Summary: Can a church have the appearance of being alive organizationally but dead spiritually? Jesus identifies that church in his message to Sardis

Grace Community Church

Winchester, VA

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We are now looking at the 5 of 7 Churches addressed to by Jesus himself in the Book of Revelation. These churches were located in the Roman Province of Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey. They were 7 real churches, filled with 7 real congregations living in a pagan culture.

When I say ‘pagan culture,’ I mean worldly and apart from God. They had plenty of gods, but in the Roman world, as it is common today, the ultimate deification is the god of ‘self.’ Worshiping other gods was for self-pleasure, prosperity, and veneration of one’s own life. The pagan culture is about a person’s desires, a person’s lusts, and what is most satisfying.

The Christian life; the life of a true believer is just the opposite. We honor others before ourselves. We worship Christ for his glory. The world says, live for your wants and greeds; Christ said to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him.

When the church begins to change the central message of the gospel, it begins to die. In the church world, we call that decline. Churches decline because they become tolerant of sin. They try to make themselves likable to the world apart from the gospel. So there is a compromise on the authority of scripture, areas of sin, and worldliness. The first step in revival or revitalization is to return the church back to biblical teaching.

Now we come to the church in Sardis of Revelation 3:1-6: “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.’

A light-year is the distance light goes in a year, moving at 186,000 miles a second. I was reading about one particular star that astronomers estimate is 33 years away from earth. It would take 33 years for that light to reach earth. That star could have burned out into darkness 25 years ago and died. But the light would still be reaching the earth. It would be shining in the sky as brightly as if the star was still alive, but in reality it was dead. (MacArthur)

The church at Sardis is something like that. It was dead, but it was still shining by the light of a brilliant past. It was a dead church. That is the worst thing that could ever be said about a church: it’s dead. The church is to be a place of life. It is a place where God lives, where Christ lives, where the Holy Spirit lives, and where believers are alive. So how can a church be alive but dead?

Let me also say this to our church before I get into this message: The week I started here at GCC, there was an article in the Brethren Evangelist entitled, “We were at death’s door.” That’s important for us to keep in mind as we move into this. There are similarities to Sardis here at GCC. That was 4 years ago. It takes anywhere from 5-15 years for a church to revive after being in a place where we were before I came. So we need to be careful about mistaking the light from the past as something that is pertinent to today.

We can’t live in the past, but we can’t forget about it either. It’s like someone who was on a ventilator and is revived. There were things this church had to do during critical years to stay alive that we don’t do any longer. You don’t stay on the ventilator because it kept us alive. We have a new lease on life and we should turn to build our lives on health, not the destructive patterns of the past. There are 5 instructions Jesus gives to the church in Sardis that we should pay attention to because this message is for us as well.

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