• Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

The Incomprehensible Evil Of Lukewarmness

So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.

Revelation 3:16


Question 105 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the First Commandment?” In the seventh part of the answer, it says, “The sins forbidden in the First Commandment are… lukewarmness, and deadness in the things of God; estranging ourselves, and apostatizing from God… .” Last week we looked at the sin of tempting God. This week we consider the sin of being lukewarm.


The Scripture at the head of this article is from Jesus’ letter to the church of Laodicea. The Laodiceans erroneously thought that they were a model church. Thus, in verse 17, Christ rebuked their proud self evaluation, saying in effect that it could not have been more wrong: “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.” The Laodiceans were actually the exact opposite of what they supposed. They thought they had need of nothing. No doubt this church looked impressive on the outside. They were rich and wealthy in the things of this world. But Christ declared that the reality was the exact opposite: they were not healthy and prosperous, but wretched and miserable. They were not wealthy in the things of God, but poor. Rather than being in need of nothing, they needed everything: they were spiritually blind and naked.


We would be wrong if we surmised that this church was not doing anything for Christ. They had works. Jesus stated that He knew their works (v. 15). However, He describes their works as being neither hot nor cold but lukewarm. Then our Lord makes the amazing statement that He would that they were either hot or cold! Think of that for a minute. Christ would rather have people be cold towards Him than lukewarm. Consider, therefore, what a terrible sin it must be to be lukewarm towards Jesus. When a person is hot or warm towards God, he rightly esteems who God is, and he rightly responds to that truth with humble and reverent faith. To be hot towards God is to be walking rightly before Him: acknowledging who He is and loving Him for it. The person who is hot or warm towards God is constantly considering his actions in the light of God’s glory, seeking to please God in all things. On the contrary, the person who is cold towards God does the opposite. He too in a sense accurately acknowledges who God is and what God has done, but rather than loving God and His judgments he hates Him and seeks to be far from Him. The person who is cold towards God thus recognizes that God is a being with whom he has to do. He takes God seriously in his thoughts, only he does so not to draw near to Him but to escape from, and to as much as possible, be rid of Him.


Here we notice that both the person who is hot and the person who is cold towards God, in a way, give God His due. That is, they both acknowledge God’s greatness. While one loves it and the other hates it, both really affirm it, and their thoughts and actions are continually in response to this truth. Contrarily, the person who is lukewarm towards God thinks little of God and much of himself. He is not fervently seeking and humbly serving God as the hot person, nor fearfully fleeing from God as the cold person. He thinks he is a good person whose service IS able to satisfy God. The lukewarm person thinks too little of God’s holiness to consciously love or hate Him. Like the Laodiceans, he confidently professes much service to God without humbly believing that apart from God’s grace his best service would be an abomination to Him. He can do much for God without fearfully seeking to do so exclusively and entirely according to God’s Word. What could be more monstrously offensive to God than to think that He is of so little consequence that you can profess to live before Him with neither reverence nor terror. Zephaniah warned a complacent Israel with God’s impending judgment: “And I will punish the men who are stagnant in spirit, who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good or evil!’” (Zep. 1:12). Likewise, Amos: “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion,” (Amo. 6:1).


The other sins in today’s list are the results of lukewarmness. The person who is dead towards the things of God today allowed himself to grow lukewarm yesterday. Likewise, the man who finally estranges himself or apostatizes from God, often began to go in that direction through lukewarmness. The way to avoid the sin of lukewarmness is to rightly acknowledge God’s might and holiness, even as we admit our utter weakness and inability to be worthy of the least of His mercies, so that we will be ever more motivated to “buy” from Him alone that pure gold of the things of God, which has stood the test of fire (Rev. 3:18) and which will endure to eternal life (John 6:27). May God grant that we never rest satisfied with anything less than Him!