If there was a church that the Lord Jesus could say nothing good about, it was the church in Sardis. This was not because this church was openly in rebellion against God, but because the members were hypocrites. After examining the works of this church, Jesus said, “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Rev. 3:1). They were known to do things for the Lord just for the sake of doing them. Their hearts and spirits were not in their worship, prayers or actions. They were just doing these for show. For someone looking from the outside, they were seen as a very lively church and they seemed to be doing well. However, their actual deeds appropriately lined up with what the prophet Isaiah said: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men” (Isa. 29:13).
This church can be better described using the very words of Jesus when he rebuked the Pharisees and teachers of the law for their hypocrisies, saying, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside, are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matt. 23:27-28). This was the reputation of the church in Sardis—they were known for their hypocrisy. They did not have the real desire to serve the Lord with sincerity of heart. Rather, they had a form of godliness or religiosity, but denied its power. They were more concerned about what people said and hence they conformed to their expectations, rather than endeavoured to be pleasing before God.
While their deeds were sure recipes for destruction, Jesus was not about to give up on them. He rebuked them, saying, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, 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” (Rev. 3:2-3). This church was not completely hopeless. Recovery and restoration were possible, but they needed to act quickly. As always, repentance is the key to stop a slide into perdition. It is repentance that brings us back to where we should be and moves us to do what we ought to do. We need to go back to the basics of our faith that we heard and obeyed in the beginning and start living by them again. It is only then that restoration will come.
But even as the majority in this church had been overcome by sin, there were a few remnants that did not let their clothes be soiled. They persevered in the faith and did what was right before the Lord. As a reward for their persevering faith, Jesus said, “They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy” (Rev. 3:14). In like manner, those who repent and overcome will get the same reward and were assured that they will be saved. Salvation is assured to those that will walk faithfully before the Lord. However, whether they will actually be saved on not is dependent on their standing before God in the end. The doctrine of “Once Saved, Always Saved” was debunked by Jesus when he said, “He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels” (Rev. 3:5). While many claim that their names are written in the Book of Life the moment they received Jesus as Lord and Saviour, it does not necessarily mean that it will forever be written. The fact of the matter is that sin can cause God to erase the names of those who choose to live in sin after they have come to the knowledge of the truth. No sinner will ever enter heaven.
Whether or not God will actually erase the names of those who sin was emphasized when Moses asked that his name be blotted out of the Book. God’s response to his request was revealing. He answered, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book” (Exodus 32:33). Friends, let us not take our salvation lightly. While we could have started strong in our walk with the Lord, let us not be complacent and lower our guard. Rather, let us continue to persevere in our faith and not live our Christian lives in hypocrisy. Let us repent of our sins and restart our faithful walk with the Lord. It is a fearful thing to be blotted out from the Book of Life. Let us not have the illusion that we are still saved, even if we live in hypocrisy, and all that matters to us is the outside appearance. We need to wake up to this truth before it is too late. Indeed, Jesus is coming soon and he comes at an hour nobody knows. Yes, wake up!