The Religious "Neutral Zone"
By Matthew Castro
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matt. 6:24)
The U.S. is now divided between two ruling powers after losing to the Axis powers of WWII, according to a strange alternative history fiction book I am reading. The Japanese authoritarian state controls the West, while the Nazi regime occupies everything east of the Rockies under totalitarian control. As unlikely as this may be, this map serves as an analogy to the reality of the true powers engaged in the spiritual warfare of this present evil age. But in the fiction novel there is a third state, the so-called “neutral zone” of the Rocky Mountains. Those who refuse to align with either power or obey the laws of either ruler migrate to the Rockies. Here they answer to nobody but themselves, living free from subordination to any laws or government regulations. It sounds like a sanctuary without any demands of allegiance, but it turns out to be more like the Wild West. Where anything goes and nothing is enforced, chaos is the only guarantee.
Christian Scripture does not give alternative historical accounts like this. The Bible actually provides us with the only comprehensive account of human history and our present reality. There is certainly a World War taking place and not a single soul is exempt from the inevitable consequences this battle between two Kingdoms involves. Christ has been given all authority over the entire universe (Matt. 28:15) and has already established the beginning of God’s Kingdom since the days of John the Baptist (Luke 16:16). Those who swear allegiance to Christ and proclaim Him as Lord are citizens of His kingdom. Jesus grants His disciples a place at His table in the Kingdom that the Father has given Him (Luke 22:29-30). The fullness of this Kingdom will not be realized until Christ returns, so we wait in hope for our God’s Kingdom to come (Heb. 13:14).
But Scripture clearly describes another ruler of an opposing kingdom waging war against this Heavenly Kingdom. Satan is described as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31) and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). He is “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) and a stark line is consistently drawn in the Scriptural sand, “We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). The dividing line between these kingdoms is always bold with no grey areas to blur the boundaries; darkness or light, sheep or goat, heaven or hell. We were all once “dead” in sin, sons of disobedience following the course of the rest of this world under Satan’s deceptive influence and bound for “wrath” (Eph. 2:1-3). But we who are in Christ are made “alive” by God and under His “grace” (2: 4-5). There are only two sides in this battle and whether we like it or not, we are all under the power of one or the other. This is why Colossians 1:13 can state our salvation as a transfer from one kingdom to another:
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.
What if we don’t like either option? One kingdom is ruled by a deceptive liar who uses temptation to entangle his people in their fleshly desires and holds them in bondage to their sin. He uses money, sex, and power to lead them to their death. But the other Kingdom is ruled by the One who claims ultimate authority and demands unwavering allegiance. He calls everyone to repent, and summons them to deny themselves and offer up their lives in complete surrender to follow Him (Luke 9:23-24). Entering His kingdom may require leaving our family and our life as we knew it behind (Luke 14:26-27). Maybe some neutral ground without such radical commitments sounds like a good option.
Some people seem to live in neutral territory, the “no fly zones” of pluralism and agnosticism. They don’t reject Jesus outright and may consider themselves as one of the Christians of God’s Kingdom. They sit on the fence, the religious Rocky Mountain territory where they aim to not upset anyone and expect to be left alone. They don’t want to pick sides and are more comfortable as spectators loitering on middle-ground. This does sound like the safe place to be, hiding in Switzerland under the disguise of being tolerant, non-judgmental pacifists. They act much like Pilate when he found himself trapped between the two sides at Jesus’ trial in Jerusalem (Matt. 27:11-26). Pilate had to make a choice as Jesus’ judge, to take His side and judge fairly, or to take the Jews’ side and hand Him over to be crucified. He knew Jesus to be innocent, and his wife’s dreams gave him good reason to believe Jesus was in fact who He said He was. But he also feared the Jews and his political future if he did not capitulate to their demands. He wanted to find middle-ground, and even tried offering Barabbas in place of Jesus. In his final act of ambivalence he ceremonially washed his hands and his conscience from the stains of shedding Jesus’ blood. Yet God considered Pilate as party to those responsible for the unjust murder of our innocent Lord (Acts 4: 27-28).
There is no “neutral zone” in the spiritual war we are in. If you will not love the Lord and serve Him with all of your heart, washing your hands means nothing. The decision to not pick sides is still a decision, because the only choice is to live completely for Jesus’ Kingdom or to remain with the rebels. You are better off hot or cold, because Jesus spews the lukewarm out (Rev. 3:16). Soldiers of God’s Kingdom have no time to waste on civilian pursuits (2 Tim. 2:4). There is a war going on in which everyone is enlisted, there is no time for relaxing or looking for neutral space in a hostile world. We are either for Christ’s reign or we are against Him, because we can only serve one master.