As a young boy and an adolescent, the word lukewarm haunted me after I first came across it in Scripture. I wondered if my words, actions, and thoughts were betraying and squelching my faith. I lusted after girls at school and church; I cursed my mom under my breath for unfair punishment; and I envied the popular kids who wore designer clothes and nice kicks. I didn’t care for the young man in the mirror; I was forgetting who I was in Christ (James 1:22-24).
Through confession (1 John 1:9), forgiveness (Hebrews 10:17), and repentance (Jeremiah 31:19), I sought God wholeheartedly (Jeremiah 29:13) and discovered that he is immensely close to those who are “crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
Yet, because of sin’s presence, lukewarmness has a way of lingering, much like toxic pollution contaminating the clean air.
What Does It Mean to Be Lukewarm?
The church in Laodicea knew this truth well as their deeds were lukewarm, neither cold nor hot. God’s consequence, according to the author John, is grotesque: “I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16).
Lukewarmness is an indifference to God and “a dying of conviction,” says John Bloom.this about these verses in Revelation:
Better to be totally outside the church and clearly, blatantly, un-hypocritically unbelieving than to be a compromised believer who puts on all the pretenses…but inside there is no true commitment to Christ and no sense of need for Jesus at all….The picture of the lukewarm person is a person in church who is self-satisfied…and not desperate….They think they’re just fine.
Self-Satisfied, Wretched, and Poor
Sin’s presence means that all of us are prone to drifting. It’s easy to coast in faith like a car stuck in neutral. This caution should be heeded more so by those who have grown up in the church. We go through the motions, and the intensity lessens. The embers turn to ash. A hot faith can become a lukewarm faith if we do not plead with God for a continuous desperation and passion for him.
In the words of Josh Etter, “The essence of lukewarmness is the statement, ‘I need nothing.’ The lukewarm are spiritually self-satisfied.” Jesus affirms this about the Laodicean church: “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (v. 17). Our natural, spiritual state is one of sinful self-reliance. So what can be done to change this?
Hope for the Lukewarm
Though the Laodiceans were singled out for their lukewarm faith, Jesus approached them from a standpoint of love and hope: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent” (v. 19). Like a child who is greeted with the consequences of his or her misbehavior, discipline isn’t pleasant in the moment—no, it is painful. But with time it yields “a harvest of righteousness and peace” (Hebrews 12:11). It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4), which is a turning away from sin and self-satisfaction, and a walking toward our forgiving God.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (v. 20). Jesus calls us to be dependent on him, to leave our self-satisfied, independent spirits. He invites us to abide in his presence, to take up his yoke that is gentle, humble, and full of rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28-30). He beckons us to be satisfied in him.
Thinking we need nothing — lukewarmness — surely precedes a harsh fall (Proverbs 16:18), and we can’t fix a lukewarm heart on our own. But Christ intervenes and delights to change us from the inside out.
Make Me Hot!
What might it look like to “[open] the door” when Jesus speaks to our lukewarm hearts and convicts us of our sinful self-satisfaction? How might we seek him for the help only he can give?
Confession and repentance, intentional time in the Scriptures (Psalm 119:10), and earnest prayer (Psalm 145:18-19) are the kindling that feed a roaring fire. When we confess our indifference and turn from sin, we freshly experience and love God’s mercy and grace (Psalm 51). The Scriptures pierce our souls and remind us of God’s enduring truths and our need. And prayer points us away from ourselves and to our great hope and joy in Christ, who invites lukewarm, self-satisfied sinners to live with him forever in glory.
Jon Bloom summarizes the salve to a lukewarm spirit by way of a moving prayer. Make it yours today:
Merciful Father, make me hot! Whatever it takes, whatever it costs me, give me the Spirit-salve for my heart-eyes (Revelation 3:18) so that I may see what is Real, believe what is True, treasure what is Valuable, and forsake what is worthless.
Restore our fire for you, O Lord.