Revelation 3:1-6 ESV
“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.’”
What would cause a group of people who are called “the church” to have a reputation of being alive, but really they are dead, or mostly dead (see v. 2)? And let’s consider that question in light of the church today, or what is falsely called “church.” And more specifically, I will refer to the church in America, which is where I live, for it is the only one I know. If you live in another country, you can examine this same question in light of the church (or what is falsely called “church”) in your area.
So, I will begin by defining “church.” The word in the Greek is “ekklesia,” which is the whole body of Christians who have believed in Jesus Christ with God-given faith, and thus we were crucified with Christ in death to sin, and we were raised with him to walk in newness of life in him, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. And we are those who have been called out from the world and to God and to his kingdom, and who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ from our lives of living in sin to now walking in obedience to our Lord Jesus in righteousness, by God’s grace.
So, the church is not a building with or without a steeple on top. It is not a business incorporated under the state. It is not beholding to church denominations. And it is not a civic center or a place for good clean fun and entertainment. But this is what it has been turned into, but not Christ’s actual body. For the name “church” has been given to these institutions of human origin which are being marketed to the world just like any other human based business and its products. So, it is falsely being called “the church,” when it is not the church, even if true Christians join in with them.
Now, in the time period in which the books of the New Testament were written, including the book of Revelation, the church was still considered to be the body of Christ, and these letters are written to the entire body of Christ in particular cities. So, the church in Sardis was the body of Christ in the whole city of Sardis, and so they did not all meet together in one location, most likely. For they didn’t have buildings called “church” back then. The church was the people of God and they met in houses or wherever they could find places to meet (to gather). That is my understanding.
So, this would be like Jesus writing a letter to Christians in my entire city or in your entire city, regardless of denominational affiliation or location or building. But I am going to take this a little broader and include my whole country, for what I am seeing, hearing, and reading appears to apply to my whole nation and not just to my specific city. But there will be exceptions just like there were in Sardis, which is presented to us in verse 4. So some of this will not apply to all, but I believe it applies to the majority.
Now, I did not begin seeing this, the whole big picture, until 1999, and even then my understanding was very limited. I really began seeing more of the whole big picture beginning in November of 2004 after the Lord had called me to this specific ministry and he began opening up my eyes and my mind and heart to see what is really going on in the majority of what is called “church” here in America, but which includes much (or some) of the true body of Christ who are still joining in with them.
So, going back to the original question, I believe the reputation of being alive as “a church” here in America, from a worldly standpoint, has more to do with their activities, the quality and professionalism of their music (bands, praise teams), and whether or not the pastor is interesting and entertaining and culturally current (it used to be called “hip”). And their aliveness has to do more with their friendly atmosphere and their non-judgmentalism and their efforts to not be offensive nor to make people uncomfortable.
But in order to accomplish those goals, which are marketing goals, they have diluted and altered the character of God/Jesus and the gospel of our salvation in order to make them more acceptable and appeasing to human flesh and to the ungodly. So they bring God/Jesus down to our level and they do not teach them in their fulness. They remove God’s righteous requirements from the gospel message and they turn the gospel into a quick fix which gets you heaven guaranteed you while you continue living in sin.
What is commonly being referred to as “the church” here in America largely has a reputation of being “alive,” which is based mostly in what the world calls “alive,” yet they are either all the way dead or they are mostly dead because they have denied the Lord Jesus by their actions, and they have altered the character of God/Jesus Christ to make them more acceptable to human flesh, and they have done the same with the gospel. And so we have “churches” filled with people claiming faith in Jesus Christ who are still living like the ungodly of the world.
And so the call here is for these “churches” to repent of their sins and to wake up from their spiritual slumber or else the Lord will come like a thief in judgment against them – all the ones which are either all the way dead or mostly dead spiritually because they have rejected the Lord Jesus in favor of wanting the acceptance and patronage of the people of the world. And we read about that judgment, I believe, in Revelation 18:1-24 where we are being called to come out from among them so that we do not partake in their sins and in their punishment (Revelation 18:4-5).
But the entire body of Christ is not like this. There are exceptions. There are Christians who have not joined in with the ungodly and who are not compromising with the world in order to draw in large crowds of people from the world into their gatherings. There are Christians who are still holding to the truths of the Scriptures (in context) and who are walking in obedience to the Lord, and who are living morally pure and godly lives in the power of God and to the glory and praise of God. And they are worthy of the Lord.
Now, not everyone who professes faith in Jesus Christ is going to enter into God’s heavenly kingdom. Only the ones DOING the will of God will enter into God’s heaven. Only those who are walking (in conduct, in practice) according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh, who are walking in holiness and righteousness, and not in sin, will have the hope of eternal life with God. For if sin is what we practice, and if obedience and righteousness are not what we practice, then we will not enter into God’s heavenly kingdom, but we will face the wrath of God. So please take this to heart.
[Matt 7:21-23; Matt 24:9-14; Lu 9:23-26; Rom 1:18-32; Rom 2:6-8; Rom 6:1-23; Rom 8:1-14,24; Rom 12:1-2; Rom 13:11; 1 Co 6:9-10,19-20; 2 Co 5:10,15,21; 1 Co 1:18; 1 Co 15:1-2; 2 Tim 1:8-9; Heb 9:28; 1 Pet 1:5; Gal 5:16-21; Gal 6:7-8; Eph 2:8-10; Eph 4:17-32; Eph 5:3-6; Col 1:21-23; Col 3:5-17; 1 Pet 2:24; Tit 2:11-14; 1 Jn 1:5-9; 1 Jn 2:3-6,24-25; 1 Jn 3:4-10; Heb 3:6,14-15; Heb 10:23-31; Heb 12:1-2; Rev 21:8,27; Rev 22:14-15]
An Original Work / February 21, 2013
Based off Luke 9:22-25
Jesus, Son of God,
Died for us on a cross.
Anyone who would come to Him
Must deny himself and follow.
He must take up his cross daily;
Die to sin and self each day.
Father, God above,
Loved us so: gave His Son.
If you want to save your old life;
Keep on sinning, follow your ways,
You will lose your life forever;
Hope of heaven gone away.
Spirit of our God
Gives us life in God’s Son.
Nonetheless, if you die to self;
Forsake your sin; follow Jesus,
You will live with God in heaven,
And forever praise His name!