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Letter to the Church at Sardis

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Sardis was a metropolis of Lydia in Asia Minor.

  • Revelation 3:1 And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.

This was a church in name only. For instance the sign above the door could have read, "First Church of the Saints," but inwardly they had no spiritual life. They were dead spiritually. No longer was the worship and works done by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

I'm sure this didn't happen over night. It may have started out like the Ephesians church with sound doctrine but lost their love and compassion. It may have been a church which was okay at first but began to compromise with sin. It could have been one who started out with sound doctrine but began to add to the doctrine or take away from the doctrine of Christ and then substituting the doctrines of men.

Soon the worship may have been ritualistic, mechanical and not true worship in the spirit. Any or all of these factors may have occurred. Again perhaps they were going to church for social purposes and not to seek God. There are churches existing today similar to this one. This is when a body of believers in Christ need a revival or a great awakening.

Those that teach the church age theory believe this was the period of the Reformation period from 1300 to 1750. According to that theory this period would extend up until the revivals in England by John Wesley. Many great reformers came along before Martin Luther but Martin Luther tried to reform the church by trying to get them back to the original scriptures and teachings of Christ. The main one being, "By grace are you saved through faith" and back to trusting in the scriptures alone rather than traditions that deviated or added to scripture especially concerning the way of salvation. We can give thanks for brave men that stood up for the scriptures but sadly some paid for it with their lives. 

Some writers of church history state that after a few years some of the established Reformation Churches began to be ritualistic and had a form of godliness rather than a real fervent passion for the gospel. Perhaps they were losing their first zeal and love for the word of God as many established churches do if they don't stay fervent and stay focused on the first calling God has for His church.

In saying that though, God always has a remnant that stay true to Him.

According to the church historians some churches began to persecute believers who wanted to adhere closer to the word of God and forsake all the former Roman religion entirely. The Protestant Reformation was a beginning of trusting in scripture only, but they did not forsake the old Roman church rituals far enough according to some modern day commentators like Jacob Prasch, Chuck Smith, and many others. Some protestant churches still baptized infants while others like the anti Baptists, Baptist and Pentecostals do not.

Before the rise of Martin Luther, other men like John Huss, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, the Waldenese etc. began to study God's word and attempt to return to the scriptures alone for the truth. Many tried to publish the bible in a language the common people could read. Some of these suffered death by burning at the stake for their efforts. Most deaths were decreed by kings, queens and those in authority sometimes influenced by church hierarchy that had power within the government.

Martin Luther actually got away with what the others died for. Somehow he escaped death and was the first to succeed in getting people to trust in salvation by grace and not by the works, creeds and rituals of the Roman Catholic Church. He started out with a good message and encouraged many to use the scriptures alone and not depend upon a priest for salvation. We can be thankful for the Protestant Reformation but some believe they didn't really go far enough.

However, my opinion and this is just me; is that complete change take a lot of time because its hard to get people to accept something new when they've been used to traditions that they associate with the church and assume its from God. We still have problem with the older ones in the church that are used to hymns for instance and the younger ones like to modern contemporary style of music. So its hard to accept change whether it is a good change or a bad change.

Many early Protestants started out good but when they gained success and power, they too began to marry the state and began to use control according to some church historians. Martin Luther desired to save the Jewish people but ended up hating them when they rejected his doctrine. He wrote things that Hitler used to justify the Holocaust hundreds of years later. I read articles on the Internet about Luther's influencing the Jewish Holocaust so again we are at the mercy of historians and people that wrote of this in that time period. We don't know for sure. So except for the bible itself, we have to take what we read so as to learn and not do likewise if it is evil yet always remembering that since we didn't live in that time, some of it may not be 100% correct.

According to what is written about him, John Calvin was a priest who began to read the works of Augustine. He got into error according to some, when he taught predestination and eternal security. He started out a pretty good fellow but in Geneva Switzerland after gaining power with the state, he was a big influence and tried to use force in running the church. This again we read and not do likewise but remember that we are at the mercy of the historians who wrote these accounts. God will be the final judge. Nothing is hid from Him.

Later he was influential in having a man burned to the stake for rejecting the doctrine of the trinity. In many places both in the Old World and the New, when the Calvinist gained control of the state, there were many abuses and miscarriages of justice when someone would dare oppose them.

I've read for example that the Calvinist Puritans went through a time when they were burning supposed witches. They also hanged a woman named Mary Dyer who was a Quaker and opposed some of their teachings. One error leads to more errors. Again I remind any reader that, in all these things, we only have written accounts of those that lived in that time period and wrote about what went on at the time. I'm sure there are opposing views out there.

Jesus told us that we shall know them by their fruits. If they lack love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness goodness, faith, meekness and temperance, we do not have to follow their doctrine. I don't think burning people at the stake is one of the fruits of the spirit.

Some of the reformers started out doing a great work but once they got control of the state government, they began to abuse their power and show forth fruits that were not of God. A Protestant leader named Zwingli had some Anabaptist drowned because they didn't except the doctrine of infant baptism. I've read books about the history of the Anabaptist some of which are the latter day Amish and Mennonites. I personally love the way those dear people live.

I repeat again that these writings are by others I've read and not my own opinion. Its so hard to believe that someone would harm anyone over the doctrine of infant baptism. I personally believe baptism is something one does when they are at an age that they understand what its all about.

It wasn't until the days of John Wesley that real revival and heart felt salvation began to be more widespread although there were a few places that had genuine revival before that time. God always has those that are full of genuine love for Him and are true to the word. There are always believers in Jesus Christ for real as we will read about when we get to the Philadelphia church.

Soon the reformation churches began to die spiritually according to those that hold to the church age theory. They had a name that they were alive but were dead. The sermons were dry as dust and had no life. They might have had good doctrine but no life in the spirit, perhaps no fervent worship and prayer.

I imagine that there were always some men among them that were still on fire for God but as a whole they were dead spiritually. The doctrine of holiness, sanctification and the baptism with the Holy Spirit did not exist among them. This type of deadness can happen to any type of church even in these modern times.

Old line Pentecostal churches need to be watchful that they do not exist in name only and have no movement of the Holy Spirit in their midst. It is the work of the Holy Spirit that brings the message alive, convicts of sin and causes a soul to be born again by God's spirit. This period of time if the church age theory is correct, occurs just before the great awakening and the time when many revivals were starting to spring up. Hope was on the way.

Notice that as long as Zwingli, Calvin and Luther were being chased and persecuted themselves they were okay. It is sad to read about those that were once persecuted becoming the ones that persecute someone else. However, in that day, it was a way of life. They knew nothing about a Constitutional Republic like the government in the United States claims to have.

  • Revelation 3:2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.

Revival could happen if just two or three would begin to pray and seek the face of God. I remember reading about the beginning of the Cleveland TN Church of God in the book, "Like a Mighty Army" by Charles Conn. The Church of God actually started when two Baptist men started praying for the church which they believed had grown like the world.

A fervent return to the study of the scriptures along with prayer and repentance will usually result in revival.

If a revival springs up without the adherence to the word of God, I would avoid it. The true spirit of God will not contradict the written word. The real move of the Holy Spirit will go side by side with the teaching of the word. They both agree.

  • Revelation 3:3 Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.

The solution to this church's error was the same as the others, REPENT. Watch and pray that you don't enter into temptation was the warning of Jesus. He said that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Knowing our continual weakness in the flesh should remind us that we need to be watchful and spiritually alert by often praying in the spirit and studying the word.

When people get away from the word and start relying solely on their own pastors to preach or on TV preachers, they are opening themselves up to deception unless one just happens to have a good pastor. It is up to us to not trust solely on any man or woman but search the scriptures to see if what they teach is the truth. If we have questions, ask God and if possible, ask the pastors. If they resist questioning or resist being compared with the word, this may show a problem.

  • Acts 17:10 And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.
  • 11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

The only scriptures they could have had at this point was the Old Testament or the writings of the prophets which if studied in the light of the Holy Spirit will lead us to Jesus Christ. We are more privileged than they for we can search the Old and the New Testament to confirm the words we hear preached. Jesus said concerning scriptures:

  • John 5:39 Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

  • Revelation 3:4 Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.

God will always have a remnant. There is always an old faithful saint of God that stays true to the word even when the rest of the church is apostate.

Defiling the garments most likely means to compromise with sin. After we are saved by the grace and power of God, to return to sin is to undo the work Christ did on our behalf. Why should we return to the sin that Jesus died to save us from? There are two ways to defile the garments: One is to return to sin and the other is to substitute religious rituals and ceremonies in place of the spirit or the written word.

We are saved or born again by the spirit of God. Outward religious acts cannot make us holy or change the soul and spirit of man. In order to change inwardly, it takes the spirit of God. This is why Jesus taught us that we must be "born again" to be saved or to enter the kingdom of Heaven.

Born again means having an inward change of the soul and spirit made possible when we simply believe on the one bringing in this change, even Jesus Christ. When we believe in Jesus, we are accepting what He did on our behalf when He gave His life as a sacrifice for our sins. This is an inner change in each and every individual person who receives Jesus Christ. It is not something outward that man can cause by getting someone to accept Christianity or join a church. That will not save anyone unless the person first repents and accepts Jesus Christ in his or her soul and spirit. The change is inward, not outward religious acts.

  • Revelation 3:5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.

This shows that we are not saved once and then forever secure. He that overcomes is saved and will inherit eternal life. Those that endure until the end are the ones that will not have their names blotted out of the book of life. When one comes to Christ for the first time, His or her name is written in the book of life. If we continue in the faith once delivered to the saint (believers), we will have eternal life. If an angel or any other person by vision, dream or prophecy brings any other gospel other than through faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, it is a false gospel.

  • John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me

  • Revelation 3:6 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

The word of God is written that all may hear and believe. It is not to be shut up and left only to a so-called authorized few to interpret it. It is given to all who will receive it. Blessed be the name of the Lord who gives us richly all things through faith in Jesus Christ independent of any other mediator whether it be pastor, priest, prophet or teacher.

  • 1Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

Pastors are to teach the word and preach the gospel. They are never to stand in our way and block our vision of the word of God or Jesus Christ. They are not to keep the word hidden or suppressed so that believers cannot study and read it for themselves. They are not to encourage blind trust in themselves instead of encouraging us to seek God and develop our own individual relationship to God.

You might think private study of the word brings division but we have to trust God for that possibility. The alternative has proven to be deadly and dangerous causing apostasy and sin in the church. We must not be tempted to lay aside the word of God in order to have unity. That is a false unity that will lead us away from God and into the doctrines and commandments of men. True unity will come when believers seek God and have the unity of the spirit and truth. Let us trust the Holy Spirit to bring us the right kind of unity by the bond of the spirit. The true Holy Spirit will not depart from the written word of God. In saying that though a body of believers truly is blessed when they have a pastor that does not stray from the word and is full of God's spirit. He may make mistakes and surely they are not perfect but in their innermost being is a desire to do what God leads them to do and be. I was fortunate to have had good pastors growing up.

Being saved by grace means to be saved without having done any rituals, works or good deeds to earn it but being saved means to be saved from sin. It does not mean that we are saved once and then can return to sin without any repentance and still expect to be saved. Why would Jesus die for our sins, save us from sin only to have us return to sin and still claim to be covered by the blood because we mentally claim to believe in Jesus. The blood covers our sin when we believe but believe to the point of repenting and turning away from the sin that is separating us from a Holy God. In other words we are not saved in our sin but from our sin.

  • Act 3:19,20 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you:

Jesus said that He that overcomes shall be clothed in while raiment and their names would not be blotted out of the book of life. In all these things as long as there is breathe in our natural bodies we can repent of any sin and become just as if we never sinned. Jesus made that way possible.

Letter to the Church at Philadelphia