Sardis: The Church of the Walking Dead
When Ancient Meets Current: A Study of the Seven Churches of Revelation
By Todd Stiles
Bible Text: Revelation 3:1-6
Preached on: Sunday, August 7, 2016
First Family Church
317 SE Magazine Road
Ankeny, IA 50021
Tradition says that it was merely a military helmet and that’s all he dropped over the wall. He didn’t mean to. It was unintentional but somewhere on a part of the wall that they were not guarding, a soldier accidentally dropped his helmet. This soldier was living on the acropolis of the city of Sardis, an elevated area just above where the temple was and their gymnasium. It was a pretty good city and because their major fortress was up high, they considered themselves impenetrable. In other words, “You’ll never get inside our walls.” In fact, they felt so confident about their military status that there were certain areas of the wall that they just left unguarded and this is the part of the wall to where the soldier just accidentally dropped his helmet, at least that’s what tradition says.
But he knew how to scale the wall and go down the mountain. He knew he needed his helmet and so at night, about 12, 13, 14 days into this battle with Persia, this soldier scales the wall from the inside, scampers down and kind of navigates the slope, gets his helmet, comes back up, goes over the wall and little did he know that the Persians were watching. This is in the 5th century BC, by the way. The Persians saw that there must be a way up the slope and there must be a way over the wall. Sure enough, they sent a few, then they sent more, and that moment of inattentiveness and military laziness cost Sardis their city. A few centuries later, early 200s, still BC, the same thing happened when Antiochus III came and waited out what Sardis thought was an impossible to penetrate situation, but they watched and they waited and sure enough, they figured out how to climb the slope and scale the wall and overthrown the acropolis which really was the stronghold and then they overtook the city.
This is kind of the historical setting of the city of Sardis. In fact, here is the acropolis in the background where the temple, I wouldn’t say the temple, the temple to Zeus, let’s say or they had several temples in the city. There was also a Jewish synagogue, by the way. I won’t show you that here but here’s some older remains from one of the pagan temples and you see the acropolis in the back, the large mountain? That’s where they had their military structure. You could look out and defend and see what’s coming, but it was on the lower level that Persia and Antiochus waited out and figured out how to scale it. So because the folks up top thought they were safe when they really weren’t, at least twice they were overthrown. History also says this: early part of the first century, there was an earthquake in this area and Sardians were known to have said this even about their situation geographically, “Oh, that earthquake would never bother us.” So Sardis has somewhat of a reputation for being a sleepy town militarily, even you might see geographically or whatever the word is for volcanoes and stuff like that, you know. They just thought, “Not us,” and yet it actually was them.
So when Jesus writes to the church at Sardis and he uses these two words – watch this – he says, “Wake up.” He says it twice. Say it with me: wake up. How do you think a resident, a citizen of that city heard those words? They probably thought back, “Wow, I know the history of this town. We were overthrown because we were militarily sleepy. I remember that earthquake. We had to rebuild for years because we were sleepy, we were overconfident.” This is really the gist of the message to this church in this town and it is talked about in Revelation 3. Will you take your Bibles, open them up, turn them on, and let’s look together at the first six verses of chapter 3 and let’s talk about the church of the walking dead, shall we? This church in the city of Sardis that, quite frankly, was also sleeping spiritually. Today I’d like to kind of explain this text to you, walk you through, again, as our pattern is, a few thoughts about the city, the church and the Christ. This week I’ll take a few questions live. I plan to take two. If you have some, be sure to text them in. Our guys in the back will pick out the top two, the top two easiest, guys, and they’ll showcase those. We’ll try to answer those. Then I want to close by just walking you through what I think verses 2 and 3 describe as the way to wake up, alright?
So let’s begin, shall we? Here’s Revelation 3, a letter to a city, actually a letter to a church in a city that was known for its complacency and its laziness, not just historically, militarily, even geographically, but now spiritually. We won’t say much more about the city. You see it mentioned in verse 1, “to the angel of the church in Sardis.” So enough about the town historically. The Bible doesn’t say, by the way, those things about Sardis, we draw them from history, but can we just agree together with smiles on our faces that aren’t we glad the Bible is a book that confirms history? That shows history to be true? I mean, we’re not talking about a book that is absent of actual verifiable evidential history. I think that’s very…it makes you as a Christian like we’re not believing some myth or fable, amen? And so Sardis here mentioned and even the way Jesus writes this letter, it really complements what was true about the city. They historically, militarily, this is very complacent. Overthrown twice. The earthquake kind of comes to the city. Overconfident.
So he writes in this vein about the church, first of all he says that the one who is writing is the one who “has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” You’ll notice at the beginning of each letter Jesus does describe himself in a certain way, pulling from the entire description of chapter 1 so if you’re wondering where these various descriptions come from in each letter, they come from chapter 1. Here is probably what I think may be the hardest one to figure out. Jesus says he has the seven spirits of God. You’re thinking, “Man, I thought there was one, the Holy Spirit? What’s up with that? You know, there are seven spirits?” We know the seven stars refers to the seven messengers of the seven churches. Let me kind of tell you how I see this phrase and then I’ll jump to the idea of the church and explain more about their spiritual comatose state. Just first of all notice that I think the word “seven” mentioned about the spirits of God and the word “seven” mentioned about the churches, I think it’s a figurative symbolic use meaning “complete.” Alright? Some translators have said that perhaps this means the sevenfold spirit of God, that the Holy Spirit has seven functions. Hm, perhaps. And this is not something that I would divide over but I think the best way to see this is that Jesus through John is saying that the Holy Spirit fully, completely, perfectly embodies and fills and empowers Jesus. He did for his 3+ years of ministry here. At Christ’s baptism, remember that? The Holy Spirit descended like a dove? And every move that Jesus made was led and empowered by the full perfect power of God’s Holy Spirit, alright? I think John is reiterating that Jesus moves in, displays works and embodies the perfect power of the Holy Spirit which, as we’re going to see, is what’s needed to bring life to a sleepy church. You see, there is some connection here. He’s showing the power of Jesus to do the impossible. I think the same thing is true about the seven stars as well. I see this as a very consistent understanding. Are the seven angels, the seven pastors, the seven churches, are they the only ones that he’s thinking of? I don’t think so. There are the ones mentioned in these two chapters and they are the historical ones that he writes to but they are representative of all churches which is why at the end of each letter Jesus says, “If you have ears to hear you should hear what the Spirit says to the,” what? “Churches.” So even every single letter is a call for every other church to listen in. So I think the word “seven” here can kind of be seen as a figurative as well as literal understanding that here he’s speaking of this idea of perfection, completeness and fullness. By the way, the number seven was used that way in the Jewish culture. That’s probably not a surprise.
Now, let me pause there and say this to you: what I just did for you was a hermeneutical exercise. Say the word hermeneutic. It just simply means the way you interpret Scripture. Now, I chose at this point based on the text and context to see the word “seven” in somewhat of a literal way but also in a figurative way. That’s a hermeneutic and so that affects how I read all of Revelation, the rest of Scripture. Everyone operates with a certain hermeneutic in mind and it affects how we see the end times, how we see Revelation. The reason I tell you that is because on August 28th, we’re going to be having a roundtable and we’re just going to unravel some things about the end times. Part of unraveling the end times is knowing the hermeneutic to use in deciphering Scripture. Did you know that? When is it literal? When is it figurative? When is it both? How do we do this? So I do want to urge you if you’re curious about why I chose to see “seven” as somewhat figurative and yet literal, show up August 28th. We’re going to talk more about how to see the Bible in times figuratively and yet sometimes literally. When are symbols just that and when are they more than that. All of that is going to be involved in our unraveling the end times roundtable. I think you’ll really like it and you’ll know then, those that are a part of it, you’ll know clearly where they stand on the end times issues too, at least for that night where they stand. How does that sound? I’m just kidding you about that.
So here Jesus Christ is in all of his fullness and power and all of his complete perfection with the power of the Holy Spirit saying to this church, “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but the reality is you are dead.” So there’s this sense in which people think one thing but you’re really something else. Then he says in verse 2, “Wake up.” Say it with me: wake up. “And strengthen what remains and is about to die.” Now, that’s interesting, isn’t it, because he says, “You are dead,” and yet here he says, “You’re about to die, some things are about to die.” We’ll explain it in a minute but notice that seems like a little bit of a contradiction. “You’re dead. Some things are about to die. Which one is it, John? Which one is it, Jesus?” We’ll explain it in a minute, alright?
“I want you to wake up and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete,” the word there is “filled up” or “to the top”; it’s not the word for “mature” in Hebrews. Teleios means complete. We mentioned this in our series on Hebrews. It’s not that word, this is the word just to fill the cup up all the way to the top. He says, “I have not found your works filled up to the top, complete or full, in the sight of my God.” So the Lord is watching, God is watching.
He says, “Remember, then, what you received an heard. Keep it, and repent.” So what are they going to repent of? What are they to remember? They are to remember that there was a day when they weren’t spiritually comatose; a day when they were what? Alive. But now apparently they’re dead, some things are about to die. There is this sense in which they’re not what they used to be, they’re not what they think they are, and there is a divine call to wake up. The word “wake up” there means “to watch,” it means “to be on guard.” It’s the words that Jesus used when he asked the disciples to watch with him in the garden. So he’s saying here, “Wake up. Be on guard.” It’s somewhat of a military word. You can kind of see the same ambiance affecting this whole letter. “Don’t let your guard down. Don’t let part of the wall go unguarded. Wake up.”
“If,” he says, “you don’t wake up, I will come like a thief.” Here is more reason for them to wake up because judgment is pending. “I’ll come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” Now, let’s ask this question: is this the second coming because in Matthew 24, Jesus says that his coming will be like a thief in the night? Is this the second coming? I tend to think it is not. Why? Because of the simple word in verse 3, “If you will not wake up.” The implication I think clearly stated is this: if you do wake up, I won’t come like a thief in the night. Would you agree with that? If you don’t wake up, I’ll come like a thief in the night. I think what he’s saying is this: the judgment that I’m going to bring upon the church if they don’t wake up will be sudden, unexpected. Now, could this be a reference to a second coming? There may be some that hold to that. Perhaps what he’s saying is that in that coming, those who don’t repent would then experience that judgment of his coming like a thief in the night. Perhaps that could be true. Again, these are things that we can disagree on and remain really good friends, alright? But I see this phrase as not talking about his second coming as much as I do the judgment upon this church will be like the second coming in that it could be unexpected and sudden. But the good news is, he says, “If you repent, then that won’t happen.” Again, it’s a divine call to wake up from sleepiness and laziness.
Here’s an example of some who have not fallen asleep in verse 4, “Yet you have still a few names in Sardis,” and by the way, I think this would represent the minority of folks in that church. This is why I would say they are spiritually comatose but they’re not confirmed dead, okay? There are some there who indicate, “Hey, there’s a little blip on the radar in this church. There is a little blip in the radar. We’re detecting life somewhere.”
He says, “You have some who have not soiled their garments,” that’s a sexual phrase there. It means to become impure. This may be the only reference in this letter as to what they were letting go of and not remembering. We don’t know. By the way, in this church, in this letter unlike Thyatira, Pergamum, we don’t really know what it is that they weren’t doing well or what they were neglecting or how they were falling short. We don’t know. We don’t know if it was the Nicolaitans, if it was the doctrine of Balaam, was it sexual immorality. We just don’t know. This may be an indication, however, because there is a sexual word of impurity, uncleanness that maybe they too were letting go of sexual standards or purity, spiritual monogamy with God, so to speak, and embracing adultery and fornication and all kinds of sexual perversions. This may be an occasion of that’s what’s happening but we don’t know for sure.
Either way, the few names in Sardis who weren’t asleep, they had not become impure and so Jesus says, “They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.” In fact, circle the word “walk,” and then watch this next word, “The one who conquers will be clothed.” Circle the word “clothed.” And can I just say to here for a moment, I love the way in these last two verses that Jesus becomes very personal and relational with these people in this church who have not defiled themselves and become impure. He says, “Do you know what? Man, you have held out, you have endured. I’m going to clothe you. I’m going to walk with you.” He even says later, “I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels,” so in my Bible, I’ve circled the word “walk,” the word “clothe,” the word “confess,” and it says to me, man, Jesus is personal. He knows his church. He knows our works. He says this in every church, “I know your works,” and to those who have not given in to the culture and the pressure of society, guess what? Jesus knows that and he’s going to share with you, he’s going to reign with you, he’s going to be personal with you. That’s a great reward, church.
So he says they are worthy because they have been clothed in white. I think this is a reference here to the work of Jesus on behalf of those who are undefiled. He clothes us and so we walk in worthy manner.
It says here that those who conquer, those who are clothed, those who are walking worthy, he “will never blot his name,” or their name, “out of the book of life.” Instead he’ll “confess that name,” that person’s name, “before my Father and before his angels. So if you have an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Jesus here is saying, “I’m not going to be ashamed of you, I’m not going to blot your name out, I’m not going to turn on you, I’m going to confess you before the Father.” That’s an awesome identity.
Now, perhaps your mind is asking this question: so are there some who get blotted out? Does that mean they were once in there and they’re gone? Do you lose your salvation? What is with this phrase “the book of life” and getting blotted out? It’s a good question. Now, let me give you three views on this issue, alright? Those of you that like sequential kind of learning process, this could mean one of three things. It could mean there is a book and that every person’s name that has ever been born is written in it, it’s called the book of life, and that when someone, maybe I should say when it’s revealed that someone is not going to become a Christian then they are blotted out of that book and it in the end becomes the Lamb’s book of life. Does that make sense? That’s one view.
Another view is that this is a book in which from the foundation of the world only the names of God’s elect are in it and so it’s the book of life and the truth is you could never be blotted out of it anyway. This is a view that I hold. Why? Because if you read the verse, it never says that Jesus will blot your name out. It’s not a threat, this verse is a promise that if you really belong to God, have no fear, he’s never going to turn on you and blot your name out. It’s not a threat saying, “By the way, I might just kind of one day realize I don’t think you’re really doing very well, I’m going to scratch your name off the list.” It doesn’t really say that. We tend to want to make it say that but it doesn’t. It’s just a promise. “Do you know what? I will remain true to my character and those who are in my family and truly belong, man, I will confess you, I will clothe you, I will walk with you. I will never blot your name out. It’s there for good.” Amen? Eternal security not based on what we do, eternal security based on the character of Jesus. Hallelujah!
The other view is that it’s strictly figurative; that there really is no book, that it’s just John’s use of language that they understood in that culture. The Jews had a book in which they registered every single person. Even the Romans had one. By the way, in these cities, if you died they would take you off the citizen registry. They would “blot you out.” So some commentators think, do you know what? This is just John’s way to say, “Listen, Jesus knows who his children are. He knows what you do and what you don’t do.” There’s not really a book. It’s just a way to say Jesus is omniscient about his family. He knows, he protects. I don’t hold to that. I don’t hold to the first one. I tend to think based on the use in Revelation 13:8, Revelation, I think it’s 17, and then 20 and 21 as well, in those chapters, this book seems to contain the names from the foundation of the world of all of those that God has elected to eternal life. That’s what I think it is and God is not going to change his mind. Hallelujah. It’s a real promise of our security in Christ. Now, are there people who think their names are in there and they’re not? Yes. That doesn’t mean he blotted them out, it means they’re reading it wrongly.
Can I take a detour here and ask you an eternally important question? Is your name in the book of life? Assuming that this second view, let’s say that the way I see it is right. We’ll get there, God will clear it up, he says, “Yeah, that’s the way to see it.” Is your name in the book of life? Have you trusted Christ and responded to his grace, repented of your sin and asked him to save you? If not, today is the day of salvation. And I just want to just be extremely transparent with you, I don’t want to say simple like dumb simple but I just want to be plainly simple that you don’t have to wonder and worry, “I guess I’ll find out when I get there.” That’s not how God operates. God is a God of clarity, of confirmation, of assurance, and he says this: to all who believe that Jesus is who he said he was, he was the Son of God, and that he did what he said he did, he came to pay the sacrifice for our sins. He died on a cross, he was buried in the tomb, and he arose the third day and on that, God said, “It is finished. It is complete.” He raised his Son to show he was satisfied as Jesus’ death being full payment for our sin. So throughout church history from the moment of the resurrection until this very moment, preachers and pastors and missionaries and people and men and women have proclaimed this good news that believing in Jesus Christ, that’s what saves people from their sins. “If you confess with your mouth,” Paul said, “Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” From what? “Your sin.” The very thing that’s killing you, your death-like experience that will end in hell. How much better to repent and believe and to know your name is in the book of life?
That’s me this morning. Man, did you read my mail this week? That’s me. I came here. I wasn’t sure even why I ended up here or what made me come, I just kind of showed up because I thought, “Do you know what? I need to go to church. Or I’ve been coming for a few weeks and someone invited me and I’ve got a lot of spiritual questions. I’m not sure if I’m even saved.” Oh, this morning would be the day for you to say, “God, I believe the truth about Jesus. Save me by your grace.” And at this very moment while you’re in a chair in this room, God will do the miraculous work of saving your soul and I can assure you of this: genuine salvation means you’ll never be blotted out. He won’t change his mind, have a bad day, wake up in a bad mood. That never happens with Jesus or God, amen? You are secure and I just pray that if you have not been a believer, if you’ve yet to become a Christian, today you would just right now in your seat, just pray and ask God to save you.
So here this letter is to this church about repenting, waking up, because they are sleepy and comatose. It comes from one who is Trinitarianly confessional with us, Jesus. Powerfully personal. By the way, can I just pause on this idea of the Trinity for a minute and show you that in this letter, I was struck by this, I think there’s a real Trinitarian connection here and I kind of made this word up perhaps, Trinitarianly. I’m not sure it’s a word but I think it is today. Because he talks about the Holy Spirit in verse 1, he talks about his God in verse 2. We know it’s Jesus giving this letter throughout all six verses. He talks about confessing the believer’s name before his Father. So in this letter you have a real connection between the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ and God, which is God the Spirit, God the Son, and God the Father, three persons, one being. Very hard to understand but it’s this Trinitarian God that’s saying – watch this – “I want you in the church to wake up.” And I think there’s an implication there. It takes – watch this – it takes the full power of the Trinity to revive us. It doesn’t take another church program or another great book or a hot CD or the celebrity speaker. Do you know what it takes? It takes the Trinitarian God in the full power of the Spirit, knowing the full truth of Jesus, to the full glory of God, the church to arise and say, “Wow, this is what we believe and who we know and only he can bring life to us.” This is a good message for the church. It kind of recalibrates us, refocuses us, especially in an age when celebrities and Christian stars, you know, that’s what people follow sometimes. Man, let’s just weed through that and focus on the incredible need for Trinitarian revival, for God to awaken us through the words of Jesus that are perfectly empowered by the Spirit, alright? That’s the key to revival.
That brings me to ask you a question about these verses. By the way, I think this is really the essential question of the text: is this written to people who need to be saved or is this written to people who need to be revived? Because he does say they’re dead, doesn’t he? Is that an Ephesians 2 type of death like you’re dead in your sins so, man, this whole church needs to be saved? Or is he just saying, “Do you know what? I’m calling you dead, I’m just trying to make the point that, man, you are this close to extinction. There are a few things that are remaining.” Here’s where I land on that: I think this letter admittedly does appeal to a few within the church who were maybe lost, they won’t repent, they’ve soiled their garments, unfortunately they will probably prove in the end not to be in God’s book of life, but I don’t think this call to awakening, to waking up, to being alive, I don’t think it’s a call to lost people. I think this is a call to saved people who have fallen asleep and so he uses the word “dead” to kind of insinuate that which is why he would say in the first verse, “Hey, you’re dead.” He’d say later, “Some things are about to die.” He’s simply using those words to show that you’re sleepy, just like historically Sardis was sleeping and was overthrown, they were inattentive, they were complacent. This church spiritually now in this same city is the very same way: complacent, sleepy. And he says, “Wake up.” He’s calling on Christians – watch this very carefully – this is a call and I think an expectation of revival in the present – now watch how I word this – it’s a call to and an expectation of revival in the present as proof of regeneration in the past.
So God is calling out, “Hey church, wake up! Strengthen yourself! Arise! Remember what you had!” He’s not saying get re-saved, he’s saying, “Let the Holy Spirit breathe fresh life into you. Let what I’ve delivered to you first of all, what you received,” we’ll mention this in verse 3 and we’ll talk about it in a minute, “Let these things you used to have, man, let that, read that, look at that, remember that, let the Holy Spirit use that to breathe life into you and revive you to what you used to be.” So the fact that they have something that they are holding onto so they received something in the past and then as a church it leads me to think this is really a call to revival. It’s a call to fresh life.
And can we just be honest with each other? That happens in our spiritual life. Did you know that? Some of you this morning, you are dry as desert ground spiritually. You’re born again and you know it. God’s got you. He’s not going to change his mind on you. You’re in his book of life. You are. You are as assured and secure in that as you are your real physical name but if you are alone in a corner pressed to be honest, you’d say, “My spiritual life right now is just parched. I feel thirsty. I feel distant.” And you would say, “I need revival. I need life again. I need some water poured on my life. I want to sprout new fruit and show growth but something’s missing, something’s happening. I don’t feel fresh in my walk right now.” You’d say that. I don’t think that’s unbiblical, I don’t think that’s out of bounds, I think that’s what this letter is addressed to.
In fact, my own personal experience would confirm that. Did you know that? I thank God that as a senior in high school I was born again. God had saved me when I was 14 and I was a true child of God but I was struggling with some things and just in a moment of being alone with God driving home from retreat, God just got a hold of me and said, “Choose whom you’re going to serve,” and that beginning of my senior year was a massive change in my life. I let go of just about every friend I had that was leading me the wrong way. It took about six months to make some new friends. That was a long six months but, man, I’m so glad. Most of the friends I had prior to that moment with God in that van riding home from that retreat either spent time in jail, ended up sexually dysfunctional. Now, there is grace for all that but can I just say to you, humanly speaking, I’m glad God spared me that road. I’m glad I don’t have a record, can I just say that to you honestly as a pastor? Is that okay? If you’ve got one, that’s not a judgment, it’s just a personal comment that at that moment before my senior year God said, “Hey, wake up, Stiles.”
I recall as a single youth pastor in Augusta, GA, at a crossroads about some issues in my life, things didn’t turn out in Augusta like I thought at all relationally, spiritually, ministerially. I’m on the side of Bobby Jones Expressway thinking, “Okay, this is really not what I signed up for in lots of ways,” and God came to me and said, “Hey, I got you. Forgive, make it clear and move on.” So I just dealt with the sins and said, “God, you’re right.” He gave me some new life that day. I don’t know how to explain it. He didn’t save me. I didn’t get re-saved but he revived me. He brought some sin to my eyes. I dealt with it and he revitalized me.
I think this happened in regards to just our own children. We had a couple kids and I was done. I was like, man, I’ve got to be a youth pastor and, again, this is my personal experience. Don’t read into this and think I’m saying what I’m not saying. I’m just giving you my experience in revival, alright? I was kind of done having kids. I wanted to just be successful in ministry and Julie wanted more children. We had honest disagreement about it. I went to a Promise Keeper’s conference and at that moment in that conference, I mean, it was like almost my call to ministry. That’s how clear it was to me. God said, “Kids are the only inheritance you really leave on the earth. Have more.” I’m like, “Man, my wife was right again.” And it’s amazing, her voice sounds like the Holy Spirit’s voice a lot. Are you with me on that? I remember and she’ll confirm. I went home that very evening after Promise Keeper’s and said, “Honey, let’s have a bunch more kids.” So we had a miscarriage, then we had two more. I needed some sanctifying in that area. I needed some fresh life. I needed perspective changing.
I think that happened as a young youth pastor in Ankeny. Four little children and this is not a bad thing but just life is hard sometimes when you’ve got little kids. Can somebody say amen to that? And especially for moms. Guys, we’ve had it easy. We don’t think we do at times but we really do. Our wives bear up under so much of the load. In the midst of that, just a lot of character flaws really got revealed and I think I’ve shared more of this than I have other stuff. It was just time for me to deal with that and so God in graciousness revived me over a period of probably a couple of years and really refined some definite character flaws that were in my life that were revealed just in moments when, man, what do you do with four little kids and a wife and a job, how do you handle that? And all the bad things were coming out of me, you know? Usually they were seen in responses. But God just mercifully said, “Do you know what? You need some new life. You need some different fruit. Let me work with you.” Revival.
I even think I experienced this as a pastor of this church especially in Romans, and you’ll probably never know the extent of the impact Romans had on me. But I think many pastors are proud and many pastors are sure they can persuade people to the kingdom, but I wasn’t any more through Romans 8 that I realized this whole salvation church planting thing, it’s God’s deal and, man, I wanted to be a hard-nosed, loud, long-winded preacher badly, I’ll be honest with you, alright? But can I be honest with you? I can’t persuade anybody into the kingdom. I don’t bring any spiritual life into your life. That is the work of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. And those moments in Romans were revitalizing for me. I just unvelcroed a lot of pressure and expectation and said, “God, I’m going to preach my heart out and love these people and it’s your church.”
Those are at least five places where I experienced a reviving of my life spiritually. Yeah, I was already saved. I was born again. I was secure my name is not getting blotted out, God’s not going to change his mind on me. He’s not going to turncoat on me. He will carry me through. He will keep me from stumbling. That’s how faithful God is and how secure we are, amen church? But can I say to you, along that journey there are times that my experience has been, it’s just sometimes you feel dry like you’re on a wheel and your motion, you’re running but you’re not going anywhere. At those moments God says to us, “Hey, wake up. Remember. Let me revive you in the full life-giving power of the Spirit.”
Now, I want to take a few moments to explain how that happens but first a couple of questions. Can we do that? I’m looking for a nod if any came in. None came in. Okay. We’ll move right to this section then that I think is focused in this letter about how does that happen. I’m going to show you the whole list and I’m going to have the band join me as we kind of wrap things up here because I think this is the applicational part that in my mind just kind of makes revival, and I don’t want to use the word “simple” but it makes revival correctly viewed. In other words, it’s really the work of the Lord in our life as we do some things he said. We don’t produce revival, okay? But we do position ourselves to experience God’s fresh work in our life. Does that make sense? Here’s a way to position yourself, a way to wake up to what I would call confessional living. I think that’s just another way to describe revival.
Why do I say that? Why do I say revival is simply confessional living? And don’t be distracted. I asked them to come up so we’ll be okay, alright? I’ll let them get set because we’re going to go through this kind of quickly and we’re going to sing together and we’re going to use communion as our main response time this morning, like we do every week but I want to spend more time in communion and in prayer and in responding to the Lord. So I want to do this quickly. Watch this, here’s why I connect reviving especially because Jesus Christ right now, he says, “To those who are walking worthy and not soiling their garments, to those who,” and I think in this same category, those who do repent and kind of get in that same group, so if you repent or if you’re already walking worthy Jesus says here, “I will confess your name.” In other words, he will say the same thing about you up there. Confess means to say the same thing. It’s the word homologeo. So guess what? Jesus is saying the same thing about you up there that you’re saying about him and you down here.
That’s what revival is. Revival is no longer trying to pretend to be something you’re really not. It’s not trying to skirt around the issue or you’re real identity. Revival is saying, “Do you know what? I belong to God. I have a confession to believe and a confession to behave.” As we do that, Jesus owns up to us in heaven while we own up to him down here. That’s just revival. It’s wearing your identification without shame. It’s enjoying the personal relational aspects of Jesus without any fear. He has clothed you. He walks with you. He is going to protect you. He is securing you. He is confessing you. All of that brings out, like we sang earlier, this incredibly immortal gladness in our hearts. And so we walk this earth, we journey not soiling our garments or not in unrepentance but we repent. We stay close to Jesus and we don’t get complacent and sleepy, we engage fully in following him. We’re watching. We’re waking up because God’s Spirit is fully alive in us.
So here’s what I think are three simple ways to kind of wake up to revival confessional living. I think these are found in verses 2 and 3. Stay awake through truth. He says to repent of losing and forgetting. By the way, this is the second of the two imperatives in this text. There are only two imperatives in the whole letter. Repent is an imperative, remember is an imperative. So he says, first of all, he wants you to repent of losing something and forgetting and going to sleep on it. Repent of that. Stay awake through truth. Let God’s word remind you, “Oh, I have fallen asleep. Yeah, God, I’ve gotten lazy.” Now, if you’re struggling saying that and yet you are that, then that’s the devil trying to make you proud in your own humanity and repentance is your quickest cure for that. Just humble yourself before God and say, “Lord, I have forgotten. Yeah, I’ve avoided your truth. I’ve strayed away from what we’ve received.”
You see, I think when he says in verse 3, “remember what you received,” he’s talking I think there if I can just be this honest with you, I can be, he’s talking about the Gospel. I think it’s similar to what Paul said that when he preached to them, he gave them what he first received, that Jesus Christ came, died, was buried and rose again. In other words, this is of prime importance. I think they received the same thing, truth about who Jesus was. They had received this orthodox, solid, evidential doctrine but they had kind of forgotten, they had gotten away from the words of Jesus, the life of Jesus, the truth about Jesus. They forgot it. Have you gotten away from the core orthodox doctrine about Jesus? If you have, if you’re away from his word, if you’re not reminding yourself, if you’re not remembering and reading, if you’re not in his doctrine, guess what? You’re sleeping on the job. Don’t be surprised if someone scales the wall and overtakes your life.
So repent of sleeping on the job. Change your mind and actions and say, “God, I’m going to come back,” and then do the second thing: stay alert to truth. Say, “Lord, I’m going to get back to the book. I’m going to get back to your truth. I’m going to remember what you gave us. I’m going to anchor my soul. I’m going to cement my feet in this.” So remember that. Keep it. This is one of the reasons we say the creeds here in this series. Can I be honest with you and I’ll be frank with you? I love it. I love hearing you corporately proclaim what’s been held for centuries. I hope it’s been good for your soul. We didn’t make this stuff up, church. It’s not some novel idea of the elders or somebody who can play with words and make it sound good, this is long held orthodox doctrine given by God through the apostles and the prophets and now held onto by the church generation after generation. Yeah, I want to remember that. Are you with me on that? I want to hold onto that. I want to stay alert to truth because I’ve been awakened through truth, and then I want to actively live with that truth in mind.
This is what he means when he says, “strengthen what remains,” and if you do, it seems like the last part of the verse will be true then, your works then would be complete in the sight of God. What is he saying here? They had partial obedience, that’s what he’s saying. You started strong and you forgot what you received. You got sleepy and so your obedience lagged. Here’s what he’s saying, “Guys, repent of forgetting the truth. Come back and remember what you were given and then obey that fully.” Watch this, this is how I’d say it to you: hold on til the very end. In our culture in a myriad of ways is trying to wrestle your hands off of the solid truth that Christ is asking you to remember. Your pastor is asking you to hold on. Fix your grip. Don’t let go. And obey fully all the way to the end. Amen?
It won’t be easy. I’m not going to lie to you. In fact, I believe over the next 30 years, it will become increasingly harder. Churches may get surprisingly smaller. Did you know that? I don’t know for sure it will happen but I’m just saying to you, I’m not going to promise you a rose garden, you’ll get that if you’re over 40, won’t you? I’m going to promise you that Jesus, if you’re his, will never turn on you and you’re secure in him so hold on. Obey to the fullest extent the Bible calls you to. Remember what he has given you. Stay in his word.
This is the essence of revival. Repenting, remembering and retaining. Staying awake through truth. Staying alert to truth. Staying active with truth. So this morning, I don’t want to be a complacent, sleepy Christian, I want to hear God’s call to wake up and through his truth what we have received, the truth about Jesus, man, I want fresh life, don’t you? I do. I want new vitality. That’s why I think communion is such a vital part of what we do week-in and week-out. I think it’s one of the top five decisions we’ve made in this church that have proven to be a wise move. It’s been a great thing for our church health, for our spiritual vitality because it’s a communion that we do three things – watch this – we repent, we remember and we retain. We commit to obedience. When you eat the spiritual meal, you’re saying, “I am not ashamed to identify with Jesus among his family. I follow him. He’s the King, not the consultant. What he says, I’ll do.” That’s what we say at communion. We proclaim that.
So this morning, we are going to bow our heads. I just want to give you a chance to do this, would you ask God to revive you? That’s all. To wake you up. And by the way, he can because in the letter, Jesus says, “Man, I’ve got the seven spirits of God.” No one can bring you to life like Jesus, amen? The full perfect power of the Spirit is at his disposal so where do we run when we need revival? To Jesus who knows our church.