The Real Problem of the Lukewarm Christian

We easily interpret the Bible based upon how we think and what we say today in the 21st century. But this can lead to wrong ideas that God never intended. It also causes us to miss the idea that God intended to give us. Here’s one example.

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou were cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth (Revelation 3:15-16).

Here Christ describes the spiritual condition of a church, in a city called Laodicea, as lukewarm. He also says that the church was neither cold nor hot, and that He wanted it to be either cold or hot. What does this mean?

Today, we use ‘cold’ and ‘hot’ to describe certain conditions. For instance, if a sports team is mired in a losing streak, we call them ‘cold.’ But when they ride a winning streak, we call them ‘hot.’ A losing streak is a cold streak, and a winning streak is a hot streak.

Using this contemporary language, many preachers wax eloquent about God desiring Christians to make up their minds. They say that God wants us to be either hot and on fire for Him, or cold and outright rebellious. Using the same logic, they conclude that God would rather have me be outright rebellious (‘cold’) than mediocre (‘lukewarm’) in my spiritual condition.

Is this true? No. God never desires for any one of His children to be outright rebellious. Period.

So how does Jesus use ‘cold,’ ‘hot’ and ‘lukewarm’ in Revelation 3:15-16? He uses these descriptions the way people of Laodicea understood them in the first century. You see, the city of Laodicea sat in a very interesting place. They had no really good sources of good water for themselves. So they used other means, like aqueducts, to access good water.

One nearby city, Colosse, benefited from fresh, cold water springs. And another city, Hierapolis, benefited from hot spring water, which they used for medicinal and cleansing purposes.

So what happened to water piped in from other cities like these? By the time the water arrived in Laodicea, it would lose the original hot or cold qualities. It became lukewarm, and was no longer cold or hot.

Now, with this cultural background in mind, we can understand Revelation 3:15-16 accurately. Christ is telling the church that they are not useful to Him. Unlike cold water (which is useful for refreshment) and hot water (which is useful for cleansing and healing), they were lukewarm.

For instance, Dunkin’ Donuts advertises HOT chocolate and coffee drinks in the winter months, and COLD iced coffee and other drinks in the summer months. Why? Because these are desirable qualities during these seasons of the year. But they never advertise LUKEWARM coffee. Why? Because it is never compelling. No season causes us to crave lukewarm drinks.

So here is the question. Are you useful to Jesus? Is your life the kind that Jesus can use? Do you draw people to Jesus? Are you a source of spiritual refreshment, healing and cleansing? The real problem of the lukewarm Christian is not that they are undecided, somewhere between spiritual living and back-slidden ways. It is that they are not useful to Jesus and to others around them. Lethargic Christianity is lukewarm Christianity. But the kind of Christianity that is hot and cold is compelling!

Do you agree?

For a podcast audio episode of this same Bible study, click here.

2 replies
  1. Seth D Johnson
    Seth D Johnson says:

    There were ducts set up to get water from the hot and cold springs and by the time the water from the neighboring cities got to Laodicea it was not only lukewarm related to temperature it was full of contaminates and impure.

    Hot and Cold are not only useful they were pure. The lukewarm church of Laodicea was so full of impurity because of their trust in their wealth and health and yet blind to it. Like a kid coming in out of the mud puddle can’t even see how messy they are the Laodicean Christians needed the truth of their spiritual impurity exposed.

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