Will Christ Spew Lukewarm Christians Out of His Mouth (Revelation 3:16)?
“I know your works, that you are neither hot nor cold. If only you were hot or cold!
So then: Because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am poised to spew you out of my mouth.”
In what is surely the sternest reproof addressed to any of the seven churches in Asia, the Lord directed the words of our text to professing Christians at Laodicea. Was he speaking to born-again believers? Is it really possible that he would spew lukewarm Christians out of his mouth? Can backslidden born-again believers “cross the dead line” and be rejected and lost after all?
To find our answers we must begin by noting carefully that here Christ is speaking to the church as a whole. Early on it doubtless was aflame for him; all together were on fire for the King and his Kingdom. Now, a generation or two later, it has grown lukewarm. Practically speaking, this means that while a few of the Laodicean Christians were surely dining intimately with their Lord (v. 20, 3:4), the vast majority were either badly backslidden or Christians in name only. As a result, the church as a whole was in danger of falling under Christ’s judgment.
What might that have looked like? Strong persecution driving nominal believers into hiding and apostasy? A judicial hardening of hearts, such that many who once professed the faith now suddenly turn against it? Numerous Laodiecean house churches folding altogether? A tiny remnant of true believers (and alarmed back-sliders) forced to start the work of the Kingdom from scratch?
Whatever the Lord had in mind, we meet him here speaking urgently, lovingly, and mercifully, both to the nominal and the backslidden. Standing at the door of the church, knocking, extending a sincere invitation to a fellowship meal with the High King of Heaven, he offers the nominal new birth, and the backslidden renewed fellowship, all on condition of honest repentance and faith. If the nominal spurn his offer, he may indeed spew them out of his mouth, in the sense of finally severing their external connection with the life-giving ordinances of the Church, and so from the Head of the Church as well (John 15:1-7, Col. 2:18-19). As for the backslidden, if they will not repent he may simply take them home (1 Cor. 11:30). Sadly, they will be numbered among those who largely built with wood, hay, and stubble; whose works will be burned up in the judgment while they themselves are saved only as someone who escapes through a fire (1 Cor. 3:12-15). But the Lord will never spew them out of his mouth (Psalm 89:30-37, John 6:37, 10:27-30).
But what of earnest Christians? Are these words meant for them as well? Indeed they are, for here faithful believers learn once again to steer clear of all worldliness, and to dine daily and intimately with the High King, who will gladly warm their hearts and make them hot for the knowledge of God and the work of his Kingdom (v. 15, Rom. 12:11). But if, as they read those words, they find themselves stricken with a fear of rejection, let them swiftly remember the King’s precious promise to his own: “All that the Father gives me will come to me; and the one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37, 1 John 4:18). Most assuredly, that includes “spew out” as well.