You’ve probably heard the term lukewarm Christian before. It’s commonly thrown around as a vague warning that followers of Jesus ought to be fully devoted. But I rarely hear the lukewarm Christian meaning explained.
This term comes from Revelation 3:16 which says: So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
We can tell right off the bat that this verse is not positive, but we often miss the true depth of this passage. Revelation 3:16 is painting an incredible picture that has a powerful message for us today. To fully understand it we need to take a closer look at this passage.
To better understand the lukewarm meaning in the Bible let’s breakdown the Revelation 3:16 meaning to see what it holds for us today.
Lukewarm In The Bible
In the first few chapters of Revelation, John (the author) records a message from God to seven churches. These are real churches that existed in John’s day, however, the messages are not exclusive to these churches. They stand as representations of all churches.
It’s in this address that we find the term lukewarm Christian. We see it in the address to the Laodicean church in Revelation 3:14-22. This church was struggling, they had largely abandoned their faith, and were relying on their own strength to get by.
This passage is addressed to a church, followers of Jesus. We often picture this passage written to the unbeliever as a warning. But that’s not who this is addressed to.
A few verses after Revelation 3:16 is the famous image of Jesus knocking on the door in Revelation 3:20. Both of these verses are addressed to the same church. It’s not a warning to unbelievers, rather it’s the result of Christians wandering way from God.
This passage is about how we as believers can become lukewarm and feel we are self-sufficient. In doing so we push Jesus out and leave Him standing on the outside of the door. That’s the picture this verse is painting, Jesus standing outside a Christian’s heart asking to come in.
If you want to read more about Revelation 3:20 I wrote a post about it here: What Revelation 3:20 Really Means
Let’s take a closer look at the Revelation 3:16 meaning.
Revelation 3:16 Meaning
So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. Revelation 3:16
There’s a few important things that we need to understand about the context of the church in Laodicea that will help us better understand and apply this passage to our life.
The Church Of Laodicea
This church was positioned in a heavily resourced area. As a result they lived comfortable lives and were prideful in their ability to provide for themselves.
So much so that when an earthquake destroyed their city in 60 AD they refused help from the Roman Empire and insisted to pay for the rebuild themselves.
This attitude of self-sufficiency spilled over into the church. They thought they could do it all themselves and they neglected to rely on God.
Revelation 3:16 is a harsh, but spurred from love, reminder where God points out their weakness and tells them this attitude has made them useless.
It’s important to understand, this isn’t a salvation issue, but a usefulness issue. This church has abandoned its mission, it’s become ineffective, useless.
That’s what the whole lukewarm water comment is about. Hot and cold water are good and useful, but lukewarm is good for nothing.
Let’s look closer at what the water supply meant to this church and city.
The Water Supply
This image of lukewarm water would have caused a powerful reaction from the Laodicean church. It’s not a mistake or happenstance that the title this church is given is one of being lukewarm water. Drinks are better when they are hot or cold. But all that this city had access to was lukewarm water.
The neighboring city of Hierapolis had a hot spring that was valuable for its medicinal effects. By the time it made its way to Laodicea through aqueducts it had lost much of its heat and medicinal value. It was lukewarm.
Another nearby city of Colosse had cool, refreshing, life-giving water that was the perfect refreshing beverage. But by the time the cool and refreshing water reached Laodicea, it was no longer cold. It was lukewarm.
Hot water is useful. Cold water is refreshing. Lukewarm water is not so useful.
What God is telling this church is that they are not useful to him. They’ve become stagnant, lifeless, all about themselves… lukewarm. Which is why he says I am about to spit you out of my mouth. An image that the church would be very familiar with when they sipped their water supply.
I like what Tom Constable says in his Revelation 3 Expository Notes: The Lord”s spitting His people out of His mouth does not mean they would lose their salvation. This anthropomorphism simply indicates His intense disgust. He did not mean that He would rather we be spiritually cold than that we be spiritually lukewarm either. He did mean that He would rather we be spiritually refreshing or healthful, as cold or hot water, rather than that we be spiritually bland, as lukewarm water. This explanation seems more likely than the one that identifies the Laodiceans as unbelievers.
The lukewarm meaning in the Bible is a challenge to remain on mission for God. He has given each of us a purpose and a role. The church in Laodicea had become stagnant in their faith and abandoned their mission. They were lukewarm Christians.
3 Images Of The Lukewarm Christian Meaning
Now that we have a better understanding of the Revelation 3:16 meaning let’s look at how we can apply it to our lives today.
This passage is full of images that would have struck a chord with the Laodicean Christians. When we read this we focus heavily on the negative aspect of what it means to be a lukewarm Christian.
As we look at what this verse means for us I want to flip this focus. Rather than focus on the negatives of being lukewarm, I want to focus on the ideal, what we should be striving for.
Since this is an image-driven passage I want to give you three images of what followers of Jesus should be like.
Here’s three ways you can avoid being a lukewarm Christian.
1. A Cold Drink On A Hot Day (Refreshing)
Is there anything more refreshing than a cold drink on a hot day? A cold drink tastes so much better when you’ve been in the sun on a hot day.
Compare that to a water bottle that sat in the sun while you were working in the yard. When you take a swig of that it’s out of necessity, not enjoyment.
A cold drink on a hot day is the perfect refreshment. You instantly feel it. As it makes its way through your overheated body it refreshes and restores you. It brings you back to life.
That’s the picture of what followers of Jesus should be like to those around them. We should be refreshing, restoring, life-giving. The world is looking for refreshment, but often all they can find is a lukewarm bottle of water that’s been sitting in the sun all day. We should be a refreshing drink on a hot day.
2. Hot Tea On A Sore Throat (Comfort)
When you have a sore throat the most soothing thing you can drink is something hot. Whether it be tea, hot water with honey, or my favorite, a hot toddy. A hot drink is a must when you have a sore throat.
There’s just something about the heat of the liquid as it slides down your throat that provides comfort in the midst of your pain.
Not only should Christians be refreshing, but they should also be comforting. In this world there’s pain and suffering all around us. We are like hot tea on a sore throat. We can provide comfort in the midst of the pain those around us are living.
3. We Are Mere Beggars
Remember the warning of this passage, don’t be self-sufficient. We need God. There is great danger when we think we have all we need, we don’t. By ourselves, we will only be lukewarm. It’s through Christ we can become refreshing and comforting.
As Martin Luther said: We are all mere beggars showing other beggars where to find bread.
The moon by itself is nothing special. But when it reflects the sun’s rays on a dark night it’s breathtaking. The same is true with followers of Jesus.
We don’t have the source of life. We are simply pointing people to the source of life.
Closing Thoughts On Lukewarm Meaning In The Bible
The Laodicean church and the modern western church have a lot of similarities. The Laodiceans enjoyed material prosperity that led them to a false sense of security and independence. We too have bought into the lie of self-sufficiency. When we live like that we run into the danger of becoming spiritually bland, lukewarm Christians.
Again, this isn’t a salvation issue, rather a usefulness issue. The lukewarm Christian meaning, in the context of this verse, means we’ve lost our purpose. Which is a constant danger when Christians live with ease and enjoy plenty.
The western church has largely lost its mission and purpose. We think we are good enough, and we can get by on our own. But that’s simply not true. We need to fully rely on God.
But all hope is not lost. The picture in Revelation 3:20 of Jesus standing outside knocking is an invitation. It’s an invitation to once again become useful, refreshing, and life-giving to the world. Like a glass of cold water on a hot day or a cup of hot tea on a sore throat, Jesus is offering to redeem us from our lukewarm existence.
The question is, will we let him in?
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