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.
6 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. – Revelation 3:1-6
The troubles within the Church of Sardis seem to be summarized as stagnant, dead faith. There are two camps of Christian thought that we might attribute to this problem today.
One is the idea that a person can recite a certain prayer or make a one-time commitment to Jesus then claim that their salvation is assured, even if they do not go on to live a Christian life from that point on, but instead go about living their lives as they please without committing themselves to Jesus’s service. They claim to be alive in Christ by the blood of Jesus, but there is no fruit of their faith.
Some hold this idea and do live a generally upright life. However, they reach a place of righteousness that they deem acceptable then stop there, failing to continue to grow because their lives are cleaned up outwardly enough to create an appearance of being a good Christian. Yet, their inner world is sinful and they use the blood of Jesus to justify themselves without repentance or care for their state or for service that goes beyond legalism, going to church, and doing good to be seen by others.
Another is similar to the first. There is a notion among some who are of the holiness mindset that a person is not capable of sin if they follow Jesus sincerely. They consider themselves to be without sin, not merely by the blood of Jesus, but in their day-to-day lives.
How are these similar?
These are similar because they create the same outcomes: a failure to be honest about sin, a failure to repent from sin as it manifests in their life, and a failure to grow in the things of God given of the Spirit of God through Jesus Christ. Both claim to be sinless. Both claim to be alive in some capacity, yet the fruit is not life but stagnancy and death.
How do we overcome the troubles found within the Church of Sardis?
Let’s consider the first camp of thought.
We need to recognize that being saved from sin and death through Jesus also means entering His service. We cannot expect to live as we did before, without regard for sin or for seeking Jesus so that we can be gifted in the Spirit and made useful for His purposes and for our brethren in Christ.
Although our salvation is freely given by the grace of God, grace does not leave a person bound to a life of servitude to sin but makes us free from sin in a tangible way according to the measure of grace we received, the service we are given, and the amount of time that we have available to live out our lives as Christians and grow in righteousness.
We were bought with the precious price of the Son of God. Though freely given to us, the cost is extremely high. God became a man and died for us in a brutal and humiliating manner. We owe Him everything, even our own lives on this earth. That is the least we can do. As Paul the apostle stated, giving up our lives for Jesus is our “reasonable service.”
If we give our lives for Jesus, then He will work in us, change our sinful nature so that we are more like Him, and give us things to do that will honor His name and help people grow up in Him—and there is always more to growth to seek. We might clean up our act to a large degree, but that should not keep us from continuing to seek the Lord so that He might search out the sin in our lives and help us overcome. We cannot be negligent and stagnant.
If we neglect our salvation and count the blood of the Son of God as some light thing that we can take advantage of, then our faith is dead and we are not saved. If we have faith in Jesus, then we will want to get to know Him. We will learn about Him. We will see that He expects us to live uprightly. We will learn that He promised to send us the Holy Spirit and to work His righteousness in us in this present life. This is His work in us, not our works. He will do it because He is faithful, and we put our faith and trust in Him.
It is hard to have faith that Jesus can change us. We see how sinful we are and we feel hopeless. Maybe we even love our sin and we feel ashamed about that. If we are honest about our sin and approach Jesus, He will not despise us or reject us. That is the first step. We must be honest about who we are and know that Jesus is the only way.
We also need to forge a real relationship with Jesus through prayer, learning the scriptures as we are able, and continuing to seek Him despite the challenges we face with sin or with troubles in this life. We also remember that performing outward rituals or good works is not the same as a real relationship with Jesus.
As we get to know Him and spend real time with Him personally, we will see His work in us and our faith is made stronger. We will not defile our garments because we trust in Jesus to cover our sin because we are no longer servants of this world and of sin, but of the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ.
Now, let’s consider the second camp of thought.
As Christians, we want to live without sin. We do not want to bring shame to the name of Jesus. Because of this, it can be tempting to claim to live a sinless life, especially when we see a drastic change that is so far removed from the life that we lived before.
However, if we believe that a Christian must be without any sin in this world to truly be saved or to have received the Holy Spirit, we might begin to justify our sinful actions to retain the illusion of being sinless.
We must remember that the righteousness of God is very deep and broad, even searching the intentions of the heart and the thoughts of the mind. The righteousness of God cannot be attained by doing outward things only, and those who want to be holy often hold themselves to high standards in their manner of dress, worship, church attendance, and the need for community outreach.
The outer works are great, but what about the hidden things that are easy to neglect? What about vanity? What about pride? What about greed and covetousness? What about addiction to luxurious living? What about misjudging people and falsely accusing them outwardly or in the heart?
There is always going to be more to gain in Jesus, no matter how righteous we think we have become. We must remember what Jesus said about the Pharisee and the tax collector. An honest sinner is more accepted by God than a person who calls themselves righteous.
There is another problem that both camps of thought have in common.
Both tend to accuse other Christians of being false, fake, or possessed by evil spirits.
Take the first camp of thought. Those who believe in a one-time declaration of faith, also called “faith plus nothing” often accuse those of the holiness mindset, who are often charismatic Christians, of supporting works-based salvation or of falsifying spiritual experiences. They look down on those who are of the holiness mindset, esteeming their faith to be superior. Many also get consumed by the sins of others because they fail to look at their own sin honestly.
Take the second camp of thought. Those who believe in holiness often accuse other Christians of being false, part of the Great Whore, or otherwise in league with Satan. They look down on those who are of the “faith plus nothing” mindset, esteeming themselves superior. Many also get consumed by the sins of others because they fail to look at their own sin honestly.
Claiming to be without sin is dangerous, especially if we start to condemn others while we hypocritically live in sin ourselves. Refer again to Matthew 24 and Luke 12.
We do not want to be found “drunken” with our false sense of sinlessness and superiority and our condemning of others who we see as lesser Christians, or worse yet, not Christians at all. We are all in differing stages of growth, and we do not know what the Lord might do with any of us.
It seems that we can defile our garments in two ways, though they are connected. We can defile our garments by taking the blood of Jesus onto ourselves without proper respect, service, and regard for the things of God and true relationship with Jesus. We can also defile our garments with the blood of other who we self-righteously hate, accuse, and condemn.
Both require us to turn a blind eye to our own sin and to repent as we keep the first and great commandment: “Thou shalt love thy Lord with all thy heart, soul, and mind.”
If we keep this commandment, then we will naturally progress in the right things. We will not defile ourselves with love of sin and murderous intents towards fellow man.
In summation, when Jesus returns, we do not want to be found in a state of stagnancy, worldliness, false accusations, slanders, and hatred of our fellow servants. We also do not want Jesus to come as a thief and stranger, but as our friend. We must get to know Him and serve Him faithfully as we look to our own sin, grow in the Spirit, and serve one another as He would have us to do—which means we live for Him and not ourselves, our greed, our gain, our vanity, our pride, or anything else that our modern Christian society deems acceptable. We belong to Him and Him alone.
When He returns, we will hear, “well done, good and faithful servant.” Our name will not be blotted out but written in heaven forever.
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The above is the draft version of a chapter to a book I plan to write and publish in a manner that is free of charge to the public.
I wrote in These Things Saith He: Contents that I will publish the drafts here first and offer opportunity for others to share their thoughts before the final work is completed.
I’m open to and greatly value the insight, experiences, and thoughts of my Christian brethren because we are a body knit together in Christ that is meant to work together without over reliance on our leaders. I am not your leader, but I do try to be faithful to what I have received to the best of my ability, and I look to Jesus for gracious judgment of my service and the service of all who truly love Him.