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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8am service, 2003-07-13

Text: Revelation 3:14-20

A few months ago, when the SARS outbreak was raging and affecting us and the rest of the world, we all learned how to take all the necessary precautions against infection. In almost every place there were temperature checks to go through. All school children were given thermometers to record their temperatures daily. And every household has received SARS kits which include an oral thermometer. 

You will notice in your weekly bulletin today that you have each received a Spiritual Life Thermometer which was written by Wang Ming Tao. This thermometer is not to be used to determine if you have a fever or not, but whether you are spiritually healthy or unhealthy. Please keep it well and use it regularly to check yourself, as it can be useful to help you know how well you are spiritually. If your life is more accurately described by the list of items on the right side of the thermometer than those on the left, please beware, because this may be an indication that you have become not a possible SARS patient, but a backslider! 

I. The Main Symptom of Backsliding: Lukewarmness

This morning we want to address the issue of backsliding by studying the familiar warning that Christ gave to the Christians at a place called Laodicea. Let us turn our Bible to this passage and look at the context of this warning. 

v.17 'Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing' The Christians of Laodicea were quite wealthy, because the city they lived in was an important center of trade and communication at that time. So wealthy was Laodicea that after the great earthquake of A.D. 17, which destroyed it, the people refused any financial help offered by the Roman government in rebuilding the city, choosing rather to do it entirely by themselves.

Another interesting fact about Laodicea is that there was a famous school of medicine. A special ointment known as 'Phrygian powder,' famous for its cure of eye problems, was either manufactured or distributed there. This seems to be alluded to at the end of v.18 where Christ says that the Christians of Laodicea themselves had need to apply the cure for their own spiritual blindness 'anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.'

The most important feature of Laodicea for our message this morning was its water supply. For all its wealth, the city actually had poor water - it was insipid and actually induced vomiting. Water was channeled from the south by a 10 km long aqueduct. This water came either from hot springs and was cooled to lukewarm or came from a cooler source and warmed up in the aqueduct on the way. This water seems to reflect the lukewarm attitude of the people there. The writer Ramsay notes that the Laodiceans had learned to compromise and accommodate themselves to the needs and wishes of others. They did not zealously stand for anything. 

The Lord Jesus Christ detests this Laodicean attitude of compromise in His Church, one that seeks easy accommodation and peace at any cost. He said to them in v.16, 'So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.' The Christians there were half-hearted, professing to follow Christ, but at the same time, also wanting to follow the world's pursuits of affluence, appearance and achievements. They wanted to have the best of both worlds and could not really decide where their loyalties ultimately should lie. 

The sad thing is that today there are many Christians who are like the Laodiceans. When they were young believers they may have been sincerely enthusiastic and excited about worship, prayer, Bible study and discipleship. But later on, as they got used to these things year after year, they do not appreciate them nor put their hearts into it anymore. It becomes just a matter of routine for them. If you were to look at your Spiritual Life Thermometer, you can see 23 kinds of differences between what they were before and what they are now: 

Fervent in prayer

Lethargic in prayer

Bible-reading tasteful

Bible-reading insipid

Fully trusting

Anxious and doubting

Loving God more than everything else

Loving worldly things more than the Lord

Resisting and hating sin

Compromising with sin

Giving God the glory in all things

Seeking self-glory in everything

Fully at peace

Much worrying

Giving thanks in all

Much murmuring

Always happy and singing

Always sad and sighing

Peaceful and patient in trouble

Easily provoked to anger

Much consideration of others

Much consideration of self

Seeking God's pleasure in all things

Seeking men's pleasure in all things

Yearning for spiritual things in the heart

Coveting earthly things in the heart

Speaking words that edify others

Speaking words that criticize others

Happy to witness for Christ

No power to witness

Cheerful to give to the Lord's work

Stingy and unwilling to give

Rejoicing in other's good success

Jealous of other's good success

A helping hand to those in trouble

Nonchalant at others' misfortune

Willing to forgive others

Not willing to forgive others

Character first

Clothing first

Happy to keep close to devout Christians

Happy in the company of worldly friends

Happy to hear faithful admonition

Happy to hear words of flattery

Eagerly hoping for the Lord�s return

No thought of things touching the Lord's return

II. The Danger of Being a Backslider

Dearly beloved, if you find that all or most of this accurately describes your present life now, please be careful. Perhaps you have backslided and you are not even aware of it. Perhaps you have been coming to church every Sunday more out of a sense of duty than of love, just because you feel that you have to do it and not really because you want to. If your heart is not really present here in the worship service; If you find that you are just going-through-the-motions when people around you are singing and praying; If you do not find great delight in the things of God and have to force yourself to pray and read His Word, please be very careful. It is a scary thing to be ignorant of your own backslidden condition. 

This was the deeper problem in the Laodicean church. It was not simply their indifference, but it was their ignorance of their real condition. V.17 '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' They were blind to it. To them everything was all right. They saw no need for repentance or for change. They were contented just to remain as they were, not knowing what danger they were in.

Lukewarmness is a very dangerous situation to be in. Do you know that a person who calls himself a Christian but does not show it in his life may be in greater peril than he can imagine? He may be having a false sense of security. The scriptures make it very clear to us that the grace of God must naturally produce lives that are devoted to God. If you are lukewarm in spiritual things this may be an indication that you are not saved at all! Let us look at what Jesus said in Matthew 7:22 'Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.' Now let us be careful how we interpret this. This does not mean that a person who is saved can lose his salvation. 

Salvation is of the Lord and therefore it can never be lost. What this verse refers to is the fact that some people can appear to be in Christ, and yet not really be in Christ at all. They claim to have a part in Him and profess to be like the rest of the branches that are joined to the Vine. They may even call Jesus 'Lord'. But their true unregenerate state becomes evident after some time, when their lives display no real transformation, or when under pressure from the world, they deny the Lord and fall away from following Him. And on the day of the Lord's Judgment, their false profession of faith in Christ will be no help to them at all. They will have no part at all in the wonderful bliss of eternal life, but will be cast into the outer darkness. 

This is really a most frightening prospect, so frightening that I would urge all of you to be very sure today that you have not been deceiving yourself into thinking that you are saved, that you have a part in Christ, when you actually do not have a part in Him at all. Now, while that frightening prospect may be true of some of us, and we ought to be very sure that it is not, it may also be true that we are already genuinely saved, but who just have lapsed or backslided into an unhealthy spiritual state. Perhaps there was a time when you were more zealous and did much more for the Lord, a time when your heart was all-aflame with love for Him. But what has happened since then? You have grown cold to Him and left your first love. Like the Christians of Laodicea, you have become lukewarm. You have backslided, and if you are not careful, you may one day stop coming to church. 

III. The Cause of Backsliding

What has caused you to backslide to such a state? One cause of backsliding comes from the cares of this world and other pursuits. A Christian backslides when he allows these things to overtake his devotion to the Lord, and his walk with the Lord. You are living for the things on this earth and not for things above. You have become too occupied with your work and with your own interests.

Another cause of backsliding is the desire to have all the comforts of the world. Some Christians attempt to justify wanting all the comforts of the world. For example, now that property prices have dropped so much, there are Christians not so affected by the economic crisis who face this temptation. Suddenly that 5-room condo apartment or dream house that was once beyond your reach is well within your reach. 

Your friends and relatives tell you 'Now is the time to buy property, now is the time to invest, while the prices are still low. Don't miss this opportunity.' So you follow what they say and take up a loan from a bank. You calculate that by continuous hard work, the combined CPF and paychecks of both you and your spouse can surely pay off the loan and interest in 30 years. It is a huge financial burden, but you tell yourself that it must be worthwhile, because at the end of the day, you will get to enjoy a very comfortable and prestigious lifestyle. But is it really worth it? Is it really worth tying yourself so tightly to this world, spending hours and hours in overtime work, with no time to nurture your children, and no time left for the Lord? 

The question you should ask yourself is: Is it worthwhile? Can you do all this without compromising at all on your devotion to the Lord, and your walk with the Lord? Is it worthwhile to do all that you can to assure yourself and your children of the best security and comfort this life can afford, and be able to reach a point where you can say like the Christians in Laodicea, 'I am rich, and increased with good, and have need of nothing,' but not know that you are really wretched, and miserable, and poor and blind and naked, as v.17 says?

Now, please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that Christians should not seek to improve themselves or upgrade their standard of living at all. There is a sense in which we can and should improve ourselves, if it is for the purpose of serving the Lord more effectively and if it will not sap away our spiritual vitality. But we must keep ourselves within limits. We must not let the world set those limits for us, but rather the priorities that are defined by the Word of God. Many Christians have unfortunately gone over the limit and become much too preoccupied with the things of this world. If, by doing this we backslide from our devotion to the Lord, then we have no one but ourselves to blame for it. Now, if you are convicted that this describes your present situation, then you need to learn how to get out of it. Let us now consider:

IV. The Remedy for Backsliding

Now, just before we actually consider the real remedy, there is something that we need to deal with first, and that is: What some people mistakenly think is the remedy for backsliding. There are some who think that the remedy is to find for themselves a good Bible-believing church that is very active, faithfully preaching God's Word, and doing a lot of mission work. Then as long as they attach themselves to it as members and attend its services regularly and give very generously to its missions projects, that they have solved their spiritual problem. They think that they are now all right and no longer backslidden.

But this is nothing more than a measure to salve a guilty conscience. What they have done is merely to substitute an outward form for an inward change. There are many generous church members today who attend church very regularly but inwardly they are still lukewarm Christians! God does not want a mere superficial covering. What He demands is a complete reformation of one's priorities, loyalties, values and desires.

So please do not settle for any substitute of the real remedy for backsliding. There is nothing that can ever substitute the precious personal walk with God that every believer needs to have. Do not try to substitute this with merely attending church but with your mind elsewhere, or with buying more Christian books but never reading them, or with giving large amounts of money to the church and to missions. A person can be doing all this but still remain a backslider. Now let me say that there is nothing wrong with doing all these things. They are good, but only if they are done with a heart that is burning with fervent devotion and love for the Lord. So what is the state of your heart right now?

Please listen carefully now and learn two things you must do if you are in a backslidden state: Firstly, you must rekindle your first love for the Lord. V.19 'be zealous therefore, and repent.' To repent you must take careful stock of your life now, and remove all the idols you have been serving - whether it is your wealth, your comfort, or your career. Make nothing else but Christ the centre or goal of your whole life. The Bible says, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.' (Matthew 22:37) This matters more to the Lord than anything else. Look at v.18 '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.' 

I would like you to notice that the emphasis here is on the source of all the blessings - we must come to the Lord Jesus Christ to obtain these things personally from Him alone. Unless we really and truly commune with Him personally through His Word and prayer, and grow fervently in our commitment to Him, we can never be delivered from our backslidden condition. 

The second thing that we need to do is to maintain that first love. Keep up your intimate relationship with God in your daily quiet time. Do not let anything come between you and the Lord. Do not let yourself backslide again. Do not let anything blow out the flames of loving devotion in your heart. Your first love needs constant maintenance, because it can gradually wear out under the constant influence and pressure of the world. How can you effectively maintain your first love? By reminding yourself again and again about what Jesus means to you. Remember that He is your Lord and your Saviour who died for you and gave Himself for you. No love can ever surpass the love that Christ has for you.

And He is loving you even right now, as He says in vv.19,20 'As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.' This is the precious promise that Jesus gives to us this morning, and especially to all backsliders here - open the door now to Him and He promises to come in and restore to your soul the wonderful communion you can have with Him! What a wonderful promise this is to live by!

Dearly beloved, this morning we have learned how terrible it is for a Christian to remain in a backslidden state. We have seen that our Lord hates to see us in such a state. He says in v.16 that He will spew those that are lukewarm out of His mouth! But at the same time, he lovingly promises in v.20 that He will come in to sup with those who repent of their backsliding. So let us all take heed both to the strong warning of v.16, and the wonderful promise of v.20 without any delay!

Vision & Mission


To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

February 18 & 25 - Fruit of Obedience

If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. John 15:10