by Justin Huffman
Dr. Paul Brand dedicated much of his life to investigating the disease of leprosy in India. Anyone could see that lepers lost parts of their extremities—like fingers, or a foot—but no one knew exactly how leprosy caused this decay in the body.
Dr. Brand discovered that leprosy does not actually directly cause this damage. Leprosy prevents the affected part of the body from feeling pain, and so a broken ankle, or injured hand, goes untreated. It is in this indirect way that leprosy causes many other difficulties.
Similarly, sin deadens us to the danger we are in.
Sin keeps us from feeling the soul-injuries that every human has. It makes us think everything is fine, when it is not.
This is why Jesus speaks, in Revelation 3:14-22, to those in the church of Laodicea and warns them (and us) not to trust feelings. We may convince ourselves that we are in need of nothing, when in reality we are poor, and blind, and in great danger.
To those who are deceived in this way, Jesus says, “You are wretched, your condition is miserable, you are exposed and naked before a Holy God.”
“And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (3:14-16).
One of the first things Jesus says as the faithful, truth-speaking witness is, “I know you.” This is more than a little disconcerting, because most of us will freely admit we still don’t know ourselves that well. But the one true God is omniscient; he is all-knowing. There is nothing in the past, in the present, or in the future that is hidden from him. There is nothing spoken in secret, or thought in private, or done in darkness that is not known to him.
It is convicting, even terrifying, to consider that our whole life is an open book to God. “Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance” (Psalm 90:8). There is no hiding from the Holy One.
We may fool our friends and our closest family members—and, in fact, we may even be fooling ourselves—but God knows what we are really like on the inside.
And as his address continues, Jesus warns of the dangers of lukewarmness. It is so repulsive to him, in fact, that he will very soon spit (literally vomit) those out who do not repent or change.
Think about that for a moment. If you were to make a mental list of the sins that are most revolting and despicable to God, would you honestly put “lukewarmness” anywhere near the top? Most of us probably recognize the wickedness of murder, or extortion, or adultery — but what about a tap-water type of faith? A disciple that claims Christ as his or her great sufficiency but then looks everywhere else for fulfillment? A soul that is more characterized by secular pursuits than it is by hungering and thirsting for Christ-likeness? Or a heart that feels a self-satisfied indifference toward Christ and his claims upon your life?
Beware the lukewarm life, Jesus says, because it numbs you to the danger of your own disinterest.
“Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (17).
In case we are unable or unwilling to diagnose what Jesus means by “lukewarm”, he defines it for us in this very next verse. Lukewarmness, he says, is having just enough religion or good works or material wealth to make you think you are fine.
The great danger of lukewarmness seems to be that it is satisfied with its own condition. Thus, the best thermometer for this spiritual condition is not our articles of faith, or personal creed, or even our church attendance — it is our prayer life. Because we can talk all day about “truth” and “faith”, and we can even sing hymns about grace; but the measure of how needy we truly see ourselves to be is reflected in the frequency and fervency of our prayers. As one commentator observes:
“The essence of lukewarmness is the statement, ‘I need nothing.’ The lukewarm are spiritually self-satisfied. To find out whether you are among that number, don't look into your head to see if you think that you are needy; rather, look at your prayer life. It doesn't matter what we think in our head, the test of whether we are in bondage to spiritual self-satisfaction is how earnest and frequent and extended our prayers for change are.”
How sad is the description Jesus gives here, of people who feel themselves to be in need of nothing and so will not come to him to supply their gaping neediness! Here is the poverty of self-deception.
We would rather sit in our own filth and tell ourselves we’re okay than confess our pride and sinfulness and run to Christ for real riches.
Like the fabled king, we walk out in public naked because we don’t want to have to admit that we have no clothes on.
“I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see” (18).
While we are too often content with just enough religion to “keep us out of trouble” and salve our conscience, Christ counsels us to go for the true medicine that doesn’t just numb us to the pain of our own guilt but that actually heals us of our sin. Rather than chasing after the false gold of fleeting pleasures and limited accomplishments, Jesus tells us to come to him for the real gold—that has been tried and tested in the fire—so that we might be truly rich. And instead of persisting in our shameful, self-deceived nakedness, he points us to clothing that will truly cover us.
What is this real gold, this shameless covering, this healing ointment? It is none other than Christ himself!
As he reveals in the verses to follow, genuine repentance and true faith consists of an open door of communion with Christ.
Let us then not stand looking at Jesus suspiciously through the peephole, wondering “Is he really just here to rob me? Will he do me harm if I unlock the door?” No! The thief of your joy and health and peace is already in the house, but your rescuer is at the door! You are a man dying of an indifference heart-attack, but the physician is nearby and knocking!
How do you see yourself today? In need of nothing? Or poor and blind and in need of Jesus Christ?
© Baptist Bible Hour
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