The Laodicean Message
by E.H. ‘Jack’ Sequeira
What we did in our last study was to look at those three terms or symbols that Jesus used. He said (Revelation 3:15-16):
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm neither hot nor cold I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
So these symbols hot, lukewarm, and cold are linked with this statement. In other words,this is the key statement: I know your deeds. Your deeds are not hot, your deeds are not cold, your deeds are lukewarm.
These are symbols, and we spent some time in the last study looking at the symbols. We saw that hot works are works of faith. There are three kinds of works described in the New Testament. Works of faith are works produced by the Holy Spirit Who dwells in you as you walk by faith.
Another expression for works of faith in Galatians 5:22-25 is the fruit of the Spirit:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
So the fruit of the Spirit and works of faith are synonymous.
We saw also that works of flesh is what human nature, which is sinful, does. Works of flesh are sinful acts which we perform because of our sinful nature. Another phrase for works of the flesh is Ephesians 5:11 where Paul calls it, deeds of darkness.
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
So deeds of darkness and works of the flesh are synonymous.
I want to give you an additional text to our last study which will help you identify works of faith with hot works. Please turn to Titus 2. Last study we discussed Titus 3:8, which tells us that those who believe should maintain good works, which are works of faith. Look at Titus 2:14. You will not notice this in the English so I need to help you a little bit here:
...Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness...
By the way, the word wickedness here, or iniquity in some translations, in the Hebrew and Greek means to be bent towards self when used in a spiritual sense.) So in other words, ...to redeem us from all selfishness.
...and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
The word eager (zealous, in some translations) in the Greek and the word hot in Revelation 3 come from the same root word. So what the text is saying is: Through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, He will purify a people who are on fire for good works.
You remember what description Jesus gave of John the Baptist in John 5:35? He was called a burning light:
John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.
In Matthew 5:14, Jesus said to the disciples:
You are the light of the world....
Light and hot always go together.
But now I would like to continue with our study. Last week we identified works of the law as self-righteousness, because that is what lukewarm is. Lukewarm works are identified with works of the law. As I explained last study, the New Testament writers did not have a word in the Greek language which is equivalent to our English word, legalism. So when you read that phrase, works of the law, its a phrase that I believe Paul coined, and he is referring to what we would call legalism.
What is legalism? I described this as self-righteousness. Somebody asked me, What is self-righteousness? I will answer that question partly in this study and partly next study. But, basically, what is lukewarm? What are works of the law? It is the flesh, which is sinful, trying to keep the law. Does the law belong to sin or does the law belong to righteousness? In fact, Paul calls it the law of righteousness in Romans 9. So when the flesh tries to keep the law in its own strength, that is works of the law. Please turn to Revelation 3:16:
So, because you are lukewarm [in other words, because your works are works of the law] neither hot nor cold I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
Although oranges and grapes grow quite well in the Middle East, in the days of Christ, they had not yet learned to produce these fruits without seeds. They did not have seedless grapes or oranges. What do you do when you eat grapes and you have seeds in your mouth? You spit them out. That was a phrase that was used in the Middle East as a symbol of rejection. To spit out means to reject, and we shall see this both from the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy.
But heres the problem: Jesus Christ is telling us that our works are not hot, neither cold, but lukewarm. Now He makes this statement in verse 15, which we need to take note of:
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!
In other words, if we were hot, he would be happy; if we were cold, he would be able to deal with that. Because you see, both hot works and cold works are natural. What do I mean by natural or spontaneous?
The flesh is sinful. Therefore, the natural thing for the flesh to produce is sin! When the flesh produces sins, when you and I commit sins, we are doing something natural to our nature, which is sinful.
When the Spirit lives in us, it is natural for the Spirit to do righteousness. In fact, theres a text in the epistles of John, where it says [1 John 5:18]:
We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.
In other words, that new life, the Holy Spirit that dwells in you, does not sin. Because that Holy Spirit naturally does righteousness. So hot works are natural, cold works are natural, but lukewarm works are not natural, and I will describe this further.
But I would like to look now at what lukewarm works are not, because there are many interpretations. And then we will look at the problem and then Ill give you four reasons why God rejects lukewarm works.
We have already seen that lukewarm is a mixture of cold and hot. Now Jesus is not telling us that sometimes our works are hot and sometimes are works are cold and together that makes it lukewarm. Hes not saying that. There are some who are saying that what Jesus said is that sometimes our works are hot, and other times our works are cold, and when you combine the total works, which is sometimes hot, sometimes cold, you get lukewarm. Jesus is not saying that. Hes saying, Your works are neither hot nor cold.
The only mixture is that it is the flesh trying to produce the works of the Spirit. But as far as our works are concerned, it is neither hot nor cold, but only lukewarm. So we must keep this in mind.
The second interpretation that is often used (and you may find this in some of our recent articles, there are some of our men who are saying this) is that, as a church, we used to be hot during our pioneer days. Our pioneers worked hard, they were full of sacrifice, but, as we became a bigger church, as we became more popular, we became lukewarm. So they say we were hot once, and we are moving toward cold, and at the present time we are lukewarm, and we need a revival.
One of the texts they will use is the message to Ephesus. Turn to Revelation 2:4-5. Its the first church. Here Christ is speaking to Ephesus, which is the first of the seven churches. In verse 2 he says, I know your deeds. Then, in verse 4 and 5, He makes a statement:
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
In other words, You were full of love but you have left it. Now thats Ephesus. But please, you cant take the statement to Ephesus and apply it to Laodicea, because Christ doesnt say to Laodicea, You were hot once, and now youve become lukewarm. It is not right actually, to apply Ephesus to Laodicea, because the message to Laodicea does not say, You were hot once, but youre getting warm. Watch out, or Ill spit you out.
We cannot apply Ephesus to our condition. It is true that our pioneers were hard-working. And they worked sacrificially; theres no problem there. But the works they were doing, was it works of faith or works of the law? Let me give you some evidence, maybe that will help. I will explain why we were victims of lukewarm works during the week of prayer, when I will do the 1888 message. Ill give you the historical background that caused this problem. But right now, Ill just give you some facts.
(Im giving you dates prior to 1888.) In 1874 from August 17 to December 19, Uriah Smith published a series of articles in the Review, and he entitled those series: Leading Doctrines of the Review. No mention of justification by faith. Much about the law, but no mention of justification by faith.
Three years later, in 1877, James White and Uriah Smith together held a series of studies for the ministers as part of their training. They called it The Bible Institute. In fact, they published their lectures (thats how we know); it was a joint series for the ministers. Remember, they were training these ministers to go out and preach these messages. No mention of justification by faith. Nothing.
The following year, in 1878, Uriah Smith put out a book 336 pages long. He entitled the book, Synopsis of Present Truth, a summary of present truth. No mention of justification by faith or righteousness by faith, nothing.
You can see why the other Christians, because of our emphasis of the law, began to accuse us of being legalists, a stigma that we still have need to rectify today. It is for this reason that Sister White said, We have been preaching the law and the law until we are dry as the hills of Gilboa.
But what Jesus is saying here is, If you continue with these kinds of works, I will reject you. Now what is wrong with lukewarm works? Why is it that God and Christ will not accept lukewarm works? For example, if your child does his level best to please you, to do what is right in your eyes, are you angry or are you happy? They may not succeed completely, but theyre doing their best. Wouldnt you be happy? But God is not happy with lukewarm works. First of all, are lukewarm works bad works? Are they the same as works of the flesh? No (i.e., not outwardly). What is wrong then? Ill give you four reasons:
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.
Now when the flesh appears good, Paul calls in Galatians 6:12, The fair showing of the flesh. Lets turn to it, Galatians 6:12. Please remember that Paul is dealing with the works of the law in Galatians; that is a problem that we are facing. The Judaizers did not make a sharp distinction between ceremonial law and moral law like we do. To them, all the laws of Moses were in one lump. The emphasis was on circumcision and the moral law.
Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.
In other words, As many as would like to show you how good you are, theyll say, You must to this and that. In their day, it was circumcision.
But I want to give you a passage, and I hope that it will show you how Jesus evaluated works of the law. Matthew 23. Please read the whole chapter yourself; I will only turn to a couple of verses here. Here is Jesus evaluating the Pharisees. Remember, the Pharisees were experts at works of the law. Please notice what Jesus is pinpointing. Matthew 23:1-2:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses seat.
Now what does Jesus mean, They sit in Moses seat? They were experts in the law. Moses represents the law. To sit in Moses seat means, They are the authorities in interpreting Moses law. And the Pharisees, of course, were zealous regarding Moses law. It is to these people that He is talking. Now listen to what He is saying in Matthew 23:3:
So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.
Is the problem the law? No, the problem is works of the law; please remember that. Then He describes the works. So that s the background. Now look at verse 5 what is wrong with the works of the Pharisees. Matthew 23:5a:
Everything they do is done for men to see.
What theyre doing is good, but they want every one else to look at them. See how good I am!
By the way, when you read the whole chapter, you will notice that there are two expressions that Jesus uses about these people. He calls them hypocrites, and He calls them blind guides. Matthew 23:27-28:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead mens bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness [selfishness].
With this in mind, let me read you a statement that will help you. Here you will see one of the differences between lukewarm works and hot works. This is from Steps to Christ by Ellen G. White, page 28 and 29:
We may have flattered ourselves as did Nicodemus...
Who was Nicodemus? He was a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin, so he was not an ordinary Pharisee, he was a top-class Pharisee.
We may have flattered ourselves as did Nicodemus that our life has been upright, that our moral character is correct, and think that we need not humble the heart before God....
Now please notice, she said humble the heart, not with your words. Its easy to humble yourself with words, you know. Its easy to say, Im not good enough and Im no good and so on; but the heart is what Sister White is talking about.
...and think that we need not humble the heart before God like the common sinner. [In other words, Im better than that fellow there.] But when the light from Christ shines into our souls, we shall see how impure we are. [Now heres the statement.] We shall discern the selfishness of motive.
You know, we all face this in different ways, but sometimes when I stand out in the hall after a Sabbath sermon and somebody says to me, Boy, that was an excellent sermon. The flesh says, You worked hard to produce that, didnt you? And I have to say to myself, I dont tell that to the person because they may think Im insulting them. Get thee behind me, Satan.
Because, you see, Satan will use the flesh to pop its ugly head up. That is why Sister White warns us about giving praise to each other. And Ill be frank with you, this is a problem I notice more in the western world than where I come from. We tend to pat ourselves on the back more here than in Africa. Thats not wrong, Im not saying its wrong, but it is easy for us to allow the flesh to pop its head up and say, Boy, arent I good!
So, please notice, shes not dealing with the act, shes saying:
We shall discern the selfishness of motive, the enmity against God....
When you go out ingathering and you work extremely hard, why are you doing it? Is it because you want to be number one in the church? Is it works of faith or is it works of the law?
Please notice, she defines, selfishness of motive as:
...the enmity against God, that has defiled every act of life. Then we shall know that our own righteousness [there you have the term: our own self-righteousness] is indeed as filthy rags, and that the blood of Christ alone can cleanse us from the defilement of sin and renew our hearts in His own likeness.
One of the greatest works that God has to do before He lightens the earth with His glory is, if I may use that phrase from Ellen G. White, is the cleansing of the soul temple not the outward act, but the heart, the motives.
So one difference between self-righteousness and works of faith, which is Christs righteousness, is the motive. And you and I cannot read somebody elses motive, so we must never judge. There are only two people who can read your motives: you and God. And, to Him, its enmity.
So the first difference is that the works of the law God rejects because the motive is wrong, not the act is wrong. The act is right, the motive is wrong. The Jews kept the Sabbath. They were very strict about Sabbath-keeping. They had all kinds of rules, but why were they keeping it?
Ill tell you one way to decipher if your motives are selfish. When you are very successful in Gods work and you have a tendency to look down upon those who are having failure, please be warned: that is the flesh trying to tell you how good you are. By the way, even when this takes place, the devil will use the flesh to say, Look, it was you who did it. The flesh does not want to give the Holy Spirit the credit. You know why? Because the flesh and the Spirit are enemies. Never forget that.
Okay,lets go on.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
If you say, No God, I can do something. Then you are saying, God, you are not right. Let me give you an example. Jesus said to the disciples, All you will forsake me. Did they agree? No. What were they guilty of? Unbelief. God said to Peter that the gospel is not only for the Jews, it is for the Gentiles. And what did Peter say? No, they are unclean. And Jesus said to him, What God has cleansed, dont you ever call unclean. [See Acts 10.]
Unbelief is denying God. We need to keep this in mind, because look at Revelation 3:17:
You say, I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
In this verse you have two evaluations. We say that we are rich and do not need a thing. The True Witness says that we are miserable, wretched, and blind. Who is right? Do you believe that Jesus is telling the truth about us? Or do you think that Jesus is making a mistake? But our works are good. Look at the reports.
Works of the law is based on unbelief. Whenever the flesh tries to do something that God says you cannot do, you are saying, God, You are a liar. And that is unbelief. In other words, when Nicodemus was told by Christ in John 3:6:
Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
What did He mean? What did Jesus mean when He said, Flesh gives birth to flesh? He said to Nicodemus, Let me tell you the facts: that flesh of yours can never produce righteousness. The only way you can produce righteousness is if you are born from above, or born of the Spirit.
So number two, works of the law is based on unbelief. We need to keep this in mind for another reason, and that is, Is justification only by faith, or is also sanctification only by faith? Because this is one of the issues that we are facing. Its on the theological level, its among our scholars, and this is what they hashed out at Palmdale some years ago.
Some of our scholars are saying that only justification is Righteousness by Faith, not sanctification. In other words, sanctification is never by faith alone, its also my works. And, therefore, since we are sinful, we can never experience total sanctification, because I can never produce perfect works. Ford, for example, would use a statement by Ellen G. White, and she was referring to works of the law, but he applies it to sanctification. She said:
Our works are so corrupted because of the channel of the flesh, that only the righteousness of Christ can present us before God as being perfect.
And Sister White is right in terms of our standing before God. But Sister White has many statements that say it is possible through the grace of God to overcome the flesh. In fact, she makes the statement:
We need not retain one sinful propensity. [7BC 943]
Thats a powerful statement. And I can give you many statements from Paul, but I want to go to number three.
[Love] is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
There is no selfishness in Agape. If I do any anything for a selfish reason, I am contradicting Agape. In other words, if there is a selfish motive, that is not Agape. Ill give you an example. In Matthew 19:27, Peter comes to Jesus and He says:
We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?
What is our reward? Now was that works of the law, or works of faith? Why did Peter forsake all? Was it to please Christ or because he believed that Christ was the Messiah? He believed that the Messiah would overthrow the Romans and he wanted to be one of the top cabinet ministers. How do I know? Because when Jesus came to wash the feet of Peter, Peter said, You will never [he used a very strong Greek word] wash my feet. Heres the scene from John 13:6-9:
- He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, Lord, are you going to wash my feet?
- Jesus replied, You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.
- No, said Peter, you shall never wash my feet.
- Jesus answered, Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.
- Then, Lord, Simon Peter replied, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!
Now Jesus knew his heart, so Jesus simply said this, If I dont wash your feet, you will have no part in my kingdom. In other words, Forget your Prime Ministers position.
Oh, he says, in that case, wash not only my feet but my head and my hands and everything, because I want to be number one.
Jesus knew how to deal with the flesh. So please remember that, while works of the law may appear good outside, they are devoid of Agape and, therefore, to God are filthy rags.
You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.
Now what was the Galatian problem? Were the Galatians having the same problem as the Jews? The answer is no. The Jews wanted salvation entirely by their own works. The Galatians fell for another trap: it was legalism, but a subtle form of legalism. The Galatians fell for the idea that it is not enough to accept Christ as your righteousness, you must also contribute by being circumcised and keeping the law. In other words, I am saved by faith plus works.
Let me read you a quotation from Faith and Works by Ellen White. Please read that first whole chapter, because Sister White is dealing with the problem. Reading from page 20:
Should faith plus works...
Thats Galatianism. And, by the way, this was the problem after 1888. Before 1888, we were strong legalists. After 1888, we got into deeper waters because of the Galatianism problem. But let me give you the quotation:
Should faith plus works purchase the gift of salvation for anyone then the Creator is under obligation to the creature. Here is an opportunity for falsehood to be accepted as truth.
And then she goes on to say that this is exactly where the Roman Catholics have gone wrong. Because the Roman Catholic church teaches that you are saved by faith plus penance; you have to do penance when you confess your sins.
When I went to confession, I could not come out of that confessional box free, I had to do penance. And, you know, we young kids, teenagers, we were smart. We would watch and see which priest was in which box, because some of them gave you long penance, and some of them gave you short penance, depending on their disposition. One of them enjoyed giving us long penance, and none ofthe kids went to him. We would wait. So there was a big line here, waiting for that kind-hearted priest, and a short line for the other priest. These were the old folks, who wanted to do penance, who felt that the more penance you did, the more God would accept you, these went to him. We kids went to the other fellow; all we wanted was absolution from our sins. So we were doing works, we were confessing our sins, plus penance. Sister White says that if we add works to faith, we are no different than a Roman Catholic. In other words, folks, if you are guilty of lukewarm works:
Both, I would like to add, both imputed and imparted righteousness must be all of Christ. What the world needs to see is not me, but Christ dwelling in me and living in me. So when Jesus says [Matthew 5:14a]:
You are the light of the world.
...the word light is in the singular in the Greek, you is in the plural. We are many, but theres only one light, folks, and that light is Jesus Christ. The world needs to see Christ. It is only when Christ lives in us through the Spirit that we will do the works of Christ, out of pure Agape love.
I would like to read some more quotations before ending:
To those who are indifferent at this time [that is the 1888 message] Christ warns us, Because thou art lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. The figure of spewing out of His mouth means that He cannot offer up your prayers or your expressions of love to God, He cannot endorse your teaching of His word or your spiritual works in any wise, He cannot present your religious exercises with the request that grace be given you. [6T 408]
Why? Because the motive is selfish, folks. One more quotation from Review and Herald, 15 December 1904:
Satan is seeking with all his ability to corrupt mind and heart. [Please notice what hes trying to corrupt mind and heart.] And how successful he is in leading men and women to depart from the simplicity of the gospel of Christ. Ministers and church members are in danger of allowing self to take the throne.
Folks, we are always in that danger:
Ministers and church members are in danger of allowing self to take the throne.
And it is because of self, folks, that there was opposition to that precious message in 1888. It was self that was at the heart of the problem. And it was there because our works are lukewarm. With this in mind, we will now be able to look at verse 17, because lukewarm works are very deceiving. We will see how it has deceived us and that will be our next study on verse 17.