Revelation 012 – The Church of Incomplete DeedsRevelation 3:1-4 • Dr. Andy Woods • August 26, 2018 • Revelation
The Church of Incomplete Deeds 8-26-18
Revelation 3:1-4 Lesson 12
Good morning everybody. If we could take our Bibles and open them to Revelation chapter 3, we’re moving, we’re progressing, no longer chapter 2 but chapter 3. We’re not progressing at break neck speed but progressing nonetheless, amen! The Title of our message this morning is The Church of Incomplete Deeds. And if you’re joining us for the first time we’re making our way through the Book of Revelation; we sort of introduced the book and went through the introduction of the book.
And now we find ourselves in the second major section of the book, where John is told to write down “the things that are.” Section 1, write down the things that you have seen, we’ve completed and now we’re in that section where he’s told to write down “the things that are.” And what are “the things that are”? They are seven very real letters to seven very real churches in Asia Minor back in the first century; today a region that we would call modern day Turkey. John, from Patmos, at the end of the first century, is addressing those churches, not with his own words but with what Jesus told him to say to each church.
Here is sort of the rubric or outline that we’re using for each church. Each church finds these common eight elements in each letter, so that sort of serves as the outline for each of the seven churches. We’ve seen what Christ had to say to Ephesus, the loveless church, to Smyrna, the persecuted church, to Pergamum the compromised church. Last week we wrapped up our thoughts on Thyatira, the corrupt church. And now we find ourselves this morning looking at Sardis, the dead church. There’s our outline for Sardis, verses 1-6 and let’s see how far we can get this morning.
Notice first of all the destination. Take a look at Revelation 3:1 as Jesus addresses the fifth of the seven churches. Jesus says, “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” Jesus here addresses “the angel” who I think is the pastor or the messenger or the proclaimer of the church at Sardis. Where was Sardis? It was the capital of an area that we call Lydia, about thirty miles south of Thyatira. So you’ll notice that the letters sort of go up northwest and then they sort of travel back down south, finally settling there in Laodicea. So after Sardis we’ll have two churches to address, Philadelphia and Laodicea.
John is told to write this message down for this church. It’s a message from Jesus Himself, specifically aimed at this particular struggling church called Sardis. And you’ll notice how Jesus describes Himself; in each letter to each church Christ surfaces information that He’s actually already revealed about Himself in chapter 1 but the information is not just sporadic, it’s not just random, it’s information that’s designed to fit their circumstances because that’s who Christ is after all at the end of the day. He is not just a book about Christology or theology; He’s not some sort of impersonal deity but He is one who wants to manifest Himself in the lives of His people.
You say well, what does Jesus want from me as a person? What He wants from you is a personal walk of friendship and the information He reveals here about Sardis is not just generic information it’s information about them specifically. That’s how God will manifest Himself in your life as you give Him an opportunity to do that. You’ll notice how Christ describes Himself here, verse 1, having “the seven spirits of God.” You’ll find that is a phrase used of Jesus Christ back in Revelation chapter 1 and verse 4, “the seven Spirits.” What are these “seven spirits”?
Well, one of the great clues that you have in interpreting the Book of Revelation is seeing how that same imagery is used in the Old Testament. The Book of Revelation has 404 verses in it; 278 verses allude in some way to the Old Testament. So if the Book of Revelation is a mystery to us that’s sort of a rebuke in a way because that means we really don’t know much about our own Old Testament Hebrew Bible.
And when you go back to Isaiah 11:2 what you’ll discover is there’s a reference here to the seven-fold ministry of the Holy Spirit. Seven, of course, is the number of completion; it’s speaking there of the complete fullness of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah 11:2 says, ““The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” You’ll notice there are about seven, what we would call genitive expressions used to describe the Holy Spirit.
What do we need today as God’s people? We need the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:16 puts it this way: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” So many of us in modern day Christianity are trying to live the Christian life through our own strength, our own power; we’re becoming frustrated with that because the Christian life is not difficult, the Christian life (I would put it this way) is impossible. God never designed the Christian life to be lived on one’s own power and yet so many of us struggle in the flesh trying to fulfill the Word of God and the work of God when in reality God never called us to live that way. He called us to continual dependence on the Holy Spirit.
This is desperately what Sardis needed. Why does Jesus describe Himself this way to this church? Because verse 1, as we will see, these people are spiritually dead. I believe, as I’ll be indicating, these people are Christians, they’re going to heaven but somehow the life of the Spirit, the strength of the Spirit, the fullness of the Spirit, the power of the Spirit have been stripped from their daily lives. And there are things that we do as Christians that can empty us of the Spirit’s power. One of those things, as we’ll be showing you today is unconfessed sin. Unconfessed sin as a Christian doesn’t send you to hell but there are certain consequences of unconfessed sin, such as a lack of fellowship with God on a moment by moment basis. And when we move in that direction the strength that God supplies through the Christian life begins to dissipate. That’s where Sardis was and that’s why Jesus Christ describes Himself as having the seven spirits, having the fullness of the Spirit.
He also describes Himself here, verse 1, as holding the seven stars, the seven stars are in His right hand. The right hand is the place of honor. The seven stars, as we have already learned in our study, chapter 1, verse 16, chapter 1, verse 20, are the seven angels or the seven messengers of the even churches. This message is to go from Jesus to John to the pastors who are to faithfully proclaim, not their own thoughts and ideas but Christ’s will as expressed in written form to His church. And frankly, here we are in the 21st century and I don’t see the job description of the pastor ever being changed. That’s what a pastor is supposed to do; that’s what a teacher is supposed to do, that’s what a preacher is supposed to do, he is not there to proclaim his own opinions; he is there to proclaim what God has said.
You’ll notice also that Jesus commends this particular church. Take a look towards the end of verse 1, He says, “To the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name” in other words, a reputation, “that you are alive….” You’ll notice this expression, “I know” it’s an expression and as best I can tell that’s occurred in every single letter we’ve studied; it’s in all the letters. Jesus describes Himself as the One who knows; He knows because He is the creator of the world, the redeemer of the world and He is the head of the church. He is the head, we are the body and as the head He knows when p arts of His body are not functioning properly, just as your body when it doesn’t function properly it will alert the mind through pain or any number of things. Christ’s body is the same way.
He says I know exactly what’s happening here in Sardis. The world doesn’t know because Sardis had a reputation for being alive. Their reputation had preceded them. In fact, the reputation of the church preceding a church can be a very great blessing. Paul writes to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 1:7-8, and he says, “so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.  For the word of the LORD has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.”
Paul looks at the Thessalonian church and he says you know what? You guys are missionaries without even trying to be missionaries. There hasn’t been a formal missionary group sent out but the whole known world knows about you in Thessalonica because of your deeds and under the power of the power of the Holy Spirit and your love of the things of God. It’s very possible for a church to have a reputation that goes outside of its four walls. May God help Sugar Land Bible Church to be that kind of a church, where the people in this church are known outside of the four walls of this church because of their love for the things of God and their walk for the things of God.
Sardis apparently had started off very well, started off on the right foundation. The problem with Sardis as the years began to progress is the present reality did not match their reputation. Their reputation was a reputation for life but there was no present reality behind that reputation because what does Jesus say here? “You have a name that you are alive but you are dead.” Their past reputation didn’t mirror their present reality. The only thing this church really had going for it was the past, what God had once done there. And these, apparently, in Sardis were people who were living off the good godly seeds that were sown by a prior generation.
You know, there are places like that, there are churches like that where the whole focus is the past; the whole focus is sort of the rear view mirror. These are churches that don’t have revivals, they have reunions, always looking back to what God once did and God forbid that Sugar Land Bible Church could deteriorate into something like that. I would rather rejoice in the past but at the same time the predominant occupation of our minds shouldn’t be what God once did but what is God doing right now? That’s what I’m interested in. I don’t want to be one of these people that perpetually look in the rear view mirror and lives in the past.
These are people that were dead. The spiritual life and vitality provided by the Holy Spirit had somehow been stripped and drained away from this church; it’s just the rest of Christendom, the rest of the world, didn’t know it yet because everybody thought look at what God has done there. In fact, this word “dead” is nekros, where we get the word necromancy, communication with the dead.
And it’s interesting that Jesus, when He diagnoses churches He doesn’t look at the outer exterior, He doesn’t look at the reputation; He looks at the reality. 1 Samuel 16:7 says this concerning David, “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him;” that’s Saul, “for God sees” now He’s looking more at David, “for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at” what? “the heart.’” That was why David would be installed ultimately as King instead of Saul. Saul had all of the outer appearance, all the outer trappings and the people were attracted to him because of that, but the LORD says no, I rejected him, I’m looking at the man who’s got heart after Me. Sardis, you have this great reputation, things on the outside look fine but I’m looking at the interior.
Jesus, when He was talking to the Pharisees there in Matthew 23:27, He says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” I could name the church and churches I’ve been to (which I won’t do that) but I’ve gone to certain churches, traveled great distances to go to certain churches because of what I thought God was doing there. God had done things there, they actually had churches and monuments named after the great stalwarts of the past and I went into those churches thinking that it would be the same church only to discover that it was completely different. The name was one thing but the philosophy inside over the course of time had changed and that particular church, in some cases a school, was living off of its reputation from the past.
I’m reminded of that snake on the pole, remember that? Numbers 21, that had a miraculous ability as you looked at it, the serpent on the pole, you could look at that and be spared from snake bites, Numbers 21, as God was dealing with the nation of Israel, and isn’t it interesting how Jesus, in His conversation with Nicodemus brings that up as sort of a type, if you will, for the cross of Jesus Christ? And then that serpent on the pole it sort of disappears in biblical history and you don’t see it much but there’s one glimpse of it in 2 Kings 18:4 concerning the idols that had to be torn down. [2 Kings 18:4, “He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan.”]
I mean, what had happened to an instrument that God had used sort of became a relic, it sort of had become exalted in the life of Israel to an idol. Churches can get that way. Christian people can get that way as a Christian tradition loses its vibrancy and sort of fossilizes and as it fossilizes what do you have? You no longer have? You no longer have the vibrancy of God, the strength of God, the presence of God. You have what God used to do and the only thing you really can think of in a positive manner is not what God is doing now but what God used to do. That was the very, very sad occurrence there in Sardis.
So Jesus offers this one word of commendation, at least your reputation is that of being alive but it really doesn’t match reality because you are dead. That’s what He says there at the end of verse 1. That’s the rebuke, you’re dead. So if you’re in a movement like that, if you’re in a church like that, if you’re in a denomination like that, if your life as a Christian has deteriorated to that level what in the world do you do? Well, Christ there in verses 2 and 3 begins to offer the exhortation.
Take a look, if you could, at chapter 3 verses 2-3. Notice what He says: “Wake up and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.  So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent.” What do you do in a movement whose best days are behind them? What do you do if you find yourself in that circumstance? Well, the first thing that Jesus says there is to “Wake up.” Why would He tell these people to “Wake up”? He tells them to “Wake up” because they’re dead, they just don’t realize it yet. I mean, their reputation had been so strong, people recognized them as being alive because of a past reputation but they didn’t realize that time had caught up with them and time was no longer on their side. “Wake up!”
You know, sin is of such a quality that it sort of lulls you to sleep. You allow sin into your life, you don’t live the Christian life under God’s power, you make a compromise here, you make a compromise there, you don’t necessarily see immediately any ramification of it, after all, there is a very short term pleasure associated with sin. Hebrews 11:25 talks about the passing pleasures of sin, and suddenly you find yourself where you and sin are sort of roommates. [Hebrews 11:25, “choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin.”] I mean, what used to be an offense is no longer an offense, you’ve just sort of learned to live with it. And so the first thing that people need to do when they find themselves in that circumstance is to wake up; your perception is not reality. This unconfessed sin is stifling the life of God in your church and in your life.
He tells them to do something else here in chapter 3 and verse 2, this is very interesting, he says, “strengthen the things that remain which are about to die.” So Sardis was dying, there were a few in the church, we’ll see them down in verse 4, who had not soiled their garments but were continuing to live for God. So not everything was dead but almost everything was dead; everything was in the process of dying. So what does Jesus say? “He says strengthen what remains and is about to die. That’s where revivals start, by building into the faithful few, the faithful remnant. I have enjoyed very much in my preparations reading Grant Jeffries, the late Grant Jeffries book, The Apocalypse; The Coming Judgment of the Nations, his verse by verse commentary on the Book of Revelation.
And he says this concerning Sardis: “In a practical way, Christ encouraged them to ‘strengthen the things that remain.’ If there is to be a revival in a spiritually dying church, we must start with the small remnant and build upon their faithful prayers and devotion to Jesus Christ. Just as in Gideon’s army, God delights to accomplish His great victories with a small remnant. Then it will be obvious to all that it is God who has won the victory, not man. The message to the church at Sardis reminds us that no matter how dead a church or denomination may be, God still has ‘a few names…who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.’ The prayer of every believer should be that they shall join that faithful remnant and walk with Him.” [Apocalypse: The Coming Judgment of the Nations, p. 84-85.]
One of the most depressing things you could ever give yourself to studying is the life of Christianity today in contemporary America. I will go out on a limb and say this: if things don’t change very fast Christianity in America will die and will lose its influence, just like it’s done in Europe and other parts of the world. So what do you do in a country where it’s very foundation is always being chipped away, always being eroded, always dying? You know, American wouldn’t exist (if you know much about American history) had it not been for Christianity and as Christianity sort of runs off the rails America finds itself running off the rails. This is a lot bigger problem than fixing within an election cycle or two! It has to do with a decaying rotting corpse. And the more you look at it, the more you study it, the more depressing it is to even think about it let alone talk about it.
And so you cry out to the Lord, but what should I do? And the answer is right here in the letter to the church at Sardis, rather than curse the darkness, which is very easy to do, you build a lighthouse and you begin to pour your life, you begin to pour yourself into the faithful few that have not defiled their garments and they’re out there. That’s what you do!
I sort of look at, in my own way of thinking, Sugar Land Bible Church in that way. My heart, my desire for this church is that it would be a refuge, a place where people can come and encounter authentic Christianity, that Christianity authentically lived, Christianity authentically believed, Christianity authentically taught, I mean, there’s no games, there’s no gimmicks, there’s not marketing, there’s no someone up there telling you you’re going to be rich and healthy every Sunday, just authentic Bible based Christianity.
And what we’ve discovered is this church, as we’ve moved in this direction, we find there’s a lot of people out there, not the majority, but there’s an awful lot of people that want to get on board. You can see that through a lot of indicators, particularly our audio visual ministry which goes all over the world. And people all over the world have an opportunity… we get e-mails from people in distant places saying you know, we want to be on board with you, we’re not content any longer with Christendom, we want Christ, we want Christianity. May God, in His grace and in His providence somehow strategically use this church to build into that non-compromised faithful remnant who is essentially tired of church as usual, tired of going through the motions, tired of constantly seeing things and hearing things that have no authoritative basis from Scripture. I don’t know if Christianity can be restored to the west but I do know this—at the end of the day I’ve got the ability to pour into the faithful remnant. I have that ability and so do you! And that’s what Jesus says to this struggling church at Sardis.
And then He makes this very interesting statement there, end of verse 2, look at this very carefully, “for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. The word “completed” there is pleroo, it means full. We are to be (Ephesians 5:18) “pleroo” continuously filled with the Holy Spirit. And what, of course, had happened to the church at Sardis is the deeds that God wanted to bring forth through that church because of their spiritual condition, those deeds had fallen short. It’s like an incomplete assignment, you’ve completed your race, let’s say it’s a marathon, you’ve made it to mile 20, anybody that runs marathons knows that it’s mile 20 to 26, that’s where you separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls, the adults from the children.
Sardis, you’ve made it to mile 20 but incomplete is on your transcript because you never really finished what God wanted you to finish. See, in Protestant Christianity we preach so aggressively against good works to be justified, which is true, you cannot be justified by good works, and we are so aggressive on that, rightfully so, that we’ve forgotten that we are not saved by good works. But here’s the deal, we are saved unto good works. In other words, when God saved you He didn’t just have you in mind. He had in mind all of the people that your life would touch. He had in mind all of the people that your life would bless. Sardis, for whatever reason, had lost sight of that.
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk therein.” You’re not saved by good works but clearly the teaching of the Bible is God wants you to produce good works. Now the great error and this is what the Galatians were doing, they were trying to get out there and crank it out through human power. And yet the secret to the production of fruit is simple; Jesus outlines the whole thing in the Upper Room Discourse when He begins to talk about the vine and the branch. He says there in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches, he who abides in Me and I in him bears much fruit for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
What does that mean, “do nothing.” I can accomplish an awful lot in the flesh, but here’s the problem, I can’t really produce anything of an eternal quality. I can’t produce anything that will continue through the burning process of the Bema Seat Judgment. Maybe in the eyes of man I can do an awful lot but I can’t produce that fruit which remains and so how do I produce that fruit? I don’t get out there and follow a ten point program to get it done for Jesus through self-help. God help us. The instructions are very simple, just abide. I mean, an orange tree doesn’t get out there with orange branches and sit there and say okay, oranges today, oranges, oranges. All the branch does is abide in the nurturing sap of the tree and the oranges will happen, they come spontaneously.
Your instruction, by the way, it took me years as a Christian to even begin to understand this. Today I don’t even think I… I still lose sight of it over and over again, it’s so contrary to sort of a Type A personality. My instructions are not to produce fruit. Find me the Bible verse that says produce fruit. The instructions are to bear fruit; that’s completely different than producing fruit. My instructions are to actually abide in Christ and the fruit that He wants to bring forth in my life, that’s going to come secondarily without me even thinking about it.
What do you do to bear fruit? You just be with Jesus, you stay intimate with Him, you stay in His Word, you stay in prayer. If you commit sin which we all do you keep short accounts with the Lord. You just stick around Christ. And isn’t it interesting that fruit sort of comes spontaneously, doesn’t it; not just fruit but fruit that lasts, fruit that is eternal. Doesn’t the Book of Genesis say over and over again each produced after its own kind. [Genesis 1:12, “The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.”]
How could I as a mortal bear eternal fruit? Since I produce after my own kind the only production I could bring forth is through human ingenuity and creativity which won’t last because everything produces after its own kind I’ve got to stay close to Him, then the fruit comes through me to others and it’s really not my fruit, is it? It couldn’t be my fruit because each thing bears after its own kind. Now I’m with Jesus Christ and it’s His fruit. And Jesus says in John 15:8, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear” a couple of shriveled grapes… it doesn’t say that, “that you bear much fruit, and so prove yourselves to be” watch this, not believers, it doesn’t say that, “to be My disciples.”
A believer is someone who has trusted in Christ and is not going to hell and has his fire insurance paid up. A disciple is someone that submits to Christ under His resources by faith moment by moment, stays intimate with Christ, doesn’t make the point of their life fruit production but abiding, and the bearing of fruit comes automatically. I have to be taught this over and over and over again because it goes directly against my sin nature which is so works oriented and even though I’m a saved individual it doesn’t mean my sin nature has taken a vacation. It’s been disabled to be sure but it has not deteriorated, it will be there until my dying day; it will always be there for me to go back to. And I get so easily into a works oriented mindset and I find myself frustrated and then I want to blame the Lord for not following His instructions.
It’s very simple, “abide,” remain. I mean, how do you have a relationship with somebody when the two of you never talk? Oh yeah, so and so is my best friend; oh, when was the last time you spoke to him? Oh, I don’t know, fifteen, twenty years ago. Well when was the last time you hung out together? Oh, I don’t know, we were at a class reunion one time, maybe five years ago. Well, that person, I don’t care what title you give them they’re not your best friend. Friendship is intimacy is it not? Isn’t that what we’re called to? We simply stay intimate with Christ and I don’t make a check list of what I’m supposed to do, the priority of my life, I just make the priority of my life being with Him. The check list stuff that will all take care of itself, not through production but through bearing of fruit.
And Sardis, for whatever reason, had lost sight of this and that’s why I call them the church of incomplete deeds. Jesus says to them because of the spiritual death I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. [Revelation 3:2, “’Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.”] Beloved, we all want to hear those words, don’t we? Matthew 25:23, “Well done my good and faithful” what? “servant.” We all want to hear that. The reality of the situation is not everyone that’s a Christian that’s in heaven will hear those words.
You say well, you don’t have Bible verses to support that do you? Well, I’m glad you asked. 1 Corinthians 3:14-15, [“If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.”] Particularly verse 15 says, “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” What is that talking about. It’s talking about people that get to heaven and because they’ve squandered their life they really have nothing to show for the time they spent in Christ. The time they spent in Christ and fruit doesn’t save them but when God saves them He had in mind not just their salvation but a blessing to the rest of the world. You get to heaven and guess what? God says here’s what I have for you up to mile 26, you made it to 20. What a tragedy to fit into that circumstance.
1 Corinthians 9:27 Paul says, “but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” for the prize. What prize is he talking about? Not salvation, or justification, but eternal fruit and being rewarded for that at the Judgment Seat of Christ. 2 John 1:8 says, “Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward.” You mean I could do something to lose what I’ve accomplished? Revelation 3:11, Jesus says, “’I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” You mean my crown can be taken?
See, the reality is, like Sardis, you can get to the end of your life and never have really maximized your potential in Christ because we never paid attention to the vine and the branches discourse. We never really got a glimpse of what God wanted to do. I mean, why does it say in the eternal state He “will wipe every tear away from their eyes.” [Revelation 21:4, “and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”] Have you ever wondered that? Why would there be tears in heaven anyway? I think for a lot of this that you kind of look back and it’s a moment of regret. That’s where the tears come from; what could have been, what could have been plēroō, what could have been full, what could have been completed just sort of came short. I’m happy to be in heaven but I never really reached my potential and there’s a moment of remorse. And yet the grace of God, the love of God is so profound that even that moment of remorse is wiped away. Quite frankly to me it’s astonishing what he’s saying here, “For I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of My God.”
What else are these people in this decaying, dying state supposed to do? [Revelation 3:3] “So ]remember what you have received and heard;” go back to the beginning, go back to the honeymoon phase, go back and remember what true love was like. This, by the way, is one of the great values in journaling or keeping some kind of journal, some kind of diary because you can go back and you can see what your spiritual life was once like. You go back and you say you know, I used to be really bothered by X sin, this sin over here; now by way of comparison I’ve just been comfortable with it. I used to really evangelize and cry out to God for the lost and now I’m so busy I can’t remember the last time I spoke up to an unbeliever for Christ. I used to be so drawn to the Word of God, there was an appetite, there was a hunger and now the hunger is there a little bit but I really need to be watching cable TV and all these other things that have become a distraction.
This process of remembrance is what Jesus said to the church at Ephesus, you’ll remember. “Therefore, remember from where you have fallen,” he’s telling Sardis to the same thing. Remember what? Remember what you have received and heard,” but look also at verse 3, “and keep it.” [Revelation 3:3, “So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.”]
The blessing in the Christian life comes from not just hearing the things of God and being spiritually fed, and I’m not negating that as important at all, that’s very important, but you’re going to be blessed when you start doing what you know. That’s the blessing. What did Jesus say there in John 13:17, “If you know these things you are blessed if” meaning maybe they will, maybe they won’t, “If you know these things you are blessed if you do them.” He doesn’t say you’re blessed because you know them and you pass the exam. That’s a first step knowledge but it’s just that, a first step. You can be blessed if you do them. You know that gossip is wrong, the blessing comes from saying Lord, help me to control gossip in my life. You intellectually know that harboring bitterness and anger towards another person is wrong because how can we as forgiven people hold grudges against anybody? The blessing, though, comes not just from knowing that but from saying Lord, under Your power today I’m not going to let the sun go down on my anger.
Whatever it is the Lord is showing you… you say well, I don’t know everything about the Bible. Welcome to the club, I don’t know everything about the Bible either. But I’ll tell you one thing, there’s something you do know that you’re not doing. I guarantee you everybody in this room has at least one thing they know to do that they’re not doing or they have neglected. And yet when you obey God in that one area He’ll start to bless you and He’ll start to show you more. Why is that? Because you’ve been faithful in something little. If you’re faithful in something little what does the Bible say? You can be trusted with greater things. This is not an academic problem. This is not an intellectual problem. This is an obedience problem and it’s a heart problem.
James 1:22 says, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” God help Sugar Land Bible Church, not just to be a doctrinally literate church and we are in favor of doctrinal literacy here like it’s nobody’s business, but that was never the end result. Knowledge to be blessed has to move into wisdom. Wisdom is the application of knowledge.
So he says, keep it, what you have heard and received, keep it. Look what he says here at the end of the verse, the dreaded “R” word, “Repent,” what does it mean to repent? We’ve already talked extensively about this, haven’t we? Change of mind! Repentance as we’ve defined it is a synonym for believing in Christ. People say well should we believe or should we repent and the answer is yes, because when you believe in Christ for salvation your mind is changed.
I’ve given you this quote from Lewis Sperry Chafer documenting that. And you say well, I did that so I’m done. Right? NO, because justification leads into what? Sanctification. God loves as we are but He loves us too much to leave us as we are so he moves us into the middle tense of our salvation which does not determine heaven or hell, that was already taken care of at the point of faith alone in Christ alone. Now it’s a matter of fruit bearing, now it’s a matter of discipleship, now it’s a matter of rewards, and that will foster a mindset of repentance because there are many things that we do or don’t do which are displeasing to God in daily life. And so a person that grows in that middle tense of salvation begins to develop a mindset, a lifestyle of repentance where they become sensitive to the Holy Spirit, sensitive to His conviction, and turn away and shun those things that are not right and fill them with something better, not through human power but under the vast resources that God has given.
Acts 17:30 says, “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent.” Look at Zacchaeus, Luke 19 I think it is, I would think he had believed in Christ, but then he starts to think, you know, I’ve ripped off a lot of people, I’ve stolen things, I need to make restitution. And he began to give back, I think our Bible says, what does it say, four times as much as he had stolen. That’s repentance. That’s life. That’s vitality. That’s where death leaves a spiritual relationship and it’s replaced by the power of God. This is what Sardis had forgotten. Sin had fostered for so long that they just saw it as normal. And what does the Bible say? “For the wages of sin is” what? “death.” [Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”] Spiritual death came into that church.
James 1:14-15 says, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” So they lost their salvation? NO, they didn’t lose their salvation. They lost intimacy, they lost fellowship, they lost relationship, they lost vitality, and they lost the capacity to be eternal fruit bearers for God.
And what does Jesus do? He starts to articulate the consequence there, and you’ll notice it the end of verse 3, and also into verse 4, “therefore if you do not wake up I will come like a thief and you will not know in what hour I will come to you.” If you do not I will come. Now people say that’s the second coming of Christ. This can’t be the second coming of Christ because it’s analogized to a thief breaking into your house in the middle of the night. This can’t be the rapture in other words because when a thief breaks into your house in the middle of the night is that a good thing or a bad thing? That’s a bad thing. What is the rapture? A good thing. The imagery “thief in the night” is talking not about the rapture of the church as some misunderstand this verse, it’s talking about what I like to call a judgment coming, a coming in discipline. In other words, I’m coming to Sardis and everything that’s there, not just the things that are dying, everything will die if you don’t change.
This is the same sort of thing that Jesus spoke to the church at Ephesus. He said I am coming to take your lampstand. [Revelation 2:5, “Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place– unless you repent.”] Their salvation? NO, but their influence as the church at Ephesus, one of the greatest churches of the first century today. Have you got any text alerts recently from the church at Ephesus? Gotten any e-mails? Gotten any Facebook posts? That church has been dead and gone for centuries. That’s what Jesus said would happen. That’s what’s about to happen in Sardis. That’s what’s about to happen in the United States if we don’t heed what Jesus is speaking here.
This word thieves, it’s kleptis, where we get the word klepto, as in kleptomaniac, I’m coming like a thief and you’re not even going to know when I’m showing up. There are churches that have been dead for so long they can’t even trace when the whole thing fell apart because that’s what Christ said, I’m going to come at a time you don’t expect it and everything is going to die. But fortunately when you go down to verse 4 you have sort of an optimistic note, “But you have” here’s the faithful few, here’s the remnant, “But you have a few people in Sardis who…” by the way, I have people today telling me that this is the present kingdom of God. Revelation 2 and 3 is the present kingdom of God, Jesus Christ is reigning on David’s throne over the church! Are you kidding me? This is a decaying dying church; it has nothing to do with the kingdom of God. In fact, it’s the opposite of the kingdom of God when the knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth.
What does he say here, “But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with Me in white for they are worthy.” Kind of like what he said back in Revelation 2:24 to the church at Thyatira, “’But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them– I place no other burden on you.” There was a remnant in Thyatira. There was a remnant in Sardis. There’s a remnant in the United States. The big question is are you part of that remnant? Are you involved in the ministry that’s aimed at that remnant. Was there not a remnant in Elijah’s day, 1 Kings 19:18. [1 Kings 19:18, “Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.”] There were 7,000 people. What did Elijah say? I’m the last one, Lord, I’m the last man standing. You ever gotten in that kind of mindset? No, you’re not the last man standing, there’s 7,000 people that think like you do. There is a remnant as God is my witness, not only in this country but all around the world. Christianity is having it’s problems but there’s the faithful few, there’s the remnant and he’s speaking here in verse 4 to the remnant.
By the way, the majority is not always right. There is a mindset today that says you determine truth by majority opinion. That’s not the Bible, that’s Americanism. In fact, if you really want to study this in the Bible what you’re going to discover is the majority is seldom right. Didn’t Jesus say “Enter through the narrow gate for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life and there are few who find it.” The majority is always right? No it’s not! The majority on the path to destruction is that five lane highway. The little narrow access road on the side is the road that leads to life. That’s where you’re going to find the remnant, the non-compromisers, the God-fearers.
And practical righteousness has its advantages. Did you know that the Book of James, chapter 5 and verse 16 puts it this way: “The effective prayer of a” what? “a righteous man avails much.” What does he mean by a righteous man? Is he talking there about positional righteousness. I don’t think that’s what James is addressing because the whole book is about practical things. What he’s saying is if you’re practically righteous, in other words, you are allowing your practice in daily life to catch up with your position that’s the prayer of a person that God hears.
Doesn’t Psalm 66;18 say “If I harbor iniquity in my heart the LORD will not” what? “not hear. Doesn’t He say in 1 Peter 3:7 the man who mistreats his wife then his prayers are what? Hindered. [1 Peter 3:7, “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.”] These are practical righteousness issues. You join the remnant, you join the faithful few, you join the minority, and your practice starts to catch up with your position. Those are the prayers God hears. Membership (if we can put it that way) has its privileges.
He moves away from the consequence and he gives an exhortation to the overcomers. In fact, what he says in verse 5 has caused so much confusion to people concerning the eternal security of the believer, and that’s such a mega problem I’m not even going to get into verse 5 right now. I’m going to save verse 5 for next time because there are people that sit and live in fear that their name is going to be erased from the Book of Life because they don’t think they’re overcoming enough and they serve God not out of gratitude and worship, they serve God out of fear because after all, it says right there in the Bible that God’s going to take some white out and erase your name from the Book of Life. And because of misapplication of that verse, that verse in and of itself needs a whole explanation which I don’t think I can do in five minutes. So we’ll be getting into that next time. But I think we’ve had enough for today, amen! The church at Sardis, the need to wake up and live for God under His resources.
You know, you could be here today and you may not even know Christ personally. Our exhortation to you here at Sugar Land Bible Church is to trust in what Jesus has done. Jesus said “It is finished!” Christianity is not about us and what we do for God; it’s about what God has done for us. We’re not reaching up to God, He’s reaching down to us in the person of Jesus Christ to tetelestai, it is finished, basically means paid in full. Everything’s been paid for through the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. There isn’t anything more to be done to bridge the gap between fallen humanity and a holy God other than to receive as a free gift what Jesus has done in our place. John 5:24 is very clear when Christ says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”
There’s only one verb there for the person that’s lost to satisfy which is to “believe” in Jesus Christ, trust Him, change your mind about Him, no longer trusting in yourself but trusting in Him and His completed work on the cross. That’s something that you can do right now in the quietness of your own mind and heart. If you happen to be listening via the internet or you happen to be in the building our exhortation to you is to respond to that convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit, to trust in Christ and Christ alone and receive in a nanosecond the gift of life. If it’s something you need more explanation on I’m available after the service to talk. But for the rest of us that have walked with the Lord for years we need to be mindful of the reality of spiritual death, how the life can be soaked and sucked out of our daily living because we put ourselves back in a works mindset. We simply need to abide in Him and let Him bring forth the fruit that He desires in our lives. If we do that as a church, if we do that as a country the best days of this church, the best days for your life, the best days for Sugar Land Bible Church, are not in the rear view mirror; they’re in front of you. And may God help us to be those kind of people. Shall we pray.
Father, we’re grateful for what You have revealed here concerning the church at Sardis and for the lessons that it teaches us today in modern times. We ask, Father, that You would help us to walk out these great truths this week. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus name, and God’s people said…. Amen.