Why did Jesus Christ express such concern toward those He called “lukewarm”? Why did He say He would rather they be “cold”?
By Robert C. Smith
The Good News, August 1984
Jesus had just taken little children up in His arms, and blessed them. Jesus said, “Of such is the kingdom of God,” then reiterated, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Luke 18:16-17).
The young ruler, holder of substantial prestige and honor, sought from Jesus that final ingredient that would, in like manner, qualify him for God’s Kingdom. With a guise of humility, he admitted to keeping the Ten Commandments “from my youth.” He was quick to point out his good points, and seemed desirous of knowing if there might be anything else he should be doing — if any such thing remained.
He didn’t expect the answer he received.
His cloak of humility slipped a bit when he approached Jesus with a salutation of subtle flattery: “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (verse 18).
Jesus reacted: “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God” (verse 19).
When Jesus heard the profession of righteousness, He reminded the young man that in spite of all his marvelous accomplishments, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (verse 22).
Typically unchildlike, the young man received the admonition sorrowfully and went away, for he was very rich.
Or he thought he was (verse 23).
He professed a desire to live righteously, but his fruits did not bear out the profession. He asked what he might do to prove his intentions, but when Jesus’ reply did not meet his approval, he walked away.
He was guilty of bearing false witness!
James was inspired to write, “A doubleminded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8, Authorized Version).
The young man wanted the Kingdom of God, but he did not wish to relinquish his positions and possessions. He wanted to “have his cake and eat it, too.” He had forgotten Jesus’ words as revealed in Luke 14: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (verse 26).
The young ruler was not willing to forsake all in order to be Jesus Christ’s disciple.
Jesus wants us hot
In an admonition to the future Laodicean church, Jesus said: “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16, AV).
If we as Christians are hot, we will be all the way into — pulsating with, excited with, breathing, eating, sleeping — this way of life. We will have our arms locked around the tree of life — Jesus Christ being the trunk or vine, and we the branches — where we may be dressed and nourished by the Father, the vine-dresser (John 15:1-6).
If we are lukewarm, we will be slowly simmering to death. We will be lacking real warmth or feeling of enthusiasm (the word enthusiasm comes from the roots en and theos, literally meaning “God in you”). We will have little involvement. We will be just barely there.
The person who continues to be lukewarm right up until Jesus Christ’s return simply will not make it into God’s Kingdom. The person who is hot, on the other hand, will literally burst into eternity as a member of the Family of God.
But what about being cold? Why would Jesus rather we be cold than lukewarm?
Jesus answers that for us in I Corinthians 5:1-5: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you… and you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. [Therefore] deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
The person who is hot is all the way in God’s Church. The person who is cold is all the way out of God’s Church — but may yet be saved through the crucible of life in Satan’s world. He may come to real repentance before the return of Jesus Christ, and experience that marvelous change into the God Family in the twinkling of an eye at Jesus’ coming. The flesh may be destroyed, but the spirit will not be relegated to that eternal death.
But what about the lukewarm person?
Jesus said: “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing — and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:16-17). Jesus reminded them that they only thought they were rich, when, in reality, their spiritual poverty was made obvious by their conduct.
They professed to be something that they were not.
If we say we are Christians, we will be living as Jesus Christ does. We will walk as He walked, in absolute harmony with God the Father in everything pertinent to this way of life. We will willingly abide by the rulings and teachings of the Body of Christ, into which we have been mercifully added. We will be truly rich in obedience, loyalty, involvement, faithfulness, commitment. We will be seeking correction in prayer and Bible study, and we will accept that correction as lifesaving, without any attempt at self-justification.
The Laodicean attitude talks back! Jesus remarked, “Because you say…” (verse 17). Self-justification! The Laodicean replies in other words, “You don’t understand — this is why I do it this way.” Self-justification, whether we are right or wrong, reveals an attitude that is less than childlike.
Even the patriarch Job said: “If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse” (Job 9:20, AV).
The lukewarm, professing Christian will feel comfortable justifying his less-than-total commitment. He will find fault and criticize the status quo.
In verses 12-14, God replies: “You profane it, in that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is defiled; and its fruit, its food, is contemptible.’ You also say, ‘Oh, what a weariness!’ And you sneer at it… and you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick; thus you bring an offering! Should I accept this from your hand?… But cursed be the deceiver who has in his flock a male, and makes a vow, but sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished — for I am a great King… and My name is to be feared among the nations.”
Our profession, at baptism, was to go all the way. We said, by words and actions, that we wanted God to teach us His ways. We had supposedly counted the cost. We were, at least briefly, childlike. We were, at that time, hot.
Subsequent reading through the book of Malachi shows that the people had an argumentative attitude regarding marriage relationships (chapter 2) and financial obligations (chapter 3). In each case there is an attitude of being neither all the way involved in this way of life nor, on the other hand, all the way out.
Rather, there is a desire to maintain an attitude that could be phrased this way: “Isn’t it better that I have a little involvement than none at all? Isn’t it better to have at least a facade of righteousness — attending services most of the time, sending at least some money (even if not a full tithe), allowing self to succumb to drunkenness or gluttony occasionally, picking and choosing those areas of Christianity in which I feel comfortable?”
Jesus Christ emphatically says that is not so. “I would thou wert cold or hot.” No in-between. Not lukewarm.
How serious is it? Jesus says to those who are lukewarm that He will spew them out, or vomit them up. In other words, lukewarmness sickens the very stomach of our Savior.
Being lukewarm denies Christ
It takes faith to live God’s way of life. Jesus inspired, “Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:38). And in verses 26-27 of the same chapter, He reminds, “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.”
How are we lukewarm?
Jesus refers to “those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed; they are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries” (II Peter 2:10). They argue. They justify! They are quick to talk back to the authority of Almighty God. And they are truly bearing false witness! Professing to be Christian — followers of Christ — their conduct totally violates the nature of that Christ.
The Guidebook to our profession exhorts: “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him…. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (I John 2:3-6). If we walk in the way that Jesus Christ wants us to choose, we will be hot!
We will have proved the dramatic existence of the creating God Family. The world and the universe around us will have been revealed to us as the manifestation of the works of a Creator, Designer, Lawgiver, Sustainer, Orchestrator, Life-giver and Responder to the needs of the creation.
We will know and know that we know the veracity of the Word of God, as revealed in the pages of the Bible. We will have pored over and ingested its life-giving words of instruction. We will have proved the faithfulness of God, incorporating into our lives His every word.
And we will have established irrefutably where the Church is that Jesus Christ said He would build. We will know the basic beliefs of that Church and believe them. We will know intimately the Church’s basic doctrines as revealed in Hebrews 6:1-2, and will abide by them with every fiber of our being.
We will be attuned to the policies of God’s Church, which are generated from the top down according to the system of government God has placed in His Church, and will desire to get wholeheartedly in step with them.
In I Corinthians 11, after explaining the Church teaching regarding hair length, the apostle Paul concluded with, “But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God” (verse 16).
Paul stated the facts, realizing that there might be some who would not be in total agreement and who would be quick to express that disagreement, and established the authority behind those facts by adding, “We have no such custom,” That’s it, Paul said. Obey — and be hot. Disobey, justify, compromise, maintain a questioning posture — and be lukewarm.
Or, view the crescendo of God’s burgeoning work from the outside by being cold.
Being hot means agreeing with those beliefs, doctrines and policies and doing them. Being cold means disagreeing with them and walking the other way.
All the way in, or all the way out!
Being lukewarm destroys character. Being less than total in our commitment allows for pretense, spiritual game-playing, and bears false witness. In other words, breaks the commandments of God.
“I am the Lord your God,” thunders the Creator. “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:2-3). Peter said, inspired by Jesus, “For by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage” (II Peter 2:19). Anything less than total commitment produces a double-minded person, and no one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).
If we violate the First Commandment, we become guilty of breaking the remaining nine (James 2:10). We take the name of God by professing to be Christians, but it is in vain, or without basis, if we live contrarily. It all has to do with obedience and commitment. No commandment is excluded from violation if we are lukewarm, self-justifying and hypocritical in our profession of faith.
Judgment on us now
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9). God has begun a good work in us, and His desire is for us to make it into His Kingdom (Philippians 1:6).
Why, then, if Jesus’ desire is for us to make it, would that same Jesus express so graphically that He would rather we be cold than lukewarm?
Let Jesus Himself answer that question.
“And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.’ If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons” (Hebrews 12:5-8).
Peter recorded that “the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God” (I Peter 4:17).
God is not yet dealing with the masses of humanity around this world — not yet judging them according to their works. He is judging His Church — those who profess to be witnesses not only for Jesus Christ but of Him as He resides in us — and God realizes the time is short.
The principle in I Corinthians 5:5, mentioned earlier, “Deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus,” helps explain the answer.
Jesus continues, in Hebrews 12:10-11: “For they [our physical fathers] indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Jesus Christ asks us to choose life. He knows that unless we are totally committed, we will be lukewarm, and if we are lukewarm, we will not attain to that life — eternal life in the Family of God.
He would rather we be hot or cold — because He loves us!]]>