Book of Mark

Same Jesus, Different Tribes? (Mark 9, Part 5)


Father in heaven, give me an undivided heart for you. For your kingdom. For your ways. For your glory. Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. I ask for understanding and wisdom as I seek to read and embody your words. Let your truth be rooted deeply within me.


Today I’m looking at Mark 9:38-40. I find this passage to be full of depths, and hard to comprehend. So I’m reading it several times, letting each word and phrase sit for a bit in my mind as I seek what God wants to teach me in this text:

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. (Mark 9:38-40 ESV)


I have to admit, I find this passage to be a tough one. My bible says that the disciples were with Jesus, having just gotten a lesson in greatness in the kingdom of God, and then John follows up with a question that I think was totally fair: “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” In my footnotes, an alternate translation is given: “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name who does not follow us…”

I can see why the disciples would be confused by this. I have had some experiences that resonate with this story, too. If you look around you, you will find many, many different groups of people, all claiming to do things in Jesus’s name, yet not “together.” I have been in churches where leaders decry other denominations that don’t practice Christianity they way they do. Folks who are used to “high church” are suspicious of more casual forms of worship. Believers who prefer a more casual approach often judge those who find “smells and bells” to be helpful in worship. Some people pray for healing with animation, laying on hands, praying in tongues, sometimes anointing with oil. Others take a gentler, quieter approach. And don’t even get me started on political views and Christianity. I know people across the political spectrum who believe that their views—which are often the exact opposite of one another’s—are informed by, and representative of, the gospel. One person loves in Jesus’s name while another judges in Jesus’s name. And along with John and the other disciples, I find myself asking, “God, which is it?!”

I don’t have an easy answer. But this passage seems to hint that there are things that we might not do “together,” but if they are consistent with the work of the gospel, they are good and acceptable to God. “No one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.” I may not understand or even always approve of another Christian’s beliefs or approach. But if they are doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God, who am I to judge?

“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 be no means lost his reward.” This raises a question for me, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. There have been times when someone who does not hold a view of Jesus as Lord and Savior has shown me tremendous kindness because I do follow Jesus. I can think of several times when someone, moved by my faith and impressed by my devotion, has shown tremendous kindness and generosity to me. My question is—is there a reward in heaven for them?

This passage seems to suggest there is!

It is so tempting to categorize people as saved or unsaved, born again or dead in sin, heading for heaven or hell-bound. Yet I wonder if it’s really that clear cut. Is it possible that God’s system is more nuanced than that? Is it possible that people who are not clearly “in” or “out” are somehow actually “in process,” and as such, are “storing up treasure in heaven” pre-conversion?

Thus far on this blog, I have shared reflections that are pretty much my own conclusions. But this is a text that leaves me pondering and considering some possibilities that I have not thus far considered.

I would love to hear your thoughts, both on these questions and any other ideas or questions that arise for you as you read this text.


Whatever the answer to these hard questions, one thing is clear to me: we may serve him in different ways, even in different tribes of worship and Christian expression. But at the end of the day, if we’re not against each other, we’re for each other. And, together, we’re for Christ.



2 thoughts on “Same Jesus, Different Tribes? (Mark 9, Part 5)

  1. Christy,

    This EXACT question has been on my mind a lot recently for a number of reasons – so fascinating to hear you bring it up and thank you for directing me to scripture that seems to shed light on the topic.

    I have so many, many friends who are good, wonderful, loving, and generous people, but who don’t call themselves “Christian.” As the verse suggests, they’re not “against” God, but they just don’t “identify” with Christianity for their faith or religion.

    I cannot believe, in my heart of hearts, that these amazing and inspiring people that I know and love and work with will go to hell for all eternity simply because they haven’t prayed “the prayer.” God is a God of compassion and love and understanding and wisdom. While I do think that ALL of us WILL be held accountable for our actions and our beliefs, I can’t say that I’m going to heaven just because I’ve prayed that prayer NOW and someone else might not pray it until very much later in life – or perhaps even after death – when they’ve come to the full understanding of Christ Jesus and his salvation for us.

    I resonate a lot with 1st Corinthians 13 in relationship to this idea – Paul says, “For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect, but when the perfect comes [in other words, when JESUS comes], the imperfect will pass away….For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.”

    To me, Paul’s words suggest that we can’t know, ever, while we’re here on earth, the fullness of God’s grace and perfection and glory. We won’t know this until the “perfect,” or Jesus, comes. We get close, and we do all we can to try – we pray, we read scripture, we study with other Christians, we go to Church, listen to wise pastors and preachers and teachers, but we still only “see in a mirror dimly.” If you think about what you see in a mirror, it’s merely a reflection of what’s here and present now. But we are promised that THEN we will see face to face – not just a reflection, but really see – when Jesus comes. This is for EVERYONE. So I think it is a measure of God’s grace that I can rest assured, someone who doesn’t profess Christianity but is truly good and kind and loving and “storing up their treasures in heaven,” WILL “see fully” one day soon and we will celebrate together in heaven!

    I think that’s faith of the hardest sort – that people we pray for and love will know that we are Christians by our love – and will in their own way (or God’s way, rather), and time come to a full understanding of Christ’s saving grace. We get frustrated that they don’t “get it,” but God is working in hearts and minds in ways that we can’t know, and all we can do is what God has asked us to do – be his salt and light on earth, and trust that like the “good seed” that was thrown in “good soil,” our work will bear fruit!

    I do think that humanity exists on a spectrum of expression of God, and I think that God reveals himself to humanity in different ways across that spectrum. These verses in Mark cast more light on this idea – that God will not be ignored and the truth of Jesus will always win out (for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak ill of me). It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Look, let him do it – because of his work, he’s going to come to the full understanding of me very soon!”

    Such deep thoughts for this morning – thanks for giving me something more than Facebook and twitter over my morning cup of coffee! Much love and prayers to you, my friend.

    ~ evangeline

    1. Evangeline,

      Great thoughts! Thank you for sharing, and for letting me know that you’re with me on this journey. I’m so glad this has been thought-provoking for you, too. So much is packed into just a few verses! I love your reminder from 1 Cor., that we really only see in part. There are things that are so clear: God’s love, grace, mercy, kindness, and yes—even judgment. But HOW all that works is truly a mystery.

      Love and prayer to you today, too!


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