The reason for this post—and all the posts on this site, I hope—is to challenge Christians to give their lives fully to the loving Lord God of the universe; to be willing to give up their own lives for the One who sacrificed His, our Savior, Jesus. With that in mind, we have been looking at the letters that Jesus wrote to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation. In this post, we will be looking at Jesus’ letter to the Christians at Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6.

At Sardis, Jesus said that the church had a reputation of being alive, but somehow they were actually dead. Like the churches at Ephesus and Thyatira, they were working: Jesus said, “I know your works.” However, their “works were not complete.” So, He commanded them to wake up. But He is not specific in His warning to them. What were they not doing?

How does a church have a reputation of being alive? Great question. Perhaps asking another question will help us. Is there a church in your town that you would consider alive? If so, why does it have that reputation?

It seems like the only way a person would think a church was alive would be through what they are doing. Clearly, these actions would be positive and seemingly life giving. Lots of activity. Lots of good-sounding spiritual talk. However, how would one know if that church was truly alive or not? The only evidence for such life is external. Unless a person had some inside knowledge about the lives of individual members, he just wouldn’t know.

But Jesus would. So, it is necessary for a Christian to listen to Jesus’ warnings and take his spiritual pulse to discover if he is just doing “Christian works” or if he is alive in Him.

There is a difference.

I am currently reading a book about the survivors of a suicidal cult, the Peoples Temple. Back in the 1970’s, over 900 of them killed themselves in Guyana by drinking cyanide-infused Kool-Aid. Some of them were injected with cyanide, including children. Before that horrendous event, they shot and killed a Congressman from California, who came to check them out. Before the group moved to South America, every weekend people would get on buses and travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco to attend the meetings. What they were doing was that compelling. I was amazed to discover that Jim Jones, who by his own admission did not believe in the Bible or in God, was performing miracles. People were healed through his “ministry.” However, his “church” was not a church at all—it was a political and social movement. It sounded good. Jones was always “preaching” about the downtrodden and the oppressed in the United States. People loved him for standing with poor blacks and Hispanics. The Peoples Temple stood against drugs and punished people who used—they beat them with a hose—but a subculture of drug use existed in that community. Jim Jones himself took illegal drugs. They stood against adultery and punished those who committed it, but Jim Jones himself was a blatant adulterer.

Admittedly, this is an extreme example of what might be defined as a “church”—but that’s what it was considered to be at the time. The point I’m trying to make is that this “church” was overflowing with good words and good works. In addition, Jim Jones was an attractive person, who drew people to himself via his beliefs, speaking ability, and “charisma.” In no way am I saying that churches in the United States bear any resemblance to the People’s Temple, but I regret to tell you that very many large churches in the United States are led by men who have strong personalities, and the reason people attend their churches is primarily the strength of those personalities. In addition, these churches are involved in good works, particularly helping the poor.

Attractive leaders. Good words. Good works.

However, do any of these attributes indicate that the people in such churches are alive? Is it possible to be in a church that looks like it’s alive with good words and works but is really dead or asleep? Apparently so. The church at Sardis was. They had a reputation for being alive.

Jesus does not deal in detail with what the Christians there were doing or not doing. He simply tells them to wake up and to strengthen what remains. He tells them to remember what they have received and heard, keep it, and repent. He then warns them that if they do not repent He will come like a thief and “come against” them.

I’m not sure what that means, but no Christian should desire the opposition of the Lord God Almighty.

Then Jesus gives us more information about the problem in Sardis. The people who were pleasing to Him had not soiled their garments.

How had the Sardinians soiled their garments?

This is an interesting question. It goes beyond committing sin, but it is about sinfulness. It goes beyond understanding that our righteousness is only in Christ, but it is about understanding the true nature of righteousness. Please allow me to explain.

It is a very simple step to move from finding one’s righteousness in Jesus alone—to being someone who is right in God’s sight—to doing things to maintain that position based upon one’s works. The true, righteous position is only maintained by faith and actively confessing to the Father that your own righteousness is—well, non-existent. When we become knowledgeable about Christianity, it doesn’t take long to figure out what is required in our churches—a few months. It doesn’t take long to “get on the bandwagon.” We’re active. We know the right words, the right attitudes, the right beliefs. We’re in. We’re good. We’re active. We’re serving. We’re “changing the world.” We’re helping the poor. However, if we’re not careful, we’re so right, so good, and so active that we leave the author of our righteousness and thus the basis for our relationship with God. Therefore, our garments become soiled. Our righteousness is not in Jesus alone. The most telling condemnation of this condition is in Matthew 7:21–23:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”1

What should we do in response to Jesus’ rebuke to the church at Sardis? They had good works and good talk, but they were dead, asleep. The answer is to ask the Lord to search your heart. Ask Him if you’re asleep, even though you’re certain you are awake. Ask Him if you need to repent. Stay active in faith, not simply in works. Make certain that you know Him, not just the right things to do, and the right way to talk. If you don’t, Jesus says He will come against you.

And, just so you know, I’m pausing here and praying these things right now.

1The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.