What does it mean to be a lukewarm Christian?
Maybe you’ve heard that term before, it’s often thrown around as a vague warning. But rarely do I actually hear what this verse means explained. I want to dive a little deeper into what being a lukewarm Christian means and where it comes from in the Bible.
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.
Right off the bat we can tell this verse doesn’t sound positive. But before we can draw any conclusions we need to look at the context in which this verse is written. Context is king, when we ignore it we will often end up with wrong, and sometimes harmful, meaning of the text.
So let’s dive into what’s happening in Revelation 3.
The Context Of Lukewarm Christian
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.
In Revelation 3:14-22 it is the church of Laodicea that’s being addressed. In other words, these verses are addressed to followers of Jesus. Often we 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 church. It’s not a warning to unbelievers, rather it’s the result of Christians wandering way for 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
Before we can dive into the implications of this verse and how it applies to us today we need to look alike deeper into the original audience.
The Church Of Laodicea
The church of Laodicea was positioned in a heavily resourced area. 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 insisting to pay for the rebuild themselves.
This attitude of self-sufficiency spilled over into the church. They thought they were good to go, they had it all together. In a harsh, spurred from love, reminder God points out their weakness and tells them they’ve become useless. That’s what the whole lukewarm water comment is about (Revelation 3:16). Hot and cold water are good and useful, but lukewarm is good for nothing.
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 it’s way to Laodicea through aqueducts it had lost much of its heat and medicinal value. It was lukewarm.
The 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.
Now that we have a better understanding of the context, let’s look at what this means for us.
3 Pictures Of What A Lukewarm Christian Means
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 lukewarm part. 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 an image-driven passage I want to give you three images of what followers of Jesus should be like.
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 the yard. When you take a swig of that it’s out of necessity, not enjoyment. There’s no refreshment.
A cold drink on a hot day is the perfect refreshment. You instantly feel it. As it makes it’s 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 been sitting in the sun all day. We should be a refreshing drink on a hot day.
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.
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.
What Revelation 3:16 Means For Us
I think 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’ve to have bought into the lie of self-sufficiency. When we live like that we run into the danger of becoming spiritually bland, lukewarm Christians.
I want to reiterate, this isn’t a salvation issue. Rather it’s a usefulness issue. Being lukewarm, 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.
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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