Repenting of Insensibility and Lukewarmness

Do you watch HGTV with the home renovator celebrities redo old houses or the Food Network? Maybe you watch the Travel Channel, Animal Planet, or other reality TV shows. When we are watching these shows we are passive. But when we engage in home renovation ourselves, cooking, traveling, or training our dogs, we become more invested and passionate about the project and hopefully about those who will benefit from it. Simply watching someone else will probably result in a casual interest that can easily be replaced by something else. Likewise, we can become casual, lukewarm, and even insensible toward God if we act like observers of his Word rather than doers. Walking with God isn’t for the faint-hearted if we do so biblically. But so often, we move through our days as if taking the Lord for granted and not showing him any particular attention. This can lead to replacing him with other ideals or values, causing us to move further away from him rather than growing closer. Israel, called by the Lord to glorify him among the nations, was guilty of this. Like Israel, the Body of Christ doesn’t exist to make us comfortable or free from troubles, although there is great peace in our covenant with God. He called us to be set apart so that others will be drawn to him, through our holiness and zeal for Christ.

A Warning and Advice for Insensible Christians

John’s letter to the church in Laodicea contains a warning to believers about their lukewarmness toward God. The Lord gave John a well-known illustration of the problem. “The waters of the nearby Lycus River were muddy and undrinkable, and water flowing by aqueduct from hot springs 5 miles (8 km) away were lukewarm when they reached Laodicea.  Likewise, Jesus found his church’s tepid indifference repugnant. Cold and hot water represent something positive, for cold water refreshes in the heat, and hot water is a tonic when one is chilly.” (1) “Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 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. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:16-19) “Revelation 3:14 represents the members of this church as lukewarm, and very disagreeable to him and as having a vain opinion of themselves, being ignorant of their real state and case, wherefore he gives them some wholesome counsel and advice, suitable to their condition, and whereas there were some among them he loved, he lets them know that his rebukes and chastenings were from love, and with a view to stimulate them to zeal, and bring them to repentance, which became them..” (2) God calls on the Laodicean church to repent of their spiritual insensibility, nakedness, poverty—to be refined and receive God’s rich, holy covering for their shame. We, like the Laodiceans, need to zealously repent of our insensibility—feeling ashamed and desiring God’s riches and covering for our spiritual poverty.

The Good Shame of Repentance 

“The shame that accompanies repentance is not momentary but permanent. Every new sin produces new shame to such an extent that it is even possible to state, ‘All day long my dishonor is before me, and my humiliation has overwhelmed me.’ (Psalm 44:15). That is not to suggest that there is no joyous sense of forgiveness, but no matter how great the sense of freedom in having been delivered from sin becomes, the capacity to blush over sin is ever with the repentant. In the letter to the church of Laodicea we find an urgent word on shame…The truly repentant cannot say that they have need of nothing, for they know absolutely that they are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. In true repentance and faith they have bought the refiner’s gold, they are made rich by the God of heaven, the shame of their nakedness is covered with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness, and their eyes are so anointed that they see and blush over every sin.” (3) In Psalm 44:1-8, God’s people remember and rehearse how God graciously delivered his people from destruction by their enemies. But this retelling isn’t their best engagement with him.  Starting in verse 9 the psalmist engages with the Lord about their current trial. God calls his people to engage with the Lord, seeking his righteousness in all our circumstances, repenting of any laziness or disinterest in testifying to his great unfailing loyalty through sincere confession and repentance.

Why We Don’t Repent

“Men do not apprehend that they need repentance. They thank God that all is well with them, and they know nothing that they should repent of: ‘thou sayest, I am rich and have need of nothing (Rev. 3:17). He who apprehends not any distemper in his body will not take the physic prescribed. This is the mischief sin has done, it has not only made us sick, but senseless. When the Lord bade the people return to him, they answered stubbornly, ‘Wherein shall we return?’ (Mal. 3:7). So when God bids men repent, they say, ‘Wherefore should we repent? They know nothing they have done amiss. There is surely no disease worse than that which is apoplectically.”’ (Apoplexy is a malady, sudden in its attack, which arrests the powers of sense and motion).” (4) John Gill writes that “true believers…stand in need of nothing indeed, they are complete in him, and have everything in him; but, as considered in themselves, they are daily in need of daily food for their souls, as for their bodies, of fresh light and life, strength and comfort, and of new supplies of grace…true believers account themselves wretched, as the Apostle Paul did, on account of indwelling sin, and the plague of their own hearts…and miserable…some persons neither know their misery, nor their need of mercy.” (5) Just as God calls on the Laodicean church to repent, he calls us to repent of our spiritual insensibility, desiring God’s covering for our shame.

The Blessing of a Father’s Reproof

“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. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:18-19) “[God’s] advice is always wholesome, good, and suitable, is hearty, sincere, and faithful, and is freely given, and is wise and prudent; and, being taken, infallibly succeeds…none are rich but those who have an interest in Christ and his grace…and such are rebuked by Christ, not in a way of wrath, but in a tender manner, in order to bring them under a conviction of their sin and of their duty, and of their folly in trusting in, or loving any creature more than himself, and of all their wrong ways; and they are chastened by him, not in a vindictive, but in a fatherly way, which is instructive and teaching to them, and for their good…zeal was what was wanting in this {Laodicean] church…Christ would have her be ‘zealous’ for God; for his cause and interest, for his Gospel, ordinances, and the discipline of his house, and against everything that is evil…and repent of her lukewarmness, remissness, and supineness; of her pride, arrogance, and vain boastings of herself; and of her self-sufficiency, self-dependence, and self-confidence.” (6) Aren’t we the same, if not constantly, but in particular situations, or with certain people?

Sheltered by God’s Voice

“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.” (v. 20) “[God knocks]not as a homeless transient seeking shelter but as the master of the house, expecting alert servants to respond immediately to his signal and welcome his entrance. To the one who opens the door, Christ will come in and will eat with him, a picture of close personal fellowship. (7) Jesus wants us to engage with him, rather than merely think about him, and definitely not forget him as we attend to work, family, or other pursuits. “Let us examine ourselves by the rule of his word, and pray earnestly for the teaching of his Holy Spirit, to take away our pride, prejudices, and worldly lusts. Sinners ought to take the rebukes of God’s word and rod, as tokens of his love to their souls.” (8) “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:11-12)

Related Scripture: Psalm 19:8; Proverbs 8:19; Isaiah 55:1-4; Hosea 12:7-9; Zechariah 11:4-6; Matthew 25:1-10; Luke 12:35-40; John 9:39-41; 1 Corinthians 4:8-9; Ephesians 1:17-21; Hebrews 12:6.

Notes:

  1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Revelation 3:14-21, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Introduction to Revelation 3, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/revelation-3.html
  3. Roberts, Richard Owen, “Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel,” pp. 190-191, Crossway, 2002.
  4. Watson, Thomas, “The Doctrine of Repentance, The Removing of the Impediments to Repentance,” Banner of Truth Trust, 2016 (1668).
  5. Gill, Ibid, Rev. 3:16-17.
  6. Gill, Ibid, Rev. 3:18-19.
  7. ESV Study Bible Notes, Ibid, Rev.3:20
  8. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Revelation 3:14-20, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/revelation-3.html

June 17, 2021

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