Give up the Quest for Middle Ground

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Luke 11:14–28 ESV

Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Consider This

I’m going to cut to the chase today.

There is only one secure place to stand in this crazy world and that is “with me,” Jesus says. But if you are not actually with me, then you are against me. If you are not building what I am building, then you are tearing it down.

There is no middle ground. This is really hard teaching. It is so seductive to think we can live in this mushy, moderate, middle place. We can’t, because it’s not a real place. There is either “with me,” or “against me.”

Jesus makes it pretty clear what he means by us being “with him.”

But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and [obey] it.”

We either hear the Word of God and obey it or we don’t. There is no middle ground. If there’s one thing we can say of the Word of God, it is consistent.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matt. 7:24–27 ESV)

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or a sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14–17 ESV)

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15–16 ESV)

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:22 ESV)

So we have a choice, and the prior texts make clear the choice has consequences. I think that’s what this conversation in today’s text is getting at. The big problem of not being “with him,” which is to say not obeying the Word of God, is it leaves us open to all sorts of danger. Jesus can deliver a person from an impure spirit, but he will not make a person obey the Word of God. If a person delivered from an impure spirit does not obey the Word of God, they leave themselves open to an even worse infestation of evil and darkness. It’s either repent or relapse. A clean swept house must now be furnished with obedience to the Word of God.

In all of these texts, we aren’t given threats but bottom line realities.

With each step toward the cross, Jesus takes us deeper into the discipleship of his commitment to us. He teaches us that the sign that we are truly listening to him is obeying what we hear. There is a word for this so-called middle ground of listening to him and not obeying. The word is disobedience.

It makes sense. Don’t you think?

These days of Lent are intended for the kind of inner examination (not to be confused with morbid introspection) wherein we open ourselves to a deeper repentance—a closer alignment of our lives with his Word. Introspection is something we do to ourselves. It’s not to be confused with inner examination, which is something the Holy Spirit does. It happens when we pray like this and mean it:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (Ps. 139:23–24 ESV)

The Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a son/daughter.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a saint.

The Question

Have you considered the reality of Jesus’ commitment to you as a disciple? We mostly think of it as our commitment. Where do you struggle with obedience?