"But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding."
Job 32:8

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Lukewarm Mindset

Today I want to share a message that I gave a while back when most of the youth group was away before Christmas break. Though this topic can intermingle with many others, I want to give focus to one central idea:  lukewarm Christianity.

The passages that will be examined today are primarily from John 18. In this chapter, we have Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane who has just finished praying His beautiful prayer from John 17 and is about to be betrayed by Judas Iscariot. Out of defense for Christ, Simon Peter cuts off one of the servant's ears to which he is rebuked by Jesus. Jesus is taken before the high priests and, during this time, Simon Peter denies Christ three times. Because a proper verdict cannot be determined among the Jews, Christ is taken before Pilate.

Now, I don't intend to go in depth over the entire chapter. That would require much too much typing and would probably cause a lot of people to get tired from so much reading, but what I do want to look at first, is Simon Peter.

In John 18:10-11 NIV, "Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.) Jesus commanded Peter, 'Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?'"

Today, Christianity is plagued with lukewarmness. What do I mean when I say 'lukewarm'? I'm talking about those who profess faith in Christ but don't follow His teachings, people who simply go to church and perhaps read the Bible but nothing really more than that. I will speak more on this throughout the message so don't get confused with any ambiguities just yet.

The first thing I want to focus on are the characteristics of a lukewarm Christian, the first one shown here. Now, I don't intend to call Peter a lukewarm Christian, but I do want to use this passage as an illustration.

Here we have Peter, likely with good intentions to defend Christ, where he draws his sword and attacks, but Christ's rebuke brings serious concern about Peter's actions. You see, today, many people will claim to do things in the name of Christ. They may have varying motives that benefit them in one way or another , butt on the outside, they look like genuine Christians. Here, Peter, acted in Christ's defense.

Who wouldn't? If someone were about to do something risk-tasking to the point where it could mean certain death. Maybe it looks like they were coerced or persuaded and you are gravely concerned. Wouldn't you come to their defense as well?

Then Christ rebukes him. He says, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?"

Peter was acting against the will of God! Christ has prophesied of His coming death and though Peter's intentions may have seemed spiritual and good, the very actions themselves were against His very will. In the other Gospels, Jesus emphasises this point by pointing out He could command and angels would come to His rescue, but He chooses not to.

In the same way that Peter acted out, though appearing noble but resisting God's will, so do also unbelievers and lukewarm Christians alike, act out. They will perhaps try and tell you that what you want to do for God isn't necessary, or that God wouldn't call you to do what seems like the impossible.

It seems, lukewarm Christians and unbelievers do not know our God at all.

Moving on, we find Christ before the high priests while Simon Peter and another disciple (likely John) were outside.

John 18:15-18 NIV says, "15 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in.
17 “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter.
He replied, “I am not.”
18 It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself."

Now I want to address another characteristic of lukewarm Christianity that reveals true colours. Here, we have the other disciple who specifically went in to get permission for Peter to be able to enter as well. Once inside, it is probably likely that Peter was alone and here's why I think that. Notice what happens shortly after he enters. 

First, Peter is questioned about whether he is one of the followers of Christ. And notice how he is asked. It's as though the servant girl sees the disciples as something wrong, something to be looked down on by asking the question in the negative form "You aren't one of this man's disciples, are you?"

To this, Peter denies Christ and instead of going to watch while his Master is put on trial. The one Man who is the Light to the world, the Way and the Truth. He instead decides to go to an artificial light, that only brings temporary warmth, shared with unbelievers. 

The second characteristic I want to address is reaction under pressure or persecution. Though, some Christians may appear holy and righteous, they willingly choose to deny Christ in the face of their peers or co-workers in order to save face. And then, if things couldn't get any worse, they turn from Christ out of either guilt, the need to fit in, pressure or any other reasons you can think of, and seek fulfillment in something else, something that does not truly fulfill at all. 

But, here's the sad thing. As genuine Christians, we can act the exact same way. We genuinely worship Him but when we fall into a sin, we are consumed with guilt and in order to save face among our friends, we turn away from Christ and partake in other activities when, instead, we should be focusing on Christ. 

Before I shed some hope, I just want to bring us to how terrifying a lukewarm mindset really is. 

Matthew 7:21-23 NIV, Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’"

Matthew 10:33 NIV, "But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven."

Revelation 3:16 NIV, "So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth."

Again and again, Christ teaches against the dangers of a lukewarm mindset and the result for anyone with this mindset is truly troubling. More troubling than the fate of atheists or unbelievers because they generally know, that according to biblical standards, they won't be entering Heaven, but here Christ is talking about people who genuinely believed they were following Christ, or perhaps they were faking it. Regardless of the intention, the result is the same. 

Either way, they do not enter Heaven. 

I have thought about this issue a lot and have learnt and concluded that lukewarm Christianity is basically about trying to accept Christ on our own terms, by only surrendering 'so far'. Maybe we make a few sacrifices so we can look holy but we don't really change who we are or try to do His will. 

You may be wondering how I could say that some lukewarm Christians can genuinely believe they are doing the right thing yet will not enter to Heaven. To this I reply that they have likely chosen to deceive themselves by ignoring certain Scripture in order to fit their own preferences. 

Because, the thing is, Christ calls for full surrender of self. He says in John 8, that who ever dies to self will be made alive and it is only when we die to ourselves that we can be confident of our eternal destination. 

There is hope that remains for those with a lukewarm mindset and there is hope that remains for the brother or sister who has fallen because of shame and guilt. A lot of people like to claim that God changed between the Old Testament and the New Testament, but if you really read, and I seriously mean that you seek out the Word, you will begin to see that God does not change and you find beautiful passages like this: 

Ezekiel 33:11a NIV, "Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live."

There is a Jewish story that is told about the Israelites escape through the Red Sea. After the sea closes in around their slave masters and the Israelites cheer, the angels also cheer and God asks them why they are cheering. He says that the Israelites are humans but these angels know better and know that God does not cheer over their death but wishes for them to turn to Him. 

Now, that isn't Scripture but it does appear to fit His character. 

So, for whoever is struggling with either a lukewarm mindset or feels themselves falling into one, know that there is hope. There is still hope while we have today and there is a choice to be made. There is no day like the present to make that decision. Choose today whom you will serve. 

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13 NIV

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