The Crisis of Lukewarmness

This post is part 4 of a 5-part series, World in CrisisRead part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.

Post 4 of my series on major issues that are holding us back from breakthrough as a global Christian community examines the crisis of lukewarmness. 

Merriam-Webster defines lukewarm as being tepid; lacking conviction; half-hearted. Being lukewarm in our faith and Christian convictions is a problem that’s more detestable to God than either being hot or cold. Sadly, many sitting in churches today are apathetic, disinterested, unenthusiastic, listless—in other words, “lukewarm.”  

But I want to delve into the term a little further and discuss a more dangerous attitude—the lukewarm Christian who is living a life of spiritual and missional subsistence. 

Subsistence is defined as “the action or fact of maintaining or supporting oneself at a minimal level.” Economically, millions in the world live subsistent lives, struggling to buy food each day. I’m not talking about this. I’m talking about spiritual and missional subsistence. I’m talking about Christians who are still clinging to “self” and comfortable to do the minimum that is required to get by as a “good Christian” in the eyes of others. 

What’s wrong with a spiritual and missional subsistence lifestyle? 

  • It takes us out of the game. We become lulled into a repetitive stupor, not even knowing we are in it. 
  • It inoculates the world from the transformative salt and light that Jesus intended us to be in our homes, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, and in the nations around the world. 
  • It displeases God in a big way. 

Let’s look at Scripture that addresses this truth:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 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.

Revelation 3:15-17

In this passage, we see Christ’s rebuke of being “lukewarm.” It was written as a challenge to the church in Laodicea, an ancient city located in what is now Turkey. The people were neither cold nor hot in the cause of Christ, and because of that they were about to be spat out. Verse 17 is also very cautionary. The people of Laodicea saw themselves as very rich and prosperous. They focused on being self-satisfied, not Christ-satisfied. Sadly, being blinded by the pursuit of wealth, of attaining success, and of becoming self-sufficient often leads today’s Christian to the same lukewarmness. Wealth and success are not wrong, but when the focus takes your eyes off serving Jesus, they can lead to spiritual impoverishment. And be warned … if you become lukewarm, you might be spat out!

Jesus further cautions against this spiritual state in Matthew 12:30. “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Jesus is saying you can’t just sit on the fence! A true experience with God launches us into a deep journey of purpose, discipline, and transformation, that impacts not only ourselves, but the communities around us. 

Some of us may hide behind the idea that a lot of the teaching in the Gospels was for the disciples only or for those who were specifically chosen by God. But John 17:20 puts that idea to rest when Jesus says, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” 

Why did Jesus in Revelation 3 not say to the church, “Good for you for being warm. Just try a bit harder and you can become hot.” Why, instead, did He want to spit them out? I believe it’s because Jesus was warning us that those who are lukewarm are not just neutral, quiet Christians. He was illustrating that they are harmful and detrimental to the Christian purpose. He was telling us to beware of spiritual mediocrity and complacency. This type of self-contentment leads to no action, and no impact in the world for the gospel.

Let’s raise the temperature and become “hot” Christians. It doesn’t require you to drop what you are already doing in work and life (although God may call some of you to do so). It means repurposing the dreams, vision, skills, wealth, and relationships you have to serve a higher calling. Break out of your bubbles and engage with the world! Start with your workplace, your chat groups, your community! It means, as 1 Peter 3:15 says, “…always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”  This verse tells us four things: 

  1. You have to have hope 
  2. It has to be visible so that others can see it. 
  3. You have to know why the hope is there, so you can explain it. 
  4. You do all this in gentleness and respect, not in a fighting or argumentative way. 

Let God take over your life in such a way that He repurposes everything you are … from spiritual subsistence to spiritual adventure … From lukewarmness to obvious hope that begs people to ask why!

To learn more on this topic, listen to the Mission Qritical podcast hosted by our parent organization Lead555. 

About the Author

Picture of Mark Orr

Mark Orr

Mark was raised as a missionary kid in Brazil. He has committed his life to helping emerging leaders be more effective, and ultimately the Church more able to carry out her Mission in the world. He has previously served in global refugee mission work. Mark and his family are Canadians, but have lived in the UK, Greece, and Uganda over the last 10 years.


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