Spiritual Complacency

20150705FBCPM & 2015016FBCTH

Levi Durfey




What does it mean to be complacent? Complacency is an indifference or lack of concern toward something. It might be a husband who is complacent about the “Honey-do” list that his wife has laid out for him. Or the student who is complacent about her students. 


We’re all complacent in some way and some things. What we want to look at is spiritual, or religious, complacency. This is a complacency that no one who is a Christian can afford to have.


Over fifty years ago, A.W. Tozer wrote:


One of the greatest fears of the Christian is religious complacency. The man who believes he has arrived will not go any farther; from his standpoint it would be foolish to do so. The snare is to believe we have arrived when we have not…Religious complacency is encountered almost everywhere among Christians these days, and its presence is a sign and a prophecy. (A. W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous., [Camp Hill, PA.: WingSpread, 1986], 60)


If spiritual complacency was common during Tozer’s lifetime (he died in 1963), you can just imagine how much more common it is today. 


I wonder what he meant by it being a “sign and a prophecy.” The nearest I can figure is that he was thinking of Paul’s words to Timothy:


3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Timothy 4:3–4)


Complacency in Christians might manifest itself in many ways. Paul’s concern was that there would be Christians who did not care to hear the Bible taught plainly, but would want something that would satisfy their “itching ears.” We’ve certainly got that going on today with the “watered down” preaching that you can find in many churches.


How else do you see spiritual complacency happening in the church or even in your own life?


Admonitions against complacency pop up all over the Bible. Let’s look at a couple phrases that the Bible uses to both describe and speak against spiritual complacency. The first is…




We remember what happened to the disciples in the garden the night that Jesus was betrayed:


36 Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. 37 And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. 38 Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. 39 And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. 40 And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? (Matthew 26:36–40)


What happened to the disciples is symbolic of spiritual sleep:


11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. (Romans 13:11)


“awake out of sleep”—What sleep? It’s the sleep of apathy and complacency that Christians are so prone to fall into. It’s little praying and little fellowship with the Lord; it’s a weak witness to the world. 


Why should we wake up? 


1) Because our final and fulfilled salvation really is nearer than when we first believed. Our last breath will end this present time, releasing our spirit to go and be with Christ until the day he returns and we, along with the other dead in Christ and those who are alive will rise to meet him in the air with our glorified bodies. 


If you are young, you think that you have all the time in the world. You don’t. Young people die all the time. Awake out of your sleep and don’t waste the time, don’t waste the life that God has given you. Don’t live your life for yourself, for your selfish pleasures. Live it for Jesus. Live it for Jesus now. 


If you are older, do not think that you have done all that you have needed to do for the Lord. Consider all the time that you have wasted in your life. Time that could have been lived for the Lord, but you spent in doing some pleasure or sin. 


Wake up. You still have some time to use, so use it! David Brainerd was a missionary to Indians in the mid-1700’s. He contracted tuberculous and died at the age of 29: 


Even on his deathbed, young David Brainerd, a missionary to the American Indians and close friend of Jonathan Edwards, took time to teach a young Indian boy to read so he could read the Bible. He was glad that there was still something, even in his weakened state, that he could do for Jesus. Is there nothing you can do, even in your old age? (James Montgomery Boice, Romans [Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Book House, 1991-], 1708-10.) 


Wake up, because our salvation really is nearer than when we first believed. 


Why else should we wake up? 


2) Because the enemy is at work even when we are not. Spurgeon pointed to Matthew 13:25 and to what happened while the farmers slept: 


24 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: 25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. (Matthew 13:24–25) 


In the game of Scrabble, there’s a point towards the end of the game where you might not be able to form a word, and you can’t exchange letters anymore, so you must pass your turn. Your opponents (who are always better than I am) then have an opportunity to make more words and more points, while you get zero. 


Well, on a spiritual level, Satan is doing the same thing. He doesn’t take breaks, he doesn’t pass his turn, he doesn’t ever feel charitable and say, “I see you are behind, so I’ll let you catch up. ” 


3) Because there is something worth waking up for. I find waking up in the morning is without effort if I know that I have some exciting project I’m working on. I can’t waiting to get going because it’s valuable to me.


The work that God has for us to do is not without value, he’s been planning it for you for ages. You know verses 8 and 9 of Ephesians 2, but listen to verse 10: 


8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8–10) 


God planned what he wanted you to do long before you found his salvation through grace. If God has taken care to plan for your work, don’t you think that you ought to be awake for it? What God plans is always worth it. 


Boice comments: 


We have meaningful work to do. We have the task of telling men and women of that Savior who, if they believe on him, will lift them out of darkness into light and out of death into life. 


Moreover, that life is an eternal life, so the fruit of what we are given to do as Christians is eternal. Those who are saved through our witness will be in heaven with God forever. They will be part of that everlasting chorus that will be praising God. Likewise, the good works we do will be remembered before God forever. Not even a cup of water given to a thirsty person in Christ’s name will be forgotten. (James Montgomery Boice, Romans [Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Book House, 1991-], 1708-10.) 


Christian, it’s time to wake up.




Another phrase in the Bible that illustrates complacency is lukewarmness.


The Causes Of Lukewarmness


15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. 17 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: (Revelation 3:15–17)


What was the cause of their lukewarmness? It was materialism (1 Timothy 6:10).


Laodicea was a prosperous banking center; proud of its wealth, it refused Roman disaster relief after the earthquake of A.D. 60, rebuilding from its own resources. It was also known for its textiles (especially wool) and for its medical school and production of ear medicine and undoubtedly the highly reputed Phrygian eye salve. (Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993], Revelation 3:17–18)


The message here is so important for the American church. We are far richer than the Laodiceans would have ever dreamed. Imagine if one from their city walked into Baker today. They would be in awe of our riches. So don’t think that this letter from Jesus cannot apply to you.


How does materialism cause Christians to become spiritually lukewarm?


1) Verse 17—“have need of nothing” 


Material wealth deadens faith because it removes a person’s need to trust God. 


  • Depend on God for bread and water? Why? We have plenty. 
  • Depend on God for healing? Why? We have the best medical school.


And, while the Christian facade may stay in place (e.g., come to church, thank God for blessing us), in reality our internal spiritual life has collapsed. How does water get lukewarm? From sitting around all day!


What happens when someone faces a crisis that money can’t fix and doctors can’t solve? What happens? They turn to God again. O that we’d turn before…


2) Verse 17—“knowest not that thou art wretched…” 


What happens to people with money? They start to think that they’re something special. The focus turns from God to ourselves. Pride takes up residence in our hearts and we start to think less and less of God.


The Cure For Lukewarmness

18 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. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. (Revelation 3:18–19)


1) Verse 18—“buy of me gold tried in the fire” 


Christ counsels them to turn to him and buy gold that has been refined in fire. This doesn’t imply that we can buy or earn anything from Christ, as his gifts are available without price (cf. Isaiah 55:1). 


Why use the word “buy,” then? It’s just there to emphasize the change they must make from serving material possessions and money and serving Christ.


We are to place the riches of Christ above the riches of this world, even if it means that we have to sell the riches of this world to obtain Christ’s riches (cf. Matthew 13:44; Luke 19:1-9; Luke 18:18-24).


Again, none of this means that we can buy salvation or greater spiritual growth, unless what we are selling (or giving away) is somehow a hindrance to us spiritually and must be cast off (Hebrews 12:1).


2) Verse 18—“that thou mayest be rich…clothed…eyesalve.” 


These are spiritual riches and spiritual healing—which are more valuable in the end than material riches. (cf. Mark 8:36).


A relationship with Jesus will give you the riches of Heaven which far outweigh anything earth has to offer. It will give you freedom from the guilt and shame of your sin. It will make you able to see spiritual realities.


3) Verse 19— “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten:” 


This is a surprise to many people. They don’t think that Jesus can or should rebuke and chasten, that’s too mean. Jesus has to be nice all the time or they won’t serve him. They won’t believe in a God who is unloving.


Listen, Jesus rebukes you when you go astray not because he is angry with you or that he hates you, but because he does love you (cf. Hebrews 12:5-11).


4) Verse 19—“Be zealous therefore, and repent” Our response to the Lord’s chastening should not be bitterness, or running away from him, but repentance We need to stop doing what we have been doing that is wrong, agree with Christ about our sin, and turn and start to do things his way. 


When you are going the wrong way on the Interstate, you take the exit ramp of repentance, cross over the grace overpass, and get back on the restoration ramp.


In the case of materialism causing us to be spiritually lukewarm and complacent, repenting means that we must acknowledge that we depend far more on our wealth and possessions than on Christ. 


It may mean that we get rid of something that is keeping us from Christ. Not that the selling is earning you spiritual credit, but that the possession is hindering your walk with the Lord.


17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? 18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. 19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. 20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. 21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. 22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! 24 And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. 26 And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? 27 And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible. (Mark 10:17–27)


Jesus wasn’t saying that good works save you. He said that salvation is only possible with God’s help. But he pointed out that a person’s heart may be so attached to other things that it is difficult for them to have faith.


What keeps you from trusting Christ more? What do you depend on that keeps you from praying to God for help? What weighs you do and makes you complacent in your spiritual life?


Repent of it. Get rid of it if you can. Be wary of it if you can’t.




John the Baptist came to prepare the way, he came with a specific purpose, and attached to that purpose was an important, specific, message for the people.


7 Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 9 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. (Luke 3:7–9)


The core of the message is in verse eight. It is a warning against spiritual complacency. Look at the last part that verse, the part about Abraham: What is he saying? 


He is saying that they cannot think that because they are born a Jew, a descendant of Abraham, that everything is hunky dory. They cannot go to Heaven by virtue of their nationality.


Sound familiar? Sure does. Most Americans believe they are okay with God because they’ve been born into this nation, or they are a member of a church. Or they say that God is good and loving and forgiving, so they’ll be okay. 


John says to them and us: Be concerned. Be concerned about your spiritual life, be concerned about God, Be concerned about others!


Don’t get to hung up on the next phrase, “God is able to raise stones for His children.” John is saying, if you don’t bear fruits of repentance, if you don’t respond to him, he can find someone else. 


In the case of the Jews, it was the Gentiles. The Jews lost the opportunity because they were not concerned enough—they were complacent and wanted to stay with their old way of doing things. The Gentiles came to Christ because they became concerned about their eternal souls. 


What does this concern look like? They are to “bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” What does that mean? We seen what it is not: it is not the spiritual complacency that the Jews of the time were mired in or the spiritual complacency so many Americans are mired in. Spiritual complacency is the opposite of bearing fruit of repentance.


The people who listened to John wondered how they were to bear fruit:


10 And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? (Luke 3:10)


They’re asking, “so what do we do?” You said that every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit will be chopped down, we don’t want that, but we need to know what we should do.


11 He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. (Luke 3:11)


The idea here is simple and basic concern for other people. A spiritually complacent person does not care about God nor does he care about the needs of others. An indicator of true repentance would be that you look beyond yourself, beyond your own wants and needs, and you look to others.


12 Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? (Luke 3:12)


The most despised people in the society of the day were tax collectors. It struck me as odd that they were there. Why did they come? Because they were lacking something. They felt bad about who they were.


John gives them an answer that perhaps they knew in their hearts, but were unwilling to accept.


13 And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. (Luke 3:13)


Quit ripping people off. Sure, it was legal, the Roman government did not care what you did after they got their share. If they were truly repentant, then this is one way it will appear: a concern for others, and a concern to do their job in an ethical manner.


14 And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages. (Luke 3:14)


The soldiers, again with the right to push people around a little are told that they should stop looking at themselves, and look out for others.


So what is the opposite of spiritual complacency? It’s more than reading your Bible and praying more. It’s living out God’s will in your life. It’s walking in obedience, whether it’s being generous to someone who needs help or doing your job in a loving and ethical way.




What can you do differently? Pick one area of your life to break out of complacency. Perhaps it’s a sin, like gossiping, that you need to overcome. Maybe it’s a spiritual discipline, like Bible reading or prayer that you do more. Perhaps it’s a good deed.


One thing I am trying to do more of is to talk to total strangers. Not necessarily to share the gospel, but just to break the ice and talk to them. The other day, I forced myself to do just that and I had wonderful conversations with two couples.


The first was a couple in the Cenex from Scobey who knew Joann Hoverson, someone I worked with once at a camp who was also from Scobey. The wife was the secretary and organist from the church that I taught VBS one summer twenty years ago.


The second was a couple from Brainerd, MN who were sitting in the Walmart parking lot with their doors open waiting for their kids to return. She went to Bible school in the Plentywood area. He had been a pastor in the Pine River area.


I figure, if I can get over my shyness in talking to complete strangers, God’s going to be able to give me more opportunities to share the gospel.


There once was a goose who was wounded and couldn’t fly for a time. He had crashed landed in a farm yard where a kindly old farmer and his wife fed him cracked corn and other good things. Over the course of the summer, the goose healed, but he also became fat. 


One day that fall, he heard a great deal of honking. He looked up and saw his friends flying south for the winter. With a great deal of effort, he flapped his wings and rose a few feet off the ground, but the work was much too difficult, so he crashed back down. 


He shrugged his shoulders (however geese do that) and continued to peck away at the cracked corn the farmer’s wife had dumped on the ground that morning. He heard the call, but it was too much effort to make his complacent body respond. 


We might hear this call to shed our spiritual complacency and recognize that we should get up and do more for the Lord. But we flap our wings and give up after failing to lift off. Let me leave you with a encouragement to keeping trying. 


First, what do you think happened to the goose? Later that fall, he found out the literal meaning of the saying, “Your goose is cooked!” I don’t have a point there, I just wanted you to no how that story ended!


Second, remember this verse…memorize it, meditate on it, use it:


13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13–14)

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