1 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.
I need to remind you that only two groups of people exist in our world. The two groups consist of those who are saved, and those who are lost. In our text today we shall discover the lost are comprised of some who take part in the visible church.
I must say, it is generally easy to discern the lost who live outside the professing Christian church. However, it is not so easy to discern the lost who profess Christianity, and thus have a name that they live, and yet are not born again.
This problem is widespread across Christendom in both the Catholic and the Protestant arms of the visible church. As well, this problem exists in sections of the visible church that do not identify with either Catholicism or the various Protestant denominations. Various evangelicals or independent fellowships of professed believers have this same problem.
I trust you will listen carefully as everyone participating in a Christian church needs to examine themselves. I am afraid in the spiritual climate now existing especially in America the words of Christ find widespread application. Hear me well: just because you attend a church that professes to be Christian does not mean you are a Christian. In fact, I am afraid if Jesus comes on a Sunday morning many congregations of people will not know anything has happened until they walk outside the building following the closing prayer.
As you may know, the Lord gave the book of the Revelation while John was imprisoned on the isle of Patmos. The Apostle says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia: unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.”
The personalized messages to these churches came from the Lord Jesus Christ who appeared to John and commissioned him to write what he saw (and heard) and send it to the churches. We would do well to recognize from the example of these seven churches the glorified Christ, who alone is the head of the authentic church comprised of those born of His Spirit, walks among the various local bodies of believers wherever they may reside. He knows the condition of those churches that began as authentic bodies of genuine believers. He knows if those churches remain true to Him, or if they need repentance.
Sadly, the church in Sardis sank to a dire spiritual condition. Jesus said they had a name that they lived, but in fact they were dead! In name they were Christian, but the majority lacked the new birth and were spiritually dead. The condition of this church toward the end of the apostolic era typifies many professing Christians down through the church age, who as the Lord warned elsewhere in Scripture, become “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness (a form of our religion if you please), but deny the power (the authority) thereof: from such turn away” (2 Tim. 3:4-8).
Those who possess only a form of Christianity are no better off than the lost world around them. Like the world, they are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Rather, they resist the truth, are men of corrupt minds, and are reprobate concerning the faith. We are to turn away from them because they are not a part of the authentic church.
Again, from our text Jesus says to the unregenerate within the professing church, “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” (Rev. 3:3).
May I say this kindly: we need a whole lot of preaching to the church these days because our churches are filled with a few generations who have received the authentic gospel from previous generations of genuine believers, but who have not acted on that gospel. I can preach that with confidence because our Lord says he will “come on them as a thief” and “they shall not know what hour” he will come on them. The authentic church is not in darkness and the day of the Lord’s return will not come on them as a thief (1 Thess. 5:4).
May I ask you a question: have you responded to the Biblical gospel, or are you a Christian in name only? Have you surrendered your life to Christ and are you now watching for His return?
You will notice Jesus says in verse three of our text, “If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief.” The Lord Jesus is calling those in the visible church to a place of repentance. No one in the visible church has the right to water down the Word of God and turn from the authority of the Word of God and the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
No one in the church has the right to pervert what they were taught and what they have heard, rather they need to fully embrace and hold fast the “word which by the gospel” was preached unto them (Cf. 1 Peter 1:25b). Remember, therefore and repent. Apart from personal repentance one is NOT watching for the return of Christ and such a person is NOT saved, regardless of participation in some form of church life.
My friends, it is a startling thing to be involved in church and hear Jesus say to you, “I will come on you as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.” But this is exactly what Jesus is saying to many in our world today.
In contrast to those in the visible church who have a name that they live but are dead, there are a few names which have not defiled their garments; and Jesus says, “they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy” (3:4).
Despite a worldly church that is busy abandoning the Word of the living God, there are a few who refuse to defile their garments. As Brother James says it in his epistle to the church, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
Those who know the Lord are actually serving the Lord! Those who know the Lord do not ignore His call to personal holiness. Those who know the Lord keep their garments clean, that is, they have a heart to avoid sin. If you have no heart to avoid sin, then you are not yet born again. You may think of yourself as a Christian, but if you can openly serve sin you are a Christian in name only. You are yet dead in sins and trespasses.
Jesus says, “He that overcomes, the same shall be clothed in white raiment.” With these words our Lord is most certainly alluding to the battle that takes place in the human heart at the point of decision. If you are going to walk with the Lord Jesus in his heaven, then you must overcome the spirit of this world that bids you to enjoy sin for a season. You must overcome the spirit of this world that invites you to take sides against the Word of God and remain unrepentant. You must overcome the lie that you are a Christian when in your heart you have no desire to obey the Word of the living God.
Now I finish with our Lord’s words in verse 5: “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.”
Perhaps you will disagree with me, but I understand the book of life in the following light. The book of life is not a roll of those who are saved, but rather a list of those for whom Christ died, that is, all humanity—all of Adam’s race. Elsewhere, this book is known as the Lamb’s book of life.
Jesus is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. In as much as he is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) his book of life contains the names of every man and woman, all the descendants of Adam. However, only those who believe upon him have the promise found in Revelation 3:5. How wonderful it is to know that Jesus will never blot out the names of those who overcome the spirit of this world and confess him before men. On the other hand, all unbelievers will have their name blotted out of the book of life.
What about you? Do you have a name that you live, but you are dead? Is your heart surrendered to Christ? If not, your life will tell on you. Sadly if you persist in your religious but lost condition one day the Lord Jesus will blot your name out of his book.