I'm One Of Those Lukewarm Christians
I’m the spiritual equivalent of the guy who packs a King Size Snickers bar and a Dr. Pepper in his gym bag. I may hit the holy treadmill for a while, but my mind keeps wandering to the sugar high awaiting me. I want to be better, I try to be better. I say all the right prayers, speak all the right confessions, sing all the right songs, but all the while my lips are moving, it's as if my heart is mumbling only half the words. Like the Christians at the church at Laodicea, who were neither hot nor cold, I’m always afraid God is ready to spit me out of his mouth (Rev 3:15-16). I’m just not a very good Christian.
Case in point: on Sunday mornings, when I confess my sins, I say that “I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them.” But those adverbs are like two accusing fingers pointed at my less-than-heartily-sorry, less-than-sincerely-repentant heart. Don't get me wrong. I'm not merely going through the motions. I am indeed sorry and I do repent. The problem is that there’s still part of me—the old me, the recalcitrant Adam—that clings to excuses and savors the sweet memory of ex-sins. If my heart were hooked up to a lie detector, I’d be in trouble, for my motives for confession are a motley crew.
The same goes for my love of the Lord. There’s a hymn we sing at my church: “Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart.” It’s a killer hymn, powerful and beautifully true. But every time we sing it I feel the need to alter the words. If I were to sing a fully honest version, it would go something like this:
Lord, Thee I love with half my heart. The world has claimed the other part. I pray Thy name be hallowed, Lord, But want my name to be adored. Thy kingdom come, Thy reign extend, And rain on me wealth without end. Thy will be done, my lips shall pray And curse when I don’t get my way. I thank Thee for my daily bread, But cakes and steaks I crave instead. My million sins forgive, forget, While I collect a one-cent debt. From tempting evils keep us free Unless I find they pleasure me. Lord, Thee I love with half my heart. The world has claimed the other part.
Here’s the question: Where does that leave me? Or, if you found yourself nodding your head, where does that leave us?
It leaves us in a spiritual tug-of-war that’s anything but child’s play. It leaves us in exactly the same situation that Paul narrates in his letter to the church at Rome (Rom 7:15-25). “I don’t understand my own actions,” he says. Now there’s some honest Christianity for you! And Paul’s not kicking himself for the way he once was; all these verbs are here-and-now, present tense verbs. What the apostle wants to do as a believer, he doesn’t do. But the very evil he hates, that’s what he ends up doing—or, rather, that’s what the sin dwelling in him does. He has the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. So he finds this law at work: when he wants to do right, evil lies close at hand. Yes, very close at hand, as close as flesh is to flesh, soul is to soul. In his members there lurks a nature that’s in league with the devil and in love with sin. Disgusted with what he sees in himself, Paul cries out, “Wretched man that I am!” (Rom 7:24).
You can say that again, Paul. It’s a wretched condition we feel in our own bones. Pulled this way and that. Condemned as lukewarm Christians. Never measuring up. Loving the Lord with half our hearts. Never really sincerely confessing, never fully sorry, never the very good Christians we want to be. We are the embodiment of civil war: saints and sinners, on the same battlefield, going at it tooth and nail.
Paul finally asks, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24). Now before I get to his answer, think about the implications of that question. He doesn’t ask, “What will deliver me?” There is no book of spiritual discipline we can order from Amazon that will guide us, step by step, through the process of sin's conquest.
There is no sermon series we can download that will enable us to make those adverbs “sincerely” and “heartily” true descriptions of who we are. The last thing we need is another form of self-help masquerading as God’s plan to help us save ourselves from ourselves. We don’t need a “what” to deliver us; we need a “who.”
Here we arrive at the answer that changes everything, that rewrites this article, indeed, that recomposes our entire lives.
“I don’t understand my own actions,” we say with Paul.
And God cocks his head to one side and says, “I don’t know what actions you’re talking about. When I look at your life, all I see are the actions of my Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead—the Spirit who’s fully alive and fully active in you. He’s shattered the shackles of sin and death. There’s nothing for you to understand but this: what you couldn’t do, I did by sending my own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law for you.”
We respond, “But I don’t do the good I want to do.” And God says, “My child, I have eyes only for the good that my Son has accomplished for you, and that my Spirit continues to work in you. ” When we say, “But Lord, I must confess that I love you with only half my heart,” he laughs and says, “Oh, don’t be foolish. My Spirit cut out your old heart long ago, dunked it in the waters of baptism, scrubbed it clean, and filled all its valves with the blood of Jesus. I gave you a new heart, and that new heart is full and sincere and, yes, heartily loves me, even as I love you. And nothing, neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate you from my love in Christ Jesus.”
The truth is that, in Jesus Christ, there are no lukewarm Christians. There are no hot or cold Christians either. In Jesus, there are only Christians. And the Spirit has perfected every one of us through Christ in the eyes of our Father. Just as there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, there are no gradations amongst believers; no distinctions of good, better, best; no scales on which we’re weighed and found wanting. The Spirit of God, who dwells in us, has adopted us all as sons of God in the Son of God, so that we cry out, “Abba, Father!” He bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. In the Spirit we are all forgiven, righteous, top notch, and sincere because Christ is all in all. Our identities are consumed by his identity. It is no longer we who live but Christ Jesus who lives in us. When God sees us, all he sees is Christ.
Who will deliver us from this body of death? Who will save us from the sin that wages war in our members? “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:25). Rather than spitting us out of his mouth as lukewarm Christians, God puts to our lips the cup which is Christ, fills our own mouths with the wine of his forgiveness, and quenches our deepest thirst. He is our drink, our deliverer, our righteousness.
In Christ Jesus we are more than very good Christians; we are the beloved children of the Father.