From July 24, 2022

     The winter of 1864 was the coldest on record for Greene County, Tennessee. Historian Tim Massey reports that during the Civil War, many of the Union forces near Greenville were so ill-equipped that some froze to death in the frigid weather. One of the Union officers who received permission from a local farmer to allow his troops to camp on the farmer’s property also asked if his soldiers could burn the rail fence to stay warm in the freezing temperatures. Reluctantly, the farmer gave permission but demanded, “You may only take the top rung of the fence off and use it for firewood.”

     By the following morning, the fence was gone entirely. However, none of the troops had disobeyed their orders. Each watch of soldiers had done as they were told and only used the fence’s top rail.  Yet by morning, there was no fence. Without the fence rails, the farmer’s livestock wandered off into dangerous territory, causing the farmer to lose most of them.*

     From the beginning of time, God established Biblical “guardrails” to protect His creation. Over the past several decades, those guardrails have slowly eroded away. Satan has cleverly manipulated each generation to remove the boundaries one rail at a time. We hardly discern the difference. So now, little remains to protect people from the consequences of total moral freedom…broken homes, drug and alcohol abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, violence, racial animosity, and national chaos.

     Two lessons: We all need Godly boundaries, even though we intuitively resist them. It is our carnal nature to protest any restrictions. We demand total freedom! Yet life without any Biblical boundaries is not freedom. It is anarchy. Like a train without a track or a kite with no string, we become free to ultimately crash and burn. We need Godly boundaries.

     We have all seen the sign on the side of an interstate ramp that reads: “No Bicycles, No Tractors, No Non-Motorized Vehicles; No Hitchhiking, No Pedestrian Traffic.” Indeed, the interstate highway has all sorts of restrictions: “Speed Limit 70,” “Keep Right Except to Pass,” “Keep Off Median,” and “No Stopping Except for Emergency.” There are more regulations on an interstate than on most roadways. Yet the interstate highway is generally regarded as the safest, fastest, and the best route to a distant destination. In fact, it is often referred to as a “Freeway.”

     Imagine if all boundaries were removed and drivers were totally free to go any direction, at any speed, in any means of transport, and were permitted to stop for a picnic in the median if they chose to do so. The result would be chaotic and deadly. Yet, on the other hand, reasonable regulations make for the best and safest route to our destination.

     Almighty God established His boundaries for our protection and well-being. Parents are to be respected. Sex is to be reserved for marriage. Money is to be earned honestly, spent wisely, and given generously. Speech is to be disciplined. One day a week is to be for rest. Tell the truth. Respect others’ property. Love your neighbors and treat strangers with kindness.

     While we intuitively resist restrictions, respecting God’s rules provides the best blueprint for a good life here. Jesus said, “If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” Jesus came to free us from bondage to sin and death, not to free us from Godly boundaries or guidelines.

     Second Lesson: The gradual removal of Godly boundaries seems inconsequential but is lethal.Many Christians imagine it is harmless to lower the rails just slightly. So, they modulated the standards of morality, family, decency, ethics, temperance, reverence, entertainment, language, personal discipline, and even Biblical doctrines. Lowering the rails happens so gradually that they hardly notice. They suggest most of the adjustments were in the name of freedom and to provide an atmosphere of warmth against the frigid environment of Christian legalism.

     Indeed, it is true that God’s people should not be bound by ineffective traditions or extra-Biblical rules. Jesus warned the Pharisees: “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11:46). Yet lately, I’ve wondered why rails are rarely replaced. Why are the standards rarely increased? Once the bar is lowered, it is seldom raised again — even a little.

     Occasionally there should be times when we conclude we are without sufficient guardrails. Maybe we should provide more protection — and ultimately more freedom — by replacing some of the rails we cavalierly removed. I suspect anyone who would dare suggest such a thing would be quickly ridiculed and canceled.

     Consider as an example the furious response to the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The visceral reaction from those outraged at any effort to limit the freedom to kill unborn babies is evidence of the objections that arise when attempts are made to restore previous boundaries. A youth leader once warned, “What parents accept in moderation, their children embrace in excess.”

     Jesus Christ offers us freedom from sin and death and hell. He said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).  Yet Jesus does not offer us freedom from all restrictions or guidelines. In fact, He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV).

     The fences established by God should never be lowered, and guidelines established by the righteous leaders of the past should only be moved cautiously, lest the sheep, without a shepherd, wander off and become lost.

*As reported by Sam Stone, former Editor of The Lookout magazine