keep them. And the beautiful truth is that he will.

Don’t beat yourself up for not wanting to keep your boundaries. Confess your inability to God, and ask him to redirect your desires to what’s good.

Grace Upon Grace

God’s grace isn’t a sit-back-and-relax pass. That verse in Philippians 2 makes it clear that keeping your boundaries is still hard work.

But his grace is an invitation to peace. Your striving is not from your strength or toward your salvation.

As Peter said, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2).

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