July 16, 2023


Perfecting the role of a lifetime

Beth Thomas
Photo by Bekah Russom on Unsplash

In the late 1990s NBC aired The Pretender, a show with an unusual premise. Jarod, a brilliant young “pretender,” easily learns the intricate skill sets for any profession. Kidnapped as a little boy, Jarod is regularly guided through challenging simulations that exploit his intelligence for The Centre, a sinister think tank.

One night he escapes the secret facility he’s been raised in and sets out to find his family and the identity he was denied. So while a Centre team constantly attempts to capture him, he faithfully searches, blending in and pretending to be someone different wherever he goes. 

While the show’s plotline is far-fetched, the concept is real. In fact, the Bible tells us of some other “pretenders.” Unlike Jarod, they think they have their identity all figured out. But do they really?


We begin in Revelation 3. “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (verses 14-17).1

Laodicea was a city in Asia Minor, now Türkiye. Situated on a hill that offered protection from invaders and at the crossroads of major trade routes through Asia and Africa, it soon became one of the most prosperous cities in Asia Minor.

The apostle Paul spent considerable time discipling believers in Laodicea. Something went wrong, though. Jesus, the perfect observer, noticed some pretenders hiding under a guise of spirituality. “I know your deeds,” He admonished through His servant John, “that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!”

When I was 14, our family participated in a mission trip, building a girls dormitory in the Dominican Republic. We spent hours in the drenching humidity, and all I really wanted was a cold, refreshing drink of water. Our water came from a storage tank high above campus. With constant sunlight beating down on the reservoir, the water soon became warm—not thirst-
quenching at all. The cistern promised refreshment, but its contents were misleading and disappointing.

Jesus felt the same way. “Because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold,” He said, “I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (verse 16). The Laodiceans had the  message of Christ’s saving grace to share with the world, but they didn’t. They “did not follow up the work begun by God’s messengers. They heard, but they failed to appropriate the truth to themselves, and to carry out the instruction given them.”2

They said, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing” (verse 17), but didn’t see their true spiritual condition. This self-satisfaction with their perceived spiritual superiority led to Jesus’ stern rebuke. Their “pretentious piety [was] nauseating to Him.”3

A Grace-filled Prescription

This message must have been hard for Laodicean believers to swallow. The letter contained a grace-filled prescription for change written by Jesus, however. “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. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent” (verses 18, 19).

The first item Jesus mentioned  was “gold refined in the fire,” something genuine, not fake. Peter wrote: “That the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7, NKJV). “Faith and love are the true ‘riches’ a Christian should demonstrate. It all comes together in a Christian character made of ‘pure gold.’ ”4

The second thing Jesus advised was new clothing to cover their spiritual nakedness. “This is what the transgressors of God’s law have done ever since the day of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. They have sewed together fig leaves to cover the nakedness caused by transgression. They have worn the garments of their own devising, by works of their own they have tried to cover their sins, and make themselves acceptable with God. . . . Only the covering which Christ Himself has provided can make us meet to appear in God’s presence. This covering, the robe of His own righteousness, Christ will put upon every repenting, believing soul.”5

And finally: “ ‘Anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see’ [verse 18, NKJV]. Laodicea was noted for a medical school that specialized in ear ointment and eye salve. For the church, spiritual ‘eye salve,’ understanding and applying Bible truth, clears up self-deception and restores spiritual vision.”6

Still Relevant

The Bible doesn’t expound on Laodicea’s reaction to this counsel. We do know that the message is relevant to today’s church, however. In 1912 Ellen White wrote, “The Laodicean message has its application in conditions that exist in the church of God today. Many of God’s people have strengthened themselves in their own way, followed the impulses of their own minds, and have grown indifferent to the admonitions of the Lord. Many who were once firm believers in the truth have become careless in regard to their spiritual welfare, and are yielding without opposition to Satan’s well-laid plots.”7

Have circumstances improved in the past 111 years? We are daily bombarded with a host of distractions and worldly comforts that invite us to settle down into complacency. Are our ears willing to hear Jesus’ warning? Are we developing pure faith and sacrificial love, a character like Christ’s? Are we asking for His righteousness to cover us every day, to keep us from falling into temptation and sin? Are we reading, understanding, and applying biblical truth to restore our spiritual vision? If not, we’ll just be pretenders—playing the part, but perpetuating superficial spirituality. If you have noticed some deficiencies in your religious experience lately, be encouraged! It means that self-deception’s spell is losing its power. Notice the first part of Jesus’ admonition: “I counsel you to buy from me . . .” He holds the remedy. He’s just waiting for us to ask.

1 Unless otherwise noted, Bible texts are from the New International Version.

2 Ellen G. White manuscript 128, 1903, in Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases (Silver Spring, Md.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1993), vol. 16, p. 12.

3 Ellen G. White, “Testimonies for the Church Containing Letters to Physicians and Ministers Instruction to Seventh-day Adventists,” Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 1, p. 20, retrieved from https://egwwritings.org/book/b417.

4 Bibleinfo.com, “What Does the Bible Say About Laodicea?” retrieved from https://www.bibleinfo.com/en/questions/laodicea.

5 Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1900, 1941), p. 311.

6 Bibleinfo.com, “What Does the Bible Say About Laodicea?”

7 Ellen G. White, in Australasian Union Conference Record, Apr. 15, 1912.