Here we go with the first entry in the Says What Now? series! I’m starting with a verse whose misuse is obvious, and whose real meaning is meaty–challenging, encouraging, and spurring us to live passionately.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)
The Common Interpretation
People read this in the context of evangelism & the gospel. Jesus is standing at the door with the gospel invitation–just open the door, and he’ll come into your heart.
14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
Jesus isn’t talking to people outside the church–this is one of the messages to seven churches in Asia! (There’s a question about what exactly “the angel of the church” means in these seven messages, which I’m going to ignore.) So looking at the context immediately tells you that verse 20 isn’t about general evangelism. What does it mean?
The first thing that strikes me is this: Christ is inviting people inside the church to let him “come in and eat with” us. Is this some kind of higher level of intimacy or blessing? If so, that should thrill us, and make each of us consider carefully. How is he inviting us? How do we partake? What’s actually going on? Are we already there? If so, who isn’t? (And how do we help our brothers & sisters enter into it?)
Laodicea the Lukewarm Church
Specifically, Jesus is speaking to the lukewarm–churchgoers who do not pursue God with passion & zeal. Perhaps it’s people who “prayed a prayer” or “joined the group”–but they’re personally apathetic. Jesus calls them to repent–not from active rebellion & hostility to God, but from lives of comfortable presumption that it doesn’t matter how they live.
Ephesians 2:8-9 is a standard passage in evangelicalism; we love it for the simple statement that we do not earn salvation–we’re saved by God’s grace, through faith, not as a result of our works. I imagine the Lukewarm are those who bank on those verses, but who want to ignore verse 10–that we are created in Christ for good works, which God prepared beforehand for us to do. We’re not saved by our works, but we’re saved for them. The grace of God is not intended to give tickets to heaven to the lazy & comfortable–Christ “gave himself for us … to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:14)
Christ died to save us, and to change us, to live lives of reckless abandon for him. This is what he is calling us toward–opening our eyes to see true riches. (Not that we do this by our own strength–it’s part of God’s grace in our lives, Phil 2:12-18.)
The Carrot and the Stick
And this is not simply a pleading invitation–there is carrot and there is stick. There’s reproof here–discipline coming from his love for us, but discipline nonetheless. Namely: Because they are lukewarm, uncaring, Christ is ready to “spit you out of my mouth”.
It would be inconsistent with the Gospel to say that this means, “Meet a certain standard to earn your continued salvation, or you’ll be kicked out.” But it is easy to see the connection with the common theme in Scripture of “fruit”.
- That “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
- That real faith shows itself in works. (James 2:14-26)
- That who we are & our relationship to God is revealed by our fruit (Matt 12:33, Luke 6:43-44, 8:9-15, John 15:2, Gal. 5:21-24, 1 John 3:9-10), and every tree that bears no fruit is cut down, because it reveals they do not know Christ (Matt 7:15-23).
So, it is possible that the Lukewarm in Laodicea did not yet truly know Christ. It’s possible that they know Christ, and this is what God used to transform them. (Or, if those who think you can lose salvation are right, these could be true Christians in danger of falling from grace. But I take Rom 8:26-30 to mean that God bends every event in the lives of his children to prevent that from happening.) I assume that the church would include a mix.
In any case, we’re being called toward what we were created for–the life of joy & passion & love we’re meant to live.
P.S. “Crazy Love”
I haven’t read it myself, but my parents tell me their church is studying Crazy Love, by Francis Chan. It discusses these issues from Revelation 3, describing both the Lukewarm Church, and a life of “crazy love”.