In this article, we will focus on apathy (or indifference) in a Christian’s relationship with God. We will not attempt to address a Christian’s apathy with regard to other people. [Our article titled “What is the Responsibility of Christians to Minister to People with Needs?” deals with responding to the material needs of other people and our article titled “Is the Great Commission Applicable to Every Christian?” deals with responding to the spiritual needs of other people. To access these articles, click on their title.]
What Does the Bible Say about Apathy by Christians?
Perhaps, the most notable scripture pertaining to Christians’ apathy in their relationship with God is Revelation 3:14-16. In this scripture, “One like the Son of Man,” who is generally believed to be Jesus Christ, tells the Apostle John,
[T]o the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, “These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: ‘I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth.’”
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, except when we are quoting a source that uses a different translation.]
With regard to Revelation 3:14-16, John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible provides the following comments, which focus on the church in Laodicea, which was only lukewarm in its relationship with God:
[The church in Laodicea] was not “cold,” or without spiritual life, at least in many of her members . . .; she was alive, but not lively: nor was she wholly without spiritual affections and love; to God, and Christ, to his people, ways, truths, and ordinances; she had love, but the fervency of it was abated: nor was she without spiritual breathings and desires altogether, as dead men are; or without the light and knowledge of the Gospel, and a profession of it, and yet she was not “hot”; her love to God and Christ, and the saints, was not ardent and flaming; . . . nor was she zealous for the truths of the Gospel, and for the ordinances of it, and for the house of God and its discipline; nor did she warmly oppose all sin, and every error and false way.
I would thou wert cold or hot . . . must be understood, not absolutely, but comparatively; and not that it was an indifferent thing to Christ whether she was one or the other; but he alludes to what is natural among men, it being generally more agreeable to have anything entirely hot, or entirely cold, than to be neither; and so uses this phrase to show his detestation of lukewarmness. . . .
Although Revelation 3:14-16 is addressed to a church rather than to individuals, it is reasonable to assume that this scripture is also applicable to individual Christians, since the character of a church is determined by the character of the individuals who comprise its membership. Thus, if most of the members of the church in Laodicea had not been indifferent in their relationship with God, it is probable that the church as a whole would not have been characterized as lukewarm.
With regard to the relationship between God and certain individuals mentioned in the Bible, Philip Yancey states on pages 188-189 of his book entitledReaching for the Invisible God,
God’s favorites responded with passion in kind. Moses argued with God so fervently that several times he persuaded God to change his mind. Jacob wrestled all night long and used trickery to grab hold of God’s blessing. Job lashed out in sarcastic rage against God. David broke at least half the Ten Commandments. Yet never did they wholly give up on God, and never did God give up on them. God can handle anger, blame, and even willful disobedience. One thing, however, blocks relationship: indifference.
What Is Necessary for a Person to Have a Good Relationship with God?
Becoming a spiritually mature Christian involves three basic progressive steps: (1) regeneration, (2) justification, and (3) sanctification.
Regeneration in a religious contextcan be defined as having a change of heart that results from the Holy Spirit convicting a person of their sins, with the result that the person responds by repenting and trusting in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. Unger’s Bible Dictionary says that regeneration reflects a change in a person’s moral and spiritual nature. Therefore, if there is not a significant change in a person’s moral and spiritual nature, it is doubtful that such a person is actually a Christian.
Justification, according to Unger, “is a divine act whereby an infinitely Holy God judicially declares a believing sinner to be righteous and acceptable before Him. . . .” Thus, justification reflects a change in a person’s relationship with God. This step is essentially automatic if a person has been truly regenerated.
Sanctification is “separation from the secular and sinful, and setting apart for a sacred purpose,” per Unger. Sanctification is another term for holiness, albeit not necessarily perfect holiness, which only God can achieve. [For a discussion of holiness, see our article entitled “Can Anyone Except God Be Holy?”]
Christians who are not committed to following New Testament teachings that pertain to living a sanctified life are the type of Christians who are described as “lukewarm” in Revelation 3:14-16. Although even the most devout Christians are unable to live a completely sanctified life, God wants every Christian to be committed to trying to live such a life through the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit..
With apparent regard to the lukewarm church mentioned in Revelation 3:14-16, Jesus Christ states in Revelation 3:19, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore, be zealous and repent.” This verse of scripture serves as a warning that if Christians continue to be apathetic in their relationship with God, He may decide to discipline them to motivate them to try to be sanctified by allowing the Holy Spirit to be in control of their life.
It behooves every Christian who sincerely wants to have a good relationship with God to repent for their sins and resolve to sincerely and continuously commit themselves to strive to live a sanctified (i.e., holy) life by allowing the Holy Spirit to guide their thoughts, their words, and their deeds. If we do so, we will be able to have the type of relationship that God desires to have with us. [For a discussion regarding living a sanctified life, click on “Can Anyone Except God Be Holy?”]
In any case, we want to make it clear that even if a Christian is apathetic about whether or not they are living a sanctified life, they are assured of their eternal salvation if they continue to trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. However, their heavenly rewards will not be what they could be if they did strive to live a sanctified life. [For a discussion of how a person can be assured of their eternal salvation, click on “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?”]