“… I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead”
In the four previous letters to the churches that we have looked at, Jesus had something to commend the churches for. In the letter to the church of Sardis, however, Jesus begins with a serious indictment. “You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” The church was self-deceived about its spiritual condition. They thought they were doing well and thriving. They didn’t seem to have the problem with false teachers that the other churches had; and since we don’t read about any persecution taking place, they must have gotten along well (compromised) with their Roman and Jewish neighbors. So what was the problem? Well, from the body of the letter, we can deduce the following:
- They were spiritually asleep and about to die. We see this from Jesus’ command in v.2, commanding them to “wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die.” The church had become spiritually complacent. They lost sight of their purpose to be a light in a dark world, by preaching and living out the gospel. They had become self-sufficient, relying on their own resources instead of the Holy Spirit. They had become content with having the form of Christianity, but without its substance, namely, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and an intimate and growing relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
- People were no longer committed to walking in holiness. We can see this from v.4, where Jesus says, “Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments.” Only a few individuals in the church were keeping themselves unspotted from the world.
The Lord in His mercy comes to the church in Sardis to awaken them out of their spiritual complacency before they die. In verses 2 and 3, He gives them the cure that would heal them of the cancer of spiritual complacency. First they must wake up to the reality of their spiritual condition, and then fan to a flame those spiritual embers that are ready to die. They were also to bring to mind the things that they had received and heard and to keep them; and finally to repent of their waywardness and to turn to the Lord. If they refused to obey, then He would come suddenly and inflict judgment on them; but if they heeded His commands, they would then have the privilege of walking with Him in white, and He would acknowledge their names before His Father and the angels of heaven.
May the Lord deliver us from spiritual complacency and nominalism, and help us to make much of Jesus today.