God Wants More For You. So Do We.

What Does it Actually Mean to be a Lukewarm Christian?

Ask Pastor Alex, Ep. 12

This is the Ask Pastor Alex podcast with your host, Pastor Alex.
All right, welcome back. We’re here with another episode and another question. The question
for this episode is, how can I know if I am a lukewarm Christian? That’s a good question.
What I want to do is, as we begin to answer this question and as I begin to answer it,
I want you to just stop and think about how you would answer that. If someone were to
come along to you and ask you this question, how can I know if I’m a lukewarm Christian?
What would be your response? How would you answer that question? I think that as we start
to answer it, we need to just ask ourselves, well, what does it even mean to be a lukewarm
Christian? As you answer that question, try to see how much of your answer is influenced
by cultural understandings. Because if I had to guess, I think most people would answer
that question by saying something like, a lukewarm Christian is someone who is not on
fire for the Lord, but it’s someone who’s also not cold toward the Lord either. This
person believes in Jesus and he attends church somewhat regularly, but he’s not the most
committed or devoted. He’s just kind of lukewarm. But my question is this, is that what the
Bible teaches about being lukewarm? I know that’s the popular understanding and I know
it’s the popular way to answer that question, but we always have to ask ourselves, is that
actually what the Bible teaches? And so what we need to do is actually dive into the passage
from which this phrase comes. And this phrase actually comes from the book of Revelation.
So Revelation chapter three, this is the letter to the church in Laodicea. And this is what
we read in verses 14 through 16. The Bible says, into the angel of the church in Laodicea,
write the words of the amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
I know your works. You were neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot.
So because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
Now let’s just remember the context here. This is the book of Revelation. This is John
who is recording the vision that Jesus has given to him to send to the seven churches
that are in Asia Minor, one of which was the church that was in the city of Laodicea. And
a little bit about Laodicea, they were a really rich city. They were actually pretty famous
for a clothing that they made there out of black wool. And that’s where a lot of their
money actually came from. They also had a leading medical, like a university type place
there, also a leading medical center where they developed a special eye ointment. And
so they had a lot going for them. But the downside of Laodicea, the city, was that it
didn’t have its own natural water source. And so what they had to do was they had to
bring in water from other cities through an aqueduct system. And this was pretty common
in those days, right? Like most cities would have an aqueduct system for hot water, which
was used primarily for bathing and cleaning. And then they would have another one for cold
water, which was primarily used for drinking. Well, here’s the kicker, okay? As great as
Laodicea seemed to be with all their money and their fancy clothing and their medical
university and their eyes salve and all this kind of stuff, they were really far away from
all other cities. And so by the time the water reached them, the hot water and the cold water
were both, you guessed it, lukewarm. And not only that, but since it had traveled such
a long distance, it would pick up all these like minerals and kind of bacteria. And if
you drank it without first boiling it, it would make you throw up. You would literally
have to spit it out of your mouth. And so I just want you to think about our passage
real quick. Knowing all of that background, think about how much of that cultural context
Jesus references in this passage. I mean, we have hot water with cold water. We have
water so gross, it makes a person spit it out of their mouth, just as Jesus said that
he was going to spit the church out of his mouth. Later on in the passage, Jesus is even
going to reference the city’s wealth. He’s going to reference their clothing manufacturing
and their ice out. In other words, Jesus knows this city. He knows this church and he is
communicating to them in a way that will make sense to them. They would understand these
references fully, even if today we have to do a little bit of research on them. But let’s
just get back to the water for a second, right? If hot water was good for bathing and cleaning
and cold water was good for drinking, what was the lukewarm water good for? Nothing,
right? It was useless water. We really need to understand this cultural background in
order to understand this passage, because this passage gets absolutely abused today
and totally misunderstood today. Some preachers will stand up if they’re preaching on this
passage. You might hear it preached at a revival meeting or something like that. They’re going
to say something like, Jesus would rather you be cold toward him than lukewarm towards
him. He would rather you reject him entirely and be against him than be one of these lukewarm
Christians. He can stomach a cold person, but he can’t stomach a lukewarm person. Listen,
I know that there are some churches where that’ll preach and it will preach for a lot
of churches, but there are just a few problems with that. First and foremost, does that align
with anything else we read anywhere else in scripture? There is nothing that I have seen
in scripture where the Bible says something like, Jesus would rather you reject him entirely
than just be one of these lukewarm people, right? So it doesn’t align with the rest of
scripture. It doesn’t coincide with the rest of scripture. The other problem with this
is that it totally misunderstands the point of the passage. It misses the entire message
that Jesus is preaching and writing to the church in Laodicea. We see this with our last
problem with that approach, which is the fact that we are oftentimes reading something into
the text that’s not there, right? That interpretation of the preacher who’s going to preach this
passage in that way, it is based entirely on modern cultural linguistics. Like today,
we’ll say something’s hot if it’s really good, right? So we’re in the midst of March Madness
right now. So think about basketball. If a basketball player hasn’t missed a single shot
all game, people say, oh, he’s hot right now. He’s got the hot hands right now. He’s on
fire. We do the same thing with Jesus. If someone’s really passionate about Jesus and
the gospel and the kingdom, they’ll say, that person is on fire for the Lord. Well, we do
the same thing, but with cold and with cold today, we tend to associate it with being
bad. So again, if you’re thinking about a basketball player, if someone is missing all
their shots, you’d say they’re cold right now, they’re off. Or if someone is cold hearted,
that’s an insult. So in our modern culture, hot means good and cold means bad. But the
problem is no one in the ancient culture would have thought like that at all. They didn’t
associate hot with good and cold with bad. That is a modern understanding that we have
read back into the text. And that’s dangerous. That’s called isogesis. When you read something
into the text that’s not there, what we want to commit ourselves to is exegesis, drawing
out from the text what is there so that we can properly understand God’s word. Because
did you happen to notice when we were reading the passage and when we did all that cultural
context and cultural background, did you happen to notice that both hot water and cold water
are good? Nothing in the passage said that hot water was good, cold water was bad. The
background to the passage let us know that hot water is good because we can use it to
bathe and clean. And cold water is good because we can use it to drink and be refreshed. The
only water that’s not good is the lukewarm water. And it’s not good because it can’t
be used for anything. It’s useless. And folks, that is the whole point of this passage. I
wish people would understand that today, read it that way, preach it that way. Jesus’ whole
point in this passage is he’s saying, look, here’s a church that had the resources available
to do great things for the kingdom of God, but instead they were like their own sickening
water completely useless. And so to be a lukewarm Christian is to be a useless Christian. It’s
a person who either does nothing at all or who does the absolute bare minimum. They might
attend a Sunday morning service, but that’s about it. That’s their entire faith. That
is the only time they read the Bible. That is the only time they pray. That is the only
time they have anything to do with God and His kingdom and His purposes at all. And it’s
alarming how many people in the church that describes today. And so if that’s what it
means to be a lukewarm Christian, how can I tell if I am a lukewarm Christian? Well,
I would ask you a couple of questions. First and foremost, are you giving the bare minimum
to the Lord? When you look at your life and you think about what you’re doing for God
and His kingdom and His purposes, are you giving the bare minimum? What are you doing
for the kingdom of God? Not, are you doing something for the kingdom of God? My question
is what are you doing for the kingdom of God? Are you currently doing all that you can to
demonstrate what life in God’s kingdom is like to the world? Because as Christians,
as followers of Jesus, we’re called to be imitators of Christ. We’re called to reflect
His nature and His character to the world. And so when you look at the gospels and you
see all that Jesus did, how He attended to the sick, to the hurting, to the depressed,
to the broken hearted, to the poor, to the needy, to the hungry, to the thirsty, and
you see how He cared for them, are you seeking to imitate that and demonstrate that in your
life? If not, then you’re not aligned with what it looks like to be part of God’s kingdom.
What are you good for? What’s your use? What’s your purpose? If you think about these questions
and your answer time and time again is, I am giving the bare minimum to the Lord. I’m
not doing anything for the kingdom. I’m not serving a purpose right now. I’m not being
useful for God and His kingdom. Well then, unfortunately, that would describe a lukewarm
Christian. A lukewarm Christian is a useless Christian and I hope that that’s not you.
So I really do appreciate that question. It’s a fun question to answer. I hope that the
cultural background of this passage has helped you understand it better and see how important
it is to do historical background when you’re studying the Bible. And thanks for the question.
I look forward to answering more in the future.