Yelling “Lukewarm” Doesn’t Help Anyone — Especially The Lukewarm


Christians: So many of us are lukewarm, but it doesn’t help to yell “lukewarm.”

If you yell at someone long enough, it somehow feels like you will jolt them into purpose like a wind-up action figure and they’ll embrace the fiery Christian life of the Bible they never read.

We say a lot of hard things like, “If Jesus really is he who says he is, shouldn’t we be completely sold out for Jesus? Are you in or out? Are you committed or not? Then a long pause, which always means, “This is the convicting phrase you have to tweet.”

Christians: The goal of our faith-journey is NOT to avoid being lukewarm. That’s just standing on anti-ground.

Often I end up feeling like I’m clawing for the threshold of some invisible spiritual success and that God is a parole officer and I’m bleeding towards victory, lest a terrible fate awaits me in the darkness of failure.

But these kinds of lists and proclamations — “Ten Signs You’re Missing It, How To Know You’re A Spiritual Infant, The Quick Sure Road To Hell” — seem an awful lot like pointing at all my flabby places hoping I’ll go to the gym.

I already know what’s wrong with my gym-life and my emotional-life and my spiritual-life, and knowing this doesn’t really motivate me. Does it work for you?

 

I understand the desire to be totally passionate about God. We look at other Super-Christians who highlight their Bibles and go to Guatemala and think they get it, and we feel like we’re wasting away as second-class citizens who haven’t yet been inflamed with the Gospel. I understand that battling sin takes all that we have, that fighting for our marriages and our churches takes both hands, that prayer requires a dropping to the knees.

But I just don’t think that yelling “lukewarm” does anything except swat people back to the floor. It’s a short-term threat of condemnation disguised as conviction.

It’s so easy to get guilt-tripped, too, because we cycle our lives on reward-and-punishment. We measure our walk on activity and productivity and do-ism and increase. Certainly there is room for effort, striving, and pushing yourself — none of that is legalism — but if all our spiritual angst is motivated by the fear of not making it, then we’re not making it anyway.

 

So many Christians feel afraid to express their weariness and exhaustion, like “resting in Jesus” can only happen in between the flailing. I agree that too many pastors try to “relate” to us, which makes us over-relax, but there are even more pastors who never acknowledge we’re in the same boat in the same storm awaiting the same savior.

Dear friends: If we casually throw around the accusation of “lukewarm,” we’ll either push people into a cold abyss of apathy or set napalm on someone’s spirituality in a way that consumes them — and not in the way that we sing about at church. It’s either ineffective or just plain destructive.

 

Jesus told the Laodiceans that they were lukewarm (a word only used once here in the Bible) — but he’s actually rebuking these rich, complacent, luxury-dependent elitists who were doing things routine, checking off a list, maintaining a dead religion, which is exactly what will happen to people if you yell at them.

Jesus follows up with:

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Jesus appeals with himself. Not “do more” or “try harder.” If Jesus is really this awesome, I don’t see how we could not be passionate about him. But I know that many of us hardly talk about Jesus in this way, in all his total glorious beauty, which is why it becomes a contest of who has the better “boldness” in their preaching.

I’m absolutely convinced that if we simply knew Jesus for who he is — minus the coercion of guilt — we would make leaps-and-bounds on our best days and keep a slow-roast fire on our worst.

 

I’m praying we won’t resort to drill-sergeant catchphrases that sound good on paper but don’t even make sense if you sit down with me over coffee in my crazy brokenness.

I’m thankful for those who actually do the hard work of getting into the mess of real people with their strange human problems and their quirks and idiosyncrasies who adjust their weirdness with other weirdness and love them through it anyway.

I pray we march out from a place where Jesus is held the highest, as the reason for our passion, as the lover who removes all fear, as the one who woos and beckons and draws us into his story, as the perfect author of our faith when we follow him imperfectly — and only then will lukewarm be left behind, without us really knowing it.

 

— J.S.

8 thoughts on “Yelling “Lukewarm” Doesn’t Help Anyone — Especially The Lukewarm

  1. We need to call out the treasure in people so they can rise to who they were called to be. You get more with honey than with vinegar. I have been guilty, though of calling the kettle black. I too am a work in progress!

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    1. Ah, the tightrope of declaring hard truth while laying down encouragement. As I’ve heard before, “Truth without love is brutality; love without truth is hypocrisy.”

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  2. Knowing the real Jesus really well as a real Person and not an idea or ideology is like a buffet with all our favorite foods, a flower garden without weeds, a…
    You touch on the real issue, meeting the Saviour personally with our unique “idiosyncrasies” rather than someone else’s picture or opinion or doctrine. Nice touch!
    Still, feel pity for the prophets who must speak the strong words. Support the Barnabases who have the difficult task of encouragement in the midst of messy life.

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    1. It’s a tough balancing act for sure: to know Jesus is both God and human, to speak with both grace and truth, to know both doctrine and the dirt. But somehow Christians who hold this tension always find that “third way,” something new and unique and altogether supernatural.

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  3. As someone who has dedicated my life to inspiring passion in the hearts of Christians, I love this post! I feel like one of the most valuable lessons in the Christian life is that we love because He first loved us…it is impossible to come face to face with the love of Christ and NOT burn with passion in response. I completely agree that it is downright impossible to see Christ for who He really is and not walk away with your heart on fire for Him. You are totally right in saying that guilt and coercion will never inspire the lukewarm into a passionate relationship with Christ – – – only a genuine, real encounter with Christ in His glorious, gracious love will do that. Great job on this post!

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    1. Thank you! I feel I have often falling into the “guilt-driven” mode very early as a Christian, when I was puffing up on theology and self-righteousness. And while we do need to address the lukewarm, there’s a way to do it that sees a way forward instead of looking backwards.

      I’m reminded of one of my favorite sermons by Francis Chan, which does lay it on a little thick but is right on:

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