What They Did Wrong
God doesn’t only know what we do, but He knows why we do it. We cannot surprise God. This is both peaceful and scary. Peaceful, because God already knows every sin we are ever going to commit, yet He still loves us and sent His son for us. Scary, because God knows the motive and intent behind everything we do or say. This obviously includes worship and works in His name. Jesus, in the context of Matthew 7, is speaking of those legalistic Pharisees, who, a lot of times, speak truth with their mouths and in their deeds, but in their hearts they are their own gods. Pride and self-righteousness is the center of their religion. Jesus said that not everyone who says to Him “Lord” will enter into the kingdom. He will tell the people who do all of His works without heart that they must depart from Him because they did not do the will of the Father. But wait, if they did all of these works, did they not by implication do the will of the Father? Not necessarily, because the will of the Father is so much more than physical religious commands. What was Jesus’ reason for telling them to depart? He said that they did not have relationship with (know) Him. It does not matter how much work a Christian does if it is not with the intent of building their relationship or someone else’s relationship with God, then it is vain.
In Psalm 51, Micah 8, Matthew 23, and etc., We are told that there are weightier matters of the law. Some things are more important than others. Obviously this doesn’t mean we neglect the others on purpose. However, it does mean that the weightier matters should be our main focus. God desires humility, relationship, loyalty, justice, faith, love, and a broken and contrite heart above anything else. We cannot earn our salvation. There is not enough sermons, songs, laws, deeds, programs, or attendance in the world to earn our salvation and save us from our sins. We are to work through faith, but our work must be in order to bring glory to God.
They were asleep! Obedience without heart is not really obedience. The works you do will not be complete if you are asleep. God’s children are to be alive and alert. Always striving to do His will in heart, word, and deed. They should always strive to have relationship with Him. They should always strive to tell others of the hope that is within them.
This angered God so much that He says that He will come unexpectedly, like a thief would in the night. This in reminiscent of Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 concerning the day of final judgment. Paul uses this imagery in Thessalonians, saying that as Christians, you should always be alert and awake. A Christian is a child of the light. Day is when people are about and paying attention. Day is when people are sober-minded. However, children of darkness are not of God. Dark represents night when people are asleep, drunk or delirious. You do not pay attention to what you do or why you do it in the dark. You do not think clearly.
There is no thief in the night so-to-speak in the Christians life. They are always alert and looking forward to the Lord’s coming. They are always in the light (1 John 1:7). But for those who are not Christians, or are Christians who are drifting away, there are times of ignorance and delirium. They will be surprised and ill-prepared when the Lord comes. Your relationship as a Christian must be right for God. A person of faith should always seek to do things with the right motivation.
There is Hope
Notice in verse 3 that there is hope for these who have fallen asleep. God is, and has always been, a God of hope. This is not a new concept with God. Not only was He like this with Jesus and Paul and the rest of His leaders, but He was even like this in the Old Testament. In the context of Deuteronomy 4 Moses is addressing Israel. They have received the Law from him, and now he is explaining it to them one last time before they enter Canaan. Moses, as a consequence to a sin he earlier committed, was not allowed to enter the promised land, so this is the last sermon he preached before his passing. He urges them to stay away from sinfulness and idolatry. He pleas for them to stay away from anyone who might lead them that direction. He tells them that they will be lost from the Lord and out relationship with Him if they do such things. Then Moses says these beautiful words in verse 24: “But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” With passion and sincerity he proclaimed to them the Gospel. That word “but” is one of the most amazing things we can ever read concerning hope. It is so simple, however holds such meaning. This incredible word preaches the good news of God’s great hope. No matter how lost someone might be, God always supplies hope. If we seek Him with all of our heart and soul, we will find Him.
There was still life in these Christians in Sardis. God pleas with them to strengthen what life is left. Just because these brothers and sisters were close to being dead, does not mean that they were dead. Dis-fellowship is a real thing. It should be practiced, but it should be practiced with great caution and grace. A person who is not yet dead should never be treated as if they were dead. Instead this individual should be encouraged and admonished with great love and respect.
The Book of Life
There is reward for those who overcome. That reward is an appearance of beauty and purity in order to stand before your Father God in His spiritual kingdom. A reward of being in His magnificent presence for all of eternity. A reward of being in a land where there is no crying,nor sadness, nor fear. A reward of being called by name, out of His precious book of life. This book holds the seal of our citizenship in God’s country.
Those who overcome in verse 5 of chapter 3 have the privilege and the promise of having their specific name written in the Lamb’s book of life. “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.” Those who are in a constant lifestyle of repentance; turning towards God and His will. Those who immerse themselves in the works of love. Those who have a heart that is motivated by the love of Christ. Those who stay faithful. These people are written in the most important book of all.
However, by implication this means that those who do not endure will not have their names written in the book of life. This is important because, as was mentioned earlier, the book of life is the proof of our citizenship. If your name is not mentioned in this book, you do not receive the rewards mentioned above. The only thing left for such a person is hell; the absence of God and His hope. A place with no happiness are peace. A place filled with fear and confusion. Everything opposite of God. So, to not heed this warning could be devastating.
There are some who believe that once a person is saved they cannot be lost. This verse debunks such a theory. These people will bring up such verses as John 10:27-28 which says: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” They say that one can take God’s sheep away. God’s sheep will never perish. God’s sheep have eternal life. They say that this means that once you became one of His sheep, you can not fall; no matter what! But notice how there are qualifiers listed at the beginning of these two verses. His sheep are those who hear (which means obey) him, those who know (which means have a relationship with Him), and those who follow (which implies movement and maturity). If someone, at one point, had all of these qualities, but then neglected them, the person no longer qualifies as one worthy to be called a sheep. Furthermore, Galatians 5:4 even specifically says that some from the church at Galatia had fallen from grace. The word “fallen” implies that there was something to fall from. This means they were once in grace, but then they left the grace they were in. Salvation cannot be lost, but it can be neglected!
If a Christian does not endure in a life of faithfulness and repentance he will not be saved in the book of life. His name will be blotted out! But there is always hope!
So, let us rewind and approach this story in a way that is both practical and easy to understand. Imagine yourself in the first century A.D., during the time of Roman rule. You are a citizen of Sardis, which is part of the Roman empire. For the sake of literary understanding, call yourself Stephen, and put yourself into the story.
You, as Stephen, are a slave in one of the more wealthy and lively cities in the Roman province. One day, you are going about your business, walking through the market place after worshiping a false god that you are not even sure you believe in, and a man walks up. This man is no ordinary man, he is a man who claims to have news that will change your life. Usually, a man with such wisdom, charisma, and oratory talent would charge you for his presentation. This man, however, charges nothing, but says “His grace is sufficient for me.”
This is different and strange, so you listen. The man tells you that there is one God who created all the heavens and the earth. This God made you for a purpose, and that purpose is to call you His son, and for you to bring the rest of His children to Him. He explains that the guilt and emptiness that you have felt all of your life is the missing relationship with your Father. He proclaims that your Father’s holiness is so great that He cannot be in relationship with that which is unholy. This makes sense to you, but what are you to do? The man has an answer! This God sent His only begotten son to live as a human, to understand, and to suffer as you have suffered. This sinless son died and bore your guilt and shame so that you may have a relationship with your father. His son raised from the dead on the third day, and now, just like you are dead in sin, you can be raised with new life. All you have to do to receive this beautiful gift is to have an active faith.
You accept this message and become a Christian. Out of fear, you do good, but with a dead heart. You are so excited to please God, but at the same time you are so paranoid that he may strike you with you do not do His will perfectly. Eventually, this legalistic way becomes routine and you start to die spiritually. You lose your love and zeal. You do works for God, but your heart is not in it. You have emptiness within you. Your spirit is void.
What is missing? Are you not doing what He asked of you? Then, like the peace that comes after a storm, you receive a revelation. You are humbled, yet encouraged. You have been told through inspiration that you are doing it wrong. God requires you to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. God tells you there are weightier mattes to His will. God tells you that without zeal and love, your works are meaningless. You are joyfully reminded that serving God is not laziness, and it’s not legalism, but its a broken and contrite heart. It’s about knowing Him! He tells you that if you endure the hardships, and if you seek Him, you will have everlasting peace. Finally, after all your life, you have hope and peace that passes all understanding. This is the message that you are learn from Sardis. – Jesse
Suggested Reading Before This Article: A Brief Commentary and Exegesis on Rev. 3:1-6 Part 1