Behind the Lens, by Darren Wilson

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The Disease of the Lukewarm Christian

Verses like this in the Bible played a large part in my struggle with God, because it always made Him seem so unbending and demanding. I mean, if I'm sort of following you, you're seriously going to vomit me out of your mouth?

“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16).

Growing up as an evangelical Christian, we didn’t spend a whole lot of time hanging out in the book of Revelation. There was a lot of weird stuff in there that seemed next to impossible to figure out, but on the occasion that we were told to turn in our Bibles to Revelation, you could be fairly certain on where you were heading. Chapters 2 and 3 in Revelations deal with God’s messages to the early churches, and while there’s a lot of good stuff there, whenever someone wanted to drop the hammer of conviction on the crowd, they’d usually turn to the message for the church in Laodicea. The lynchpin was always the verse quoted above, and the meaning was heavily implied—if you’re not all in with God, then He’s got a problem with you.

As I’ve grown in friendship with God, I’ve realized a lot of areas where I got both His point and His character all wrong. Verses like this in the Bible played a large part in my struggle with God, because it always made Him seem so unbending and demanding. I mean, if I’m sort of following You, You’re seriously going to vomit me out of Your mouth? That’s pretty strong language. So I would try to move closer to Him by doing more stuff, but inevitably I’d wind up back in the same place of loving and serving a God I didn’t trust all that much. Faith in that headspace is highly unsatisfying, to say the least.

But as I explored the idea that friendship with God should be our ultimate goal in life, I began to look at these troublesome verses through the lens of friendship, and suddenly they didn’t seem so troublesome anymore. In fact, they revealed a God with real feelings and a real personality. In a sense, it gave substance to the idea that God IS love.

Most Christians look at this admonition to Laodicea and only see one outcome that will please God. Either get hot with Him or He’s upset. But we miss the other alternative that God throws into the mix, because it seems so counterproductive for God to actually want such a thing from us. But there it is, plain as day. “I’d rather you be hot OR cold, just don’t be lukewarm.” Why would God say such a thing? In my rational mind, if I were to choose a pecking order for people’s hearts towards serving God, it would be hot is best, lukewarm is OK (because at least you’re doing something), and cold is the very worst. But in God’s kingdom, hot is best, cold is OK and lukewarm is repugnant. What gives? How do we make sense of this?

To me, it all boils down to friendship. When Jesus tells us in John 15:15 that He no longer calls us slaves, but friends, He’s talking about actual, real friendship. And the cornerstone for the best friendships is not love, but honesty. After all, we all know people we love very much but don’t trust at all. But the people you trust the most, and the people you can be honest with the most, are typically your best friends in the world.

Obviously, God wants us to trust Him and go after Him with everything we have—to be “hot.” But I think the reason He tells us He’s also OK with us being “cold” is because at least then we’re being honest with Him. He can work with honesty. Some of my best times with God have come when I’ve simply been brutally honest and told Him how disappointed I am in Him, how much I’m struggling with the idea that He is always good, and how I just don’t have the spiritual energy or desire to be “hot.” He would then take those moments of raw honesty and get to work wooing me back to Him.  

When you read the Psalms, written by a man “after God’s own heart,” you see a picture of a man who is hot and cold, trusting and terrified, worshipful and on the brink of giving up. “Where are you? What’s taking you so long? Do you want me to die?” This is the heart of David splayed open for his God to see, and it was through this hot and cold man that God established His kingdom forever.  

So what is it about the lukewarm Christian that bothers God so much? Why does neither hot nor cold literally make Him wretch? I think it’s pretty simple. When we’re lukewarm, we don’t think there’s anything wrong, and we’re quite content with where we are at, thank you very much. God is a God of the harvest, but He can only harvest where there is growth. When you are lukewarm, growth is nonexistent because you think you are fully grown. You’re a double-minded person, with one foot turned toward God and the other turned toward yourself. But more than anything, you’re simply not being honest about your current condition. And the one thing God cannot abide is a lack of honesty, because dishonesty drives a wedge between friendships.  

God uses strong language because He’s talking about the thing that means the most to Him—you. He loves your passion, and He can work with your pain, but your lukewarm heart makes you an acquaintance and not a friend. It has always been fashionable to label the church of Laodicea as the one most closely associated with the American church. But the secret in overcoming isn’t going to be found in buckling down and trying harder. The only thing that can cure the disease of lukewarm Christianity is honesty with God. You’re either hot or your cold. If you don’t identify with one or the other, then maybe the disease has taken hold of you. Luckily, there is an antidote that can work miracles. And that antidote begins with a simple, honest prayer.  

“Dear God, help me.”

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