The Gospel is exclusive. Jesus once said, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Matt. 12:30). You’re in or you’re out. If you’re not fully on board with the Truth, then take a hike. Everyone who teaches something different must be boldly and publicly opposed, and everyone needs to be warned against their venom.
I’ve nodded along as these things were being taught. I’ve even taught this myself because I saw it in Scripture. But the problem is, Jesus didn’t mean what we think he did.
Jesus said “whoever is not with me is against me.” But did you know he also said, “the one who is not against us is for us”? Which of these two statements we emphasize says a lot about us. Choose the right phrase and you easily fit Jesus into your theological system. So which is right? The thing is, Jesus wasn’t contradicting himself. He said both for a purpose. Take a look below. But I promise you, Jesus didn’t say these things to give us a free pass on denouncing everyone who disagrees with us.
If You’re Not Against Me You’re For Me
“John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.'” – Mark 9:38–41
This first statement is huge. Notice the context. The disciples had found someone—not one of their small group—who was casting out demons. He was doing the same work Jesus and the disciples were doing. And they didn’t like it. It probably made it worse for them that this guy was doing it in Jesus’ name. What the heck? We’re the one’s who are with Jesus! What does this joker think he’s doing by going around liberating people from oppression without our involvement?
Can you see the territorialism? The watch dogging?“When Jesus said, ‘whoever is not against me is for me,’ he actually meant it. Whatever it is that makes us so eager to oppose and exclude is not from Jesus.”
I’ve honestly been surprised by Jesus’ response. I would have expected him to say: “Thanks guys. You’re absolutely right. If these guys were of God, they’d be running in our circles. Let’s let everyone know that there’s an imposter out there.” But that’s exactly what Jesus didn’t say. “Do not stop him…For the one who is not against us is for us.” The guy was doing the work of the Lord; what the hell did the disciples think they were accomplishing by shutting that down?
When Jesus said, “whoever is not against me is for me,” he actually meant it. Whatever it is that makes us so eager to oppose and exclude is not from Jesus.
Jesus was way more embracing than we think. What’s fascinating is that this interaction is bookended by some of Jesus’ teaching on childlike faith. Just prior to these statements, the disciples had been arguing about who was the greatest. Jesus responded by picking up a child and saying, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me…” Just after the interaction, Jesus warns against causing a child to sin. I’m prone to think of the ideal Christian as an educated, discerning, truth-speaker. But Jesus says it’s better to be like a child.
If You’re Not With Me You’re Against Me
When Jesus says “whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matt. 12:30), he’s speaking in a much different context. He’s not policing people’s doctrine or ministries. He’s actually defending himself.
The Pharisees were accusing Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. So Jesus points out how absurd this accusation is. Here’s my paraphrase of his argument here: Are you insane? Why would Satan be doing the work of God? My work is all about plundering the kingdom of Satan. If anyone is building Satan’s kingdom, he’s clearly against me and with Satan. If anyone is attacking Satan’s kingdom, he’s not working for Satan, he’s doing my work!“Citing ‘whoever is not with me is against me’ while denouncing a Jesus-loving servant of God is absurd because it proves YOU are the one working against Jesus.”
It’s telling that Jesus’ next words are about a tree and its fruit. He’s not telling us to analyze each person’s doctrine and see how closely it aligns with Tim Keller or Jen Hatmaker or John MacArhur or Judah Smith. He’s telling us to look at the outcome of their life and ministry—that will tell us which team they’re working on.
I’ve seen so many people “farewelled” from the Evangelical community because of some teaching that’s considered suspect or even heretical. But if you look at the ministries of some of these people, they are producing healing and love for Jesus and transformed lives. Meanwhile, you look at the ministries of some of the watchdogs and they’re producing discord and slander and pride and exclusivity. Citing “whoever is not with me is against me” while denouncing a Jesus-loving servant of God is absurd because it proves YOU are the one working against Jesus.
You’ll know the tree by its fruits. If you’re producing the opposite of the fruit of Jesus and his kingdom, then you’re playing on the wrong team. If you’re not with him you’re against him. But if you’re working to promote the fruit of Jesus and his kingdom, then you shouldn’t be opposed by the people of Jesus. If you’re not against him you’re for him.