Spiritually dead Christians can still feel and believe that their names are remaining in the Book of Life because of their religious works.
Revelation 3:1-6 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
“‘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. 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. 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.’
How do you know for sure that a person is dead? Is it not when their breathing stops? When their hearts and brains stop functioning entirely? Spiritually, it is not much different. We die spiritually when we don’t breathe the Word, our hearts don’t beat for the Word, and our minds don’t think of the Word.
Unlike dead people who feel nothing and do nothing, spiritually dead Christians can still feel and believe their names are written in the Book of Life because of their religious works.
The problem is, often spiritual people who are dead from the inside rely on activities to make them feel and believe that they are alive. What they need is to know that they cannot hide, that they are not alive, and to remain in the Book of Life, they must fight and never leave Jesus' side.
As we continue our series “Uncovering Revelation” verse by verse, Revelation 3:1-6 is a letter to the fifth church in Asia Minor— Sardis. Sardis had the reputation of being alive, probably because of their activities but they were mostly dead from the inside. Jesus’ warning in verse 5 said that to remain in the Book of Life, they must fight and conquer.
If we want to remain in the Book of Life, we must fight and conquer. We find three principles revealed in Revelation 3:1-6 that we remain in the Book of Life by being fearful, forceful, faithful.
Remaining in the Book of Life by Being Fearful
Verse 1 says, “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” Jesus explained, in Revelation 1:19-20, that the seven stars meant the seven churches.
Revelation 1:4 mentions the seven spirits and we also looked at Isaiah 11:2 which explained how the seven spirits refer to the sevenfold ministry— the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of wisdom, of understanding, of counsel, of power, of knowledge, and of fear.
The church in Sardis definitely lacked fear so they took the gospel for granted. Here Jesus reminds them of two realities. First, in verse 1, Jesus tells them that He is the one who has them as in He is holding them and then, He tells them He knows them.
In Isaiah 49:16, God said, “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;” That is indicative of God’s nearness and intimate knowledge of everything that goes on in our lives with precision. He knows our physical struggles, spiritual struggles, mental struggles, and every and any other struggle that we may ever go through because Jesus holds us in His nail-pierced hands where he hung on the cross, bled, and died to secure eternal life for us.
Next, also in verse 1, Jesus outlines more specifically what He knows. It reads, “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” This tells us dead works, works without the Spirit of God, done by dead people can produce something that people will look at and admire. By the world’s standards, Sardis was a successful church. Their works and praise of them must have made them feel and believe they were alive. Clearly, their reputation pleased them but not Jesus, for He knew they were dead.
So, Jesus says in verse 2, “ 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.” A better translation of wake up from the Greek would be show yourself watchful. It is active, continuous watchfulness, which reflects on the history of Sardis.
The city was set on nearly perpendicular rock walls rising 1500 feet above the lower valley practically impossible to breach, yet it was captured twice. Historians say that their capture, both times, was because of their slackness and over-confidence. They did not even put a guard to be watchful of any enemy trying to breach it.
The word strengthen, in Greek stērizō, carries the idea of urgency, as in do it now, before it is too late. The idea Jesus conveys to Sardis is to be vigilant and be on guard continuously and to do it urgently before it is too late.
Last Friday, I took my children to the mall. As I drove out, a man walked out of the building without checking the traffic. I had to slam on my breaks to save him because he was overconfident. You see fear is not always a bad thing. There is a healthy fear that stops us from putting our lives in danger. This is why you install security cameras in your house, lock your doors at night, and check both sides of the street when you cross.
Sardis needed healthy fear so that they would be vigilant and watchful. The warning “wake up” in English implies they were sleeping. They fell asleep to the lullaby of the culture.
The application is, if the voice of the culture is more attractive than the voice of Jesus, then it is a matter of time before the Word of God loses its effectiveness, and we will fall asleep which is the spiritual death. The spiritual death does not happen overnight. It is often slow. First, there is a slumber, then a coma, and then death.
It often starts with complacency and moves to compromise, and eventually to corruption. It can vary from poor teaching to poor application of the teaching to a lack of desire to make a difference or just a critical spirit that damages and demoralizes those who are trying to make a difference for Jesus.
Remaining in the Book of Life by Being Forceful
Verse 3 reads, “Remember, then, what you received and heard.” The word “remember,” in Greek, does not mean recalling something but rather bearing it in mind, never allowing ourselves to forget it. The phrase “you have received” is to lay hold of. It emphasizes the assertiveness of the receiver. They probably knew the content of the Bible, but they lost the passion and zeal with which they received it.
Jesus wanted them not to take that lightly but be forceful about keeping it.
Verse 3 next says “Keep it, and repent.” The phrase “keep it” is a command with a continuing activity and “repent” carries urgency. It is an urgent matter to Jesus that His people turn away from their slackness and turn to Jesus with that eagerness, excitement, gratefulness, humility, passion, and zeal with which we received the gospel in the first place.
A man came to his pastor and said, “Pastor, you need to work on your sermons. They do not move me the way they used to.”
The pastor in humility said, “Brother, I have been teaching faithfully from the same Bible the same way for the last twenty years.”
You see, it was not the pastor but the man who needed to work on his spiritual life. If the Word of God does not excite you anymore and you do nothing about it, listen to what Jesus says next to the church in Sardis, “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.”
That is not a reference to the second coming of Jesus that will happen irrespective of Sardis’ watchfulness and repentance. The expression “I will come like a thief” in Matthew 24, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, and 2 Peter 3:10 points to the unexpectedness. The text does not say how He is going to judge them unexpectedly if they do not repent but it is a promise, it is coming for the unrepentant sinners in the church.
The application for us is be fearful of what can become of us if we are not vigilant continuously and be forceful in keeping how we receive the gospel when we were first saved. For some of us that means repenting urgently by turning away from the life of slackness to pursue Jesus. A church or a believer that thrives on the high of past glory constantly struggles to experience what Christ wants to do in us now. So, be watchful and forceful so that nothing barges in to steal the gospel's effectiveness in us and for those around us.
Remaining in the Book of Life by Being Faithful
Verses 4 says, “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.” Jesus commends the few who have not compromised and have not corrupted themselves, the meaning of “have not soiled their garments.” The idea of walking with Jesus in white is the idea of being cleansed by the blood of Jesus and keeping that profession of faith. Jesus finds them worthy. How about us? Will Jesus find us worthy? Will He say, “Well done, good and faithful servant?”
Last Sunday, we had the Young Adults ministry over. A few of them were interested to know that if the letters were written to the churches, then why is Jesus talking about conquering something to receive what already belongs to the believers?
The Bible teaches very clearly once a person is saved nothing can take that salvation away. However, often the case is that many come with ulterior motives. Some think receiving Jesus secures heaven and licenses them to continue to live a sinful life. Others justify their sinful behavior to subdue their guilty conscience while doing nothing to protect against sin. Yet others abandon the power of Christ as the source of their strength to fight sin and get into a routine of activities that make them believe they are alive. Jesus knows. He knows our hearts and it is His desire that we may fight and conquer against sin.
Verse 5 has three promises for the one who conquers, “ 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.” That means this is for us too.
This is the first mention in Revelation of the Book of Life. We will see it unfolding later in Revelation 13 and 20. What is the Book of Life? In this context, it is a book that contains the names of the redeemed with the promise of eternal life. Some take this verse as proof that a person can lose his salvation. No, not if you are saved by the completed work of Jesus on the cross and not your own works. This verse is about the assurance of salvation and not the uncertainty of it.
The application for us is that a watchful person in the strength of Christ should never doubt that he or she cannot overcome the temptations, trials, and evils of this world. Rather we should see Jesus' promise that He will never blot our name out of the Book of Life as a positive reinforcement for us to pursue Jesus and pursue holiness by being fearful, forceful, and faithful.
I am sure you know that a light year is the distance that light travels in a year. I heard about a star that astronomers estimate is 33 light years away from Earth. That means it would take 33 years for that star’s light to reach Earth. The astronomers talk about dead stars that died many years ago but their light continues to shine in the sky as if they were still alive.
This happened to the church in Sardis that received the gospel with zeal and passion some 30-35 years before this letter arrived in Sardis. We see that it can happen to us too. If our spiritual activities make us feel and believe we are alive, it is most likely that we are dead from the inside, and we must fight to remain in the Book of Life by being fearful of Jesus denouncing us before the Father, by being forceful when it comes to guarding the truth of the gospel, by being faithful to Jesus.
We must guard ourselves against taking grace for granted by being fearful, forceful, and faithful than living a life of indifference, complacency, and slackness. Unlike other churches addressed in Revelation, in Sardis, there seems to be no persecution to endure and no heretical view to fight which tells us a few things about the church.
It was made up of people who bothered no one and pleased everyone. Either they were lazy and therefore satisfied with their internal religious routines, or they did not care about preaching and living out the message of the gospel. One commentator said, “A church that is so lethargic as to fail to produce a heresy is mentally dead, and a Church that is so negative as to fail to produce opposition is dead in its witness to Christ.” Christianity always was, is, and will be the counterculture.
Never to take the gospel for granted and never be satisfied with where you are because Christians are always becoming more like Christ. The more we become like Christ, the more we are alive in Christ to show the glory of Christ and to share the hope of Christ. Darkness never likes that— thus Satan attacks.
The church in Sardis was living comfortably. No one had any feud with them because Satan wasn’t threatened by their existence and their witness. Ask yourself, is Satan threatened by your existence? Are the forces of darkness angered by your witness? Does Jesus shine because you permeate the hope, love, and glory of Christ? That is the only way we can be sure that we are spiritually alive and that Jesus will not blot out our name from the Book of Life.
1. Why was it important for the church at Sardis to hear that Jesus knows their works?
2. How could the church at Sardis be dead but have the reputation that they were alive?
3. What would cause a church to die? Since the church is made up of believers, can there be some believers within a church body that is mostly dead?
4. What is the book of life?
Deeper Study Questions
1. What are your personal top three qualities in a church that would attract you to a congregation? What are the top three traits that would rule out a church for you and your family?
2. In Revelation 3:4, Jesus acknowledges those who have not soiled their garment. How have you ensured that you have not soiled your garment?
3. How would you ensure that you are alive spiritually?
Jesus’ address to all seven churches in Revelation 2-3 has a specific pattern. To better learn to how to make observations in Scripture, spend a few minutes seeing the pattern by inserting the correct verse against the statement below, focusing only on 3:1-6.
Specific church addressed
Description of Jesus
Jesus commends the church
Jesus rebukes the church
Jesus gives a solution for the rebuke
Jesus gives a high-stakes warning
Jesus’ promise for those who conquer