What Is a Lukewarm Christian, and Why Is That So Dangerous?

Contributing Writer
What Is a Lukewarm Christian, and Why Is That So Dangerous?

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16).

With these words, Jesus gave both a frightening threat and an appeal. And though it was originally directed to one group of believers, the principle behind it applies to every Christian.

While young in my faith, I didn’t really understand the consequences of being lukewarm. But now I see how my spiritual “temperature” can affect not only me, but people I come in contact with.

What Is a Lukewarm Christian?

Merriam Webster defines lukewarm as “moderately warm or tepid; lacking conviction or half-hearted.” The synonyms for the word are also revealing: dull, apathetic, moderate.

When our faith can be described this way, it means a kind of angst or doldrum has set into our spirit about the things of God. We don’t feel such an eagerness to be in His Word or look forward as much to fellowship with our church family. Our prayer time can feel stale and routine. And we lose our passion for obeying God’s laws.

Being lukewarm in our faith is a red flag, signaling that our hearts are not where they should be. In fact, God makes a strong statement about those who go down this path in the Old Testament book of Isaiah.

“The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught’“ (Isaiah 29:13).

What Does Revelation 3:15-16 Mean?

This passage is an attempt by Jesus to get the attention of the Laodicean church’s congregation. And He made several points about having a lukewarm faith:

Lukewarm faith limits the impact we can have for God.

People of Jesus’s day understood that lukewarm water was not as pure as either cold or heated water. It was stagnant, less healthy and not as useful. Jesus was saying that those who settle for less than full devotion to God will end up listless, even idle.

Lukewarm faith leads us to rule our own lives.

If we are devoted to the Lord, we become aligned with Him. If we stand against Him, we can be persuaded to turn toward Him. But Jesus claimed that tepid faith leaves us somewhere in the middle - halfway seeking God, and halfway trying to hold on to control of our own lives. And we end up with a compromised form of Christianity.

Lukewarm faith leaves us and others deceived.

When believers are either fully for or fully against Jesus, they are usually honest to themselves and others about where they stand - no pretending or hiding. But when believers are apathetic, they consider themselves to be more God-centered than they really are. Those around them can be fooled as well.

Jesus also stated the consequences for believers who are, or who become, lukewarm:

“‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’“ (Matthew 7:21-23).

What Else Is Happening in This Verse?

The Apostle John wrote the book of Revelationwhich documents a vision given to him while in exile late in his life. In Chapter 1, after John falls into a trance-like state, he first sees Jesus:

“I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man…” (Revelation 1:12-13).

In this vision, Jesus goes on to explain that each of the seven lampstands represents a specific church. The Lord instructs John to write down all that he sees and hears, and so John captures the messages for every church. Chapters 2 and 3 present all seven missals, the last one to the Laodicean church.

In Revelation 3, Jesus was giving a directive to the church at Laodicea. His word to them was specific, clear, and a bit foreboding.

Laodicea was a very prosperous Phrygian city, with thriving banking and wool and medicinal product industries. Material wealth was all around, including within the church. But many in its congregation had let affluence dull their spirits. They became indifferent to the call God had put on their lives by neglecting doing good works, picking and choosing which of God’s commands to obey, and becoming complacent and self-directed.

What Does It Look Like for Us to Be Lukewarm Christians?

Scripture tells us that Christians have a part in helping the Kingdom of God grow. To do that, we are to be set apart from the rest of the culture around us. When the world sees we live and carry ourselves differently, they will wonder why. Then we get a chance to share the Gospel.

But those who are lukewarm aren’t effective witnesses for Christ because they don’t stand out. Since it truly is a heart attitude, a tepid faith may not be visible right away. But it reveals itself as time goes on in our priorities, choices and how we behave towards the things of God.

Many people begin their faith walk with fervor, but lose it over time. Some can seem excited about being a follower of Jesus during a church service, but let that passion fade as they navigate their daily life through the week. Others decide they will only read certain parts of the Bible, or resist going where God wants to lead them.

What Should We Do When We, or Others, Start to Become Lukewarm?

When our faith walk feels dull, becoming more aware can help us back to a more passionate place. By taking some time to do a kind of “spiritual inventory,” we can gain clarity about any ways our faith has cooled down.

Ask yourself some questions:

- Is God first in my life?

- Am I trying to please God or other people?

- Do I accept all of God’s Word, or just parts of it?

- How often do I read and study my Bible?

- Do I talk about Christ to others during the week?

- Am I stuck in any habitual sins?

Going to God with what we find:

The Laodicean church got the chance to repent of their heart-set, and to change. We can do the same. But we must be careful not to slip into trying to make ourselves right - it can only be done by God’s grace. He is longing to provide forgiveness and strength to change.

Doing our part:

Our responsibilities going forward include staying faithful in prayer. And we must keep active, whether in our daily Christian disciplines like Bible study and fellowship, or in going out and doing good works in Jesus’ name. Having others to keep us accountable and offering to do that for them builds a spiritual support system.

Jesus delivered the church at Laodicea a stern warning: a lukewarm faith offends our mighty God and dampens our witness for Him. But the words also came out of a passionate desire for us to remain united with Him. Pastor and author Craig Groeschel wove those two truths together this way,

“He desperately wants you to know Him. So many people believe in God, but they don't really know Him. And because they don't really know Him, they are lukewarm. The truth is, if you truly knew Him, you couldn't be lukewarm or halfhearted. If you remain lukewarm, maybe it's because you don't know who God really is.” 

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Jupiterimages

Heather Adams 1200x1200Heather Adams is an author, speaker, and singer living in Connecticut. Heather’s passion is to equip and encourage believers to seek more of God’s truth and to experience more of His joy each day. Her book, Bow Down: The Heart of a True Worshipper is a practical, 30-day devotional about worship based on the writings of King David. Heather's blog, Worship Walk Ministries, offers weekly Scripture passages and insights to ponder. A native New Englander, Heather is settling into her home in the South, trying out local foods and watching for the alligators that live nearby!