And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.
2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
3 Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.
4 Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.
5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. – Revelation 3:1-5
Jesus said that we should “take heed how you hear.” Meaning, if we are not hearing something properly, but instead hear amiss and interpret amiss, we will go astray. I get a “take heed how you hear” feeling when trying to interpret this letter to Sardis.
Let’s start with the opening and consider why these attributes of Jesus might matter when “hearing” what is being said to Sardis.
Jesus is He who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
We see the seven spirits of God mentioned in Revelation 4 and they are described as seven burning lamps around the throne of God. Some say that the 7 spirits of God are mentioned in Isaiah 11, but I don’t count 7 there: wisdom and understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and fear of the Lord. I think we can get too hung up on what the 7 spirits are, as far as how to characterize them.
Instead, I think we should consider the fact that only Jesus has the full measure of the Spirit of God (John 3:34-35). It is also Jesus who decides how the gifts of the Spirit will be dispersed among His ministers, which are symbolized as stars in His hand. I think this is why the seven lamps are burning around the throne. This shows that the Father has full possession and control of the Spirit of God.
Let’s hold that thought and continue.
Jesus says that He knows their works. They have a name that they live, but they are dead.
That’s quite a stark passage.
They have a name, meaning, they have a perception in the public eye as a church that is alive, presumably in Christ. Yet, Jesus says that they are dead.
He also tells them to be watchful, to strengthen what remains that is ready to die because He has not found their works perfect before God.
How should we “hear” this? We know that as Christians, we are not saved by works. We are saved by grace through our faith in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus that redeems us to God.
Why then does Jesus rebuke this church because of their imperfect works? Why does He instruct them to strengthen what remains that is ready to die?
We could say that Sardis is a church that attempts to reach salvation by their good works, which of course will never be good enough.
We could also say that Sardis is negligent of the faith to such a degree that it becomes offensive to Jesus. As James says, “show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith by my works. Faith without works is dead being alone.”
Does this church get to the heart of the “faith vs works” debate?
Why does it matter that Jesus contains the fullness of the Spirit of God and is the distributor thereof?
Perhaps this speaks to our negligence of the Spirit of God. I think it does, and I think our misuse of the Spirit of God, when better understood, will put to rest our “faith vs works” salvation debate.
As Christians, we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. However, we are also to receive the Holy Spirit in some measure that brings us into the Kingdom of God that is “within you.”
It is by the working of the Spirt of God, who Jesus has full authority over and will distribute as He wills, that we can overcome sin in the flesh and gain gifts that can be used to edify the body of Christ. The Spirit of God in us will produce many good works, not of our own strength, but by the working of Christ in us.
So, it is not that we perform our own works to gain salvation. However, if we are saved from this world, we will receive of the Spirit so that we can do many good works in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
If we have no works done in us and through us by the Spirit, how can we say that we have been “born again?”
Jesus said that we must be born again. We do not enter the womb again, but we must be born in Spirit. If we are not born in Spirit, we are dead.
Let’s get back to this: Jesus is so good to remind us that it is He who controls and disperses His Spirit according to His will.
I have noticed several problems within the church concerning the Holy Spirit and gifts of the Spirit.
Some say that the gifts are not active today and they discourage people from seeking the Holy Spirit in a powerful way. This is a corrupt teaching that grieves and quenches the Spirit.
Some say that the gifts are active today, but their supposed demonstrations of “signs and wonders” are highly questionable at best, leading many to deny the Spirit today. These false signs grieve and quench the Spirit and perhaps lead many into spiritual idolatry and fornication with spirits of devils.
Some judge their brethren wrongly as doing works by the power of Beelzebub, as the religious authorities accused Jesus, when the Spirt is in-fact working. Some judge their brethren as apostate because they do not manifest the Spirit in accordance with their liking.
Tongues is a good example of both in this case. Some say this is of the devil. It is not when it is real. I have heard fake tongues. On the other hand, some say you did not receive the Spirit if you did not speak in tongues. I don’t think that’s a fair assumption either. I think we judge receiving of the Spirit by the “fruit” which can be many things that edify the person, bring glory to God, and serve the church.
Some try to create special prayers for receiving the Holy Spirit. Some are too strict in their judgments of whether a person received the Spirit or not. These make man judge of things he cannot judge, chiefly being the heart and spirit of another man.
The ways in which we grieve and quench the Spirit are vast! The ways of Sardis permeate so much of our Christian culture!
What happens when we neglect the Spirit? We rely on ourselves. How foolish that is.
If we want to be pleasing to God, we will put rules on ourselves so that we can do our best to conform to what we think a good Christian should be. This is legalism.
If we realize that we cannot be pleasing to God on our own, then we might fall back on grace but we do not seek strength from the Spirit to overcome. This can lead to an abuse of liberty.
Instead of erring on the side of legalism or abuse of liberty, we should seek the Holy Spirit. He will work things out in our heart according to His own perfect and pleasing will, and this cannot be contained by law nor can it be escaped by the loopholes of man, nor can it be abused by teachings that “turn the grace of God into lasciviousness.”
I have seen such a misuse and misunderstanding of the Holy Spirit among churches.
There are so-called charismatic churches that do many “signs and wonders” but they are not of God. There are so-called “apostolic” churches that are “Spirit led” yet some of the most legalistic churches I’ve seen, attempting to be “set apart” by putting regulations on the outward appearance and behavior of their congregants instead of trusting the Spirt to do the work in heart and in sincerity.
I have seen churches that deny the working of the Spirit, but they understand we should be righteous so they harp over their pet peeve sins while seeming to ignore issues of the heart
Both create self-righteousness, hypocrisy, slander and division among brethren, and stagnant growth among believers.
This is a serious matter. How we have neglected the Spirit of God today!
Without Him, we are surely going to be a candlestick “removed out of its place” because there is no oil keeping our lamps burning. Jesus will “come as a thief” at a time we know not, and we will be taken—not to the rapture—but to the battle of Armageddon as those duped by the false prophet and led into his army. “Where are they taken? Wheresoever the carcasses are, there will the eagles be gathered together.”
We do not want to be judged according to works, but by grace. So, let us not rely on works of the flesh and works of man, “whose light is darkness,” but on the works of Jesus by the Holy Spirit. When we rely on the works of man, we will judge unrighteously every single time, and we are going to be judged by the judgments we make.
Instead, watch for Jesus because He will come. Strengthen what remains of the Holy Spirit so that we can die to the foolishness of this world that cannot know nor discern the things of the Spirit. Let us learn to rely on His works alone—which are many works of righteousness in us—according to His perfect and pleasing will. Not the works of the flesh including legalism or an abuse of liberty—works of the flesh that leads to unjust judgment, hypocrisy, strife, division, accusation, slander, and death! Without the Spirit we are carnal and we are yet in our sins.
Yet, there are a few names, even in Sardis.
How comforting. I love how we see the mercy of God in His judgments of the churches. Though many do not understand how the Spirit operates due to many false teachings and corruptions in the churches, there are some who have not defiled themselves. They trust in the blood of Jesus for their forgiveness and they do not quench the work of the Spirit through abuse of grace or through legalism unto destruction of self and the brethren.
We can overcome the failings of Sardis!
Christians are saved by grace, which is the undeserved favor of God that is shown to us by the Son, Jesus. If we have faith that Jesus is the Son of God who was slain for our sins and now lives, we are passed from judgement to life.
Faith means we believe in Jesus. If we believe in Him, then according to the time and opportunity we have, we should seek to know who He is and what He expects from us. As we do this, we will learn about His commandments which hinge on loving God with all you have and loving your neighbor as yourself.
If we want to keep these ways, Jesus will send the Holy Spirit to help. He will also give gifts of the Spirt so that we can edify the brethren, because none have the fullness of God but Jesus. We are a body knit together in Christ, and together we can be perfected. However, this will not be as it could if we do not come together in the right Spirit. In the right Spirit, we are one as the Father and Son are one.
This is my greatest hope for us as Christians: That we would stop grieving the Holy Spirt with our love of this world instead of God. That we would humble ourselves and love others, especially our Christian brethren. Our lack of love for God and for each other testifies to a lack of sincere faith and this leads to sin and division among us. A house divided is a dead, desolate house.
Jesus wondered if He would find faith on the earth when He returned. Thanks be to God that there are “a few names even in Sardis.”
I do not want to be of Sardis, and I think we would do well to consider our misuse of the Spirit so that we can die to works of the flesh and be raised in newness of the Spirit, joined with Christ and made perfected in Him and His working within the body that is under His full authorship!
I’m so glad to know that we serve the Alpha and Omega! However, we also serve He who will “come as a thief in the night.” Do we know what it means to keep our garments? Let us consider. Let “he who has an ear hear.” Many have so gone astray in this.
I know this was a long one and probably not as clear as I’d like it to be. Please leave questions and thoughts in the comments and I will keep doing my best to communicate more concisely and clearly, though it is hard with jam-packed and important topics. Jesus was good at that. He used few words and trusted the Spirit to communicate. Maybe I should too or maybe I should do my best to make what the Spirit says plain.
I will do my best in any case, trusting in the Spirit to do as the Father wills. I’m still learning to come out of Sardis too. Thank you for your patience!