When did your heart begin to cool toward Jesus?
You likely can’t remember the day or the week, maybe not even the year. You likely do remember a time when you felt on fire. You were hungry to read the Bible, jealous for more time in prayer, hunting for opportunities to serve at church, excited to gather on Sunday mornings, eager to give more of the little you had, burning to tell the next person about Jesus.
And then, over time, you were a little less hungry and a little more distracted, a little less disciplined and a little too busy. The fire within burned low, and eventually cool.
Maybe you didn’t think your heart had cooled. You just assumed life was full and demanding, that your youthful passion and devotion had matured and settled. That surely Jesus would understand. That there would be time later in life to get serious again.
The harsh reality for any of us who become lukewarm, however, is that Jesus does not coddle our indifference, our preoccupation with lesser things, our subtle captivity to worldliness. He does not sympathize with our waywardness. Jesus despises spiritual ambivalence.
I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15–16)
These are souls with just enough heat to feel comfortable in church, just enough fear not to hurl themselves into gross immorality, just enough guilt to open the Bible every once in a while, just enough need to pray on especially hard days. They don’t give up on Jesus, but they don’t give him much of themselves either. They attempt to stay Christian enough to avoid hell, but spend most of their time, money, and attention trying to find some heaven here on earth.
Disease or Symptom?
So who inspired this hard word from Jesus? The church in Laodicea, the seventh of the seven churches in Revelation 2–3 — and of the seven, the only one to whom Jesus had nothing positive to say.
The church in Thyatira tolerated sexual immorality, yet Jesus still commended their “love and faith and service and patient endurance” (Revelation 2:19). The church in Sardis had fallen asleep, almost to death, yet Jesus commended the few who were still “worthy” (Revelation 3:4). But to the lukewarm in Laodicea, he had no such praise, only a piercing warning. Imagine if our churches treated spiritual tepidity with as much sobriety as we treated sexual immorality.
Lukewarmness, however, was not the sole illness in Laodicea. It was a symptom of a more serious condition: self-reliance.
Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. (Revelation 3:16–17)
Why had the church in Laodicea cooled in their devotion to King Jesus? Because they had forgotten their need for him. They had grown too confident, too comfortable, too successful to see just how wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked they were within. And their self-reliance was made all the more glaring and offensive by their circumstances. History tells us that their city had been devastated by an earthquake in 60 A.D. and yet still refused assistance. The Laodiceans were too proud to receive support. And that pride seems to have infected the church as well. A pride not unfamiliar to churches (and souls) in affluent parts of the world today.
The warning, then, is not just about room-temperature love for Jesus, but about what so often cools our love for Jesus: a denial of our need for him.
That You May See
While Jesus responds with surprising disgust — “I will spit you out of my mouth” — he also draws near with an even more surprising warmth,
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. (Revelation 3:18)
Notice the kindness in his rebuke. You think yourself rich? Let me make you wealthy beyond imagining. You think yourself secure? Let me clothe you in garments of righteousness that will never tear or fade. You think yourself sufficient? Let me show you just how blind you are — and how blindness falls, like scales, before my love.
The self-reliant have no idea how much they sacrifice to preserve their pride. As they cling to their false sense of control, they forfeit the sovereign help of heaven. They surrender the merciful and miraculous opportunity to finally and fully see. They lose Jesus because they won’t be served by Jesus.
Unless we repent. “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline,” Jesus says, “so be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19). The hard words of Jesus are meant to warm the hearts of the lukewarm. They’re not meant to inspire despair and self-pity, but repentance and vigilance. In this case, “I will spit you out of my mouth” is the sound of love, not enmity. Jesus is saying, even pleading, I want to feel the heat of your zeal again. Lay down your bitter self-reliance, and let me relight the fire that has burned low within you.
The King Outside
However far the lukewarm may have drifted, however often we have refused his care and strength, however cool our hearts have grown, Jesus remains near to us, ready to forgive, restore, and even embrace us.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:20–21)
The King of heaven will not make us run far and wide to find him. Even when we indulge in self-reliance, and put off prayer, and slowly drift away, he stays close. He is at the door, just outside — even now. He doesn’t want to spit us out of his mouth; he wants to eat, and laugh, and sing with us at the banquet of his grace and mercy. And not only at his table, but on his throne. Our hearts may be prone to wax and wane for now, but they will not when we run and rule with the risen Christ in glory.
Lukewarmness puts us in particular peril because the hint of warmth can make us feel alive. If we will not repent — if we will not welcome the knocking, waiting, pursuing King — we have chosen blindness, nakedness, and poverty for ourselves. And we will be rejected and condemned by the Jesus who might have set us free and made us see.
But if we surrender our self-reliance, and revive our first love, he will ignite a fire in us that cannot be quenched.