Some verses in scripture tend to jump out at you more than others. For me, one of those verses is that you’re not worthy of following Jesus unless you hate your closest family members and friends. What on earth is that supposed to mean? Doesn’t it fly in the face of honoring our parents and loving our neighbours and enemies?
On the surface, yes, the messages seem to contradict, but let’s dig a little deeper, since this is important. I don’t think any of us want to be considered unworthy to be Christians, any more than we want to hate people just because they don’t believe in God.
In Deuteronomy 13:6-11, Moses warns us that if a close family member or friend tries to privately lure us away from serving God, we need to publicly out them and then stone them to death. In Matthew 10:34-37, Mark 10:29, Luke 12:52-53, Luke 14:26-27, and Luke 18:29-30, Jesus gives us a similar warning, but stops short of telling us to kill the offenders. What’s implied is that we should leave these people in our rear-view mirror and not look back.
It’s not advisable to live or hang out with unbelievers. To do so means that you love them more than you love God. This makes you unworthy to be a follower of Jesus, since loving and serving God should be your one and only priority, and habitually spending time with an unbeliever negates that. Just as you can’t serve God and mammon, you can’t value God while at the same time valuing those who hate him or don’t even believe he exists.
If you say, “Well, I can love and serve God and still hang out with unbelievers”, you’re fooling yourself and/or are a hypocrite. Hanging out with unbelievers is a form of spiritual adultery. Jesus ate and drank with sinners, yes, but he didn’t live with them or habitually hang out with them. After he started his ministry work, he didn’t even spend time with his family. Did he still love them? Of course he did, but they didn’t believe he was the Messiah, so spiritually they were his enemies. He would have had to compromise who he was in order to be around them, and he chose not to do that.
He CHOSE not to do that.
It’s a choice we need to make, to put our love for God ahead of every other love, including love for our children. These are tests. Most people fail monumentally, which is why Jesus and Paul say it’s better not to marry and have a family. Our worst enemies truly are those who are under our own roof and/or are closest to us in blood, even if to all the world they seem like nice people.
I’m not advocating stoning your mother to death for trying to get you to be “less religious”. Stoning is Old Testament; we don’t do that anymore. But we still need to be aware that we can’t be around unbelievers on a regular basis, if at all. If you’re saying “But.. but… but…”, maybe you aren’t worthy to be a follower of Jesus. This is a hard teaching, but it is what it is. Jesus can’t be any clearer, and I’m just telling you what he’s saying. It’s a teaching that’s very easy to skip over if you don’t agree with it, but it cuts to the core of who we are as believers.
It OT times, legalism meant rigorously abiding by laws and statutes. These weren’t a choice; they had to be abided by. If you broke the laws or statutes, you were severely punished. This is how people were kept in line.
For NT born-again believers, it’s all about free-will choice. No-one is stoning you to death for committing adultery, but boy oh boy, will you suffer for it anyway. In some cases, you’ll wish you were dead, the punishment can be so debilitating.
So if you, as a believer, choose to put an unbeliever ahead of God in your life, you won’t be attacked by a mob and stoned to death, but you might lose your job or your home or your health, and if you still don’t take the hint, you might even lose eternity in Paradise. The punishments are just as severe for NT believers who sin as they were for OT believers who sinned; the only difference is how the punishment is delivered.
These are sobering verses. We can skip over them and pretend they don’t apply to us, or we can take a good hard look at our relationships to see if they’re making us unworthy of being a follower of Jesus. This may involve breaking lifelong ties with people, but the alternative is losing your place in Paradise.
You can still love someone and pray for them without having to spend time with them. Jesus says to love and pray for and bless our enemies, and unbelievers are our enemies. That’s just what they are. And as our enemies, we can pray for them, we can bless them, we can still love them, but at a distance.
Our love for God and our service to him should be all-encompassing, should leave room for no-one else in our life. Jesus lived among his disciples, but he didn’t give himself to them the way he gave himself to God; he wasn’t anywhere near as close to them as he was to God. And these were his hand-picked, God-approved followers.
In the end, it’s better to live alone than to live with those who’ll take your attention away from God. If you’re living or hanging out with unbelievers, you’re at risk of losing your salvation.
Ultimately, you need to choose: God, or the world; believing and abiding by scripture, or skipping past the verses that you don’t agree with.
You can’t choose both God and the world and still be worthy of Jesus. You’re only worthy if you choose God and God only.
That’s what God’s Word says.
What do YOU say?