I happened to be in the company of a few dear ladies recently who started a discussion on a certain bible passage. I was kind of zoned out at the time because I had been running around like crazy, not taking the time to eat properly. It was a conversation that didn’t sit well with me, yet in my low blood sugar induced, mentally challenged state at the time I was unable to formulate a reply. This bothered me a little, since I want to be “instant in season and out of season”, and able to give a reason to those who would ask me about the hope I have within me.
Tonight, as I told hubby about it, the words that had eluded me at the time, came (sort of). I am often at my most eloquent when talking to the hubby-man, because he is such a willing listener. Plus, I monologue well. 🙂 The only other time when I consider myself really eloquent is when I make great speeches in my head during those twilight moments before I drop off to sleep. They always seem profound at the time but since I never write them down, and since I cannot judge fairly in my sleepy haze, I cannot be sure. 🙂
Anyhoo…one of the ladies had recently watched a sermon on being lukewarm that moved her greatly. With great passion, she described how the bible teacher in the video expounded on Revelation 3, you know, the passage that talks about the far too comfortable Laodicean church who thinks it is in need of nothing, but is in fact “poor, miserable, wretched, blind and naked”. The bible teacher mentioned that God tells the Laodiceans that because they are neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm, that he would spit (or vomit) them out of his mouth. He told his congregation that he fears that many of those listening will be going to hell because they are lukewarm, and comfortable that way, and encouraged them to return to their first love.
I know what I am about to say will fly in the face of popular theology. Bear with me, and read until the end if you can. I’m trying to make a point, and I might fail. But I know what is in my heart and it is worthwhile to me to try and express it. So, have mercy. Please.
First of all, there was much in the video that was true and challenging, and I have to give the preacher his props. His zeal for God is challenging and inspiring. Still, any discussion like the one above makes my heart sink into my shoes. I want to say to people who hold to this theology: Not MY God. I want to rise up and defend the character of my God, whom I know to be the kindest, most long-suffering, most redemptive person there is. Frankly, the idea that He is so fickle that he would spit/vomit out and condemn anyone to hell simply because they are lukewarm turns him into the kind of stern, severe and exacting person that I struggle to be around.
But it is IN THE BIBLE, you say. I hear you. I am a bible girl through and through. I love God’s word and I believe it is unerring, divinely inspired, and a source of life to those who would lay its words up into their hearts. And I believe that there is such a place as hell, because God’s word tells us so.
So, let me explain.
Long ago, when I was a young christian, Revelation 3 used to strike fear into my heart, because I knew that there was always room for improvement when it came to how “on fire” I was for Jesus. Now, however, it is one of my favorite passages in the bible, because it contains one of the most tender calls for intimacy from the own mouth of God towards his people. I am going to paraphrase it to say what I believe God is saying to his people. (Remember, this letter is written to a church, to God’s own people, and not to the world.)
The passage starts off with God telling his people that he wishes they were either hot or cold. But because they are lukewarm, he is going to spit them out of his mouth. He then tells them that they think they are rich and increased with goods and think they need nothing, yet they do not realise that they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. Because of this, he counsels them to buy gold tried in the fire (in other words to allow God to bring his dealings into their lives and let it refine them). With infinite tenderness, he tells them that his love towards them is the motivating factor for these strong words, and for his dealings in our lives. Be zealous therefore ( have warmth of feeling toward/ be moved with desire ), he tells them, and repent ( reconsider / think differently). Then follows the sweet words that I love, and that I think are the point of this whole passage: Behold, I stand at the door and knock…if any man hears me and opens up, I will come in to him and sup with him, and he with me.
The whole tone of this passage is redemptive. God doesn’t mince words, he tells his people exactly where they are at, but he offers a way out, and tenderly invites them to intimacy. This is where I differ from the common interpretation of this scripture: I don’t believe that this passage is talking about God condemning people to hell. I believe that God is telling the Laodiceans: If you are going to continue being complacent and so comfortable in all the blessings that I have given you, so that you sit back and forget how much you need me, then I am not going to be able to fellowship with you. I am going to have to pull back and bring my dealings into your life – and my advice to you is that you allow it to change you.
The preacher justified his position that the Laodiciens were not saved and were going to hell, because God said they were poor, miserable, blind…etc. He said those words do not describe christians. Yet David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, a man after God’s own heart, called himself “poor and needy”. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” Paul said: “…when I am weak, then he is strong.” Being in a state where you are aware that in yourself you are nothing, that without God you are poor and needy, does not make you a hell-bound unbeliever. On the contrary. God himself says: “To this man will I look, to him who is of a poor and contrite spirit…” (Is 66:2) It is our neediness, even as christians, that qualifies us to receive his grace on a daily basis. When we cannot admit that we are in need, then his grace will be of no effect in our lives. This is the one thing the Laodiceans lack.
I honestly believe the spitting out/vomiting issue has to do with fellowship/intimacy rather than salvation. God cannot fellowship, his grace cannot flow in the life of a lukewarm christian. He will have to allow them to go through trials until they see how desperately they are in need of him. This is a theme that recurs throughout the bible. There are countless instances where God allows his wayward people to go through the fire in order to bring them to repentance. One of my favorites is the account of Homer, Hosea’s unfaithful wife, who is a type of the unfaithful church of God. (Read how God deals with her in Hosea 2. It is precious. Did you know that the words “Baali” means “my master”, but the word “Ishi” means, my “husband/lover”?) Still, God assures us that when we go through the fire, it will not harm us, and he will be with us. (Is 43: 2)
I would perhaps, find it easier to follow this preacher’s interpretation of this scripture if I believed you could lose your salvation. But how can you lose by your works, something that you were given as a completely unearned gift of grace? It doesn’t make sense.
More so, if you look at God’s character. Which is the very reason I am sitting here so furiously typing away at my keyboard, knowing full well that I am saying controversial things that might make waves for me both within and without the blog world.
Not MY God.
What father will throw his kid into a fiery pit simply because he has a drug addiction and is enslaved to his passions, acting ‘lukewarm’ towards his father as a result? Tough love…yeah…a father might resort to that. With a view to redemption. My heavenly father might use some tough love on his children too, but in the end it is still love, and it is still with an end goal in mind. Redemption. Restoration. Fellowship. Sitting down to a meal together.
There is no-one sweeter and kinder and more tender than my God. He, who created us as fathers and mothers, after his own image, will never abandon his own children. Why do we know instinctively that it goes completely against the grain of any human father’s heart, yet we are so quick to attribute that kind of heartlessness to our father God? He says he will never leave us or forsake us. He says that we are engraved on the palms of his hands. In Isaiah 66 he says he will comfort his people as a mother comforts her children.
Not MY God.
It irks me, that anyone would tarnish his great love and his character like that. It frustrates me that people come to God out of fear thanks to interpretations of passages like these, and since they view him as a demanding taskmaster who requires what we cannot give (in our own strength, remember, it is all by grace), they can never fully invite him into the depths of their hearts. Fear is never a precursor to intimacy.
Rom 2:4… do you despise the riches of His kindness, and the forbearance and long-suffering, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?