“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.’”
Big Idea: Whether you are waking up from spiritual torpor or already walking with the Lord, you must constantly return to the very basics of what Jesus has done for you.
I. Wake Up The primary issue Jesus raises with the church in Sardis is that they are spiritually dead. It seems that these Christians are “dead” because they are just going through the motions in serving the Lord. Their worship, evangelism, discipleship, fellowship and works of mercy are perfunctory. There are two things these Christians – and us – are called to when we find that we have been going through the motions.
A. Strengthen: First, these Christians are called to “strengthen what remains.” In other words, just because we have previously done things in a perfunctory way or done them with imperfect motives, does not mean that we must quit doing them. Instead, they must be done with a heart full of love for Christ. They must be done in grateful response to Jesus.
B. Remember: The only way to reinvigorate our hearts to live and serve in this way is to “remember what we have received and heard.” In the Bible, this is always a reference to the message of the gospel, what Jesus did to save us.
II. Walk Jesus says that there is a remnant in Sardis who still “walk” with him. That is, are his constant companions who stay close by even when it is unpopular to be seen with him. They are not occasional friends but loyal and devoted ones. A Christian whose “works are complete” is one who is never ashamed of being associated with Jesus. Constantly remembering what he has done for you will compel you to stay near him in obedience and stand with him even when it seems like the whole world is ridiculing you.
A. Away from “Christians”: Jesus compares those who walk with him to priests wearing white unsoiled garments. John has already told us in chapter one that Jesus’ loving sacrifice made us to be a kingdom of priests and Paul explains that our primary priestly duty is to take the gospel to unbelievers so they can be reconciled to the Father. By his own example, Jesus teaches us that such priestly ministry for our lost friends and neighbors begins with a heart of love and compassion for them, which compels us to “sanctify” ourselves. That is, we set ourselves apart in holy living so that we might pray effectively on their behalf as well as hold out to them an attractive alternative to the life they are living (Jn. 17).
B. Toward Your Name: If you have been blending in with the crowd and soiling your garments to make them look like everyone else’s then Jesus holds out this invitation to repent. He says that even if you are near the end of your life, there is still the possibility of walking with him in “garments of white.” It will be by repenting now and overcoming at the end.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- As you survey your own heart, are there any ways in which you have been living/serving in a perfunctory, “dead” way or with impure motives?
- What lead you to engage in those ministries or programs in the first place? In what way does the gospel motivate you to strengthen what remains?
- Are there any areas in your life in which you may have allowed yourself to compromise because it was easier to fit in than “sanctify” yourself?
- What assurance does the gospel give you that you will be forgiven and transformed if you repent?
For Further Study: The book referenced was Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love (Focus Publishing, 2008).