In college, my wife stayed with another family while she was in grad school. They were very giving to her, very welcoming, very warm. On occasion, they would try to pull her into conversations and playful disagreements. She liked both of them, and she refused to take sides. She said, “I’m Switzerland. I’m neutral.” Of course, Switzerland as a country has historically been neutral. They don’t take sides in things.
It’s often today that we view neutrality as a good thing. “He doesn’t take sides. He’s not narrow-minded. He’s neutral,” People may say. I think this sometimes flows over into how we think about theology and people and ideas and approaches, but in reality, there’s no neutral approach from a religious perspective.
You can’t evaluate Christianity from a neutral position because you’re either going to reason from the idea and a conviction that God exists and the supernatural is possible, or you will reason from the idea that it’s not possible. There’s not a neutral ground. Either God exists and the supernatural is possible, or he doesn’t and it’s not. There’s no middle ground there.
The presuppositions, the pre-commitments we bring to the evidence when we evaluate it has a lot to do with how compelling we’re going to find the evidence. I think this goes without saying in some areas, but when we get to Christianity, we seem to often think that people can be neutral, that they can make value-free judgements, but no judgment is value-free. We all interpret evidence and make statements from inside of a world view. Because of these presuppositions, these pre-commitments, an Atheist and a Christian will interpret the same evidence differently. The same information gets seen differently because we have different lenses.
It’s like if one friend has non-polarized sunglasses and another friend has polarized sunglasses. They’re out on a boat. They’re going to be seeing different things. Not totally different, but different in the details. The friend with the polarized glasses might be able to see the fish under the water, but the other friend might not be able to see it. The friend without the polarized glasses is much more likely to see glare and maybe not natural colors. The guy with the polarized glasses is going to see a more detailed and a more accurate picture. I hope this “lens” approach helps you understand that the lenses we use in terms of our worldviews are the pre-commitments we bring to the evidence and will greatly affect how we view it, but there is no neutral ground with regards to evaluating evidence because our pre-commitments influence how we see everything. More than that, man is not actually a morally neutral creature. Sometimes, people will talk like, “Well, man needs God, yes, but it’s not like he’s bad in his current state.”
Well, the bible doesn’t leave that as an option. In fact, Paul says that “the mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God. It does not submit to a God’s law, nor can it do so.” This is in Romans eight. Here, he’s making the point that the person in the flesh cannot please God. You’re either in the flesh, which is not a Christian, or you’re in the Spirit, which is someone who’s been regenerated, who is a Christian. You’ll notice there’s no neutral ground there. You’re either in the flesh, can’t please God, or in the spirit, and you can please God. No neutral ground. One category or the other, but man isn’t neutral even when he’s not a Christian. He has a mind that is governed by the flesh. Paul says it’s hostile to God. Not neutral with regards to God, hostile, because if you take a neutral position, something you might consider neutral with regard to God, God actually views that as hostility. He actually views it as rebellion. There is no middle ground with God.
You can’t just say, “Well, I’m not going to intentionally disobey God, but I’m not going to live for him and submit to his law.” That’s not an option. That’s rebellion. There’s no neutrality when you’re in a kingdom with regards to a king. You’re either for him or against him. It’s actually interesting that Jesus says this in Matthew. He says, “Whoever is not with me is against me,” so if you’re not with him, he doesn’t say there are two other categories: neutrality and opposition, no. It’s just if you’re not with me, you’re against me.
Now, when this comes up, some people will point out Revelation 3:16, which is in a passage where Jesus is writing a letter to the church at Laodicea. Here’s what this verse says. You’ve probably heard sermons on it numerous times.
“Because you are lukewarm and neither hot or cold, I’m going to vomit you out of my mouth.”
Some people will say, “Well, see? If you’re not for God, if you’re not hot or you’re not cold, you’re against God, you’re a lukewarm, God just hates that, even more than if you were against him.” I’ve heard that preached. “If you are neutral, you don’t have a backbone or you don’t take a side, you’re just neutral. You’re lukewarm. God hates that. He’s going to vomit you out of his mouth.” I heard that growing up many times. It never quite sat well with me. Now, as I’ve studied these things more, it’s amazing what comes to light and how we can make more sense of the scriptures when we read them in their context.
Now, we need to read this verse in the context of the passage, but more than that, if we don’t know much about Laodicea, the city this letter was written to, we’re not going to understand the letter. The fact to the matter is, is that Laodicea was a town that had no natural water supply of its own. In fact, any water it had, had to be piped in via aqueduct, which is a system of long pipes the Romans built to distribute water over the Roman empire. Laodicea had no natural water source. Every water source they had came in from somewhere else, and it always arrived lukewarm. Hence, unappealing. Hot water serves a purpose. Cold water serves a purpose. Nobody likes lukewarm water. In fact, I think sometimes, it actually smells weird. Anyways, there are two nearby towns. One is Hierapolis, and it had hot and medicinal springs. It had natural water sources that were hot. They’re good for things. Then, there’s Colosse. They had cold and refreshing water.
As the residents of Laodicea would be all too aware of, they had neither hot and medicinal water sources. They didn’t have cold and refreshing water sources. Everything they had came from somewhere else. It arrived unappealing and lukewarm. Jesus isn’t presenting three options here in this passage. He’s not saying you’re either hot in terms of for me, lukewarm, you don’t take a position, or cold against me. He’s saying, “You’re not good. You’re bad,” just to make it overly simplistic. You’re not hot and medicinal and have a purpose. You’re not cold and refreshing, which in this passage is a good thing. Cold in Revelation three is a good thing. Cold water is a very good thing. I, perhaps, drink too much of it, but it’s how I regulate my body temperature. Cold water is a great thing. Lukewarm in this passage actually refers to being against Jesus. It’s the only not good source of water.
Additionally, I would point out this idea that hot and cold refer to good and bad things like being on fire or being like a cold shoulder. That’s a modern convention. That isn’t something that we know of that existed in the ancient world, so we’re reading that back into the text, if we make hot out to be good and cold out to be bad. That’s just not supported historically and contextually there. I think if we read this passage even more in its context, we’ll realize that lukewarmness isn’t good either.
Here’s what Jesus says if we continue reading. “Because you were lukewarm and neither hot or cold, I’m going to vomit you out of my mouth because you say, ‘I am rich and have acquired great wealth and need nothing,’ but do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. Take my advice and buy gold from me, refined by fire, so you can become rich. Buy from me white clothing, so you can be clothed, and your shameful nakedness will not be exposed. Buy eye salve to put on your eyes so you can see all those I love, I rebuke and discipline, so be earnest and repent.” Do people who need to repent fall into a category of neutrality? No. Do people who are rebuked by Jesus fall in a category of neutrality? No. Do people who need discipline fall in the category? You get the picture. No.
What’s also interesting is these intervening verses between the, “I’ll vomit you out of my mouth,” and the last verse we read actually refer to a lot of the things Laodicea was famous for. They made an eye salve that actually was healing and helped people see. He’s actually saying, “No, sorry. You’re blind.” They had a thriving economy and made great clothes, and he’s saying, “No, you’re naked.” All of the things they took pride in, he’s saying, “No, you’re actually spiritually deficient in that area. You may have the physical things, but no. You’re blind. You’re naked. You’re pitiful, and you’re wretched and you’re poor.” They were rich. He’s saying, “No, you’re poor,” because he’s speaking spiritually. None of these condemnations by Jesus are terms we would apply to someone who is neutral. Biblically speaking, man is not neutral.
In fact, 1 Corinthians 1:18, going back to our initial point that there aren’t even middle grounds when it comes to how we interpret the gospel says, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. To us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” Two categories, “those who are perishing” and “those who are being saved,” so not Christians and Christians. The same message is interpreted one of two ways. No middle ground. It’s either foolishness or it’s the power of God. There’s no one in the middle. There is no middle category when it comes to interpreting and understanding the gospel. Another passage that actually comes to mind is John 3:16 here. This is what it says.
”For this is the way God loved the world. He gave his one and only son so that everyone who believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life, for God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through him should be saved. The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the one and only son of God.
Did Jesus come here to condemn people? No. What’s it say? They were already condemned. No neutral ground. People are condemned before Jesus. It’s not that there’s a neutral position. They hear the gospel. Then, if they accept it, they’re on the positive side. If they reject it, they go to the negative side. No. Everyone is not neutral. In fact, they have a spiritual bent against God. Everyone is actually guilty of sin before God. That’s not a position of Neutrality.
In Romans five, Paul says, “If while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life?” There’s a nice little picture of the gospel here that he’s now going to go and make a lot of parallels about, but I want to point out where he starts. “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God.” If you are not found in Christ, you are an enemy of God, not neutral. Then, a little while later in verse 18, Paul says, “Consequently, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression,” so when Adam sinned, we all become condemned, not neutral. “So too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life for all people.” I believe in context here, he’s saying all people who are found in Christ. He doesn’t mean everyone, even people who rejected the gospel are going to be righteous. I think we have to read this in context.
Nonetheless, all who were found to be in Adam were condemned. All who were found to be in Christ are seen to be righteous. Not because of their works but because of Christ’s work and the righteousness that they are clothed in. There’s no neutral ground.
I think this is very important because it affects how we present the gospel. We realize that someone doesn’t need just good advice. What they actually have is a spiritual rebellion even if they might not even have a mental category for it.
I was talking with a friend yesterday. We were talking about how there are some people who are really smart. You can present rock solid arguments for spiritual truths, and they’ll reject them. Whenever people start acting irrationally, what you have to remember, especially with regard to Christianity and spiritual and religious things is, “Well, they’re not neutral.” They’ve got skin in the game. If they have to affirm this conclusion you’re leading them to, it’s going to mean a change for their life.
People aren’t neutral with regard to changes for their life or things that infringe upon their life. When people make decisions that seem irrational to us with regards to the gospel and Christianity, that’s because they’re not neutral. They are pointed away from God. They’re not an unbiased observer who can just evaluate the evidence without any presuppositions. No, they bring those to the table, and they affect how they look at the evidence. It’s a spiritual rebellion. A rebellion at the core of who we are that causes us to not go where the evidence leads.
In fact, being a non-Christian, being an Atheist or anything else, is ultimately irrational. It doesn’t make most sense of the way the world is, of the evidence in the world. In fact, sin is irrational. Especially for the Christian. After all we know about Christ, the gospel, forgiveness, right and wrong, we have no excuse when we sin, right? Yet we still do it. It’s irrational. It doesn’t make sense, but we’re also not neutral people still.
Yes, we’re clothed in the righteousness of Christ, but we have not been transformed to totally righteous people. That will happen one day when Jesus comes back and glorifies us and gives us a new nature. Until then, we still aren’t neutral. Our desires aren’t neutral. I would say most of the time, they’re still pointed away from Christ, and that’s the work of the Spirit to help to refine those desires and give us new ones as we transform our mind through scripture and the Spirit. Nonetheless, man isn’t neutral.
This should give us patience with people when we present the gospel. It should help us understand that yes, if they reject it, that doesn’t mean you said it wrong. That doesn’t mean you presented it in the wrong way. It means people are not neutral evaluators of the evidence. More than that, I think we can take this a step further and use the fact that people aren’t neutral to help them consider their bias they don’t even realize they have. We’ll talk about that another day. I hope this has been helpful, and I look forward to talking with you next week on Unapologetic.