How (Not) to Stay Lukewarm

I thought I was a Christian for years.

I swore I had a relationship with God.

I believed I could die at any moment and be welcomed into heaven.

I wasn’t. I didn’t. I wouldn’t.

I did not have a category for someone thinking they were a follower of Christ and not actually being one. I assumed that if I had any desire to be a Christian, God should welcome me with shouts of joy. I had never read that there would be people on judgment day who would emphatically greet Jesus, calling him “Lord, Lord,” and yet be rejected by him (Matthew 7:21–23). No one ever told me that people could do a lot of mighty works for God and yet still be lost.

I convinced myself that I was safe from the wrath of God. No one told me that the lukewarm “Christian” gets spit out of God’s mouth (Revelation 3:16). No one informed me that if God was not first in my heart, I was either in urgent need of repentance, or I was lost. In the words of Francis Chan, I was lukewarm and lovin’ it.

Lukewarm and Lovin’ It

“I did not have a category for someone thinking they were a follower of Christ and not actually being one.”

I didn’t cuss much. I wasn’t sleeping around. I went to church most Sundays. I must be a Christian.

I said that Jesus died for my sins. I sang the lyrics on the screen. I prayed before meals. I gave God props for my athletic achievements. I must be a Christian.

Sure, God wasn’t my all in all. Sure, I never read his word. Sure, I didn’t pray very much. Sure, I secretly loved sin. Sure, holiness seemed dreadfully boring. Sure, I rarely owned him in public or spent time with him in private. But he understood. I was only human after all. No one is perfect.

If God had not intervened, I would have awoken from my delusion to a lake of fire. I imagined I feasted at the table of grace, drank from the chalice of eternal life, but I was eating garbage and drinking sewer water. I was dreaming, like those described in Isaiah,

As when a hungry man dreams, and behold, he is eating, and awakes with his hunger not satisfied, or as when a thirsty man dreams, and behold, he is drinking, and awakes faint, with his thirst not quenched. (Isaiah 29:8)

I would have been the most miserable creature in all of perdition.

And I kept myself in my delusion, muting my conscience and convincing myself that I was right with God by this simple strategy: I refused to read God’s book and measured myself by the people around me.

How to Stay Lukewarm

Comparing my faith with others around me (including non-Christians) was the easiest way, as C.S. Lewis says, to travel down the gentle slope into hell.

The Downward Glance

I looked down on those who were “lesser” Christians to confirm my complacency. My assurance of salvation largely came from the fact that I was outwardly better than many of the other goats who claimed to be sheep.

I prayed like the Pharisee: God, I thank you that I am not like other men, fornicators, liars, adulterers — I wouldn’t know I was a Christian without them.

When a duck compares himself with other ducks, he crowns himself a swan.

The Upward Glance

When I would come across real believers, I would feel moments of deep conviction. But to stay lukewarm, I concluded that these were simply Christian all-stars.

Instead of having them in the “living” category while I was in the “dead” category, I reasoned that they were the Avengers. They were A+ Christians, I was the C/C- Christian — but both were passing. Just because I wasn’t on the Christian all-conference team didn’t mean I wasn’t on the team. Right?

“My lukewarm churchianity was consumed by living faith in the consuming God of the Bible.”

And once I established the superhero Christian category, I would search for reasons to put believers who made me uncomfortable into it. Oh, he wants to be a pastor! Oh, they were missionaries for several years. Oh, they grew up in a Christian home all their lives. Oh, they just have a personality that gets excited about everything. That explains it.

I gladly resigned myself to being a spiritual hobbit — they too were included in the Fellowship, after all.

Where I Didn’t Glance: the Bible

When I was lukewarm, God’s book was collecting dust in my room, unopened.

Then God led me to his word and saved me. God met a miserable, 6’5” hobbit in his cold, dank, dorm room, making him alive through his Spirit and his word. The lukewarm churchianity was consumed by living faith in the consuming God of the Bible.

There I read that you must be born again to enter the kingdom (John 3:3). There I read that loving Jesus above all others — father, mother, son, daughter, spouse — wasn’t just for super Christians but for all who would follow Jesus (Matthew 10:37–39). There I read that God was disgusted with me for drawing near with my mouth before meals and on Sunday morning, while my heart remained far from him (Isaiah 29:13–14). There I read that I could search the Scriptures in a thousand Bible studies and yet refuse to truly go to Jesus and have life (John 5:39–40).

There I read that I couldn’t be good enough to put God in my debt (Luke 17:10). That in no way could I please him while I lived in the flesh (Romans 8:8). There I read that I was rightfully cursed for not loving Jesus (1 Corinthians 16:22) and that the punishment would be everlasting torment (Revelation 14:11).

There I read that God wasn’t a socially awkward kid in the lunchroom desperate for anyone to sit with him. There I read that his very name is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16) to whom every single knee in creation will bow (Philippians 2:10). There I read that he did not need me (Acts 17:25); that if I refused to worship him, rocks would (Luke 19:40). There I read that I was created for his glory, not he for mine (Isaiah 43:7).

There I read that if I was lackadaisical about treasuring Christ, about repenting of sin, and refused to surrender in joyful submission, he would spit me out of his mouth (Revelation 3:15–16).

Great News for the Lukewarm

But there I also read that while we were worse than lukewarm, the King of kings died for us (Romans 5:8). That although my sin and apathy had earned me death, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ (Romans 6:23). There I also read that Jesus didn’t come for those who are well, but his compassion and grace are for those who are sick in their sin (Luke 5:31).

“If you are lukewarm and reading this there is great news for you: there is still time.”

There I also read that if I was thirsty, if I had no money, God invited me to come and be satisfied in him (Isaiah 55:1). There I also read that if I was tired of laboring for that which left me empty and turned to him, he would feed me with rich food, give me life, and make an everlasting covenant with me through his Son (Isaiah 55:2–3).

There I also read that the Lord is near to anyone who would return to him for pardon. That he offers to the most vile — and lukewarm — sinner absolute pardon and pleasure beyond what he could dare to hope (Isaiah 55:6–9). There I read that this invitation was purchased at the cost of the Son of God (Isaiah 53:1–12).

If you are lukewarm and reading this, there is great news for you: There is still time. Repent. Believe. Rejoice. Live.