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Are You a Lukewarm Christian? Here's What That Really Means


lukewarm Christian

The concept of a “lukewarm Christian” is popular among the modern church.


It is always used in a negative way to describe a Christian who isn’t “on fire” for God. In other words, it has to do with a person’s “spiritual temperature.”


A lukewarm Christian is also said to be someone who professes God, but doesn’t stand against sin (the way we would like them to) or preach hard truths.


Now, I do believe that Christians should have zeal and be fervent in the Spirit:


Romans 12:11 ESV

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.


And I understand that this could be expressed in our modern, metaphorical way of saying, “I am hot (on fire) for the Lord,” or, “ I am cold towards God.”


But the main point of this article is to show:


  • The main scripture we use to define “lukewarm Christians” isn’t exactly teaching “lukewarmness” the way we’re describing it today.

  • The real meaning of the scripture is much richer and will help our walks with God even greater.


The Scripture Used to Define the Lukewarm Christian


The scripture we’ll be studying is:


Revelation 3:15-16

15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.


The beginning or Revelation offers words for seven different churches. The last one mentioned is the church in Laodicea.


Laodicea gets a hard rebuke, and the Lord tells them that they are “neither cold nor hot.” What does that mean?


Again, when we read this scripture we instinctively plug our idea of what this means into the text. This is called eisegesis.


We plug in the idea of someone being spiritually “on fire” for God (hot) or “dead” towards God (cold).


But we should never assume that the way we think of scripture is how the original hearers would have interpreted it.


When you study the Bible, the first step is to remove yourself from the equation and put yourself in the shoes of the original readers.


In this case, the shoes we need to fill are the first-century Laodiceans.


What did they think of when they heard “hot or cold?”


There is no evidence that they equated “hot or cold” with “spiritual temperature.”


Effective Bible Study requires that you dig a little deeper sometimes and not just accept the popular Christian understanding.


What “Hot and Cold” Really Meant to a First-Century Laodicean


History, commentaries, and lexicons tell us that Laodicea lacked a natural water supply.


There were large stone pipes that seemed to run from a nearby town called Denizli, which had hot water springs.


As the water would travel through these pipes to Laodicea, the water would then become lukewarm.


Not too long ago, the people that live in this region where Laodicea once stood still had to place there waters in jars and let them sit until they became cool enough to drink.


Lukewarm water was very undesirable, and was usually only used as an emetic (something to make you throw up for medicinal purposes).


Hot water was good because it had healing properties. People desired it.


Cold water was also good because it was good to drink.


Nearby towns had hot and cold water springs, but poor Laodicea could only get lukewarm water.


Laodicea could not offer cold water for refreshment nor hot water for hot water for the sick.


Now, let’s look at the textual evidence.


“Hot” (Greek - zestos) and “cold” (Greek - psychros) are never really used to reference people in a metaphorical way in the Bible.


This should immediately tell us that it might not be a good idea to impose that thought on Rev. 3.


Instead, the words are most commonly used to reference water.


You should also pay close attention to the way the two words are laid out in the scripture:


“Hot or cold.”


Notice, Jesus doesn’t seem to put these two words as opposites of each other. He doesn’t say, “I would rather you be hot or maybe even cold!”


The syntax and grammar of the phrases “hot” and “cold” reveal that the two words are equally good and on the same side.


There is “hot or cold”, and then there is “lukewarm.” They are two realities - one good reality (hot or cold), and one bad reality (lukewarm). Does that make sense?


So, instead of the scripture being about “spiritual temperature” in the way we 21st-century Americans think of it, a better, alternative view is this:


Jesus was using a local, intimate reference to address Laodicea. Just as they didn’t have good hot or cold water and only undesirable lukewarm water, their works and their effectiveness had become lukewarm and ineffective.


And just as lukewarm water was used to make people throw up, Jesus said he was going to “spew” them out of his mouth (Greek - emesai; it literally means to “vomit”).


“Hot, cold, and lukewarm” are allusions to the actual circumstances concerning their water and its functions in Laodicea.


Hot water is good for healing, cold water is good for drinking, but lukewarm water is virtually useless, which is what Laodicea had become.


It wasn’t a statement telling them to “get on fire” for God, but rather, a rebuke against their ineffectiveness.


In the next verses, he tells them that they’re useless because they believed they were rich and needed nothing, but really, they were pitiful and naked.


Again, history tells us that before this letter was written to Laodicea, they were hit with a devastating earthquake.


However, the city was able to rebuild and come back to life without assistance from the government, and it was praised for this.


Perhaps the people in the city, along with the church, felt that they were “OK” and didn’t need God that much.


This led them to be ineffective and useless, not building God’s kingdom or recognizing their need for God.


We can kind of see this when God tells them, “I know your works.”


But one thing we know for sure is that this rebuke was not a statement to tell them to get “spiritually on fire” for God.


Think about this: Jesus said that he would rather them be hot or cold. If “cold” refers to being totally dead to God with no fervency, why would he say that he would rather us be totally dead to him, rather than at least a little lukewarm towards him in our fervency?


It just doesn’t make sense.


Now, we have a more logical understanding of the lukewarmness of Revelation 3.


Here’s What We Can Learn


We’ve seen the history and textual evidence. Now, let’s get back in our little time machine and come back to our time.


How can we apply this to ourselves and our churches?


Here’s what I get from all this.


I understand that we want our churches and our people to be “hot” for God. I know what that means, and I think we should strive towards it.


But…


1. We shouldn’t use Revelation 3 to prove this thought because that’s not what it’s saying.


2. Instead of telling Christians to “get hot” for God all the time, why not instead ask them this one question:


“Are you being effective with what God has given you?”


It’s kind of like a person who finds themselves depressed. Instead of asking themselves, “Why am I so depressed?”, a better question would be:


“What am I doing that a happy, non-depressed person would do?”


Maybe I’ll stop asking people, “Are you on fire for God, or are you lukewarm?”


Instead, I’ll ask, “Are you being useful for God’s kingdom?”


We can learn that we shouldn’t be like the Laodiceans. We shouldn’t be ineffective, useless, and think that we don’t need God because everything seems to be OK right now in our lives, and we seem strong enough to do things ourselves.


When we act like this, it causes us to focus less on God and more on our goodness.


We shouldn’t be like the Laodiceans, but not because they were “kind of on fire for God and kind of not.”


There’s no evidence for that.


We shouldn’t be like them because they were useless and offered nothing to the world.

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