When Jesus spoke to the church at Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6), he could have just as easily addressed thousands of contemporary churches today.
Sardis had “the reputation of being alive,” but was actually dead.
Someone once said that the rumors of his demise had been greatly exaggerated. In this case, the rumors of a church’s life had been greatly exaggerated.
That a congregation of those who profess faith in Jesus Christ, who claim to be born again by the power of the gospel and to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, could be dead is alarming.
Jesus doesn’t mean here that biological life had ended, but that spiritual life was absent. The church in Sardis was lifeless, ineffective, powerless, incompetent and useless in kingdom work, in gospel ministry. They weren’t physically dead, but in terms of God’s mission for them, they might as well have been.
We can glean a few reasons that Sardis might have earned this deplorable description.
A false sense of security. Noticeably absent from Jesus’ description of Sardis is any reference to persecution. They might have presumed that because they were not being treated badly by their community that they were in the center of God’s blessing.
An adaptation to culture. It seems that the church at Sardis had ceased being a thermostat that governed the temperature of the surrounding culture, and instead had become a mere thermometer that simply reflected it.
Sardis enjoyed the privilege of being called Christian, or the church, without doing what the church exists to do, and thus without risking its position in the culture. It had no persecution because it posed no challenge to the worldview, customs, and beliefs of the culture it dwelt in.
The Great Omission. In the letters to the churches, Jesus frequently makes a promise to those who conquer the sin condition he describes in them. In the letter to the church at Sardis, Jesus promises the overcomer “I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” He had previously indicated that Sardis’ works were not complete in the sight of God. If the pattern holds, then a significant omission of the church at Sardis was the confession of the name of Jesus before men. They weren’t evangelizing.
We know that faithful confession of Christ in the world will be an offense, and that following him and proclaiming him as the only way to reconciliation with God now and communion with Him for eternity will provoke some men to resistance and persecution of those who proclaim it.
Jesus’ remedy for the dead congregation at Sardis was “Wake up, and strengthen what remains … Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up. … I will come against you.” If a church finds itself in such ministry death, there is hope:
- Wake up! Remain alert and wakeful against spiritual decline.
- Strengthen what remains. Fan into flames the gospel embers in your midst.
- Remember what you received. Keep the gospel of salvation in mind: think it, speak it, teach it, pray it, do it.
- Keep what you have received. Remain alert and wakeful in the gospel message.
- Repent. Stop those things you do that put you on this course, and turn back to Jesus Christ and his gospel.
A church that appears spiritually alive but that is functionally dead must live the grace of Jesus Christ.
- A church may boast similarity to spiritual life
- A church may betray the reality of functional death
- A church must bear fidelity to our missional goal