How Our Relationship with God Works!

Q: What exactly does it mean to be a ‘lukewarm Christian’?” - Jimmy S.

A: Most Christians have heard the terms “lukewarm”, “stagnant”, and “cultural Christian” before, and most have an idea of what it means. But, in order to TRULY understand it you need to understand how our relationship with God works and what it looks like.

Throughout our entire lifetime here on earth God continues to mold and shape us into the creation He wants us to be. This is an ongoing process that lasts until we finally die. We’ll never be perfect until we’re in Heaven, so God will always have something He’s working on inside us.

God can’t convict us of everything all at once, we’d be crushed under the impossibility of perfection. He never expects us to be perfect, but He does expect us to be obedient.

Here’s how the process works:

Step 1 – God will convict you of something He wants you to work on.

Step 2 – You’ll work on it

Step 3 – Once you’ve changed, He’ll convict you of something else.

This cycle will repeat over and over again throughout your lifetime.

Let’s take a look at this cycle in depth, one step at a time.

Step 1 – God will convict you of something He wants you to work on

The first critical part of the cycle is being aware of when God is convicting you.

For those of you who don’t know what “conviction” is, it’s when God leads you to a revelation of something you aren’t doing that you should be, or something you ARE doing that you SHOULDN’T be! Usually this means that you’ll start feeling guilty about something that you haven’t felt guilty about before.

Remember, this isn’t God just taking away your fun, you have to trust that these changes are beneficial to you. The devil will try to make you believe that these changes will be bad for you. It’s easy to imagine what our life will be after making the change, but what we imagine isn’t reality. We see ourselves as being miserable, but it doesn’t work that way. You can’t see the big changes that will happen in your life that you don’t expect and the result will be very different than you think.

"That'll make my life miserable!"

“But, that’ll make my life miserable!”

For instance, say God is convicting you about drinking. When you imagine your life without alcohol it seems horribly boring and you think up all these miserable circumstances where it will create problems or awkward situations for you to refuse to drink. But, you aren’t taking into account the changes that GOD will make in your life. You have to trust that in the future when you look back you will actually be GLAD that you made the change!

When we imagine ourselves in the future we imagine ourselves as being the same, but that’s not the case. Our desires will be different, things will affect us completely differently, our motivations will be different, our thinking will be different. God sees all these future changes, but we don’t. Trust in Him!

Now, drinking isn’t wrong in and of itself. There’s no scripture that says “thou shalt not drink”. But, God works with everyone differently. He’ll convict you about things that He won’t convict me about, and vice-a-versa. When God gave the old law to the Israelites He had to give a one size fits all law that applied to everyone. But, now that Jesus has paid our punishment for us, God can be in a personal relationship with us, so God can work with us individually.

He knows us perfectly, and He has a plan for each one of us. He knows what we need, what He wants out of us, and what we need to do to get there. So, if He convicts you of watching TV, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with watching TV. It just means that God has a reason that for you, not watching TV is better than watching it.

Now, these convictions are often difficult to detect. In order to feel them, we must actively seek God. This takes work. That’s why reading the bible and spending time with God every day is so important! It’s often through reading the bible that God convicts us.

The problem is that it’s easy to start subconsciously fearing God’s conviction. Making sacrifices and struggling to grow isn’t very fun most of the time. It’s like working out. We all want the RESULTS of working out, but we dread ACTUALLY working out because it’s so much work.

"What are you talking about? I have the perfect body?"

“What are you talking about? I have the perfect body?”

Because of that, it’s easy to become hesitant in seeking after God with our whole heart because deep inside we fear that He’ll convict us of something. It’s hard enough to keep focused and actively seeking God anyway. Adding in a subconscious fear of conviction makes it ten times harder. It’s no wonder that FEW travel the road that leads to righteousness!

In order to overcome this, you have to be AWARE of this fear and hesitation and purposely put all your effort into spending time with God, reading the bible, and opening yourself up to whatever conviction God may want to give you. You must trust that His conviction is actually GOOD for you and something that you’ll eventually be glad you did.

But, even after we feel the conviction, it’s easy to ignore it.

Step 2 – You’ll work on it

Once we’ve been convicted, we need to work on changing whatever God wants us to change. But, so often that doesn’t happen. It’s really common for a Christian to be convicted, but refuse to change. This is incredibly bad!

Disobedience to God is an incredibly serious thing! It will ruin your relationship completely! Now, God understands that dealing with change can be very difficult for us, and I think He gives us a grace period, which is different for everyone. But, at a certain point God knows when you have shut the door and refused to obey.

It’s kind of like the stages of grief:

1st Stage = Denial

For example, say God convicts you of cussing. At first, you may be in the stage of denial. There’s often an initial resistance to God’s conviction because you don’t want to believe that God is really convicting you. You try to make excuses for why it might not actually be God convicting you. But, God keeps after you and eventually you have to admit that it really is God’s conviction.

2nd Stage = Reluctance

Then we often reach the second stage of reluctance. We don’t want to change, but we know we need to. Our effort at first is somewhat minimal because we have a hard time believing this is something we can actually change. Of course we’re not taking God’s intervention into account.

Not surprisingly, we fail. And we’ll keep failing until we’ve had enough and finally decide to get serious.

3rd Stage = Getting serious

Once we finally get serious about making the change, then we put all our effort into it. Sometimes, that’s all it takes and the change will have been made. But, often times, we continue to struggle.

4th Stage = Struggling

Struggling isn’t the same as disobedience because we are trying to do the right thing and our hearts are in the right place. If one of your Christian friends had admitted to a problem and is actively trying to change but is struggling with it, they don’t deserve your condemnation, they need your grace, love, and support. But, if they refuse to admit that it’s a problem or refuse to get serious about changing, then they are disobeying and you should confront them in love.

5th Stage = Change

Eventually, with God’s help, you will make it up the mountain and you will be changed. That’s not to say that you’ll never slip up and fail, but that those failures will be the exception instead of the rule. You’ll be able to tell that you are a different person and that major growth has occurred.

Then it won’t be too long before God will have something else for you to work on, and the cycle continues.

Unfortunately, many Christians don’t always make it to that point. During any one of those 5 stages of change they may get stuck and refuse to move forward.

Pictured: "Not moving forward"

Pictured: “Not moving forward”

5 Stages of Growth after Conviction

1st Stage = Denial

2nd Stage = Reluctance

3rd Stage = Getting serious

4th Stage = Struggling

5th Stage = Change

You could get stuck in the 1st stage of denial, and ignore the conviction. And it’s easy to ignore conviction, too. All you have to do is just stop actively seeking it. You may still seek God, but it’s only with half-hearted attempts and you harden your heart to any conviction you may feel. Eventually, your denial becomes disobedience and God will stop trying to convict you. It’s at this point that you become a lukewarm Christian. You’ll continue to act like a Christian and go to church, and you’ll probably even believe that you’re a Christian, but your relationship with God is just an illusion. An illusion you might actually believe is real.

Or you could get stuck in the 2nd stage of reluctance. You put forth a minimal amount of effort because you don’t really want to change or you just don’t think you CAN change. When you invariably fail, it’s easy to take this as confirmation that you can’t do it and thus give up. You never really get serious. Once you truly give up for good, you have entered into disobedience and you will either leave the church or become a lukewarm Christian.

Sometimes, you do actually get serious but never truly make it past your struggles. If you truly give it all to God and admit that you can’t do it without His help, He’ll give you what you need to make it through. But, the devil will try to beat you up when you fail. The devil will try to make you believe that you’re a failure and that you’ll never change. He’ll try to make you believe that you don’t DESERVE God’s love or forgiveness.

The devil wants to beat you down so that you won’t get back up and keep trying. If the devil succeeds and you give up, then your struggling will have changed into disobedience.

Step 3 – Once you’ve changed, He’ll convict you of something else

And believe it or not, you can even get stuck after the 5th stage! After making the change it’s tempting to believe that you have arrived and are exactly where you need to be, so you stop actively seeking God. Or maybe you keep seeking God but you harden your heart to any conviction because you like the feeling of having made the last change and don’t want to go back to feeling like there’s something you need to work on.

Regardless of which stage you get stuck at, whenever you leave the cycle of conviction and growth, that’s when you are guilty of disobedience. And at that point you will either leave the church or continue on as a lukewarm Christian.

That’s what we mean when we say a Christian is “stagnant”. Just like stagnant water which doesn’t move, you are no longer in the cycle of conviction and growth so you aren’t moving.

And remember what Jesus said in Revelation chapter 3. It’s BETTER to be cold than to be a lukewarm, stagnant Christian. If you are a lukewarm Christian Jesus wants to puke you out of His mouth!

Strive to always be aware of where you are in the cycle, and focus on what you need to do in order to make it to the next stage!

Step 1 – God will convict you of something He wants you to work on.
Step 2 – You will change:

1st Stage = Denial

2nd Stage = Reluctance

3rd Stage = Getting serious

4th Stage = Struggling

5th Stage = Change

Step 3 – Once you’ve changed, He’ll convict you of something else

If you are in step one where God has convicted you of something, then focus on changing. If you are in denial or reluctance, then focus on getting serious. If you are in the 4th stage and struggling, then focus on not giving up and keep praying for God to help change you. And if you’ve finally made it up the mountain and you know that God has changed you, then focus on seeking God and finding out what He wants to convict you of next.

There should ALWAYS be something you are struggling with or working on. If you think you’ve arrived and are perfect and you haven’t had to worry about being convicted about anything for a while, then you are out of the cycle and are currently a nasty stagnant pond of lukewarm water and you need to seek God with an open heart and beg for forgiveness. Jesus never stays still, He’s always leading. So, if you aren’t moving, then you aren’t following Christ!

Don’t think of conviction as a negative thing. Think of it as a positive. God is working on you and molding you into the person He wants you to be, and the more you grow the more blessings in your life you will receive. You will be more blessed and experience more joy and internal peace.

And you don’t have to trust ME on that, trust GOD!

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- Jim Graham
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