Lukewarm Christianity

Revelation 3:14-22

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
October 2022

We have been studying the letters of Jesus to the seven churches.  Today, we come to the end of that section in the Book of Revelation.  We saw Jesus standing and walking amongst the churches in Revelation 1. We saw Jesus talking to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3.

He wrote a letter to each one.  Today, we come now to the seventh letter that Jesus wrote to the Church at Laodicea.  This city today is located in Western Turkey.  It is the final letter of Jesus to the church.

Today, we are going to talk about the greatest danger that the church faces today, the danger of lukewarm Christianity.  That describes many churches today.  Many churches today are lukewarm.

The Church of Laodicea church was not a liberal church.  It was not an apostate church.  It was not a dead church.  That was Sardis.  It did not have problems with false teachers.  Jezebel was not in the church.

The Nicolaitans were not there.  No one taught the doctrine of Balaam there.  There were no moral problems in this church.  There were no doctrinal problems there.  The church was just lukewarm.

Many churches today have the same problem.  There are many modern day Laodicean churches.  This letter has an important message to the church today.  This is God’s word to the end-time church.  It is God’s word to the American church.

We definitely live in the end-times, so this is relevant to us today.  We need to pay special attention to this letter.  It not only contains a strong indictment and rebuke on this church but contains an incredible invitation and promise.

Jesus described Himself to this church as the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation (Revelation 3:14 NIV).  A witness tells what he has seen.  He is faithful and true.  Jesus inspects each church with those eyes of fire.  What the Son of God says is true.  You can depend on it.

Jesus always starts out on a positive note with each church, telling them the good things they were doing.  When He spoke to this church, Jesus had nothing good to say about them, only criticism. How embarrassing that must have been.

Can you imagine being in that church and hearing this letter read for the first time publicly?  You come expecting to hear something positive.  You expect Jesus to say that the church was doing great, and he says, “You are doing terrible.”

They were doing so bad that they made Jesus sick.  This church nauseated Him.  When you put some disgusting food in your mouth, you want to spit it out.  Jesus said that He wanted to spit this church out of His mouth.  It was so disgusting.  In fact, the Greek is even stronger.

The NIV says, “I want to spit you out of my mouth” but the Greek word ἐμέω means to vomit or throw up (so Thayer).  It means to puke.   Greek has a different word for “to spit” (πτύω).[1]

Some Christians make Him sick.  He still loves them, but they make him want to throw up and they are professing Christians. Are there churches like that today?  Apparently, there are some.

In fact, not only could Jesus not stand this church; He was not even inside it.  That is strange.  It is a Christian church.  It is full of professing Christians, but Jesus is not on the inside.  He is on the outside trying to get in.  He is knocking on the door to get into His own church.

Two Important Questions

That is interesting. Is Jesus inside our church or is He on the outside?  There are some churches, the minute you walk inside you can sense the presence of God.

You can step in other churches where you don’t sense the presence of God.  God is not doing much in those assemblies.  They have genuine believers in them, but nothing is happening there.

Some churches God has left.  Ichabod is written on the door.  They still meet every week, and hold services but God is not there.  That raises two important questions.  Is Jesus in our church?  If Jesus left our church, would anybody notice?  Would they continue as normal?

A.W. Tozer once said, “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, ninety-five percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference.”  In some churches, Jesus could leave, and no one would notice for six months.

Three Dangers Today

The danger of the church today is the same danger this church had.  It is the danger of lukewarmness.  What does that mean?  There are three dangers here.

1) The Danger of Powerless Christians

The people in this church met every Sunday.  They were religious.  They called themselves Christians.  They met together.  They sang songs.  They prayed.  They studied the Bible, but they had no power.

Why?  Because Jesus was not in the church.  He was on the outside.  Jesus said without Him we cannot do anything (John 15:5).  We need Jesus.

This was religion without Christ.  There was outward religion without genuine power.  We have all kinds of churches without Christ and without the Holy Spirit.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NIV)

That is a danger today.  The apostle Paul said that some have a form of godliness but deny its power (II Timothy 3:5).  They had a form of godliness.  It looked great on the outside, but it was only on the outside.

Churches today without prayer are powerless.  They can have all kinds of other things.  If they don’t have prayer, they don’t have power.

2) The Danger of Prideful Christians

Pride is a big problem in the church.  Some of the most arrogant people are in church.  Some of them are in the pulpit.  Many Christians look down on other Christians and other churches.

Baptists look down on Methodists.  Methodists look down on ignorant Baptists.

Non-charismatics look down on those crazy charismatics.  Charismatics look down on non-charismatics because they do not operate in the spirit.

Arminians look down on Calvinists.  Calvinists look down on those fool Arminians.  What the Bible say?

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility consider one another as more important than yourselves (Philippians 2:3 NASB)

The Church of Laodicea also had a big pride problem.  This is one of the sins that God says that he hates.  It is one of the things God specifically says He hates (Proverbs 6:16-19)

What did this church say?  They said, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’  (Revelation 3:17 NIV).  This was a rich church.  It was a wealthy church.

Is it a sin to be wealthy?  No.  Some people in the Bible were wealthy.  Is it dangerous to be wealthy?  Yes.  Why?  The more wealth you have, the more you have a temptation to trust in your wealth.

You don’t seem to need God as much.  Wealth can lead to pride.  That is why Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:23 NKJV).

This letter is an indictment on prosperity theology.  One of the key tenants of prosperity theology is that when God blesses people, He blesses them financially and wealth is an indication of favor and blessing but it does not work that way in this church.

On the outside, this church looked great.  It had all of the signs of blessings.  It was wealthy.  It looked prosperous on the outside but, on the inside, the church was poor, wretched, blind and naked.  It was the exact opposite of the prosperity theology model

3) The Danger of Passionless Christians

Jesus used the image of lukewarm water to describe the condition of this church.  Jesus takes the spiritual temperature of the church and says that it is lukewarm, not hot or cold but lukewarm.

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! (Revelation 3:15 NIV).

Many have misunderstood what Jesus was saying here.  We assume that hot is good and cold is bad.  It makes sense that Jesus would say that it is better for the church to be hot, but Jesus also said that it is better for the church to be cold. Anything is better than lukewarm.

How is it better to be cold than lukewarm?  Isn’t it better to be a weak Christian than a complete pagan?

Isn’t it better to be a backslidden believer than a complete atheist?  Isn’t it better to be alive but sick than to be completely dead?

It is but that is not what Jesus is talking about by these three degrees.  Jesus is NOT saying that hot is good and cold is bad.  He is saying that hot is good and cold is good but lukewarm is bad.

Hot drinks tastes good.  Cold drinks tastes good.  Lukewarm drinks you want to spit out of your mouth.

Jesus compared this church to their water.  We drink most beverages either hot or cold. We drink hot tea, and we drink cold tea. Most of us love a hot cup of coffee in the morning.

Some of us like cold coffee, iced coffee (frappe).   We usually would not want to drink a cup of coffee that has been sitting on the kitchen table for four hours at room temperature.

Jesus is saying that hot can be good.  It can be healing.  A cup of cold water on a hot day can be refreshing but lukewarm is useless and tastes bad.

The city of Laodicea was known for three things.  It was famous for three things: its wealth, its clothing and its medicine.  The one problem they had was bad water.

There was a water problem in the city.  It had no water supply.  They had to get it from other cities. All water in Laodicea was lukewarm by the time it reached Laodicea and it was disgusting.  That is the background to Jesus’ statement.

A wishy-washy church that has lost its passion, fervor and zeal will not make any impact on the world.

“How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” (I Kings 18:21 NIV)

We need to be on fire for God, on fire for Bible study, on fire for worship, on fire for evangelism, on fire for prayer.

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. (Romans 12:11 ESV)

There is a story of an atheist in a small Tennessee town. He never went to Church.  However, one day the Church caught on fire. There was no fire department in town, so the people formed a bucket brigade.

The atheist stood at the head of brigade dashing water on the flames. The pastor said to him, “This is the first time I ever saw you at Church.” He replied, “Yes, but this is the first time I have ever seen the church on fire.[2]

Warning to a Lukewarm Church

Jesus gives a strong warning to the lukewarm church.  This warning has been misunderstood.  The warning is found in Revelation 3:16.

Everyone knows John 3:16. Everyone has memorized John 3:16.  Not as many people have memorized Revelation 3:16.  Revelation 3:16 contains some graphic language.

So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth (Revelation 3:16 NIV).

What does that mean?  Does this mean that lukewarm Christians can lose their salvation?  Jesus promises to spit them out of His mouth.  That does not sound like eternal security.  What do you think?

Keep in mind the context.  This is addressed to a church, not to individuals.  It is dealing with judgment on a church, not an individual Christian.

There are many who believe that this letter was written to a totally unsaved church.  That is the view of John MacArthur.  Not all hold that view.  This is a church.  It is a lampstand.

It it was a totally unsaved church, it would not be a lukewarm church; it would be a seed church.  it would be the church of Sardis.  Even that church was not completely dead.

Jesus said, “Those I love, I rebuke and discipline” (Revelation 3:19 NIV) and He only disciplines His own kids.   The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son (Hebrews 12:6 NIV; cf. Proverbs 3:11-12)

Jesus warned the church of Ephesus if they did not repent that He would remove their lampstand.  He warned the Church of Laodicea if they did not repent, He would spit them out of His mouth.

What Jesus said to the last church is similar to what he said to the first church.  It is a strong picture of rejection.  Jesus does not want to have anything with this church.  He can’t stand it.  He is warning that He will close the church down.  He will close the doors of the church.

Remedy to a Lukewarm Church

Now, we come to the interesting part.  There was hope for this bad church.  He did not just rebuke it, reject and condemn it.  He reached out to this church.

Jesus gave it some hope.  No matter how bad a church is, there is always hope.  No matter how bad a person is, there is always hope, if he or she repents.  What did this church need to do?  They needed to do three things.

First, they needed to acknowledge that they had a problem.  They thought they were fine.  They thought the church was fine.  Jesus said, “No.  It is wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.”

Two, they needed to repent.  Jesus said to Christians, “be earnest and repent” (Revelation 3:19 NIV).  That is something Christians are almost never told to do in church.

Three, they needed to turn to Jesus to solve their problem.

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 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. (Revelation 3:17-18 NIV)

Jesus gave some advice to the church.  It comes from the counselor Jesus.  Counseling is big business today. People pay big money to go see a counselor.

Jesus gives some counseling to the Church of Laodicea, and it is free.  He gives better advice.  How would you like to come to Jesus for counseling?

Jesus told this church to get three things from Him: gold, clothes to wear and medicine.  Why did Jesus tell them to get these three things in particular?  These were the three things that the city prided itself on.

It prided itself on its wealth.  It was a big banking center.  It was the wealthiest city in Phrygia.  Jesus says to buy gold but not from Lear Financial but from Him.

It prided itself on its clothing.  They made clothing in Laodicea.  They were famous for their expensive black silk garments.  Jesus says to buy white garments from him.

They also prided themselves in their medicine.  There was a famous medical school there.  They specialized in eye diseases.  Laodicea was known for its world-famous eye salve.

Jesus says that they were sick but the medicine they needed could not come from a human doctor.  They had to go to Jesus to get it.  Doctors can only help with physical blindness.  They had spiritual blindness.

The solution to their problem was Jesus.  He had everything that they needed.  Jesus gave this church a rebuke.  It was a strong rebuke, but it was also a loving rebukeJesus said, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline” (Revelation 3:19 NIV).

It is very interesting to me that Jesus wrote letters to seven churches.  He loved all of them, but He specifically told only two churches that He loved them: the good church and the bad church.  He told it to the Church of Philadelphia (Revelation 3:9).  He also told it to the Church of Laodicea (Revelation 3:19)

Invitation to a Lukewarm Church

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me (Revelation 3:20 NIV)

Jesus gave a special invitation to the worst of the seven churches.  This church received the most famous invitation in the Bible.  There have been many famous paintings of this scene from Revelation 3:20.

This is a great picture.  Jesus is at the door.  He is standing at the door, but he does not just stand there.  He knocks. He is waiting for someone to open the door to Him.

It is a great picture of free will.  Jesus stops at the door.  He waits for someone to open the door.  He does not open the door.  He does not force His way in.  You have to open the door.  Some open it and invite Him in. Some do not.

Revelation 3:20 is one of the most misquoted verses in the entire Bible.  It is used as a gospel verse in many evangelistic meetings.  Billy Graham used it many times.  Every heart has a door and Jesus is knocking on the door of the sinner’s heart.

The only problem is that this invitation was NOT addressed to atheists or skeptics.  It was addressed to Christians.  It is addressed to members of the Church of Laodicea.

The invitation does not lead to salvation.  It leads to fellowship with Jesus.  Jesus comes to your house and has dinner with you.  He is seeking a relationship with people.  That is the primary application, but it is not wrong to use it in a different context.

I recently began listening to an audio book called I Dare Call Him Father. It tells an amazing story about a Pakistani woman, who lived in England and how she became a Christian.

It is a true story. It was written in 1978.  It describes a wealthy woman who was raised Muslim.  She normally read the Koran.  She found a New Testament and began reading it.

One day, she fell asleep and dreamed.  She said normally she did not dream but this night she had a vivid life-like dream.  She said, “I found myself having supper with a man I knew to be Jesus. He had come to visit me in my home and stayed for two days. He sat across the table from me and in peace and joy we ate dinner together.”[3]

It was a strange dream.  Much later, she began reading the Book of Revelation.  She did not know anything about the book.  When she read Revelation 3:20, she was completely shocked.  She could not believe what she was reading.

She said that it made the room spin.  She gasped, and the book fall in her lap.  She immediately remembered the dream she had about Jesus having dinner with her for two days.  She could not believe that it was in the Bible.

Jesus gives this church a special invitation of fellowship and a special promise. We get to sit on Jesus’ throne on day.  We will rule and reign with Christ.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:21 NIV)


1) Are we blind to our own spiritual state, like the Laodiceans were? Do we see ourselves as God sees us or does God see us completely differently

2) Jesus knows our works as well.  Do you need to repent?  If you do, Jesus says, “Be zealous and repent” (not be zealous and pray or be zealous and witness but be zealous and repent)

3) What type of Christian are we?  Are we hot, cold or lukewarm?  Are we lukewarm Christians?  Are we spiritually dull, apathetic and okay with it? Do we have a lukewarm spirit or are we fervent and passionate?

4) Do we need to go to Jesus for some counseling about any problem in our life?  Some need to go to Jesus for marriage counseling.  You can come at any time.

5) Is Jesus standing at the door of our heart and knocking?  Have we let him in?  We have accepted him for salvation.  Have we accepted Him for fellowship? Do we have daily fellowship with Jesus?

6) Lastly, do we hear what the Spirit says to the church today? Jesus said this seven times.  The Spirit is speaking.  He has something to say.  Are we listening?

[1] Mark 7:33; 8:23; John 9:6.

[2] Ken Trivette, “Dear_Laodicea_You_Make_Me_Sick_At_My_Stomach” (sermon).

[3] Bilquis Sheikh, I Dared to Call Him Father: The Miraculous Story of a Muslim Woman’s Encounter With God (Chosen Books, 1978), 155.

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