UPDATE: This is an old article. An updated and expanded commentary on this passage can be found in Paul’s book Letters from Jesus.
The letter to the Laodiceans is just 222 words long. In 47 of those words Jesus describes the Laodiceans and lukewarm and self-sufficient. The thing that made them self-sufficient was that they were lukewarm – they were mixing law and grace and ending up with self-righteousness.
Just about everyone knows the Laodiceans were lukewarm. But few realize that this had led to them being self-sufficient. Yet Jesus clearly says so:
You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone,’… (Rev 3:17, MSG)
The Laodiceans were a very religious church. They were doing so much for God that they thought they had it made. They thought they were rich but Jesus said they were poor. They thought they didn’t need a thing but Jesus said:
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. (Rev 3:18)
Can you buy your salvation?!
Wait a second. Is Jesus saying salvation is something that can be bought? And if the Laodiceans were truly poor, how could they afford to buy anything?
To buy something is to exchange something we already own for something that we value more. Jesus is counseling the Laodiceans to give up what they have in exchange for three things that he offers:
- “refined gold” speaks of Christ our perfect and everlasting treasure
- “white clothes” speaks of Christ’s righteousness
- “salve” speaks of having a revelation of who Christ is and what he has done at the cross
The Laodiceans were busy doing church stuff. They thought they were rich but without Christ you’re poor. They thought they were good, but without his righteousness you’re naked. They thought they could see but unless you’re looking at things from Christ’s point of view you’re as good as blind. The Laodiceans thought they had it made, but Jesus said they had missed the way. Like Martha, they were so distracted with what they were doing that they hadn’t noticed that Jesus wasn’t with them. They needed a revelation that he was on the outside knocking, wanting to come in.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears and listens to and heeds my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will eat with him, and he with Me.” (Rev 3:20)
Religion keeps God outside
To “behold” Jesus is to see him. Jesus is saying, “see me, hear me, open the door to me and I will come in.” What is God’s will for the lost? He wants to come in and have a meal. He wants to have fellowship. Religion says that God is distant and unapproachable, but Grace personified says, “I want to come in and be with you.”
The redeemed life that Jesus offers is free but it’s still up to us to “buy” into it. You might say we “buy” salvation by exchanging our sins for his forgiveness, but the real exchange is Jesus for us. Derek Prince calls this the “divine exchange.” Jesus went to the cross, took our sin and in return he gave us his righteousness. He took our hurts and gave us his healing. He took our rejection and gave us our acceptance. He took our death and gave us his life. I would say that was a good exchange, wouldn’t you?
Christianity is a Divine Exchange, our life for his. No doubt you’ve heard people say that following Jesus costs you everything. And it does. You cannot call him Lord without renouncing the right to your own life.
But see the bigger picture here folks! See what you get in exchange! If salvation means nothing more to you than self-denial and personal sacrifice, you’ve missed the whole point. Without him we are poor, naked and blind. With him we’re truly and eternally rich!
Notice how Jesus encouraged the Laodiceans to “become rich.” When you have Jesus as your treasure, you have the greatest treasure in the universe. When you have Jesus you are truly, literally, and eternally wealthy.
Somehow we have bought into the idea that God is stingy and wants us poor. But the Bible declares we are forgiven in “accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Eph 1:7), we are strengthened according to his “glorious riches” (Eph 3:16), and we have all needs supplied according to his “glorious riches” (Ph 4:19). This may come as a bit of a shock, but God is not poor. And his kids aren’t poor either. In Christ we have a rich and glorious inheritance (Eph 1:18).
Religion bankrupts but grace enriches
So here’s the deal. Religion says you slave away doing religious things, perhaps earning the praise of men, but ultimately reaping condemnation and death. Grace says:
Come, all you who are thirsty… and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. (Is 55:1)
This is not a fair exchange. God favors us with this exchange. We give him our sinful, godless little selves and get everything in return.
If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? (Rms 8:32, MSG)
If you succeed at religion you will be tempted to think, “I am rich and I don’t need a thing.” But religion only bankrupts you. The only way to “become rich” is to buy into the riches of God’s grace revealed in Christ Jesus.
At the end of the day there are only two kinds of people in the world; those whose self righteousness leads them to say, “I don’t need a thing,” and those whose spiritual poverty causes them to say, “I need Jesus.”
Which one are you?
You can go to church your entire life and completely miss it with God. You can serve like a Laodicean with all the enthusiasm of a Pharisee and think you have it made. But without Jesus you’ve got nothing.
Christianity is not about doing stuff. Christianity is about an exchanged life; ours for his. See it from his point of view and make Christ your eternal treasure.