As I Ponder Lukewarmness
Hello everyone, I know it has been quite a while since you’ve heard from me. In the past few months I have had the opportunity to present a few messages at my local congregation and coincidentally, the topics that the Father wanted me to speak on, were topics that I had already been preparing myself to write a blog post on. Consequently, I did not feel the need to write a blog post afterward so now here we are.
The topic of lukewarmness is something I have felt weighing heavily on my heart in the recent weeks. What does it mean to be lukewarm? Obviously, it’s being neither hot nor cold, but how many of us truly fall into those categories? I’m sure we are all familiar with the passage I am referring to that speaks of lukewarmness but it is Rev. 3:15-16 which states, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So because you are lukewarm – neither cold nor hot – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
I want to make a quick contextual note here. Laodicea, the city where this church was located and this prophecy was written to, was a city that was sitting in a valley. There was fresh water that flowed down from the mountain near them that started ice cold at the top but by the time it made its way down to Laodicea, it was lukewarm. There was also a hot spring not too far from them, but in the time it took to carry the water from the spring back to the city, the water was, again, lukewarm. I find it interesting that both the hot and cold water had a designated purpose and use. Typically, I hear pastors compare the hot water to true genuine Christians and the cold water to unbelievers. Personally, I believe that both the author and the audience understood it to be a good thing to be either hot or cold because they both had common uses or a specific purpose. Lukewarm water on the other hand did not, especially when it comes to human consumption.
Given what we now know about the context surrounding this verse in Rev. 3, I want to take a look at some of the properties of lukewarm water. If I were to take hot, cold, and lukewarm water, and put samples of each of them in an environment that matched the waters’ temperature and maintained it, which sample would begin growing bacteria first? In other words, which is more prone to bacteria, cold water in the fridge, hot water being heated to 200 degrees on the stove, or lukewarm water sitting on the kitchen counter? Clearly, the lukewarm water. It is when we are not actively living out God’s will for our lives and being used for His purposes, that we find ourselves in a lukewarm state. It is also when we are in this lukewarm state that sin begins to fester and grow and we begin to leave a bitter taste in the mouth of God and the body of Messiah.
So how does one become lukewarm? Well, how does either hot or cold water become lukewarm? Remember, from the perspective of the Laodiceans, they are thinking of water that started out hot or cold and became lukewarm. Two things happened. Time passed. And as time began to pass, the water began to acclimate to the temperature of its surroundings. Many Christians, shortly after their conversion, have a fire burning within them and feel they know the specific purpose and direction that God is calling them in. Then time passes. And as time passes, the world begins to influence them. They begin to doubt God and His calling on their lives. They begin to make compromises. They spend less time seeking God and more time seeking self pleasure and self gain. Slowly, they become the same “temperature” as the rest of the world and sin begins to take root, fester, and grow. What breaks my heart most is when I see a majority of this “acclimating” happen as a result of more experienced Christians taking the new believer under their wing to teach them that they don’t really need to be so passionate and serious about their faith in order to still be a “strong, mature Christian.” Yes, it is true that new passionate Christians have the tendency to make some foolish choices as they begin to learn what it means to hear God’s voice. Still, a believer should only continue to grow in his passion and pursuit of God as he matures. Sadly, this is rarely seen.
Now I’m sure that all sounds really great and thought provoking in principle but I want to get a little more practical and go little bit deeper. In Rev. 3, God says that He is going to spit those who are lukewarm out of His mouth. So what does it really mean to be lukewarm on a practical level? What does a lukewarm Christian look like? Thankfully, Rev 3 is not the first time that God has become so fed up with a group of people so much that He “spit them out of His mouth.”
The idea of writing this blog post actually originated as I felt led to begin reading through the book of Jeremiah. Granted, I have only made it through the first 10 chapters but I could not wait until I got to the end to write something on this matter. I believe that Jeremiah gives us a bit clearer picture of what it really looks like to be lukewarm.
The Book of Jeremiah is an account of the prophetic warnings with which Jeremiah rebuked the people of Judah during the reign of the last five kings of Judah before being taken into exile by the Babylonians. In a very real sense, God was spitting these people out of His “mouth” by sending them into exile from His land, Israel. The primary reason for their exile was due to idolatry. They had set up idols to the gods of other nations inside the temple and began to adopt the practices and customs of the surrounding nations.
In Jer. 2:20-23 it says, “‘Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, “I will not serve you!” Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute. I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine? Although you wash yourself with soap and use an abundance of cleansing powder, the stain of your guilt is still before me,’ declares the Sovereign LORD. ‘How can you say, “I am not defiled; I have not run after the Baals?”’” At first glance this may seem far from you or I, but I want to consider for a moment that we may not be much different.
There was once a time when you had passion, you were in the Word of God daily, you shared your faith and testimony regularly, and you were constantly praying and hearing from God. At some point, you began to look at the world around you and remember what it was like to just relax and watch tv all day or spend hours each week binge watching your favorite shows. You remember what it was like to hang out with your friends after work, getting tipsy, and doing/saying things you probably shouldn’t have. Soon you begin to miss some of the things you used to do but you are wise enough now to know which things are okay and which things are just completely immoral. But you wish you could go back to feeling a little less serious about life and give yourself some time to be more care free. So we turn our TVs back on for an hour each night. We go out with our friends once a week and have a few drinks. These in and of themselves are not inherently wrong but this is typically what the beginning of the “acclimating” process looks like. As you begin to set your eyes on the things of this world again and not on the things above, you start skipping your devotional time. First its just because you forgot, then it’s because you stayed up too late the night before watching a movie(again, not inherently wrong). Soon you notice your prayer life decreasing, your spiritual growth slows down, and you find yourself being more reluctant to share your faith and what God is doing in your life because He’s no longer a part of your everyday life. This is when we begin to look like the one that Jeremiah is speaking about who says, “I will not serve you,” and begin setting our old fleshly wants, desires, and cravings above our pursuit of God and have entered into spiritual idolatry. This is when we go from being hot to being lukewarm and acclimating to the world around us. It is at this juncture that we begin to see sin grow and fester. Though we were planted as a “choice vine” and should be producing high quality fruit for others to benefit, we have now become corrupted and wild. Old sinful habits begin to re-enter the scene and you accept them as something God is just gonna have to be okay with every once in a while because nobody’s perfect. Then you come to church the next week after “washing yourself with soap and using an abundance of cleansing powder,” hoping that God will accept your worship. Enough weeks, months, and even years of this go by, and you will likely have convinced yourself that since God hasn’t struck you down, you must be living a life pleasing to Him. I mean, after all, most everyone else in your church lives this same lukewarmish lifestyle when the only day they think about God is the day they go to church and maybe once during the week at a bible study. At least your consistent, right? Isn’t that what a strong Christian lifestyle is all about? But then a Christian comes along who is not lukewarm and they begin to share their story of their pursuit of God with you. You begin to feel slightly convicted but you quickly justify your actions in your mind saying, “I am not defiled; I have not run after other gods.”
How close are we to some form of this depiction? Later in Jeremiah 2 we get another glimpse into the heart and mind of what the people of Judah believed about themselves and their walk with God. Verse 35 says, “You say, ‘I am innocent; He is not angry with me.’ But I will pass judgment on you because you say, ‘I have not sinned.’” One might say, how could this be? Surely they knew they had turned to other gods. But throughout Jeremiah we see two different perspectives, God’s perspective and man’s perspective. Remember, if you bring the pot of water to a boil slow enough, the frog will never feel it, even unto the point it dies.
I will finish up by returning to where we started in Rev 3. Verses 19-20 say, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” He disciplines and rebukes those He loves. So if you are feeling conviction from this, I urge you to not respond by claiming your innocence but rather to be earnest and repent. He says, “I stand at the door and knock.” How many realize that He is not knocking on the door of our hearts here? It is humbling thought to consider the context that this is being written to a church at the end of days. In context, He is standing at the door outside the church of Laodicea, implying that He is no where to be found inside of the church. In the words of our Messiah, I want to pose the same question He did in Luke 18:8, “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?”
In summary, to be lukewarm is to have started out hot and have made the slow and gradual descent into spiritual adultery, which is idolatry. There are innumerable things that are not inherently wrong that the enemy tries to use in our lives to draw us away from God to the point where we will put that particular thing above God and thus fall into idolatry. So what is idolatry? To quote a song by Jimmy Needham, simply put, “anything you put before your God is an idol. Anything you want with all your heart is an idol. Anything that I can’t stop thinking of is an idol. Anything that I give all my love is an idol. You can sing all you want to and still get it wrong. Worship is more than a song.”
If you are moved by these lyrics and feel that you may have walked into idolatry without even realizing it, I encourage you to listen to the full song.
Blessings and shalom,