Marks of a Great Church: Posers and Fakers – Get real!

marks of a great churchRevelation 3:1-6

Great Church

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That those who have not "soiled" their clothes will walk with Jesus "dressed in white" (3:4) is significant. In the temples of Asia and elsewhere, worshipers dared not approach deities with soiled clothes- the normal apparel for approaching the gods in temples was white or linen. Jesus promises here that his followers who have not polluted themselves with their culture will participate in the new Jerusalem,- it will be a temple city, the dwelling of God (21:3, 16).

That a minority in Sardis remained unsoiled will challenge the presuppositions of some faithful Christians. Jesus does not call the righteous believers in the church of Sardis to start an alternative church elsewhere in town. There are genuine Christians in many "sleeping" (and drowsy) churches today! God calls some Christians to call their church back to faithfulness. There does come a point when a church is no longer a church (2:5) and separation may be necessary.

The promise is that overcomers in Sardis will not be blotted out "from the book of life" (3:5). Jesus will confess the faithful remnant before his Father and echoes what he told his disciples (Matt. 10:32; Luke 12:8).

Matt 10.32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.

BUT!

Sardis, a "dead" church (3:1). Jesus’ word to Sardis summons a sleeping church to wake up.

Sardis was full of sophisticated paganism. That no mention of persecution against Christians is mentioned is significant; it was a tolerate place. Lacking the world’s opposition, they may have grown comfortable in their relationship with the world.

1. Posers and Fakers

a) Rely on a name

Sardian Christians are perhaps identifying with the widely known ancient tradition of their city. Sardis maintained an ancient "reputation" (lit., "name") as a great city from the time of its most famous ruler, Croesus, but at the time Revelation is written, Sardis had little more than its ancient name. Several decades before Revelation, Sardis had been devastated by an earthquake, and its architecture after the rebuilding suggests continuing fear of another one.

Jesus addresses the church and not the history of the church. Not it’s reputations! The spiritual state of the believers in this city is hindering them from appropriating Jesus’ own resurrection power!

b) Fail to keep watch
Conquerors had never overtaken Sardis by conventional war, but had twice conquered it unexpectedly because Sardians had failed to watch adequately

Jesus’ warning that he will come on them as a "thief" (3:3), presumably unexpectedly as in the night, recalls Jesus’ words about the end times (Matt 24.32-44; cf. Luke 12:39) often repeated by early Christians (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10,- Rev. 16:15).

For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 1 Thess. 5:2

We need to be ready!


2. The warning to a dead church.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer “the failure of German Christians to resist the Nazi rise to power stemmed from their lack of moral clarity"; the only people who can stand firm in such situations are those whose standard is not reason or conscience but God and his Word. Whether we are seeking to win converts or fighting for justice for the poor or unborn, it is always easy to grow weary in well-doing and follow the crowd—especially when the church around us has become part of it.

The Sardian Christians were different from the other churches we have looked at so far. Satan did not have to pressure them with persecution or temptation, their church was already dead.

They had become comfortable with the world, had no price to pay for their faith in Jesus Christ, and would therefore be taken by surprise (3:3). Such a warning should generate introspection for modern Western Christians.

As a church, the believers in Sardis undoubtedly dreamed that they were awake. Jesus may not be satisfied with the status quo in our lives or our churches. Staying awake is difficult when the world around us remains asleep (cf. 16:15).

It is too easy for us to depend on past achievements instead of looking to God’s call on us in the future (cf. Phil. 3:12-14).

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

It’s you and me and us and now!

3. About those who do not persevere

The implicit warning of 3:5 (that those who do not overcome will be blotted from the book of life) challenges some popular Christian ideas.

[Arminians] teach that apostasy can reverse the results of conversion,

[Calvinists] teach that those who fail to persevere were never converted to begin with.

They both agree on the end result! But we are wrong to assume that anyone who once professed salvation automatically gets to heaven, an idea refuted both here and regularly throughout the NT (Mark 4:16-19; John 8:30-32; 15:6, Rom 11:20-22; Gal 4.19; 5 4; 2 Peter 2:20-22, Rev. 2:26).

The promise that those who persevere will not be blotted out of the book of life is a serious warning to many nominal Christians in our culture who depend purely on a past profession of faith to ensure their salvation.

When Mickey Cohen, a famous Los Angeles gangster of the late 1940s, made a public profession of faith in Christ, his new Christian friends were delighted. But as time passed, they began to wonder why he did not leave his gangster lifestyle. When they confronted him concerning this question however, he protested,

"You never told me I had to give up my career, never told me that I had to give up my friends. There are Christian movie stars, Christian athletes, Christian businessmen. So what’s the matter ‘ being a Christian gangster? If I have to give up all that—if that’s Christianity—count me out."

Cohen gradually drifted away from Christian circles and ultimately died lonely and forgotten.

As Chuck Colson notes:

Cohen was echoing the millions of professing Christians who, though unwilling to admit it, through their very lives pose the same question. Not about being Christian gangsters, but about being Christianised versions of whatever they already are—and are determined to remain.

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