And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, “These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but 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.’” NKJV
Sardis – Description of Jesus
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. (John 14:16-17a NLT)
But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me. (John 15:26-27 NLT)
Jesus says that the Father is the One who gives the Holy Spirit after Jesus has asked. Later, Jesus makes it sound like He is sending the Holy Spirit. Are we getting confused or have we stumbled on some verses in which the Bible contradicts itself?
He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:14-15 RSV)
That helped explain it, didn’t it? I think that this is another example of the order that we can see in God. As I mentioned in the previous chapter about the church in Thyatira, Jesus has subjected Himself to the Father. Now it becomes evident that the Holy Spirit has subjected Himself to Jesus. Even though Jesus has the authority to have the Holy Spirit act on His behalf, He asks the Father first. This demonstrates the unity of the Trinity. Even though God is three persons in one, they don’t act independently of each other. We won’t get one message from the Holy Spirit, another from Jesus, and a third from the Father. That is why the Bible is remarkable in consistency.
The conclusion is that Jesus is God. And it is this same person who holds the churches. It is He who knows our deeds, our reputation (most translations) and even more importantly, He knows our hearts and whether or not our reputations are true. However, it is more difficult for us to know if people are saved or not based on their deeds; they could simply have a good reputation.
And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. (Matt 6:16 NASB)
One hint toward knowing if people are saved is whether or not they call attention to their good deeds. If they are concerned about being noticed by others, then there is a possibility that they are hypocrites and will not receive an eternal reward for their accomplishments. A reputation without knowing Jesus is worth nothing to God.
There is no commendation for this church because it is dead. Jesus identifies Himself with the Holy Spirit because they are spiritually dead and don’t have the Holy Spirit. Yet, even in a dead church, there are a few believers, those who have not soiled their clothes and are worthy.
Jesus bluntly tells this church that they are dead and that they need to wake up. He also says that even though they have a good reputation, their deeds are not complete in the sight of God. It sounds like they need to do something more to be saved, otherwise, they won’t be ready when Jesus comes like a thief in the night.
Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. (Luke 12:35-36 NKJV)
We must be dressed and ready for service. The church in Sardis was dead because they were not dressed in righteousness, as contrasted to the few who hadn’t soiled their clothes. We also need to have the lights burning. We need light to be able to recognize who the Master is and acknowledged Him. 1 Thess 5:19 tells us not to put out the Holy Spirit’s fire. We need to let Him burn within us to motivate us, to guide us, to show us the truth. It isn’t as if servants don’t get to rest and sleep once in a while, but at a knock they don’t have to stagger around in the dark, get dressed, and do anything to get ready.
After the parable, Peter asked to whom the parable was applicable. Jesus replied by describing two types of servants. (Luke 12:42-48) Both know what the Master wants of them. The first obeys and is rewarded. The second disobeys, abusing his position and is beaten even more than one who doesn’t know what the Master wants. The church leaders at Sardis were likely of the type that knows the Lord’s will but abuses the flock. From the outside they have the trappings of a church that is doing the will of God, including many good works. Perhaps they were like the Pharisees who lay a burden of salvation by works on the people but were themselves unable to enter the kingdom of heaven.
The first thing to note is that knowing God’s will does not make a person a Christian. The servant who knew the master’s will but didn’t do it was punished. God doesn’t inflict this kind of punishment on Christians. The second thing to note is that a person can’t escape punishment by claiming ignorance. The servant who did things deserving of punishment without knowing his master’s will was also punished. Finally, a person can know God’s will and do it without being a Christian which was not addressed in the parable.
How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? (Gal 3:3NLT)
We are saved when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us by faith in Jesus. Our spirits are born again – meaning they now have life whereas before they were dead like those in the church in Sardis. We can’t maintain our salvation by our own efforts either. It is only by the Holy Spirit that our salvation is maintained.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10 RSV)
We work because we are saved, not in order to achieve or maintain salvation. Good works are a demonstration that we are saved, but not proof that we are saved.
But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. (1 Thess 5:4-6 NASB)
But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess 5:8-9 NASB)
The difference between a believer in the church and someone in the church who really doesn’t know the Lord is evidenced by their awareness of light and dark. If we are spiritually alive, then we have Jesus living in us and He is the light of men (John 1:4). We therefore belong to the day and will be self controlled and alert. Those who are spiritually dead aren’t in control of themselves because they aren’t even aware that they aren’t in the light. Before we come to Christ and are cleansed by His blood, we are all wearing soiled clothes just like those in Sardis who were found wanting in Jesus’ eyes. They were not wearing the breastplate of faith and love or the hope of salvation as a helmet. What other kinds of clothes might they have? Most likely, they were wearing their own achievements as their hope of salvation.
1 Thess 5:9 is a key verse to remember. God has not appointed His people to suffer wrath and that means we will never undergo any pain, suffering or punishment because He is angry with us. It doesn’t mean we will never suffer, but any suffering is never a result of His wrath. Jesus says that He will not erase our names from the book of life and will acknowledge us before His Father if we have put on faith, love, and hope in Jesus instead of works or any other things. The majority in Sardis had not yet completed the “work” of believing in Jesus’ death on the cross as the only thing that could save them.
Jesus also tells the church to strengthen what is about to die. If the church is about to die, why strengthen it? It is because the Church is precious in the sight of our Lord. Every congregation is important and He doesn’t want us to give up as long as there are a few who still have the life of Jesus in them. It is like Judah before the Babylon captivity and the number of times the Lord warned them that they would be conquered if they didn’t change their ways. After they were conquered God still provided a remnant in Jerusalem. The remnant had a monumental task to rebuild the wall. The remnant in any dying church has a monumental task to strengthen the church so that it won’t die.
Neh 2:11-20 tells how Nehemiah approached the task of rebuilding the wall. This could be a pattern for strengthening a church. The first thing he did was secretly examine the damage. He probably did it in secret so that he wouldn’t have to deal with opposition until he was ready. He then explained to the leaders what God had laid on his heart to do. As he did this, he also explained what God had already accomplished toward that goal. In a dying church, the leaders may not be those formally in charge. The government officials at that time were not consulted, only the spiritual leaders of the remnant. Finally, he expected rebuke and opposition but kept his focus on the Lord. The task of reviving a dead church can only be done by the power of the Holy Spirit through those He has called to action.
Counsel and Warning
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Rom 10:17 ESV)
Obviously you can’t believe in something that you have never heard about. The first step to salvation is hearing about the good news of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. There are other facts that also need to be heard as part of the message of salvation. However, as Jesus indicates, you can’t just hear the message and be saved. When He tells them to remember what they have received, they need to examine it and gain an understanding. Many museums have found great treasures in their storerooms because someone forgot that they were there. They had already received the treasures but they had to examine them to find out their worth. Many liturgical churches preach the Gospel every Sunday; however they are so wrapped up in their ritualistic cobwebs that most of the people have no idea that the salvation message is there, waiting to be received.
Obedience is another crucial step. What needs to be obeyed? Which regulations? What if I mess up in one area but do all right in others? If you are still asking these questions, then you have missed one of the most important concepts of the Gospel. Obedience is an exercise of faith, not a means of salvation. A lack of obedience demonstrates a lack of faith.
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36 NASU)
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6-7 NIV)
The first step of obedience is to trust and believe that Jesus is the only one who can save us. Faith means trusting in Jesus alone for your salvation. If you are trusting in how good you are, that there is some other way, that you were baptized in one church or another, then you aren’t trusting in Jesus. Jesus said in Luke 6:46 (KJV)
And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
If we really believe who He is and what He did, then our faith will result in obedience.
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38 KJV)
Repent - Metanoeo (met-an-o-eh’-o); to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider (morally, feel compunction). 
The definition of the Greek word for repent speaks a mouthful about what repentance really is. Consider those at Sardis who had all the knowledge about Jesus but were trusting in their reputation. To repent means that they had to change their minds about the means of salvation. Most people have to change their minds about something before they can be saved. For each of us it may be something different. An atheist must change his mind about the existence of God. Most of us have to change our minds about our behavior and the fact that we can’t earn enough brownie points to make up for our sins. In short, we need to admit we are sinners and can’t save ourselves. Most of us also have to change our minds and believe that salvation comes only through Jesus. We must also acknowledge that God punishes sin (the real meaning of His wrath) and that He has provided the way so that we don’t have to be punished. This change of mind is called repentance. It isn’t a choice; God has commanded that we make this change of mind.
Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30 NKJV)
God responds different to a believer who repents and a sinner. When a sinner repents, he is turning to God, which is somewhere he has never been. When a believer repents, he is acknowledging that he has strayed from obedience. God forgives the sinner and gives him righteousness (clean clothes). The Christian who has strayed is still righteous, although out of fellowship. After repentance, God brings us back into fellowship with each other and with Jesus.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. (1 John 1:7 KJV)
Israel gives us a good example of unbelievers who need to repent and their state.
Therefore, I will judge each of you, O people of Israel, according to your actions, says the Sovereign Lord. Repent, and turn from your sins. Don't let them destroy you! Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O people of Israel? I don't want you to die, says the Sovereign Lord. Turn back and live! (Ezek 18:30-32 NLT)
The people of Israel were dead in their sins; they needed a new heart and a new spirit. They were promised a new heart and spirit if they would repent. If they didn’t they would die. Their death was a result of God’s wrath.
Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Wilt thou be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail? Therefore thus says the Lord: "If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me.” (Jer 15:18-19a RSV)
Jeremiah had one of the toughest jobs of all the prophets when he had to witness to the nation of Judah. He suffered much at the hands of his countrymen and at times got angry with God because of it. In his anger, he got out of fellowship with the Lord. This was much worse for him than the beatings and imprisonment he suffered. People out of fellowship may suffer heartache, bitterness, and other illnesses. This is not God’s wrath, but His divine discipline. The answer to any believer who is out of fellowship is the same answer that the Lord gave Jeremiah. Repent and you will be restored to service. Even in the Old Testament the difference between an unbeliever and a believer repenting is life from death versus restoration.
And he said to him, “Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, “Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matt 22:12-14 NASB)
Have you read this parable about a man who gets into the Prince’s wedding supper without the proper clothes and wonder how he got in there? It sounds like he must have been one of the many in the church at Sardis. He was in the church and thought he was a Christian. Jesus is making it clear to those who heard the parable and to those in Sardis that salvation doesn’t come by association with those who are saved. Jesus, who has done the work that is required for salvation, provides the clothes.
Jesus sheds some more light on the concept of overcoming. Those who overcome will, like the ones who have not soiled their clothes, be dressed in white. “He that overcomes or conquers” is an address to all people to repent and wake up as described in Rev 3:3. It is a request for them to put on clean clothes that have already been provided. They can only put them on by faith, not works. Overcoming is done by faith and, of course, faith is a gift of God. Jesus is addressing unbelievers who have associated themselves with a church but have not been saved. Since the few are dressed in white already, He is not addressing them. When we see a challenge to overcome, it is directed to unbelievers. The promises that are given to overcomers have already been provided to believers. We who believe have already overcome and Jesus has clothed us.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isa 61:10 ESV)
Even in the Old Testament, the prophets knew that salvation and righteousness were gifts given to them by God. They didn’t work to get them, but received them in faith. Even as far back as Adam and Eve when God substituted the skins of animals for the fig leaves that Adam and Eve had made for themselves, God used clothing as a symbol for providing us His righteousness. The picture of salvation through the shedding of blood was made clear because the death of animals was required to cover their sin. Their own works (fig leaves) were not sufficient to cover sins. Only God’s provision could do that. That symbology was again portrayed in the Jewish sacrificial system and then finally culminated when Jesus offered Himself for our sins.
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. (Zech 3:1 NIV)
Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, "Take off his filthy clothes." Then he said to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you." (Zech 3:3-4 NIV)
The whole of this chapter is a marvelous description of what the Lord had in mind for salvation. He snatches us from the fires of hell and the accusing hand of Satan. He removes our sins and He provides us with His righteousness. It is only after Joshua has been cleansed that he receives instructions that he needs to obey.
“Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you — indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch. For behold, the stone that I have set before Joshua; on one stone are seven eyes. Behold, I will engrave an inscription on it,” declares the Lord of hosts, “and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. In that day,” declares the Lord of hosts, “every one of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and under his fig tree.” (Zech 3:8-10 NASU)
The Lord even tells us that this is symbolic of the future. The rock is Jesus with the seven fold Spirit of God. When He died, he removed all sin in a single day. Now we have the work to go and invite others to come to Him, the Branch.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:25-27 KJV)
Focus this time on Jesus as the One who cleans us up. Out of love for us He does all the work. He is both bridegroom and Father. Usually the Father gives the bride away, but Jesus is the everlasting Father (Isa 9:6) so this makes even more sense. He presents us to Himself totally clean and blameless. Overcoming is not something we can do by ourselves. It is what He does for us. We become overcomers when we receive by faith what He has already provided.
The Book of Life
And the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.” (Ex 32:33 NKJV)
Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, And not be written with the righteous. (Ps 69:28NKJV)
… And at that time your people shall be delivered, Every one who is found written in the book. (Dan 12:1 NKJV)
Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10:20 NKJV)
And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life. (Phil 4:3 NKJV)
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven … (Heb 12:22-23 NKJV)
Moses knew of the fact that the Lord wrote our names in a “book” in heaven. Sin will blot our names from it. The righteous are written in the book of life. Deliverance will come to those who are written in the book. Believers in Christ are identified as those who have their name in the book of life. The church of the firstborn was comprised only of believers. These have their names written in heaven.
In Rev 3:5 Jesus makes it clear that there are some who will never be erased from the book. This theme of the book of life and who is written in it will be expanded as Jesus unfolds His revelation to John.
And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. (Rev 13:8 NASB)
The beast that you saw was and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and to go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth will wonder, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. (Rev 17:8 NASB)
Not everyone will have their names written in the book of life, only the ones that belong to Jesus. Those who do not have their names in book of life do not have spiritual discernment. They will worship the Antichrist as their god. As discussed earlier, they really don’t know they are in the darkness.
I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God's throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev 20:12-15 NLT)
It isn’t until we get to the end that we discover that there are at least two books. One that simply records the deeds of all people, and another, called the book of life. The books containing deeds (note the plural) are used to judge those who do not have their name in the book of life. This judgment is not for believers. It is the judgment of the dead. Believers have already been resurrected. If a person is not a believer, then the idea that his name is written in heaven is not good because his name is written only in the books containing deeds. Along with his name is a list of all that he has done. If any one of those deeds is a sin, and his name isn’t in the book of life, then his end is in the fiery lake.
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. (James 2:10 KJV)
Jesus has paid for the charges in the books of deeds. When he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30) it meant the same as “the debt has been paid.” When we accept His death for our sins, our name is written in the book of life. We escape this judgment because our names are in the book of life. Not only that, but God has blotted out our sins from the books with our deeds.
I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isa 43:25 RSV)
In the Old Testament, the blood of animals was used to cover the sins of the people (Heb 9:7). In the same way, the blood of Jesus shed on the cross covers over our sins. Therefore, when God looks into the books of deeds, He will see only a line that has been blotted out by the blood of Jesus. It will be unreadable. Not only that, but He said in Isaiah that He will not remember our sins. The Bible doesn’t say He forgets our sins because He is omniscient. Instead, He has made a choice and never brings them up again.
As a side note, when we forgive someone we may not forget the offence but when we remember it, we shouldn’t bring it up again. In this way we can forgive the same as God has forgiven us (Eph 4:32).
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24-25NASB)
Will God display our sins for everyone to see? Not if they have been blotted out by the blood of Christ. Not only that, but when we stand before Him we will be blameless. He will look at us and not see any fault. We will have great joy because the glory goes to Jesus and none of it to us. If our sins were to be displayed, then we would not have joy but grief.
But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev 21:27 ESV)
If your name is not in the Lamb’s book of life, then you will not be able to enter into the city of God.
The information about the books has been revealed little by little throughout the Bible. God does this with other things also. That is why it is important not to take a single passage on a subject and develop a doctrine. All of the Bible should be included in the study to see what the Lord has revealed. Taking only the Exodus passages could definitely produce a doctrine that you can lose your salvation.
Acknowledged Before the Father
Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. (Matt 10:32-33 NIV)
One of the things that Evangelism Explosion emphasizes is that a person must be willing to confess that Jesus is Lord. This is not a deed that we must do in order to be saved, but it is an acknowledgement of what has occurred. If a person will not acknowledge this, then it is probably true that Jesus is not his Lord. For those of us who do acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and Savior, He will give us a personal introduction to the Father. Isn’t that simply awesome to contemplate?
On the other hand, the thought that Jesus will actually disown someone before the Father should cause us to examine our relationship with Jesus. Am I really willing to confess Jesus as my Lord in all circumstances or do I have a mental reservation that says, “He will understand if I deny Him because of …” As we look at the book of Revelation, it will come clear that those who overcome are those who are willing to die for the name of Jesus. We must be prepared for this and He will take us through it.
“For which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren,” (Heb 2:11b KJV)Even with all of the accusations that the devil hurls against us, Jesus is not ashamed of us. Without His righteousness, only one accusation would be needed to convict us and send us to hell. So maybe those in the church at Sardis were not willing to acknowledge Jesus publicly. If so, that could be one of the deeds that they need to complete.
Church History - Churches Today
The reformation church was one that was resting on the past as far as the majority of people were concerned. The Holy Spirit was upon a few such as Luther, but the torch was not yet in the hands and hearts of most people. We sometimes credit Luther with much more than he did. Yes, he brought the true doctrine of salvation by faith back, but traditions and rituals were still part of the reformation church and they tend to hinder more than help people understand salvation.
This could happen to any church. There are many who now go to large Bible-believing churches because of their great reputations. They can be part of the church by attending or watching TV without being connected to other members, being involved in service, or even knowing the Lord. I don’t think these churches are anywhere near the danger of death as the church at Sardis, but they need to be alert. However, for any church that doesn’t have membership requirements, it is very dangerous because there is no process to make sure those who serve are believers.
The Presbyterian Church and Methodists are probably much closer to this than others are. The Presbyterian committee on evangelism for the whole denomination was making the rounds to different churches several years ago. They wanted to get evangelism going again but weren’t able to get much stirred up. You could see that they had been riding on their past achievements. In the 1940’s they had been active, going door-to-door one night every week. It is really sad to think that the majority of denominations now considered it an infringement on people’s privacy to do that.
Let’s remember that Jesus knows not only our reputation but also what is in our heart. Let’s make sure that we aren’t resting on our reputation, but walking with Him dressed in white. For then, we will have the assurance of knowing our names are written in the book of life and that Jesus will acknowledge use before the Father.