The verse we’re going to look at today is interesting because when I initially looked over my notes I was reminded that I had a strong reaction to this verse. So I looked the verse up to re-familiarize myself with it and was surprised to find that it seems somewhat straightforward. This left me wondering why my initial reaction was so strong.
Here’s where we’re at.
Luke 9:49-50 John said to Jesus, “Master, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he isn’t in our group.” 50 But Jesus said, “Don’t stop him! Anyone who is not against you is for you.”
On the surface, this verse seems pretty basic. John learned a lesson that just because someone is outside of your group doesn’t mean what they’re doing is wrong. But I think when you really look at what Jesus says, you see something heavy. There are only two sides in a war. Spiritually, those two sides look like this. Those who are against Jesus, and those who aren’t. How do you know who is and isn’t? It’s easy, really. You’re either walking right behind the Jesus of the holy bible in all the ways in which the text tells us about, or you are against him.
There’s almost a severity to this truth. Sitting on the sidelines isn’t an option. Watching the battle rage between God and this world doesn’t make you an impartial observer, it makes you against God. This isn’t a war on distant soil that we can claim to have no part of, it’s the only true struggle that matters when it comes to eternity. Good versus evil, God versus Satan, heaven against hell. If you aren’t actively following God, then you are not on His side, and since there are only two sides, then you are technically against Him, actively or not.
In a strange way this verse pains me, because I know and care about a lot of people who don’t hate God, they don’t war against Him, but they also don’t acknowledge Him or follow Him. Verses like these remind me of the fact that by virtue of not being “with God”, these people are without Him, and thus set against Him. They may not actively fight to dethrone Him or defile His good name, but that doesn’t even matter in the end. We stand on opposite sides of the eternal line, separated by the only choice that really matters in life. With God, or not.
John 14:6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
John 12:48 But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken.
There lives a question in the hearts of those who don’t follow God when they see verses like these. “How could a loving God punish me for eternity just because I didn’t choose Him?” Even if you’re a sold out, hardcore, Jesus freak for life, you need to know that this question is on the hearts and minds of those who don’t know our Lord. And more than that, we need to know how to answer it.
The answer, I’m afraid, doesn’t breed much comfort in the hearts and minds of those who are without God. God’s done and continues to do all He can to bring people to the saving knowledge and acceptance of who He is. I truly believe that He condemns no person to hell.
1 Timothy 2:3-4 This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.
We choose our side. God did His part in making it as simple as saying “I believe and accept your gift of salvation” to join Him. It’s a present sitting on a table in front of you, within reach, already paid for and beautifully wrapped thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus for your sins. In the present is freedom, love, contentment, purpose, eternal life, family, joy, and so much more. If you spend your life refusing to pick up that present, that’s your choice. Your choice does not make God a monster and it does not make Him cruel. All He ever wanted was to have a relationship with you by having you pick up and experience the gift that sat in front of you for your entire life. And His love for you runs so deep that even though He could easily force you to choose Him, He’ll never do it because it would rob you of your free will. He does not condemn anyone to hell. On the contrary, He loves them enough to allow them to choose hell over heaven, even though it breaks His heart to watch it happen.
Sometimes I wish there were gray areas. Exemptions for fundamentally decent people who just never accepted God. I wish I could get a few passes to hand out to bring people to heaven with me, but that’s just not how it works. It shouldn’t work that way, either. Jesus is the gate, and he opens with a single word.
We live in a society of inclusiveness, and more and more that weight will settle upon God’s people and His church. In this world where being politically correct and being tolerant of all things has become its own religion, the word of God is positioned exactly against it. Heaven isn’t open for all, and there are not multiple pathways to enter it. There is but one highly exclusive path, and thus it will draw the ire and hatred of the world more and more. If only they’d pause long enough to see who stands upon that path, to see the love in his eyes and the smile on his face, to hear the beautiful invitation they have to join him upon that path.
I love everyone. Religion, lack of it, sexual orientation, race, whatever, I don’t care. The only people I struggle to love are abusers, especially those that abuse women and children. If I was not on God’s side, I think I’d be pretty angry at Him. In a strange way I can see it from their viewpoint. I’d be scared to leave the protection of the shelter I’d built for myself, mad that God was trying to force me out of my comfort zone, even though the shelter barely protected me and still left me vulnerable to pain and abuse and loneliness and grief. I had a shelter like that once. It was all black, and even though it was dark, at least nobody could see me in the darkness. I found a small comfort in that. Wandering out from that shelter of mine was the hardest thing I ever had to do, and also the best decision I ever made in my life. I exchanged depression for joy, near death for an abundance of life, drifting for purpose, loneliness for an overflow of companionship. We have to love those who are angry at God. We have to understand the root of the anger, the fear of the unknown that seizes the heart of a person, the societal belief that anything that doesn’t accept them where they are is hatred. Be gentle with these people, they are God’s heart and soul, His beloved creation, and our job is to do whatever we can to help them.
Every once in a while the weight of eternity settles heavy upon my heart. Today was just one of those days. Hearing Jesus speak about the two sides that exist just sparked a passion within me. If there are people in your life positioned against God, keep them in strong prayer, and cover them in strong displays of love whenever possible. It’s on my heart to tell you that if there’s an unbeliever that you’ve given up on, today is the day to pick back up that person and get them back into prayer and re-open your heart to loving them.
I love all of you. If you’ve got any prayer needs or just want to talk, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org