Elon, North Carolina
We have been studying the letters of Jesus to the seven churches. Jesus evaluates seven churches in John’s day and tells them what He thought of them. So far, we have looked at Jesus’ letter to the church of Ephesus, the church of Smyrna, the Church of Pergamum and the Church of Thyatira.
Today, we come to the fifth number five. It was the letter of Jesus to the church of Sardis. This is a message that every Christian needs to hear. We have some Sardis churches today.
Jesus said, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:6). This is a message of Jesus to the church today.
Sardis was the church that couldn’t do anything right. Jesus had nothing good to say about the Church of Sardis. It is pretty bad if Jesus can’t say one good thing about you.
This church was opposite of the Church of Smyrna. Jesus did not say anything bad about the Church of Smyrna. He did not say anything good about the Church of Sardis.
The Church of Sardis was a dead church. Most people in the church were dead and the rest were dying. Jesus said that there were only a few good people in the church.
There are many churches like Sardis today. We will find out how to tell if a church is dead or sleeping. We will see what that looks like and the only way that dead churches can be revived.
Jesus gave this church a warning. Several of the churches received serious warnings from Jesus. That is not the Jesus we hear about in church. Jesus warned the church of Ephesus if they did not repent that He would remove their lampstand.
He told the Church of Thyatira if they did not repent that they would go through great tribulation. Some would get sick and die. Jesus told this church if they did not repent that He would come to them in judgment like a thief in the night.
In the Gospels, Jesus says that He will come as a thief in the night to judge unbelievers (Matthew 24:43; Luke 12:39). Here He threatens to judge a local church that does not repent like a thief in the night.
This letter is also the only one that mentions the Book of Life. What is in that book? Can names be removed from the Book of life? Could your name be removed? Can salvation be lost?
There are some in the church who believe you can lose your salvation and some who believe you can’t. People on both sides are absolutely convinced of their position.
They have verses they use to support their position. Some believe that there is a verse in this letter that proves you can lose your salvation. We will see if they are right.
The Dead Church
Jesus said, “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1 NIV)
Jesus diagnosed the condition of Sardis and said the church was dead. It is pretty bad if Jesus looks at your church and says, “You’re dead” (νεκρος). That is about the worst thing that Jesus could say to a local church.
Jesus did NOT say that the church is sick. He did NOT say that the church is weak. He did NOT say that it was unbalanced. He said that it was DEAD. This was a pretend church. It was a nominal church. They were Christians in name only. They were just playing church.
Would you be able to recognize a dead church today, if you saw it? What are some characteristics of a dead church? What do dead churches look like?
A dead church is big on externals. A dead church is big on rituals. They focus on form rather than substance. They are religious but not righteous. They are religious but not godly. They have a form of godliness but deny its power (II Timothy 3:5). Here are some of the signs.
Signs of a Dead Church
1) The gospel is not preached
2) There is no emphasis on evangelism
3) People do not get saved or baptized
4) God’s Word is no longer believed
5) The church becomes secular, liberal and apostate
6) Sermons are no longer based on Scripture
7) Doctrinal and moral error is tolerated
8) Church discipline is not practiced
9) Miracles do not take place
10) Attendance declines and people stop coming
11) There is compromise with the world
12) There is no prayer meeting
13) Worship is stale and mechanical
14) The church makes no impact on the community
15) The church is more concerned with liturgy than life
Five Truths about Dead Churches
1) Some churches die
Churches are born and some churches die. Big churches die. Small churches die.
Churches founded by apostles can die. Churches that used to have great preachers can die. Megachurches can die.
Jesus said that the Church of Sardis had a name. It had a great history and a great reputation. It was a famous church and it died.
Every year, thousands of churches close their doors and die. They go out of existence. Many died during the pandemic.
Why do most churches die? There are many reasons, but someone gets mad, leaves the church and takes people with them. The church doesn’t have enough money to keep the power on, so they close the doors.
2) Churches can be dead and alive at the same time
People can be physically alive and spiritually dead. Paul said, “But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead EVEN WHILE SHE LIVES.” (I Timothy 5:8 NIV)
Churches can as well. They are just made up of people. They can be alive on the outside and dead on the inside.
There is an old horror movie called Night of the Living Dead (1968). This was the church of the living dead. If you watch horror movies, you might have seen a few zombie movies.
There is another movie that came out in 2011 called Zombie Apocalypse. We all know what the apocalypse is. Do you know what the zombie apocalypse is? The Apocalypse is the book of Revelation. The first word of the Book of Revelation in Greek is άποκάλυψις.
In this movie, a plague wipes out ninety percent of the US population. Most of the country is dead. Only a small percentage survived, and the survivors are attacked by a horde of zombies. Dead bodies come out of the grave and attack the survivors.
Sardis was a church of zombies. There were some zombie pastors in the pulpit, delivering dead sermons to dead people. There were zombie worship leaders, leading worship. There were zombie Sunday School teachers.
One thing that never makes sense to me is why people go to dead churches. If people are given a choice between a church that is alive and vibrant and one that is dead, many choose a dead church. Why? Some do it because it was grandma’s church. Some do it for social reasons.
3) Just because a church looks alive does not mean it is alive
Just because a person looks alive does not mean that they are. They may be big and strong and active but spiritually dead.
A church may look alive. They think it is alive. Their doors are open. They have services every week. People show up to the church. The church may do all kinds of things on the outside and have a lot of different ministries.
In addition, the church may even be famous. It may have a good reputation among people. Everyone wants to go to a church with a big name. Appearances can be deceptive. We look on the outside. We clean the outside of the cup. God looks on the inside.
A church may look great on the outside (a fancy building, a huge cathedral, large membership, a big choir) but still be dead. That is just dressing up a corpse. Some churches wear great grave clothes but are really a corpse.
4) Dead churches often have some saved people in them
We may know some dead churches in our community. We think that there is no one saved there but even in dead churches, there are often some true believers.
Jesus said to a dead church, “Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy” (Revelation 3:4 NIV).
5) There are only two things that can revive a dead church.
More programs will not revive a dead church. More rituals will not do it. More hymns won’t do it. Creeds will not do it. Only the Word of God and the Spirit of God can do it.
God’s Word brings life. Jesus said, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63 NKJV). We also know that the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12 NKJV).
God’s Spirit also brings life. How do you stop a fire from going out? Blow on the hot coals. Give it some oxygen. The Spirit needs to blow on some dead churches. Only the Holy Spirit can bring life to a dead church.
The Spirit gives life. A Spirit-filled church is alive. We often try to have church without the Holy Spirit. You can walk in a church and tell if the Spirit is present or not.
The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life (John 6:63 NIV). The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (II Corinthians 3:6 NIV)
The Spirit gives life. Jesus said it. Paul said it. Ezekiel says it.. The Prophet Ezekiel was in the Spirit. He has a vision. God took him, transported him right into the middle of a valley. There are mountains on one side and on the other side and a valley in the middle.
Ezekiel walks around and look at this valley and sees nothing but dead bones all over the place. He has to be careful where he walks, so he does not step on any of them. The bones were not connected and were not buried.
God asked Ezekiel an impossible question. Can these bones live? Ezekiel said, “I don’t know but you know.” Then God told Ezekiel to preach to these dead bones. He told him to prophesy to the bones.
Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT IN YOU AND YOU WILL LIVE, and I will settle you in your own land. (Ezekiel 37:11-14 NIV)
The Word of God and the Spirit of God can bring the dry bones back to life and can also bring a dead church back to life. The one who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ (Revelation 3:6 NASB)
Jesus’ words are God’s words. They are also what the Spirit says. Only the Spirit can bring a dead church back to life is the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the source of life.
That is why Jesus introduces himself to the dead church Sardis as the one who holds the seven spirits of God.
“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
The seven spirits have to refer to the Holy Spirit. The seven spirits are another name for the Holy Spirit. How do we know? All you have to do is to look at the first time they are mentioned in the book. That is in Revelation 1:4-6.
John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood (NIV).
The seven spirits are linked together with God the Father and God the Son. When John sends the Book of Revelation to the seven churches it comes with a greeting. It is a greeting of grace and peace. This greeting comes from three sources. It is from the entire Trinity.
The order is a little different. We usually think of the Trinity as the Father, Son and Spirit. John changes the order to Father, Spirit and Son, because he wants to focus on Jesus in the next few verses.
It is a strange way to refer to the Holy Spirit. We never talk about the Holy Spirit like that. Is there one spirit or seven spirits?
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV)
There is only one Holy Spirit. There are not seven Holy Spirits, but this is a special, apocalyptic way to refer to the Holy Spirit. Seven is the number of perfection and completion.
It is a way to refer to the complete ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is an allusion to Isaiah 11. The Holy Spirit is capable of ministering to any need in our life.
Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. (Revelation 3:1-3 NIV)
The Sleeping Church
Here we see, this was not only a dead church; it was a sleeping church. This was the Rip Van Winkle Church. The elders were asleep. The pastor was asleep. The deacons were all asleep. What is the lesson here?
You can be saved and spiritually asleep. You can be a baptized and be asleep. You can be a member of a local church and be asleep. You can even be a church leader and be asleep.
Now only does Jesus talk about this, Paul does as well. Paul talks about this in Romans. He talks about it in Ephesians. He talks about it in I Thessalonians. He talks about this topic at least three times.
Therefore it says, “AWAKE, O SLEEPER, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14 ESV)
While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you bare not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.
5 For you are all children 2 of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then LET US NOT SLEEP, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. (I Thessalonians 5:3-8 ESV)
11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to WAKE FROM SLEEP. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:11-14 ESV)
The Church of Sardis did not have problems with persecution from the Jews or the Romans. It did not have problems with false teachers. There is no mention of Balaam, Jezebel or the Nicolaitans in this church.
The sin in this church is that it was asleep. It is the problem of many churches today. It is the problem of many Christians today. How do you know if you are asleep spiritually? What are some characteristics?
Characteristics of Sleepy Christians
That is how Paul described sleeping Christians. They are Christians who live like the world. Paul said that we are not to be conformed to this world (Romans 12:1-2).
Many in the Church of Sardis were living in sin. Jesus said, “Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes” (Revelation 3:4 NIV). What does that imply? It implies that many in Sardis were living in sin. They were living like the world.
Many Christians think exactly like the world. They believe everything they are told by the media. Some believe what the world says about abortion. Some believe what the world says about sexuality and gender.
2) No zeal
Sleepy Christians have no fire or passion. They are dull and apathetic. They are not excited about studying the Bible. Many professing Christians have no interest in finding out what the Bible says. They have no interest in studying it in depth. It seems like almost a waste of time for them.
They are not excited about prayer. They are not excited about evangelism, leading people to Christ. They are indifferent to people dying and going to hell.
3) No conviction of sin
They are not bothered much by sin, even sin in the church. They have become desensitized to sin. They are not outraged by sin that takes place in the world, in the church or in their own lives. They have accepted it. That is another sign of a sleepy Christian.
Commands to a Sleeping Church
Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. (Revelation 3:2-3 NIV)
Jesus gives five commands to a sleeping church. Jesus gave a wake-up call to this church. These are five commands to a dead church. It is the formula for revival: wake up, strengthen, remember, keep and repent.
The first command is to wake up. This church was asleep at the wheel. The elders are asleep. The pastor is asleep. The deacons were asleep. They needed to wake up. Jesus said this two times
Second, they are told to strengthen what remains and is about to die. Sardis was a dying church. The church needed to be strengthened before it died completely and was too late.
Third, they are to go back to their roots. They are to remember what they received. A dead church does not need to hear something new. It does not need to go to a church growth conference and hear the latest fad.
It needs to go back to basics, like the sports coach that teaches the basics. A sleeping church needs to go back to basic Bible doctrine.
That is what Luther did. The Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages was dead. Martin Luther took people back to the basics (salvation by grace, the authority of Scripture)
Four, they are to keep it. They are to hold fast to it. That is the problem today. Many young Christians learn basic doctrine. They learn the basic truths of Christianity but give it up and say they no longer believe it.
Lastly, they are told to repent. The concept of repentance is foreign in many churches. This command is for professing Christians, not unbelievers. Jesus tells these church members to repent and ask God for forgiveness.
Why did they need to repent? This church was not only dead, it was dirty. They had soiled their garments. There was sin in their life. They had stained their clothes.
Jesus said if they did not repent, He would judge the church. What if they did repent? Jesus gave them three promises.
The one who overcomes will be clothed the same way, in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. (Revelation 3:5 NIV)
The church in Sardis had soiled their clothes but the overcomer in Sardis is promised new clothes in heaven. Sardis was a city that manufactured clothes (wool garments).
The church in Sardis was dead but the overcomer in Sardis was not only promised life; their name would be in a book of life and not erased. That is not only salvation but security.
The third promise to the overcomer in Sardis is recognition in heaven. They will not just get to enter heaven. Jesus will confess their name to the Father.
That is not just a promise to people in that church. It is a promise to us today. Jesus said, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32 NIV).
Confusion about the Book of Life
That brings us to the very interesting topic of the Book of Life. What I am going to tell you may go against some things you may have heard from preachers. It may go against some things that you have been taught.
God has a book in heaven. In fact, He has more than one. That is good news for those of us who have a lot of books and like books. There is going to be some books in heaven.
There is going to be a library in heaven. One of these books is called in Revelation “The Lamb’s Book of Life” (Revelation 21:27).
Revelation mentions this book more than any other NT book. It is mentioned six times in in the book (Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27) and only once in the rest of the NT (Philippians 4:3). What is in this heavenly book?
There is a lot of misunderstanding about this book. There is a lot of misinformation going around about this book. Some Christians have some false ideas about the Book of Life.
One false idea going around is that everyone is written in this book. According to this view, everyone who ever lived is in that book. That would mean the wicked are in this book. Adolf Hitler would be in the book.
Contrary to many preachers today, the NT Book of Life is NOT a list of everyone who has ever been born. It is a list of everyone who has been BORN AGAIN. Only saved people are in this book. Every saved person who ever lived in is this book. How do we know?
Revelation says if your name is not in this book, you can’t go to heaven. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 21:27 NIV)
In fact, Revelation says that if your name is not in this book, you go to hell. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15 NIV)
It also says that some people were NEVER written in this book. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world (Revelation 13:8 NIV).
I have heard many preachers say that everyone is in the Book of Life and if you don’t accept Christ, your name is blotted out. Well, you can see very clearly from Revelation 13:8 that not everyone was written in this book.
It doesn’t say that these people were once were in the Book of Life but when they worshipped the Beast, they were blotted out. It says they were never written in the book. Why is this important?
Many think that you can lose your salvation. If you do something really bad, if you sin, you can be blotted out of this book. Your name can be erased. God has a big eraser in heaven. He has a big bottle of White-Out. If that is the case, a lot of people would be blotted out.
That misses the whole point of the passage. This is not a warning. It is a promise. Jesus says, “I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life” (Revelation 3:5 NIV).
In Greek, it is a double negative. In English, a double negative is bad grammar. In Greek, it is a way to emphasize something.
Jesus says, there is no possible way this will happen and yet some try to come up with some sin if you commit that will cause Jesus to do what He says He will never do.
The real problem is NOT security but false assurance. The problem is not that Jesus blots names out the Book of Life. The problem is that some people think they are in the Book of Life who are not.
They live any way they want. When they die, they will find out that they were never in the Book of life and they will be shocked, because they might have gone to church every Sunday. They will be cast into the Lake of Fire.
What lessons does this church have for us today? There are many. This is a powerful letter. It raises many questions.
Are we spiritually dead or spiritually alive? Are we asleep or are we awake? The church in America needs a revival. Do we need a personal revival?
Do we need to go back to the basics? Many Christians today do.
Are our works perfect before God? That is not talking about sinless perfection. Are our works complete before God?
Is there something that he wants us to do that we are not doing? Perhaps we started to do something but did not finish.
Have we soiled our clothes? Are we wearing dirty clothes spiritually? Is there anything that we need to repent of?
Is our name written in the Book of Life? Are we sure that we are saved? Many think that you can know who is in the book today, but you can.
“Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life” (Philippians 4:3 NIV)
Paul said that some women in his day, along with Clement and his coworkers all had their names in the Book of life. How could he say that? He had never seen the book. The book is in heaven but Paul already knew that they were in it.
You can tell if people are written in the book or not written in the book by their life. Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit. People in the Tribulation who worship the Beast will demonstrate that they are not written in the Book of Life.
Do you know if your name in in that book? Do we know if we are really saved? Will Jesus say our name before the Father? Jesus said that we need to rejoice that our names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20).
 Compare also Luke 10:20; Heb. 12:23.
 “The obvious implication is that the one who does not conquer will not be clothed in white garments and will be blotted out of the book of life and will not be confessed before the Father and the angels. The reference to blotting out of the book of life is especially instructive on the question of salvation security. For blotting a name out of the book of life implies that the name was in the book and that the person identified by the name was saved. But blotting out of the book indicates the removal of salvation and eternal life.” (http://evangelicalarminians.org/the-facts-of-salvation-a-summary-of-arminian-theologythe-biblical-doctrines-of-grace/)
 Some would say that Jesus threatens to remove people from the Book of Life in Revelation 22:19 but that is not supported by the vast majority of Greek manuscripts. The majority text reads “tree of life,” not “book of life” in Revelation 22:19 (MT).