Summary: In order to avoid being Christians in name only, we must continue to rely upon the Holy Spirit and not our own wisdom and power.
In his commentary on World Net Daily posted on April 21, 2009, David Welch wrote the following words:
One of the most massive and widespread occurrences of identity theft has happened, and it is not even attracting the attention of local, state or national leaders. This particularly insidious method targets a minority group, stealing their most precious possession, and yet even more compelling is that the perpetrator assumes nearly permanent "residency" in the victim's identity.
The mastermind behind this worldwide ring has cells in every city and town in America – including operatives in many unsuspecting homes. The evidence of this outrage is right before our eyes, but we have simply chosen to ignore its existence, pretending that the consequences will be insignificant.
The "victim" is biblical Christianity, and the operatives of this fraud are millions of Americans, both clergy and laity, who are walking around using that identity with no right to do so.
Welch’s commentary, which was titled “Christians in Name Only”, could have just as easily been written nearly 2,000 years ago in the city of Sardis where the church there was full of those who were Christians in name only. If you turn to Revelation 3, you can follow along as I read the words of Jesus to the church there in Sardis.
1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. 4 Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Once again, we’ll use the same outline that we’ve been using for all the churches in order to examine this passage.
1. Church – Sardis
The city of Sardis was located about 50 miles east of Ephesus on a northern spur of Mt. Tmolus. The acropolis, with its nearly perpendicular rock walls rising 1,500 feet below the valley below, provided the city with natural protection from its enemies. As the city grew, it expanded to along the banks of the Pactolus River below.
Sardis was a city of wealth and riches, where gold and silver coins were first struck. But it was also known for its apathy and immorality. Its inhabitants were notoriously known as loose living, pleasure and luxury loving people. Seven hundred years before this message was delivered to the church in Sardis it was one of the greatest cities in the world. But by the end of the first century, it had decayed greatly. Today, it is merely a pile of ruins near the small village of Sart.
Again, we know very little about how the church there had been established. As with the other churches in the area, it is likely that this was the result of the missionary activities of the church in Ephesus during Paul’s three year stay there. And by the end of the first century, some commentators believe it was the largest of the seven churches addressed here in Revelation.
…him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
Jesus’ description of himself is consistent with the pattern we’ve seen in the other messages. First, it draws from John’s vision of Jesus in chapter 1 and second, it is particularly relevant to this specific church.
In this case Jesus actually goes back to John’s opening greeting in Revelation 1:4, where we are first introduced the seven spirits. As you’ll remember from our study of that passage, the seven spirits are almost certainly a reference to the fullness of the Holy Spirit. As we study the church in Sardis more fully, we’re going to see just why Jesus describes Himself as having the Holy Spirit.
The second part of His description is very similar to how Jesus described Himself to the church in Ephesus. The fact that He has the seven stars, which are identified in chapter 1 as the angels of the seven churches, indicates that He is the one who is to be the Lord of His churches.