Christianity 201

December 5, 2017

The Church of Sardis Needed Strengthening

by Russell Young

At the beginning of his revelation to humankind, the Lord pronounced blessings on those who would hear and take to heart the fullness of that revelation. Following this he commended the seven churches for their strengths and admonished them for their failures. At the end of his revelation he promised a presence in the New Jerusalem for those who overcome. (Rev 21:7) They were to do something to find eternal fellowship with him, not to passively rest in mental “belief” or in the “acceptance” of his gift of grace.

His address to the churches was not to the church corporate but to the body of the churches. To the church in Sardis he stated, “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard: obey it and repent.” (Rev 3: 1─3 NIV) The blessing that the Lord had proclaimed rested in the need for those of Sardis to wake up and to obey what they had received.

It is easy for a church to have a reputation of being alive. A reputation is derived from the impressions of others. A church can be very active within itself and within the community, as was likely the church in Sardis. However, the Lord declared it to be “dead,” or perhaps, its members to be dead. He left them with the call to “obey” and dismissed their reputation of being alive.

The issue of concern to him appears to be that of personal righteousness, since he addressed the state of their coverings and commented that a few people had not soiled their clothes. These he proclaimed would walk with him dressed in white. “White” raiment stands for purity and holiness. Those who don’t wear white will be left shamefully exposed. He admonished the church in Laodicea to buy “white clothes to wear, so so[they] could cover [their] shameful nakedness.” (Rev 3:18 NIV) Apparently the need for personal righteousness had been lost in the church of Sardis and in the minds of its people. The Lord said that he or she who “overcomes” like them would be dressed in white, that their name would not be blotted from the book of life, and that he would acknowledge them before his Father and his angels.” He did not say that they needed to confess him as Lord but that they had to live out their confession through obedience–to do something, if they were to avoid death. Even though the church had a reputation of being alive, the Lord’s assessment was that most of its members were dead.

The need for personal righteousness is seldom declared; it is assumed to have been given as an act of grace by the Lord. Many claim to rest their hope “in the righteousness of Christ alone” without exploring the meaning of their pronouncement. Paul warned his readers not to be deceived. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6: 7─8 NIV) Pleasing the Spirit requires obedience to him. The writer of Hebrews declared that “[Christ] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5: 9 NIV, Italics added.) Those who have chosen to walk in darkness—apart from the Spirit, or who do not recognize the need for obedience due to deceptive teaching will reap destruction even though they may have attended church many times a week and have a reputation for being alive because of their busyness and activity.  The Lord commends his children for their righteous acts and gifts of mercy; however, without holiness no one will see him. (Heb 12:14 NIV)

There are many false doctrines being presented that bring comfort to the dead, but the Lord cautioned the church of Sardis, and his people through them, to “Wake up!” The promise of a place in the New Jerusalem is only offered to those who “overcome.” (Rev 21:7) Does your walk need strengthening? Do the teachings of your church need strengthening? The church in Sardis was found wanting and needed strengthening.


Author Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. His book Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. 9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.


Our Thursday contributor, Clarke Dixon, also looked at the church of Sardis earlier this year. Click here to read Dead Churches, Like Sardis.


Yes, today’s first scripture text did indeed form the basis of a Bob Dylan song, When You Gonna Wake Up.

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