CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Where There Are No Lukewarm Christians

Feb 13, 2020

We need to learn about genuine Christianity:

There are two main types of Christianity. There is the version found in the West in which many (most?) people who call themselves Christians are basically indistinguishable from their non-Christian neighbours. They live, walk, act and talk just like everyone else does.

Except for perhaps heading off to church for an hour each Sunday, there would be little reason at all to suspect they were Christians. And likely most of them have never even shared their faith with others. They live entirely comfortable, wealthy, materialistic, and self-centred lives. They only seem interested in having their best life now.

Chances are good that most would fail the test of the old saying: “If you were arrested for your faith, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” But there is another sort of Christianity: the real deal Christian. They are so authentic and genuine that everyone knows they are Christians.

They can’t stop talking about their faith, and what really matters is that they stand strong for Christ when the pressure is on. If carnal, compromised and lukewarm Christians are found all over the West, these on-fire, Spirit-filled and courageous believers are found mainly in places where the faith is under fire, persecution is rife, and being a believer really costs you something.

Of course it is always the case that persecution and fierce opposition does a great job of separating the wheat from the tares, the sheep from the goats. Church history is full of examples of this. When hard-core attacks on the faith take place, those who were never true Christians quickly fall by the wayside, leaving only genuine Christians to face the music and take the heat.

Sure, as I have often said elsewhere, the Bible does not encourage us to seek out persecution or pray for it. When there is real religious liberty that is a blessing indeed. But too often when everything is hunky-dory, the faith of most Christians can get very weak and flabby indeed.

And so the hardest part is to get believers in the West to live a sold-out life for Christ when so much of the surrounding culture puts pressure on them to simply compromise here and there, relax, and not take their faith too seriously. The overwhelming tendency is to just become quite apathetic and lukewarm, and it takes real effort to go against the flow.

So how do we go against the flow here? How do we live lives of serious Christian discipleship when things are for the most part so pleasant in the West, where we are awash with all the consumerism and life of ease that is possible? I guess the real question here is, how do we love Christ supremely as we ought?

Much can be said about how this happens, but let me mention just one thing. If you live in the West, look around you, and compare yourself with most other believers, you will likely think you are doing just fine. It is only when you contrast your Christian life with those who are paying a massive price for their faith that you begin to see the major discrepancies.

Reading about suffering saints facing heavy persecution is clearly one way to get the contrast. When you read about what so many Christians over the centuries have had to endure to stand for Christ, it puts our lives utterly to shame. We have to honestly ask ourselves if we have ever really sacrificed anything for our Lord.

Indeed, reading their stories should put most of us to shame. It should result in all of us falling on our faces before Almighty God and confessing our sins of apathy, carelessness, compromise, carnality and lukewarmness. Heartfelt repentance before the Lord is the first port of call.

By way of illustration, allow me to get a bit autobiographical here. I became a Christian at age 18, in 1971. Next year will mark a half century of being a disciple of Christ. Early on I was exposed to the lives of courageous Christians who paid such a heavy price to be faithful believers in hostile environments.

Perhaps a year or so after I became a Christian, I read an incredible book by a Bulgarian pastor, Haralan Popov (1907-1988). Called Tortured for His Faith (Zondervan, 1970), it told the amazing story of how this man endured 13 years of imprisonment and torture by his Communist captors. In all this hellishness he never renounced his faith, but instead stood strong for Jesus.

I just did a quick look for the book, and it seems I may have left it behind in America. But I believe he made this important observation: in a place like Bulgaria, during the communist reign of terror, there were no lukewarm Christians. How could there be? You either stood up for Christ no matter what, or you sold out.

Image of Captive in Iran: A Remarkable True Story of Hope and Triumph amid the Horror of Tehran's Brutal Evin Prison
Captive in Iran: A Remarkable True Story of Hope and Triumph amid the Horror of Tehran's Brutal Evin Prison by Array Amazon logo

And perhaps a year or so after reading this book I got to hear an incredible Christian speak. He had a very similar story to tell: Romanian Christian pastor Richard Wurmbrand (1909—2001). His 1967 book Tortured for Christ spoke of how he endured 14 years of cruel and torturous imprisonment at the hands of the Communists because of his Christian faith.

When you read books like these, or hear men like these, it changes you forever. You cannot be the same. You look around you and see indifference, apathy and compromise everywhere. You have a hard time squaring what you find in so much of Western churchianity with what you have just read about or heard about.

And there is no shortage of such incredible stories of courageous Christians enduring the wrath of hell as they stand true for Christ. Just yesterday I wrote about the wonderful revivals taking place in Iran, the Islamic hellhole where Christians routinely face some of the most horrific persecution.

In that piece I also mentioned two young, remarkable women, Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh, and their book, Captive in Iran (Tyndale, 2013). What a mind-blowing story of two courageous Christians standing up to the diabolical Islamic regime.

In 2009-2010 they had to endure 9 months of hellish prison conditions because they insisted on sharing Jesus Christ with everyone they could in Tehran. So often they had the chance to gain their freedom – it was so easy: all they had to do was effectively renounce their faith, say they were wrong, and not speak anymore of Jesus.

But they refused every single time. They would rather suffer and die than turn on the one who suffered and died for them. Toward the end of their 9 months they stood before various judges and Iranian bigwigs. As they said to one official:

If we wanted to change our minds, we would have done that six months ago and not spent all those days in prison! We’ve been threatened with death. That’s no problem. We’re not afraid of death. What we’re afraid of is life without faith, life without our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Or as they said to one Iranian judge:

We don’t believe in Christ the way other religions do. Jesus is the beginning and the end. He is everything. Any view that diminishes His perfect completeness is a false view. Jesus is the one and only true Savior of the world. Nothing you can do will make us deny that truth or water it down. We believe the Lord is our ultimate liberator, and we don’t want to be released from prison under any circumstances if it means denying Christ. If we had wanted to be freed by denying our faith, we could have gotten out of prison months ago. Jesus is our Savior now and forever!

Because of their resolute commitment to Christ, they daily shared the gospel and prayed for countless other women prisoners, and many came to Christ. And when they were finally released, they learned of how much greater their impact had been – greater than they ever could have imagined:

The good news was that we heard indirectly of many cases where news of our arrest and our defiance had led others to Christ. When people learned we were willing to die rather than deny our faith, they wanted to know what it was that was worth that kind of sacrifice. Some we had spoken to in the past who hadn’t been interested in Christianity now read the Bible eagerly and asked probing questions about it. We praised the Lord for that.

These books and testimonies, and many others like them, are just what the moribund, comatose and spiritually anaemic church in the West so desperately needs to read and to hear. I encourage you right now to get hold of some of these volumes, or view some of the online testimonies of these great champions for Christ.

The West is in dire need to learn what real deal Christianity is all about. These saints will help point us in the right direction.

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15 Responses to Where There Are No Lukewarm Christians

  • Let me be the first to comment here. There will sadly of course be the usual critics who will completely miss the point and the spirit of this article. They will accuse me of saying that there are no genuine Christians anywhere in the West. Um no. I know there are many real deal believers in the West, thankfully – although at best, a remnant. But overwhelmingly most of the church in the West is a very pale imitation of what it is supposed to be like, and it pales decidedly when compared to the vibrant faith of believers found in countries where the faith is so much under attack.

  • Thank you Bill,
    Unfortunately, we born again Christian Church goers are only playing Church. The reason is that I do not want to retard my regime in the pathway I am in. In love with Christ Jesus Whom is able to keep us posted toward driven by eternity. It is not what we say but what we do in, thoughts, in words and, in deeds / gesture.

    Deep down inside the realm of my being i have never been in love with reaching out to people with love and compassion… The moral of the story is. Doing the work of evangelism is what the substream text of what is been said in the New Testament of the Holy Bible in today contemporary world.

    We will need to fulfill our Ministry in order to qualify for The City of Evangelism in the Kingdom of heaven.
    God bless you,
    BABATUNDE SUNDAY TENIOLA

  • Bill, This is spot-on, but I cannot in all sincerity say that I want to punish myself ‘flagellation’ or even to have others punish me. What I can or should do is use my advantage, a ‘free’ country, to speak out for Christ, to live a life that demonstrates my faith and countenance that of so many of my friends.

  • Thanks Harry. Although I nowhere said anything in this article about punishing ourselves or flagellation. Indeed, what I did say is that we are not told in Scripture to seek out persecution or to pray for it. But the New Testament repeatedly promises us that all true followers of Christ WILL suffer persecution. We may not like it, but it is a reality we must accept.

  • Hi there,
    Please, go and read the book of Revelations and take your intake from the angle of chapter 3:16-18,
    Bless you,
    Tunde

  • Hi Bill. I really agree with your comments. I just purchased the books on those two Iranian ladies. So what do you think Christians in the West need to do more of to overcome this lukewarm life we tend to lead? How do you get out of complacency? It would be nice if you wrote another article on that subject, sort of your take on steps to change our lukewarm lives in the church in the West. Thanks!

  • Thanks Anne. I did hint at this in my piece, saying that the real question here is, how do we love Christ supremely as we ought? I mentioned getting on our faces before God and repenting as being a good start. But I guess it is a lifelong series of choices that we have to make to put Christ first and say no to sin and self. No magic formulas here – just daily Christian discipleship. But yes, maybe I will try to pen a piece on this in the days ahead. Thanks again.

  • I would add a third group the one who talk the right talk but don’t walk the walk. The sound Christian appear Christian but have not had a true conversion and in some ways act like the world around them.

    “simply compromise here and there” this I often the BIGGEST challenge for Christians we are on the lookout for satan coming with his ‘follow me’ offer but find it harder to spot the small change offers that he makes all the time because they seem so much like what we already believe. Subtleties are his most often used weapon.

  • Thanks Bill,
    Many inspirations and provoking thoughts, including the challenge from Sunday and the much echoed cry for help from Harry and Anne.

    It is certainly true that persecution is a powerful cure to much lukewarmness, but since we are not to seek persecution, is there another powerful cure?
    Some may seek persecution but I think that none of the four heroes mentioned by Bill, sought it as such, but were just “servants of Jesus”; “not of this world” John 15:19-20, and “living Godly” 2 Tim 3:12.
    For such we are to expect persecution, both from the world, and sadly also from some parts of the church.

    The question is, how much are we servants of Jesus, how much are we not of this world, how much are we living Godly?

    Sunday pointed to the eternal challenge of evangelism and I would even strengthen the concept from ‘substream’ to ‘main mandate’. We are called to make disciples, to preach the gospel to every creature. Yet I know what he means by “Deep down inside the realm of my being i have never been in love with reaching out to people with love and compassion”.
    Evangelism for most is difficult on many fronts, and is avoided by many, including me, too easily.

    Some people and some groups have taken very strong steps to address the common lack in evangelism, but also in the servanthood, and ‘living Godly’ challenges. In doing so they have sometimes made themselves to be a cult or at least problem to the people of God.
    Credit where credit is due, they rightly like their way of doing evangelism better than our way of not doing evangelism.

    Living on the edge, including on the edge of disapproval, of the world, and sometimes of the church, has been the stuff curing lukewarmness, and of great and inspiring tales often able to motivate others to make those daily choices that make a difference not only to us but to those to whom we are sent .

  • Amid the sea of materialism in our western world, I do see beacons of hope. I see the bus drivers, check out ladies and young men, the process workers, the delivery drivers etc etc etc. These humble people keep our world ticking. I had a recent example of a policeman went out of his way to assist me. Unexpected but appreciated. These workers due their duty in a dedicated manner. Irrespective of their beliefs, they radiate a wholesomeness. Our lives can be a prayer.
    Blessings Bill, to you and your thought provoking articles.

  • Bill, I thank God for your ministry. I write and narrate books sharing the Gospel and the difference between genuine Believers and classic “American Christians”, so I’m 100% with you. Our Savior returns soon, and we don’t have much time left. I pray Americans would wake from their slumber, repent, and trust Christ before it’s too late. I wish we lived in the same part of the country, Bill, so we could enjoy a coffee and great conversation about how God is working and how we can serve Him. Please know you’re having a big impact for the Kingdom!

  • I think evangelism is a huge pivotal thing in all this. Jesus said “he who does not gather with me, scatters”. Very sobering and challenging. On my morning walk (35-40 mins) the Lord has been challenging me to share my testimony with people (which I love to do). I carry a large International Christian flag, and that invites people to ask me “what’s that flag you’re carrying?”. That’s my cue. I hand out gospel tracts, and put one under the wiper of any car “on my territory” as I go. Anyone can do this, but the Lord is growing me in COURAGE as we go together each day. The Holy Spirit constantly reminds me that the righteous are as bold as a lion.

  • Thanks for this article Bill. I believe this truth cannot be understated nor mentioned enough in the West. This is the prophetic word that God gave to Israel through his prophets repeatedly, and it is the very prophetic word that we need to hear now.

    Obedience is the yardstick of our faith. During easy times it is easy to say “I would die for Christ” as Peter in his hubris did in Matthew 26:35. But the reality is that if we are not actually living for Christ then what is the likelihood that we’ll die for Him?

    2 Tim 3:12 “Indeed, all who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” – it doesn’t say in “dark times” or under communism, the bible says *all* will be persecuted. Anyone who proclaims Christ will find himself persecuted regardless of the age (and often by the religious of the day). Jesus said that his followers are hated by the world just as he is hated by the world.

    “…it has been my experience that a missionary church is an alive church.” – Brother Andrew, God’s Smuggler

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