For Us or Against Us
Mar 27, 2012 by Craig Blomberg | 5 Comments
“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Matt. 12:30).
“For whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40).
A superficial comparison of these two texts and you might imagine Jesus was bipolar! In the throes of depression, he lamented that all those not explicitly following him were his opponents. But at the height of his euphoria, he insisted that everyone not explicitly opposing him was on his side. If ever there seems to be a blatant contradiction in Scripture, this is it, right?
Hang on a second. Context always proves crucial in interpretation, so we’d better find out the context of these two pithy proverbs. The more negative-sounding text in Matthew 12 comes in the context of certain Jewish leaders accusing Jesus of casting out demons by the devil himself. This kind of not being with Jesus clearly is opposed to his ministry!
The context of Mark 9:40 is that some individual not a part of the twelve apostles were casting out demons in Jesus’ name. The twelve told him to stop, but Jesus told the twelve not to do so. Anyone who successfully used Jesus’ name—representing his power—would have been a true Christ-follower, even if he wasn’t directly a part of Jesus’ traveling entourage. After all, Acts 19:13-16 shows what happens when somebody tries that ploy, as if it were something automatic, who does not have faith in Christ!
So there’s no contradiction. Each statement makes sense in context. More interesting, perhaps, is the question of contemporary application. Some Christians act as if everyone who is not unambiguously a part of their small circle of carefully defined followers of Jesus could never be a true believer. But if someone is successfully drawing on Christ’s power, doing good deeds in his name, and the Jesus they profess is the Jesus of the Bible, then we are usually on safe ground assuming such people are true believers even if not a part of our denomination, fellowship, theological tradition, and the like.
Other Christians promote universalism (the notion that one day everyone will be saved irrespective of their religious commitments in this life) or quasi-universalism (thinking only a few of humanity’s very most wicked people will ever go to hell). These Christians need to realize that there are important theological distinctions to be drawn, over the very most fundamental or central of Christian doctrines, without which a person cannot be saved, no matter how many good deeds they may do. Consciously rejecting the Jesus of the Bible, knowing full well that the devil’s “fruit” is vastly different from that exhibited by Jesus, cannot but leave a person separated from God, both in this life and in the life to come.
Ah, you say, but the first application is far too generous. True Christians absolutely must believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, the 4th and 5th century creedal definitions of the Trinity, the virgin birth, the substitutionary atonement, Christ’s imminent return, and so on. Really? Romans 10:9-10 says merely that “If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Some of the doctrines I listed may need to be true in order for people to appropriate salvation (e.g., substitutionary atonement) but that is separate from their having to believe it is true.
Well, surely, then the second application is far too narrow. It’s just plain bigoted to claim that Christ is the only way. Again, I ask, really? The question is actually if there is only one way. If there is, then to believe that there is isn’t bigoted, it’s smart. And the charge that Jesus was narrow-minded when he said that he was the way, truth and life and that no one comes to the Father but by him (John 14:6) is itself a hypocritical charge because every person who ever makes it functions daily with all kinds of true beliefs about things being the only way.
The only way to execute a computer program may be to hit a certain sequence of keys; one mistake and the program doesn’t work. The only way to score a touchdown in American football is to have the football be in the end zone, however briefly, with a player in possession of it. There is usually only one right way to get to the middle of a hedge maze, there are many small parking lots with only one exit, and only one classroom on a given campus in which most classes meet at a given time. Yet who would ever think of complaining about computer programs, football rules, mazes, parking lots or registrar’s course schedules being too narrow minded?
Those who are not with us are against us but those who are not against us are for us. Which of these two truths do you most need to hear and appropriate?