Question: I have loved ones who are Christian, but they don’t seem to be super serious about Jesus. Sometimes they really seem to care, and if they are asked about Jesus they will say they love Him and would never deny the faith. But, they don’t really live a Christian life or seem to be growing much in the faith. Are my lukewarm Christian loved ones saved?
Have you ever grappled with the question of whether or not someone you love is really “Saved?” This can be very concerning, to say the least. It is in our nature to want things to fit in neat little packages. We want to be able to say, “perform (insert stipulation) and you are saved.” We want assurance ourselves in the salvation of others, so we like to find ways of labeling salvation. There are scriptures people use to do this, like Romans 10:9. However, many very dedicated Christians read the scriptures and have a reason to question the salvation of people they care about. They read about the need to be “fruitful” and the warnings shown in the parables of Jesus as well as the teachings of the apostles.
I could probably answer these concerns in a fairly brief way, but I want to try a different approach that will hopefully make a lot of sense to those who are concerned about the salvation of a loved one, and hopefully encourage us all to form a closer walk with Jesus. I also want to answer this in a way that emphasize something important (I’m stealing this phrase from someone else. I really like it and can’t think of a better way to say this.): God is not just set of rules. God is a person. So, we cannot approach God legalistically using some kind of formula for salvation. We believe in Jesus yes, but we will get to that.
Now, the way I’m going to approach this might be off-putting, but I will do my best to be clear and not offensive. For me, my own life and pursuit of Jesus is what teaches me these things best, so I’m going to use myself as an example. To be forewarned, I am comparing myself to Jesus and my relationship with others to Jesus’s relationship with “lukewarm” Christians. So, I can see how that might cause offense. Yet, we are supposed to be putting on Christ so, we might get to a point in our Christian walk where we can relate.
There are people in my life who I love a great deal, but I do not have a very close relationship with. There is fondness, affection, and the like that comes from long association, but these people do not really know me or have a way of getting very close to me on a personal level. Why? I cannot pursue the interests they pursue without being fake or denying my pursuit of righteousness in the Lord in some capacity.
As I have grown closer to the Lord (and I have a long way to go. Make no mistake about that), I find that it’s increasingly difficult to maintain relationships with people who are not kingdom of heaven focused because the manner in which they pursue relationships does not work with me.
For many, meme-based relationships are best. Unless you spend time online and like jokes that make fun of people, this is going to be difficult. For many, talking about their latest Netflix series binge or sports team is best. When you find worldly entertainment to be ungodly or a distraction from pursuing Jesus, this is going to be difficult. For many, relationships are founded on common ground politically, or based on some other hot-topic of morality today. When these things contradict the teachings of Jesus, this is going to be difficult. For many, relationships are about partying and enjoying as much of this world as possible. For someone who seeks to be “not of this world” but of the kingdom of heaven, this is going to be difficult.
Do you see what I mean?
Unless I deny myself and Jesus, I cannot have the same level of connection with people that they might wish to have with me. Yet, I still care about them. We still talk. We still have mutual respect and adoration of each other in ways. We have a history. If they are having a hard time and need someone to talk to, we chat. If they have a moral issue they want help sorting out, we chat. If they want to talk about the Christian faith, we chat. Otherwise it’s just pleasant exchanges, sometimes with large gaps of time in-between.
Yet, If I were asked about these people, I would not deny knowing them, and I would not condemn them. Yet, I will not be as close to them as someone who is focused on the same things: the things of righteousness and the kingdom of heaven. Though I might have a way of looking at them with compassion and feelings of endearment, I also feel isolated in a way because they don’t really know me anymore.
On the other hand, there are old friends and acquaintances and distant family members who know some-what of me, yet I have not talked to them in many years. If they were asked, “do you know Amanda (or Mandy).” They would say, “yes.” Yet, do I know them? Not in any real way.
Compare this to Jesus.
The more we have in common with Jesus, the closer we are going to be with Him. What does Jesus care about? He cares about the things of righteousness. He doesn’t care about growing rich in this world. He does not care about entertainments or profane jokes. He does not care for partying (despite this false hippy version of Jesus some follow). He loves those who are sinful and want to do better. He does not stigmatize those who repent, so He is a safe place to go when you want to find relief from the shame of sin. He also provides help when we want to pursue freedom from sin — and more than that — He works good things in us so that we can be free.
Jesus does not offer the same kind of relationship this world offers, yet, He might still love some who do not pursue Him that fully. He might be familiar with those who have a long-term association with Him, who come to Him when they are in trouble or just talk with Him on occasion. They believe in His existence and there is some-what they know of Him and they some-what love Him. Since Jesus knows us all intimately, He might look past many faults with compassion. Maybe these would not deny Jesus ultimately, and maybe He would not deny them.
Yet, those who are serious about the things Jesus is serious about have a more solid relationship with Him. They try to get to know Him, and He shares of Himself with them. As this bond grows, things will change in their lives. They will become more like Him as they grow towards the things of righteousness and the kingdom of heaven. Jesus will not cast them out, and they have no reason to fear being cast out because they trust in Him. Even if they mess up, Jesus understands and He forgives. He heals. He makes a way to do better.
What about those who claim to know Jesus but don’t talk to Him at all, or extremely rarely, and have no care for the things Jesus cares for? What about those who claim to know Jesus but hate all the things He loves and loves all of the things He hates? Does Jesus know them? Sure, He technically knows everyone. However, He does not have real relationship with them and reciting a sinners prayer once does not change that. He will say to them “depart from me, you who work iniquity. I never knew you.”
Now, with all of this in mind, are our “lukewarm” Christian loved ones really saved? We cannot know for certain. The more we see Jesus working in the lives of others, the more confidence we can have. However, Jesus is not a set of rules, He is a person. He can have fondness and mercy towards whoever He chooses, and if we have mercy from Jesus we have mercy from God. Yet, if we do not care about Jesus in the slightest and the salvation we claim has no affect on our life, that’s not good.
There is a passage about “lukewarm” Christians in Revelation 3 that states:
“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
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: 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.
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. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
We definitely do not want our faith to be characterized as “lukewarm,” and if Jesus loves us, He will rebuke or chastise us so that we can turn to Him more fully.
All of this being said, somethings to keep in mind:
For one, this analogy that compares my relationships with others to Jesus’s relationship with Christians has some problems. For one, a human to human relationship is not as serious as one between us and God Himself. Jesus deserves reverence, I do not. Jesus sacrificed Himself to save us, I cannot save anyone. Yet, if I being a fallible human who lacks in mercy can love some who do not really pursue me because the world gets in the way, how much more can a mercy-loving God pardon these? I suppose it is possible, yet, there are many scriptures that warn against taking the mercy of God for granted. So, we do not want to find ourselves in this position.
Secondly, the best thing to focus on is our own relationship with Jesus and pursuit of the things of the kingdom of heaven. We do not want to be among those who have a lacking relationship with Jesus, who might receive mercy and enter into the kingdom of heaven by the skin of their teeth. If we think we can use Jesus and get away with it, if we do not really care about the things Jesus stands for but claim Christianity as it’s convenient or just want to save our own skins, then He will most likely deny us.
Lastly, as Christians, we should be putting on Christ more and more. As we do this, do not be surprised if old relationships become difficult. This has been a hard thing for me to come to terms with. It’s not because we think we are better or holier than thou, but if we are true to who we are and Who we follow, we cannot compromise the integrity of our relationship with Jesus for anyone. Jesus does not offer the kind of relationship this world offers, and neither do we. If loved ones want righteousness and support in that pursuit, we can be there for them. If they want the world, we have to love them but do not be of them.
If we continue down this path, we might continue to be estranged from people we care about. They might even begin to despise us. So it is with Jesus. Take care of your relationship with Jesus. Become interested in what He is interested in. Get to know Him. Allow Him to work in your life and show you better things than what this world offers. He is patient, merciful, and He has so much to share with us if we want to align ourselves with the things He is about. As we do this, we are “saved” from this world, and we will be saved from the final judgment: the second death.
On a personal note: some who know me personally might read this and take offense. That’s not what I want to happen, and my door is always open to discuss these things and all things pertaining to the gospel of the kingdom of heaven. I’d rather discussion then have bad feelings that fester into something damaging. I don’t think I’m better than anyone, and it’s been hard for me to accept, but I’ve recently realized that I cannot offer what the world offers. I’m not here for that, and to deny what I am supposed to do is a kind of false humility, but I can freely give what Jesus has given me if you want it, and I’d love to share that with you. We can help each other grow as one body with Christ, and that’s the best kind of relationship there is.