“Lukewarm Christianity”

Several times in his book Knowing God, J.I. Packer has a special section called “The Christian Response.” 

Usually this section comes after he has explained some controversial idea that some Christians may object to.  In the case of Chapter 17, he has just explained that we have a God who is jealous.  In my previous post, I paraphrased his position by stating that God assumes that man understands the covenant relationship that is in place between God and man.  God expects unqualified love and loyalty from his people and nothing less.  That sounds very strident but God has His reasons: He wants us to understand His sovereignty in judgment upon sin, He wants us to understand that we are His chosen people, and He wants the love and praise that He truly deserves.

He is jealous for a reason…

But He is still jealous…and maybe that is a bit controversial.

What do you make of that?  How do you respond to that?

You are probably not going to respond as Packer recommends.

Packer says we should be zealous for God. 

Hmmm.  A jealous God should make us zealous Christians.

Zealous is not a word I use very much so I did a bit of study about “zealousy”.  In the First Century there was a political movement among Judean Jews who wanted to overthrow Roman rule.  They were called Zealots.  Some describe these people as “terrorists” because they used forceful tactics to accomplish their objectives.  When Rome introduced what they called “cult worship,” the Zealots revolted, they overtook Jerusalem and they were eventually  defeated.  This led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.  Also, Jesus picked Simon the Zealot to be one of his twelve disciples.    

In contemporary language, a zealot is a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of their religious, political, or other ideals.  This next statement is hard to make, but a Christian zealot today could have the derisive label “nutty” applied to them.  They exhibit behavior so extreme that it is not socially acceptable.

But should they have that label?

Jesus spoke so much about lukewarm faith.  If a Christian has that kind of faith, they are limited in their value to Christ.  In Revelation Chapter 13 , the church at Laodicea is described as lukewarm, like water that is too warm to be a refreshing drink but not warm enough for an invigorating bath.  That is water with little value.  The members of this church saw themselves as rich and self-sufficient, but Jesus described them as “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”  They sickened Him, and He said “I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

What about our deeds?  Are our deeds a clue to the state of our faith?  Jesus equates our deeds as a sign of our true spiritual welfare.  Often He compares followers to trees: By your fruit you will recognize them and every good tree bears good fruit.  The deeds of a true believer will be “hot” or “cold.”  If they are, they will benefit the world in some way [reference the waters of Laodicea].  Lukewarm followers do harm to a watching world.  When one claims to know God but then they act like He doesn’t exist, it sends out a very confusing message.  God is sickened by this hypocrisy and unbelievers who observe these Christians are uninspired.

Let’s describe the Christian who has zeal [according to Packer].  This person has a true cause for life, a true passion and they are devoted to their God.  Packer quotes Bishop J.C. Ryle at length: “Zeal in religion is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way…the Spirit puts in the heart of the believer…an earnest, hearty, uncompromising, thorough-going, whole-hearted, fervent [attitude].  He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing, and that one thing is to please God.”

A zealous Christian is like a candle. He burns for God and if he is consumed in the process of serving his Lord, that’s ok.  “Whether he lives or whether he dies—whether he has health, or whether he has sickness, whether he is rich, or whether he is poor—whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offence—whether he is thought wise, or whether he is thought foolish—whether he gets blame, or whether he gets praise—whether he gets honor, or whether he gets shame—for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all” [Ryle, Practical Religion, 130].

What are we to make of this?

Packer says “zeal is commanded and commended in the Scriptures.”  Paul was a zealous man.  He faced prison and persecution for his beliefs.  Facing prison, Paul says in Acts 20:24 “None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.”  Need we say it, but Jesus was a zealous man, a supreme example of zeal.

This leaves us as Christians to ask ourselves about our own zeal.  Do we burn to do the Lord’s bidding or are we more concerned with materialism, a quest for fame and a desire for power?  What consumes us?  Are we like the candle?

How many of our churches are lukewarm today?  They may be sound and respectable but they are not that interested in doing the Lord’s work.  Maybe many churches today are interested in providing fellowship for Christians.  Maybe they exist to give people a good feeling about themselves: “I have done my duty for the week; I have gone to church.” 

I recall an excellent book I read years ago by Pastor Skip Heitzig entitled How to Study the Bible and Enjoy It.  Early in this book (devoted to getting Christians to open God’s Word) he recalls an instance in his life when he took his Bible to church.  He visited the church where he was raised after dedicating his life to the Lord at another church: “I went back to the church in which I’d been raised.  Although it was considered a Christian denomination, Bible reading was never emphasized.  As I entered the front door, Bible in hand, and made my way through the foyer, people looked at me as if I were some extraterrestrial being.  ‘Why are you bringing in one of those things?’ someone asked.  I thought, ‘What am I supposed to carry?  A coloring book?’  It dawned on me that of all the places that should welcome and foster the study of the Bible, it would be a church” [3].

Maybe Heitzig felt like people were labelling him “nutty” but should they?  One can only make so much out of this one instance, but what if God judges us on how zealous we are?  What if God judged our churches on how zealous they are?  Would He be pleased that we are doing all that we can do to advance His kingdom here on earth, that we have a burning love for Him?  Would He classify our churches with that lukewarm Laodicean congregation, a church of little faith, hypocritical faith, full of unconverted “pretend” Christians.

It would be best for us to remember Revelation verse 16 regarding our zealous behavior or lack thereof. 

I would be best for us to remember Revelation verse 16 regarding our churches.

The prophetic words of Revelation says it best.  The Lord says “I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

That’s how disgusted He is…

With lukewarm Christians.

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