Revelation 3:1 1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.
Have you ever met a person who is a “legend in their own mind”, yet does not stand out as legendary or even exemplary to others?
The proliferation of people who believe themselves to be good and necessary at something, which they are not particularly necessary or good at, has ballooned in our Facebook friends social media world. At this time anyone can create a Youtube channel and make useless content, that bored people surfing the internet will waste their time watching.
Countless Christian influencers on Youtube offer content, which is often useless, divisive, error filled and unnecessary, because they have growing number of views, likes and subscribers. Their calling, in their eyes, is to inform people where the church has failed or to correct some Bible issue out of step with their own view point. Once more, too many deem themselves legends, leaders and necessary because of numbers.
Rather than judging their activity by the word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit, they grade themselves by their own grading scale. This is not only a problem for leaders and online “Christian content creators”, as they like to refer to themselves, but is a prevalent problem through out the Christian population throughout the history of the church.
More specifically, this issue of grading ourselves, concerning our faith and practice (according to our won grading scale), is what derailed many a fellowship including the church of Sardis referenced above.
Let me be clear in outlining this problem in a phrase: Grade book religion leads to dead Christianity!
To voice it another way, from the passage above “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1).
Before we can dive into Revelation 3:1-6 to understand the danger and prevalence of having a religious grade book (we create), which makes us feel we are good with God, let us briefly examine a couple of passages which lay the ground word for this being a New Testament danger.
2 Corinthians 10:12 12 For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
1 Corinthians 4:3-5 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.
In the first passage, the apostle Paul corrects the Corinthians leaders and laity, for comparing themselves to other concerning spiritual matters. In the second, the apostle reiterates this point by revealing he does not know, nor is He concerned with whether he meets an external standard. His focus is to glorify Christ and if there need be an adjustment, for man venturing of into unrighteous territory, the Lord will let him know.
A key characteristic of Paul was to simply seek to do God’s will, for His glory and not be concerned with how other people or even himself graded his performance. He inherently knew if good came from him, it was Christ making him sufficient. Therefore, he did not judge his Christianity by what he was doing, or how effective it was or was not.
He simply lived for another opportunity to reveal the One He loved more than life itself… our Lord Jesus Christ. Which brings us to the church of Sardis.
JESUS ALWAYS KNOWS WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON
In Revelation 3:1 we read “… I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.”. Let me translate, to our modern ear, what the Lord is saying “I know you think what you are doing means you are a Christian, bear my name, and believe you are alive in Me, BUT you are DEAD“.
Let us define the term “dead”. In the Greek language the word nekros can mean being physically deceased. Context would determine that this is not the case, or they could not read the letter sent to them.
The word for dead can also mean spiritually dead and cut off from the life of God, and bound for the second death (or the Revelation calls the lake of fire). Again, context deems this is not the case, because the Lord called the messenger of the church, the presiding elder or pastor, to “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die…” (Revelation 3:2) and “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent” (Revelation 3:3).
The church was in a poor condition, with spiritual death creeping throughout the body, while masquerading as Christianity; but there were still those who could avoid this creeping death. In essence they were not “totally dead” but “mostly dead” or “slightly alive” (Shameless “Princess Bride” reference).
What was this creeping death, which brought the church of the Living God to being mostly dead and in peril of being cut off, for a lack of repentance? Well, it was grade book religion.
In verse 1 the Lord Jesus Christ declares I know your works…”. Additionally, Our Lord grades those works with “I have not found your works perfect before God” (Revelation 3:3). It is the word “perfect” which gives us the contrast between gradebook religion and true faith and practice in Christ.
When I read the passage recently, my mind took me back to Matthew 4:48 “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect“. The word for “perfect” in that passage means to grow into maturity as a complete follower of Christ, as our Father is complete in Himself.
For God this is a term of His complete awesomeness in Himself and His need of no improvement or addition. For us the term means that we grow in maturity in faith and practice, to be being completed as followers of Christ. This side of heaven that will continue though sanctification. In eternity, although complete and glorified with Christ, we’ll always be dependent on Him.
That is simply awesome! The only problem, is the word for “perfect” in Revelation 3:3, is not the same. The word in our passage is the Geek word plēroō which means to make replete, to cram, level up to cause to abound, to furnish or supply liberally, to overflow.
Which makes this more interesting is how the word plēroō is used in other passages in the New Testament, specifically one.
Ephesians 5:18-19 18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord
You guessed it, the word “filled” is the same word plēroō used for “perfect” in our passage. Although the word “perfect”, in Revelation 3:3 does not directly related to the fullness Holy Spirit, it is an appropriate association, for understanding why the Christian’s works in Sardis were “not prefect” before the Lord.
In John 7:37-39, the Lord Jesus Christ defines the fullness of the Holy Spirit, that which we are instructed to be continuously filled with (Ephesians 5:18-19), as like a river of living water flowing from our inward most being.
A river of living water is hard to measure concerning its power and measurable quantity, because it is always moving. Therefore, we can only really know if it is moving and alive because it is moving. Thus it is with those whose works are consider “perfect” before the Lord: there is no measurement but a person continually in motion for God’s glory for the love of Christ.
Consider another analogy. When I was a child I loved to swim at my neighbors in-ground pool. In that pool, a couple of feet below the water line were ports, where water would flow into the pool. The water would flow in based on the water level, which was judge by a device in the filtration system, at the water line.
As we would splash water out of the pool, or it would evaporate, those holes would bring water into the pool. I used to love to attempt to stop the flow by putting my hand over the hole.
Imagine with me for a moment, the water level detection device being broken, and the water level filling to the edge of the pool. With no shut off system, the water would flow over the edge and keep doing so. How could the amount be measured? it could not.
So it is with one who’s works are perfect before the Lord. This person knows by the Holy Spirit, that God’s standard for a perfect grade is Jesus Christ Himself. Therefore that individual is not doing good to get and A, B or average C in their grade book. They know that it is a zero sum gain, which removes the focus from Christ, to themselves.
Because of this knowledge, they simply desire to do for Jesus sake, desiring in heart, mind and strength to make Him known . They understand that their best, will still be less than He deserves, but that is what grace is for. Therefore they seek to bless Him, knowing His perfect righteousness was attributed to them, by faith (II Corinthians 5:21).
To this person, they could never do enough to repay His grace in their lives and they know they do not have to repay Him, only obey His word and the leading of the Spirit (which they are glad to do). They become more and more an overflowing fountain of good works, and are not concerned about how it makes them look.
The Church of Sardis was filled with Christians, who were doing good works, but only insofar as they did enough to consider themselves to bear Christ’s name and believe themselves to be alive in Him. Their problem, was they created their own grade book and grading system–they were the water level measurement in their own pool of dead Christianity.
When they felt their works sufficient, they shut of the flow of the Holy Spirit in their lives, for a vacation or a rest, or a time or times of self indulgence. This is the epitome of self-righteousness. Can you be like that?
Can you judge yourself as having done enough for the Lord today?
If the Holy Spirit is filling you, like a river of Living Water, from out of your innermost being, is that Living Water drawing others to Christ.
How about one final analogy. When Israel was in the wilderness and there was no water, did not the LORD instruct Moses to strike the Rock, for water to flow from it? Would they have died without water? Was not Christ that Rock?
Consider that you have the Rock from which Living Water flows in you. Consider that this world is the wilderness, the valley of the shadow of death, a desert of death, pain, lovelessness and sin.
Is the Living Water, through good works, repeatedly flowing from you to the degree that thirsty souls are coming to drink; to taste and see that the LORD is good?
If not, you could be in the peril of grade book religion, which leads to dead Christianity.
In my next blog we will examine how to walk away from such a dangerous error.
How does Jesus grade your works?