My wife used to shake her head when I would eat hot food that had gone cold or drink a warm soda. Not that I could blame her. Heat brings out the flavors in food and chilled soft drinks are more refreshing. Some food and drink aren’t palatable at room temperature. The same is true in the spiritual life. In the Book of Revelations, we hear Jesus say this to the Church of Laodicea:
I know your works. I know you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth.
Rev. 3:15-16 NABRE
Those are tough words. They also beg the question: “Would Jesus say the same thing to me?”
The apostle Paul challenged his friends in the second chapter of the Letter to the Philippians:
So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work. Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish…
Phil. 2:12-15b NABRE
If you’re driving in a 65 MPH speed zone and cars around you are going 75-80 MPH, do you keep at 65 or step up your speed? Now if you drive faster, what do you do if you see a police car ahead on the lookout for speeders? Here’s the same kind of question, just a different topic. Do you unconsciously alter your spirituality to match the expectations of those around you?
As my kids turned teenagers, on more than one occasion, I encountered grumbling and questioning when I asked them to do a chore. It’s not that they had a better way to do it; he or she just didn’t want to be the one to do that job at the time. Stalling and complaining were forms of resistance. Can you imagine any spiritual foot-dragging in your life?
What if someone offered you a nice, cold drink from a bottle of water that was only 25% sewage? No way? What about 5%? Heck, 95% of it is the good stuff! You would be wise to refuse. When it comes to moral behavior or anything in the spiritual life, are we content as long as we compare favorably to those around us?
In the passage above, Paul urges the Philippians to “work out” their salvation. The Greek word used here is katergazomai, which means “to bring to completion.” God’s work in and through us is not done at our baptism; it has only just begun. We cooperate the Spirit in us who works to make us holy.
When I was in college, I had a friend who liked to say, “Fire up!” His words would come back to me when I wanted to stay comfortable and complacent. Picking up where we left off, I think Paul tells the Philippians the same thing:
… in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world, as you hold on to the word of life, so that my boast for the day of Christ may be that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
Phil. 2:15b-16 NABRE
Over the centuries, people have gravitated toward the phrase, “Seize the day!” In our culture, this saying usually means to live with abandon in the present moment and seek all the pleasure we can. Christians might consider turning the phrase to say, “Seize the Way!” Should we not be filled with a hunger for God, a desire for excellence, a passion for Christ, and the fire of the Spirit in a world frequently marked by apathy and indifference?
But be warned. People usually won’t hassle you as long as you go with the flow and stay out of their way. Once you turn up the spiritual temperature, some of those around you will begin to question your motives. Or they’ll look for flaws so they can discount you as a hypocrite. Given that most of us have no shortage of personal defects, you may not find everyone as accepting of you as you would like. But I would rather have peace in my heart and a fire in my soul than to live a bland life and in pursuit of fleeting pleasures that can’t satisfy.