By: A.T. Walker
While on the island of Patmos, John saw the Lord Jesus Christ, who instructed him to “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.” In 7 Churches, we will be looking into these letters to see what Jesus has to say to these churches…and what he maybe saying to ours
To the Church in Sardis
The fifth letter is addressed to the church in Sardis, located 30 miles southeast of Thyatira.
“The words of Him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.”
There is some debate over what is meant by “the seven spirits of God” (you read more about it here). Some say it refers to the Holy Spirit. Some say it refers to the “Branch of Jesse” in Isaiah 11:1-4:
“There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,
And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.
The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him,
The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and might,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
His delight is in the fear of the Lord,
And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes,
Nor decide by the hearing of His ears;
But with righteousness He shall judge the poor,
And decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.”
Whatever the meaning, we know that the “Branch of Jesse”, Who rules with all wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and might, holds and guides the shepherds of His churches.
“I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.”
The church at Sardis had the appearance of an active and thriving church, but appearances can be deceiving. Jesus, when speaking to the Pharisees in His day, told them:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23:27-28
It would appear that if we do all the requirements of the law, yet do not truly believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, then your “good deeds” are simply filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Paul warns the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2:
“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”
You mean there are people who believe in vain? In one of the most terrifying passages of scripture, Jesus tells us that, in the end, there will be some who think they are in, who appear as if they are in, but are actually out:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” Matthew 7:21-23
So, how do I know for sure if I’m in? How do I know that I don’t just have the “reputation” of being alive? In Philippians 2:12, we are told to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”. This does not mean that we are able to work to attain our salvation, but rather that we must diligently search our hearts to be sure that we have made a true confession of faith in Jesus Christ. John MacArthur says that “to have such godly fear and trembling involves more than merely acknowledging one’s sinfulness and spiritual weakness. It is the solemn, reverential fear that springs from deep adoration and love. It acknowledges that every sin is an offense against holy God and produces a sincere desire not to offend and grieve Him, but to obey, honor, please, and glorify Him in all things.”
“If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.”
Sardis, this is your wake up call! Is there a more frightening thought than the God of the universe, the One Who spoke everything into existence, the One Who has promised to pour His wrath out on all evil and wickedness, saying He is going to come against you?
“Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before His angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Despite all that was going on in Sardis, there were still faithful servants of the Lord there. Jesus is always aware of His sheep, even the ones in bad churches, and they will not be lost. Look at the amazing promises here for those who persevere:
“They will walk with Me”
“I will never blot his name out of the book of life.”
“I will confess his name before my Father.”
For those that refuse to “wake up”, they will receive the opposite of these promises:
“They will depart from Me” (Matthew 7:23)
“I will blot his name out of the book of life.” (Revelation 22:19)
“I will deny him before my Father” (Matthew 10:33)
This is why we must always judge our standing with God not only by our outward actions, but also by the state of our heart. Do we truly love Jesus? Or do we love being a nice person? We need to realize that there will be a lot of decent, moral people (at least by the world’s standards) in hell. If you spend a lifetime living a moral, upstanding life only to die and go to hell, then who cares? I’m not saying that Christians don’t have to be moral. We should always strive to be Christlike in our daily lives and interactions with the world. But if you plan on getting to your version of heaven because you were a nice person and you didn’t kill anybody then you are going to be in for a rude awakening. In the end, your “morality” will not be measured against Hitler’s or (insert serial killer’s name here). Instead you will be measured against the perfect, pure, holiness of Jesus…and you will be found lacking. But the good news is that Jesus offers us His righteousness freely. He will make you worthy. All you need to do is wake up and repent.