Someone once said, “Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.”
I once saw a preacher do this.
He didn't literally set himself on fire, but he was so passionate about what he was preaching that all I could think and silently pray at the time was, "Lord, I want to be like you, but can you also give me some of what this guy has? I wanna love you and preach about you just like him!"
We humans generally have two reactions to people who are "on fire". We either love them and want to emulate them, or we can't stand their guts because they remind us of what we're not.
This is also very true in the Church and of Christians. (If you've ever given the stank-eye to that lady/guy in the corner of the Church celebrating a little too exuberantly during worship, then you fall in the latter category).
Incidentally, Jesus is perfectly fine with the too-much-passion-guy. You know who He can't stand, so much so that it makes the Son of God wanna puke?
The lukewarm Christian!
Let's talk about that guy! In fact, it's that guy and that Church that we're going to focus on in the conclusion of our blog series through the 7 Letters of the book of Revelation. Today, we're on the last leg of our trip and have dropped by the Church in the city of Laodicea.
There have been some bad Churches in the list of seven that received stern warnings from Jesus, but by far, the Laodiceans were the worst! Scarily enough, it is also the most threatening of letters! Let’s find out why.
“SIRI: GIVE ME DIRECTIONS TO LAODICEA”
First thing you should know is that Laodicea was a wealthy city.
Its strategic location at the center of major crossroads between several cities made it a thriving commercial and banking center. One commentary notes that the first century B.C statesman and philosopher Cicero cashed his letters of credit there. In fact, the city was so wealthy that when a nasty earthquake struck it sometime in 60 A.D, the city turned down financial assistance from Rome because they had enough cash flow in their reserves to rebuild their city.
A second commercial feature that made the city thrive was its wool industry. Laodicea was noted in its day for raising a breed of sheep that produced soft, raven-black wool. This allowed them, then, to produce top of the line clothing material that was used locally and for exporting. (Think of Laodicea as the Beverly Hills of its day, a place where you could purchase your Versace, Prada, and Dolce & Gabbana products).
A third commercial feature that made the city wealthy was its medical school. The city had renowned medical experts who were influential in developing a wonder-working eye drop, a salve. Due to it being an epicenter of trade and commerce, people came from all over the world to purchase some of their salve to treat eye ailments.
DO YOU LIKE YOUR DRINKS HOT OR COLD?
Now, in order for a thriving city like Laodicea to flourish, it needed some basic necessities, like running water. Though there were some nearby streams and rivers, those fountains proved inadequate. As a result, a very complex water transportation system had to be built to bring in water from outside. Six miles to the north of city in a place called Hierapolis, was a famous hot spring. You could go there and take a hot bath or just sit in it because it was rumored to have therapeutic healing powers. Ten miles to the southeast was another spring in the city of Colossae, reputed for its refreshing cold water.
The Laodiceans tapped into one or both of these water supplies by building an underground aqueduct system to supply the city with water. Unfortunately, by the time water had traveled long distances and got into the city, it was disgustingly lukewarm and tasted a little nasty to drink. Though the city made do with it, it sort of defeated the purpose of the individual springs.
Nobody likes their bath lukewarm, much less their drink!
Have you ever unknowingly picked up and tasted a cup of lukewarm coffee? (If you’re a Tea man like I am, same question – ever unknowingly taken a swig of lukewarm tea?). The most common reaction is to spit it right out, right?
DON’T MAKE JESUS VOMIT!
Consider the words of Jesus to the Laodiceans, then, in light of that visual picture. In Revelation 3:15-16, He says, “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 hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
Can you feel the weight of this reprimand? Because Jesus just essentially said the Laodicean Church makes Him want to vomit!
Think about that for a moment, some churches we’ve looked at in these letters make Jesus angry, some make Him glad, and others make Him want to fight, but these folks are so disengaged spiritually that they make Him sick to His stomach!
Unfortunately, Jesus isn’t done yet.
Remember the industries in their city they were so proud of? (The banking ventures they took pride in, the textile industry that was the talk of the town, and the reputed medical center that produced a breakthrough salve?. Watch how Jesus uses those same imagery to reveal their true spiritual c, condition, starting in Revelation 3:17-19, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”
See what Jesus did there? (It’s the perfect Jesus Juke!)
The wealth of the city had lured the Christians in the city into a spiritual complacency. They equated the size of their bank accounts with God's favor. In reality, Jesus saw them as "wretched", "pitiful", "poor", "blind" and "naked"! How bad must you have jacked up for your Church for Jesus to call you those things? The really sad part is that they were scoring themselves a lot higher on their own spiritual evaluations, "You [the Laodiceans] say [to themselves], ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing." (V.19)
SO YOU THINK YOU'RE HOT STUFF?!?
When He speaks of them being neither hot or cold, Jesus is saying that He would at least work with them if they were “cold”; indicative of NOT being a Christian. A "cold" person is someone who has no interest in the Bible, in Christ, or His Church. This person makes no pretense about it and in all truthfulness, cannot be considered a hypocrite. They don’t care and they’re fine with it. At least with someone in this “cold” boat, the Holy Spirit can still bring a deep conviction and bring them to a point of repentance (because He tends to do that even with the hardest of hearts).
Jesus says He actually wishes they were cold. But they weren't.
Jesus also says He wished they were "hot", because clearly, He does some of His best work with those who are “hot” [indicative of a Christian who is “on fire” for Christ]. The "hot" believer, like Barnabas (Acts 10:24) and Stephen (Acts 6:5-8) in the book of Acts, is “full of faith” and “full of the Holy Spirit.” They’re not perfect and certainly not sinless, but their eyes are so focused on Christ that there’s a daily desire to bring honor to Him in all they do.
A Lukewarm Christian, however? Well that dude (or girl) is just useless!
First off, such a person is clearly a Christian who at some point confessed with their mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and believed in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead, but that was as far as they went.
Such a person wears the title, "Christian" but doesn't live like one. They don’t exercise any of the spiritual gifts entrusted to them and are content to simply be a “seat warmer” on Sunday mornings. Their prayers are more like emergency flares than an actual conversation with a God they know personally. They are hyper-religious and more concerned with form and tradition than a true relationship with God. One article by Ron Moore adds this, “[For the lukewarm Christian], Corporate worship is social and strategic. It’s a place to see friends, share your frustrations about politics, and maybe even schedule a business meeting or two.”
Like I said, useless!
If we're being honest, though, most of us (Christians) would probably attest that the above descriptions were at one point or another true of us! So, to help determine the present state of spiritual affairs in your life, here are four hard questions to help you figure out if you are indeed a lukewarm Christian about to be spat out by Jesus.
4 SIGNS YOU MAY BE LUKEWARM
IMPORTANT INSTRUCTIONS BEFORE ANSWERING THESE: If ALL four of these are descriptive of your current spiritual state, then YOU ARE a lukewarm Christian; but if you find that one or two are truer than others, then take these simply as a warning that you are on a slippery slope to becoming a lukewarm Christian.
ONE: Like the Laodiceans, are you relying more on the “things” in your life than you are on Jesus Christ? “Things” can refer to your material wealth, physical attractiveness, athleticism, or special talent. Sure, you believe Jesus died for you, but are you living each day like you believe He is present in everything you do, or are those “things” in your life your true fallback? If you are more confident about your bank account, charm, looks, or talent bailing you out of trouble than you are about the Son of God aiding you, then you, my friend, are on a slippery slope to becoming a lukewarm Christian.
TWO: Is your ONLY source of spiritual nourishment Sunday morning Church? If your hope and faith is built solely around your pastor’s sermon or your worship team’s songs, then you may be in trouble. While it is certainly true and Biblical that we are not to forsake the gathering of the saints, if Sunday mornings are the only times when your faith in Christ is active and vibrant, then you, my friend, are on a slippery slope to becoming a lukewarm Christian.
THREE: Are you in denial about the true state of your spiritual well being? The picture of Jesus instructing the Laodiceans to purchase eye drops/salve from Him should come to mind here. Are there problematic areas of your life you keep ignoring that have been continually brought to your attention by the Holy Spirit or by those around you who love Jesus? Do you find yourself becoming desensitized to God’s instructions (in other words, you’re getting more comfortable engaging in activities that you were once convinced would not honor God)? You see, if you keep at this, you’ll find that you’re not even on the slippery slope anymore, but have indeed already become a lukewarm Christian.
FOUR: Have you elevated certain Christian Church traditions to the level of scripture? There are a lot of good historical things the Church has done to foster the faith of believers, but be careful that you don’t make those things the centerpiece of your faith. By the way, this was the very thing the Pharisees were doing to the people, which is why Jesus always seemed to be so peeved at them. They had elevated the “tradition of the elders” to become as authoritative as God’s word itself. If you find yourself more passionate about “traditions” than you do Christ Himself, then you, my friend, are on a slippery slope to becoming a lukewarm Christian.
Once again, I want to reiterate that if ALL four of these are descriptive of your current spiritual state, then YOU ARE a lukewarm Christian that Jesus will spit out; but if you find that one or two are truer than others, then take these simply as a warning that you are on a slippery slope to becoming a lukewarm Christian. (Being spat out is not indicative of a loss of salvation, but whatever it is, it is certainly not pain-free!).
LIGHTING THE MATCH
Now, here’s the (sort of) good news about Jesus and lukewarm Christians. Because you were lovingly purchased at such a high bloody price on the cross of Jesus at Calvary, and because you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit by your loving Father in heaven, JESUS WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO REMAIN IN YOUR LUKEWARM CONDITION! It’s for this reason that He expresses in verse 19, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.”
If you choose to remain in your lukewarm state, Jesus will intervene (not in a pleasant way). He does, however, offer you the freedom to do it yourself before He has to step in. Backing up to verse 18-19, He says, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”
All of these speak of a renewed alertness, a spiritual awakening that results in burning passion. So, how do you go from lukewarm Christian to “on fire” and “hot” Christian?
ONE SIMPLE WAY TO GET "ON FIRE" FOR CHRIST: MAKE REPENTANCE A HABIT.
I’m not speaking of repeatedly “getting saved” each time you sin, rather, I have in mind here, living a lifestyle of continual confession.
I had a professor in seminary who used to tell us, “Make sure your account is always current before God.” I took that to heart and strive as much as possible to live as openly before God as I can. In other words, there is nothing so shameful in my life (that happens even in the secret places of my mind) that I don’t expose before God.
The lesson here for you, then, is to learn to lay it all bare before God in prayer because He will not heal that which we will not expose. What secret sins have you been hiding? What is sin in your life that you have refused to call sin? Listen to what 1 John 1:8-9 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
The only way you will go from lukewarm Christian to “on fire” Christian is if you confess your sins to God and trust that the Jesus Christ is faithful to forgive you and clean you up so that you are once again acceptable before God!
“But I keep falling back into the same sin always” you say?
CONFESS IT AGAIN! In your prayer, ask God to reveal to you the source of the repeated sin’s power in your life. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes so you can pick up on the behavioral patterns that leads you to the same sin. Act on whatever God instructs you to do, put some healthier boundaries around you, share your struggle with your friends who love Jesus and care about you, and you just keep pursuing Christ.
Should you fall along the way again? CONFESS AGAIN AND REPEAT! Keep pressing further and further into Christ through confession and action until the power of Christ working in you breaks the hold of that sin in your life!
The key is to NOT sit back and go, “I give up! It’s pointless becos I will always sin!” That, my friend, is unacceptable! Being earnest and continually repenting is your only fighting chance to breaking out of lukewarmness!!
LET'S DO LUNCH
As in all His letters to the Churches, there IS a reward that accompanies faithfulness to His words. Starting in verse 20, He says, “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."
Do you know what happens when you make confession a habit in your life?
Jesus will come regularly to dine with you! That may not do much for you until you consider how much fun it is to hang out at Chilli’s or TGI Fridays with friends over a meal. I don’t know about you, but when I’m sharing a meal with someone I love or with people I really like, my guard tends to be down. I feel free to listen and share stories of my day, my struggles, my secret hopes and ambitions, my dreams and fears of the future. Meals like that are often accompanied by laughter, playfulness, liveliness, gratitude, and pure happiness.
This is what Jesus is offering. He’s saying, as you open up your life to me daily in confession, I will come in and fill those voids in your life with my presence and company so that you will be “full” again!
As if that weren’t’ enough, He throws in a future promise of things that may be hard for our minds to comprehend at the moment. Verse 21-22, "To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches." This here is a promise of future glory, a time when Christ will share a greater meal with us on a greater throne. In other words, there is a day coming in the future after His return when He sets up His kingdom on earth; on that day, (due to our faithfulness to Him) Christ will delegate some of His ruling authority over nations to us. In other words, we will get to rule in His stead [I talk more about this in earlier blog posts].
And with that, we come to the end of this blog series on the 7 Letters of Revelation.
There’s certainly a lot more going on in the book of Revelation that we didn’t get into, but here’s what I can tell you about how the rest of this book plays out.
Number 1: In the end, JESUS WINS!
Number 2: Satan loses and every wrong in history is made right.
Number 3: Jesus will be giving away amazing prizes at the end.
Here’s the deal, even though you’ll be eternally secure in heaven with Him, the quality of the amazing prize you get from Him will be heavily dependent on how you lived your life for Him here.
The fact is, this life is a preparation for the next.
If you have been faithful in even the littlest of things here, it will result in the greatest of celebrations in your future home. If you were unfaithful in managing even the littlest of things, you have reason to hang your head low in His presence on that day. Plain and simple! Hence why Jesus ends the letter with these words in Revelation 3:21-22 “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Finish well, my friends!
UPDATED NOTE: A few of my readers have expressed that while this blogpost was helpful in identifying the problem of "lukewarmness", they felt it lacked a detailed and practical solution for how to remedy the problem. So, as an addendum, I have written another blogpost titled, "4 Quick Ways to Snap out of a Spiritual Funk." I hope you find it spiritually meaningful and helpful as you try to grow in your faith from lukewarmness to being "on fire" for the Lord Jesus Christ!
Husband. Dad. Pastor. Nigerian American. Storyteller. Aspiring Prayer Warrior. Steak Lover. Follower of Jesus Christ reminding you that God the Father still loves you.