What Does “Complacent” Mean in the Bible?

Complacency is referenced many times throughout the Bible, especially in the Old Testament prophetic books. The original Hebrew word translated as “complacent” carries the meaning of feeling satisfied or self-content, even smug, to the point of overlooking one’s sins and shortcomings. Complacency is portrayed as a dangerous spiritual state that leads to backsliding, unfaithfulness, and judgment from God. As Christians, examining what Scripture says about complacency can help us take inventory of our walk with God and avoid drifting into spiritual apathy.

Key Takeaways:

  • Complacency stems from self-satisfaction and overlooking sin, which dulls our sensitivity to the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
  • God warns against complacency repeatedly in the Bible, especially through the prophets, as it leads to unfaithfulness and backsliding.
  • Examples of complacency include the Laodicean church, priests in Malachi’s day, and the wealthy.
  • We must actively fight complacency by cultivating humility, repentance, obedience, and revival in our relationship with God.
  • Staying continually filled with the Spirit, in God’s Word, and in fellowship with other believers helps guard against complacent Christianity.
What Does "Complacent" Mean in the Bible?

What is Biblical Complacency?

The English word “complacent” refers to being pleased with oneself and one’s achievements or situation to the point of unawareness of imperfections, problems, or threats. It involves smug self-satisfaction and oblivious contentment. The Hebrew word often translated as “complacent” in our English Bibles is shāʿănân. It comes from the root word shāʿâ meaning “to be tranquil, secure, or happy” (Strong’s Concordance H7599). The word shāʿănân appears 6 times in the book of Zephaniah, translated as “complacent” or “careless” in most versions. It conveys a meaning of false comfort, ease, and loose security.

The Hebrew word shāʿănân implies a careless assumption that all is well spiritually when it is not. It denotes feeling satisfied with one’s standing before God and others when meaningful self-examination and repentance are lacking. Complacency glosses over sin and imperfection. It is a state of spiritual drowsiness, apathy, and insensitivity to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Complacency leads to a place of presuming upon God’s grace and taking His blessings for granted rather than walking in humility and gratitude. It numbs our hearts to the fear of the Lord which Scripture says is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10).

God Warns Against Complacency

Complacency regarding our relationship with God is strongly warned against throughout both the Old and New Testaments. God desires that His children walk before Him in holiness, obedience, and faithful love. Complacency leads to compromise, backsliding, and quenching of the Spirit’s work in our lives. The Lord disciplined Israel many times for drifting into complacent sin and idolatry. Jesus rebuked the complacent yet lukewarm Laodicean church. The urgency of these biblical warnings applies just as much to Christians today.

Old Testament Warnings Against Complacency

The primary biblical context where we see “complacency” addressed is in the books of the major and minor prophets. Here God confronts His people for their complacent sin through the passionate pleas of the prophets.

For example, in Zephaniah 1:12 the Lord says:

“And it shall come to pass at that time that I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and punish the men who are complacent in their sins and who say in their heart, ‘The LORD will not do good, nor will He do evil.’” (NKJV)

Zephaniah confronts a spirit of complacency and false security in the kingdom of Judah before the Babylonian exile. They assumed God would do nothing to discipline them, so they became loose and uncaring about their sin.

The prophet Amos also warns against those who are “complacent in Zion” (Amos 6:1). Amos confronts the corrupt priests and wealthy people who are at ease while injustice and idolatry ravage the land. Their self-centered complacency led to moral decadence and corruption.

In Isaiah 32:9-11, the prophet warns the:

Complacent women… Tremble, you women who are at ease; Be troubled, you complacent ones.” (NASB)

Here Isaiah rebukes those who were apathetic about the coming judgment on Jerusalem for their proud idolatry and lack of trust in God. He calls them to lament, repent, and rend their hearts before the Lord.

Malachi Confronts Priests’ Complacency

The prophet Malachi also confronts great spiritual complacency and apathy among the priests of Israel. Though they were God’s servants, they had carelessly neglected worshipping the Lord as He desired.

Malachi 1:6-8 states:

“‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence? Says the LORD of hosts to you priests who despise My name… You offer defiled food on My altar… And you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’” (NKJV)

God exposes the complacency in the priests’ hypocrisy and religious performance. They assume God is pleased with their offerings while desecrating true worship.

In Malachi 2:1-2 God says:

“‘And now, O priests, this commandment is for you. If you will not hear… I will send a curse upon you… Because you do not take it to heart… Behold, I will rebuke your descendants.’” (NKJV)

Here the priests’ complacency and refusal to take God’s command seriously will lead to their judgment if unrepentant.

Jesus Rebukes the Complacent Laodicean Church

Complacency is just as dangerous for Christians as Old Testament Israel. In Revelation 3:14-18 Jesus sternly confronts the complacency of the church in Laodicea:

“‘I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked… be zealous and repent.'” (NKJV)

Though they felt self-satisfied, their lukewarm faith disgusted Christ. He rebuked their complacency, exposing their true spiritual poverty and blindness. Like Laodicea, complacency imperils our faith. Active zeal and repentance is the only biblical cure.

How Does Complacency Lead to Backsliding?

In Scripture, unchecked complacency leads to grievous spiritual decline. Here are some of the dangers of complacent Christianity:

1. Numbness to Conviction. Complacency dulls our sensitivity to the conviction of the Holy Spirit concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). We begin overlooking sins we should confess and changes we should make.

2. Spiritual Pride. When we do not take stock of our continual need for God’s grace, we slip into pride and self-reliance. We forget we can do nothing good apart from Christ (John 15:4-5).

3. Presumption. Complacency can lead to presuming upon God’s mercy. We begin to feel entitled to His grace and take it for granted rather than walking in reverent gratitude.

4. Self-Deception. In complacency, we deceive ourselves into thinking all is well when sin may be destroying us (Gal. 6:7-9). We must seek the searching light of God’s Spirit.

5. Unpreparedness. Like the foolish virgins in Matthew 25, complacency leaves us spiritually unprepared. We do not actively watch and pray to stand firm against temptation and endure to the end.

Clearly, complacency sets us up for backsliding. Therefore, Scripture calls us to urgently reject complacency through zeal, repentance, and stirring up our faith. We must seek revival and spiritual awakening.

Bible Examples of Complacency

In addition to the prophets’ warnings, we also find stories of complacency leading to spiritual decline.

After entering the Promised Land, Israel grew complacent and did not drive out all the pagan nations as God commanded. This led them straight into idolatry (Judges 1:27-36).

Solomon grew complacent, allowing idol worship and losing his wholehearted devotion to God. His compromise resulted in the kingdom being taken from his son (1 Kings 11:1-13).

The Pharisees grew proud and complacent in their self-made religion. They looked down on sinners like the tax collector rather than seeing their own need for humility and repentance before God (Luke 18:9-14).

Examining how complacency damaged key biblical figures helps us remain vigilant against it today. Their examples are warnings for us not to drift into spiritual apathy but stay hungry for God.

Signs of a Complacent Christian Life

In our walk with Christ today, how can we identify if complacency may be settling in? Here are some possible symptoms:

  • Lack of spiritual urgency or hunger for God
  • Neglecting time in God’s Word and prayer
  • Making excuses for disobeying God in some area
  • Growing coldness and apathy towards worship
  • Assuming you’re right with God without self-examination
  • Defensiveness when convicted of sin
  • Discontentment and lack of joy in the Lord
  • Skipping church services for trivial reasons
  • Being distracted by the world’s amusements and pursuits
  • Watered down preaching no longer spurring you to holiness
  • Less concern for the lost and making disciples

While all Christians go through occasional seasons of spiritual dryness, prolonged complacency will sap our walk with Christ. We must seek revival and renewal through repentance.

How to Avoid Complacency According to the Bible

If you identify areas of complacency in your relationship with God, take heart that Scripture provides the remedy. Here are some biblical keys to revive a complacent heart:

1. Repent. Part of repentance is agreeing with how God sees our sin. Confess to Him where you’ve grown complacent (Revelation 3:19).

2. Remember your first love. Recall the joy of your salvation and renew your first zeal for Christ (Revelation 2:4-5).

3. Seek the fear of the Lord. Ask God to restore a sensitivity to His holiness and fear of offending Him (Proverbs 9:10).

4. Guard your heart. Be watchful against pride creeping in and robbing God of glory (Deuteronomy 8:11-20).

5. Obey promptly. Fight complacency through prompt obedience when God convicts you (Jeremiah 7:23-24).

6. Care for the poor. Complacency often comes with increased wealth. Generously giving to the needy keeps the heart soft (Deuteronomy 15:7-11).

7. Cry out for revival. Plead with God for fresh mercy, cleansing, and spiritual awakening (Psalm 51:10-13).

8. Fill your heart with Scripture. God’s Word cuts through spiritual fog and gives light (Psalm 119:25-32).

9. Fellowship with zealous Christians. Their fire and passion for Jesus can re-ignite your own (Hebrews 10:24-25).

10. Stay full of the Spirit. Living filled with the Holy Spirit prevents declining into lifeless religion (Ephesians 5:18-21).

May we all take such measures to steer clear of complacent Christianity!

Closing Thoughts

In closing, clearly Scripture confronts complacency as a dangerous spiritual state we must actively resist. While God’s grace covers our imperfections, we must not presume upon it. With the help of the Holy Spirit, may we walk before God in humility, repentance, love and zeal until the day we see Christ face to face.

What are your thoughts on complacency in the Christian life? Feel free to comment any additional questions or insights!

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