Tony Evans - A Challenge to Increased Commitment
Today we take a tour to Sardis, Sardis Bible Fellowship, located some 50 miles east of Smyrna and some 30 miles southwest of Thyatira. We come to a place, a city built on an acropolis on a mountain called Sardis. Sardis was the church of what's happening now. For folk who wanted to go to church, if you wanted to go to church, you went to Sardis Bible Fellowship 'cause that place was smoking. That place had it going on. In fact, he says in verse 1, "You have a name that you are alive".
If we were to ask the folk around town about your church, they would say, "Oh, they know what they doing over there. They got it going on over there. Oh, they serious over there". He says, "You got a name", meaning you got a reputation: "Your reputation, Sardis, is stellar". The problem comes in verse 1, when he says, "But what I say about you is not what folks say about you. What I say about you is not the same as the reputation that you have around the city of Sardis". He says, "Because when I look at the church, I see a bunch of dead folk walking". He says, "But you are dead".
So that means it's possible to look like you're alive, dress like you're alive, walk like you're alive, talk like you're alive, carry your Bible like you're alive, dress Sunday morning like you're alive and be comatose. He says, "You are dead". "There is no life working with you". Now, obviously, they're physically alive. They're still going to church. What does he mean that they are dead? Well, we find the explanation in his introduction, because he says "To the angel of the church at Sardis write", to the pastor of the church at Sardis write, "He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars".
Remember that the number seven means completeness or fullness or wholeness in the Bible. So when you read sevens, a seven is a number of completeness. God created seven days. He finished his work on the seventh day. It's God finishing something. When he says, "The one who holds the seven Spirits", he's referring to the completeness of the Holy Spirit. Sardis had a program, Sardis had people, Sardis had a preacher, Sardis had some kind of music, but what they didn't have was life. So you can have a church that has no life, and the reason it didn't have life is that the Spirit of God was missing. A program without the Spirit is an activity that has no life. He says that "You have a reputation".
One of the worst things in the world is for God to say something about you that's different than what folk are saying. Folk are saying, "You got a name. We know who you are. We know where you are". The job of the Holy Spirit, like a dimmer switch, is to raise the light of Christ in our lives. In the Old Testament, God the Father was the superstar. He's on every page. In the gospels, Jesus, God the Son, is the superstar. He's on every page. But once you hit the beginning of the church, in Acts chapter 2, the Holy Spirit becomes the superstar. The Father sent the Son. The Son sent the Spirit.
So if there is no relationship to the Holy Spirit, you won't experience much of Jesus, and if you don't experience much of Jesus, you won't have much of God. So if you want more of God, you've gotta have more of Jesus. If you want more of Jesus, you've gotta have more of the Holy Spirit, because without them you don't get the full-on experience of the Godhead. So the one who holds the seven spirits, that is the completeness of the Holy Spirit, which is why the Bible says walk with the Spirit, be filled with the Spirit, and in order to do that, you and I must be operating spiritually.
See, once you bring a non-spiritual perspective, you no longer are plugged in. Once you bring a perspective that the Holy Spirit does not agree with, then now you're trying to make your equipment work on your own, and it's not designed to work without an outlet, and that outlet is the Spirit of God, which means you must operate spiritually or what the Bible calls in 1 Corinthians 2, a spiritual mind, that is, you must think like God thinks and respond like God wants you to respond in order for the Spirit to get kicked in so that the parts work because the parts, the new nature, only works by that which the Spirit quickens in the life of a believer.
1 Timothy 3:5, says, "You have a form of godliness". You got a form of godliness. You looking the part. It's a Christian Halloween mask. You put on a mask that makes you look like Jesus. You've got a vocabulary that makes you sound like Jesus, but there is no reality of Jesus at work. He says, "You're dead. I don't care what the people say. You have faked it to make it, Sardis Bible Fellowship. You're not authentic. You're not for real". When Jesus, the risen, ascended Christ comes, he says, "I'm looking for the real thing. I'm not looking for fake, not looking for play Christianity. I come, and I'm looking for the real thing: authenticity, full commitment". So that's his complaint, "You got a reputation, but you're dead". Verse 2, "Wake up, wake up", he says.
Well, if he's telling you to wake up, you're asleep. So he's not talking about folk who are physically dead. He's talking about they're spiritually dead. They're spiritually asleep. "Wake up". Verse 2, he says, "Wake up and strengthen the things that remain, which are about to die". "The things that remain". Here's our problem: The problem at Sardis Bible Fellowship with the church and with many of its members, not all, as you'll see, but with many of them, is they had become spiritually asleep.
So they got started but wouldn't keep going. "The things that remain". They began following Christ, but then they got used to it. They began serving the Lord, but then they quit. So they were not continuing to build on the faith. They were getting so comfortable being a Christian that there was no aggressiveness to complete what it meant to fully follow Christ. You see, you can get used to being saved. You can be used to being forgiven.
When you first get saved, all your sins are forgiven, and you're on your way to heaven, and you're excited to be with the Lord, spend time with the Lord, to read his Word, to pray, to witness for the Lord, but after a while, you can get used to it, and so you can get sleepy, and "I don't wanna be fully committed". Jesus Christ paid full price on the cross. His words on Calvary was "It is finished". The Greek phrase Tetelestai means paid in full. He paid a full price, but he didn't pay it for half a Christian. He didn't pay it for half a commitment. He didn't pay it for half of dedication. He says, "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. I paid a full price for a full commitment. What are you doing giving me half a Christian"? He says, "Give me the things that remain".
"Yeah, I know you go to church, and I know you say grace, and I know you do that, but I paid for a little bit more than that. I paid for your eternal destiny in heaven and for you to follow me as a disciple of Christ on earth. That is what I paid for. Give me what I paid for". He says, "That's not what you're doing. You're not plugged into the Spirit, and that lack of commitment is keeping the Spirit from operating in your midst". He says, "For I have not found your deeds", verse 2, "to be completed in the sight of my God". "You don't finish. You make a commitment to me, but you don't complete it. You don't follow it through. No, I want all of you".
And so he tells 'em to do three things in verse 3. He says, "Remember what you have received, heard, and keep it and repent". He said, "Remember". Remember what? "Remember what you have heard". He's referring to the Bible teaching they gotten from the apostles, what you had heard. They had learned some things that they were not applying. They had had enough Bible to know how to do something that they weren't doing. "Remember the things you have heard", because the Spirit responds to the word kept, not just the word heard, known, amened, appreciated, valued. And when I or you or we collectively as a church don't do that, we just become a church of a reputation without a reality because the Spirit is not moving.
And then he says repent. Repent of what? Repent means to turn. Turn from what you're not doing that the Word says to do, and start doing it because that's the order, 'cause remember, the Spirit is like a dove. He's real sensitive. That's why the Bible says grieve not the Holy Spirit, 'cause he'll... fly away real quick when he's not comfortable in the environment. So he tells them to remember, to obey, and to repent, because if you don't, he says, "You don't know the hour that I will come to you, like a thief, to let you know how serious this is. If you're gonna stay comatose, I might as well pull the plug. If you gonna stay comatose, you gonna stay dead, then I just have to"...
'Cause, you know, when people pull the plug on somebody, the person who the plug is being pulled on doesn't know it 'cause they in a sleep state, in a comatose state. So somebody's gonna come at a time they know not and pull the plug, 'cause he can't use you. He can't do anything with you because you're useless because he is not the focus, the meaning, the drive. He says, "But there are a few people in Sardis", verse 4, "There are a few people who have not soiled their garments". Mmm. "There are a few folk there who I can still use". He says, "I've got a few folk in Sardis who've not soiled their garments".
Well, let me tell you why he's bringing up clothes, garments. You see, Sardis was a garment district. It made clothes. That's what it was known for. So he uses what they did as a city to describe these faithful people in the church. Now, you know what it is to soil your garment. It means to get dirt on your clothes. You know, we've dropped grease or drippings or barbecue or ketchup or whatever it was. We soiled our garment. He said, "There are a few people who have not soiled their garment".
Now, what does he mean? James 1:27 says that we are to keep ourselves unspotted from the world, unspotted from the world. That means to be soiled, to put spots on your clothes. So here's the problem with Sardis and the problem with so many Christians and Christian churches today: worldliness. Okay, let me put it another way: trying to accommodate the culture, compromise with the culture rather than commitment to Christ within the culture. We wanna be so acceptable for the non-Christian world, we'll compromise our Christian values so they will like us. That's why you don't read about any persecution in Sardis. You don't read about anybody coming against 'em in Sardis, 'cause everybody was applauding Sardis, even the pagan non-Christians. Why? Because the Christians were so secularized, so culturized, wanted to be so popular that their commitment was missing. So they would just do enough.
You see, you can do enough just to make folk think you love Jesus. Let me define worldliness again. Worldliness means, it is that system headed by Satan that leaves God out. That's worldliness. When you have to push God to the sideline 'cause you don't wanna offend anybody, when you have to push Jesus Christ to the sideline 'cause of what they gonna think about you, how they gonna feel about you, whether they gonna like you, whether they're gonna accept you, whether they gonna date you, whether they gonna whatever you, that it is, if you have to push Jesus to the sideline in any category, you just became worldly.
If you gotta hide the fact, Jesus says, "If you deny me before men, I will deny you before my Father. If you'll confess me before men, I will confess you before my Father". Not "I believe in God". That's vague and generic. No, "I am a follower of Jesus Christ". He says, "But there are some at Sardis who have not acquiesced to the culture", and don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about being foolish. I'm not talking about being irresponsible. I'm not talking about being mean or mean-spirited. No, but I am talking about being clear, being clear about Jesus Christ, because that's what gets the Spirit's attention, because the Holy Spirit says, "I've come to glorify the Son".
And so look at what he says he's gonna do for the overcomer. He ends verse 4 by saying, "And they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments". So he uses the word white twice. What's this white thing I'm gonna get, white clothes? 'Cause he back to the clothes thing, 'cause they're in Sardis that makes clothes. Okay, let me give you another word to help you out with white garments. Tuxedo and a gown, okay? White garments was formal wear to special occasions. That's what white garments were.
So if I would put it in everyday contemporary language, he says, "To the one who overcomes, overcomes complacency and gives me full commitment, I will dress him up in a tuxedo and her up in a gown". Why? "'Cause only those people will be invited to my formal affairs". They will be the ones invited to the formal affairs because they were an overcomer. And then he throws an interesting phrase in verse 5, "And I will not erase his name out of the book of life".
Now, that poses a little problem, doesn't it? What does he mean, "He will not erase their name"? First of all, I thought we believed eternal security, that you couldn't lose your salvation. Yeah, that's what the Bible teaches. Once saved, you're saved forever, okay? But he says, "You're gonna erase your name out of the book of life". Isn't the book of life where saved people's names are registered? Yeah, the book of life is where saved people's names are registered. But he says, "I'm gonna erase your name out of the book of life". So doesn't that sound like I'mma lose my salvation if I'm not an overcomer? Well, it sounds like it, but that can't be true 'cause that would be a contradiction of eternal salvation. So what does it mean?
So let me give you one rule of Bible study. One rule of Bible study is when you see a phrase or a word that doesn't make sense, see if the phrase or word is used in the same context. If the phrase or word is used in the same context, see how it was used previously to determine what it means now. If you go back to verse 1, you see the word name in verse 1. What did he mean by name in verse 1? You have a name, but you are dead. Well, he means reputation in verse 1. He's talking about "You have a reputation with no reality". So when he uses the word name, he's talking about their identity or their reputation. So when he says, "I will not erase your name out of the book of life", he doesn't mean they're gonna lose their salvation. He means they're not gonna lose their identity and reputation. It means that they will be recognized eternally for their commitment in history.
Why does that matter? Let me tell you why: because nobody may know your name now. Nobody may be appreciating you for what you've done now. Nobody may be calling you up front and giving you a plaque now. Nobody may be advertising you now. Nobody may see you working faithfully with the children now or faithfully with the youth now or visiting the sick or the homeless or adopting the children or the behind-the-scene things that a lot of people don't get to see. They may not see it now, but God says, "When I put on your tux, and when I let you put on your gown, in your white clothes, oh, they gonna know who you are then, because it will become clear, and I will not erase your reputation".
You see, the problem with reputations today is they are only as good as your popularity lasts, but once your popularity goes, folk will forget your name. That's why you can't live all of your life for people recognizing who you are, 'cause they will forget you when you're no longer around or where you can't do anything for 'em anymore. But Jesus says, "If you are an overcomer and you are committed to me, I will not forget your name", watch this, "and I will not let anybody else forget your name because I will advertise your name ongoingly. It will never be erased. You'll be invited to every event, every affair, because you will be in that special class of overcomers".
He says, "To the overcomers who are committed to me, when you strut out in your tuxedo and gown and you cross over Gold Street and Silver Boulevard, everybody's going, 'No, oh, that's Ruth,' or 'That's Betty,' or 'That's Butch,' or 'That's Ralph.' Oh, that's one of those overcoming folk, 'cause look at how they are dressed'". God is gonna recognize in perpetuity those who are committed even through difficulty and even though you didn't get the registration or recognition that others got on earth. And so he concludes, and he says in verse 6, "I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels".
Now, he gonna advertise you. You gonna be a billboard. So here's the question we gotta ask in closing. Do you wanna be a mortuary where dead folk live? Do you wanna be a mausoleum, which is a monument to where dead folk hang out? Or do you wanna be a ministry that God can use to bring glory to him, good to you, and benefit to others? Do you wanna give him the whole deal so that he can work all the good that he has in your life? Well, you say, "But wait a minute. My garment's already soiled. I've already gotten messed up".
Well, I'll close with this: I know a cleaners. I know a cleaners. Last time I checked, the job of cleaners is to clean up soiled clothes. When clothes get soiled, you take 'em to the cleaners so that they can launder them or they can wash them, so that they can give you back something zestfully clean. You take it to the cleaners so they can fix up what you've messed up. Oh, "I know a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel's vein. And sinners plunged beneath the flood, lose all their guilty stains".
So I've got some good news, that if you've got a little dirt on you, Jesus has a cleaning service. He can clean you up from your sins. He can clean you up from your rebellion. He can clean you up for your resistance. He can clean you up from your iniquity. He can clean you up from your unrighteousness 'cause he's got a cleaning service, and let me tell you about his cleaning service. He does pickups. So he will come to where you are and pick you up and give you the cleaning so that you can be unspotted from the world.
A good coach seeks to get his players to do is buy in, to come to an understanding of what he's trying to do, how he or she is trying to do it, and the price that has to be paid in order to get it done. They want buy in. Guess what God wants? He wants buy in, and that means he wants a commitment to who he is, what he's said, and what you will do in light of that information. He wants to know you bought in to following him, that it's not just a cliche, a comment, or a popular saying, but you've bought in. And when a player buys in to what the coach is espousing, it shows up in their performance on the field. If you are buying in to following Christ, it should show up in decisions in your life.
One of the questions people often ask is how do I know I'm serious? Look at your decision-making, because your decisions, followed up by your actions, will prove whether you are committed. Jesus Christ, when he was on earth, regularly called for commitment. The Bible says he related to people differently, even his disciples. All of them didn't get to experience all of him because all of them weren't committed at the level. In fact, it says some of them even left him because they weren't fully committed. So the question is have you bought in to following Jesus Christ? Have you bought in to being a full-time disciple and not a part-time saint? Have you bought in to him being Lord of all of your life? If not, why not? And if you should, why don't you? He's worth it.