I’m a 90s R&B man, but I’m partial to a few rock bands/hits from the early 2000s. Specifically, the rock band, Evanescence.
Only one song should come to mind when you hear that name. Ready for it? Say it with me: “BRING. ME. TO. LIFE.”
That song was my jam!! (Plus, I may or may not have had a crush on Amy Lee – the lead singer).
Not only was it a great song musically, but the lyrics were eerily Biblical. Something was clearly “dead” inside Lee that she needed an outside supernatural force to awaken. It's almost as if she was standing in front of Nuclear Jesus (as seen in Revelation 1), staring into His face shining like the sun in all its brilliance and pleading with Him to do spiritual surgery on her!
Read the lyrics and see for yourself:
How can you see into my eyes, like open doors?
Leading you down into my core, where I've become so numb
Without a soul, my spirit's sleeping somewhere cold
Until you find it there, And lead it back home
(Wake me up) Wake me up inside
(I can't wake up) Wake me up inside
(Save me) Call my name and save me from the dark
(Wake me up) Bid my blood to run
(I can't wake up) Before I come undone
(Save me) Save me from the nothing I've become"
Like I said, it was my jam!
You know who would have really appreciated this song? The congregants in the Church of Sardis! They’re the fifth Church in our blog series through the 7 Letters of the book of Revelation. I don’t know if they had any rock fans in their Church, but they all most definitely needed to WAKE UP (before they came undone)!
This Church had essentially become a museum filled with spiritually dead, but well-polished smiling believers. They epitomized the Christian who lives his/her life with a misguided spiritual complacency and a lack of spiritual vigilance. I'm speaking here of the ones who are ultra-spiritual online, but behind their screens, can’t remember the last time they picked up their Bible or actually spoke to another human about the love of God.
That’s the Church of Sardis, and Jesus is not happy with them! Hear Him roar in Revelation 3:1, “These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”
You know it’s a bad day when Jesus barely has anything nice to say about you and your Church!
In the previous four letters to the Churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, and Thyatira, Jesus went out of His was to commend each congregation for their works. Even the Church in Pergamum, a city where “Satan’s throne” dwelt, even there, Jesus found something praiseworthy to give them a shoutout about!
That’s clearly not the story in Sardis! It’s actually troubling when you think about it. The Son of God and the author and founder of the global Church has gazed with His omniscient eyes into their Church and into their souls, and sighed, “ehhh!”
I SMELL DEAD PEOPLE
One question that kept popping up in my mind every time I read that verse was, “How in the world can you maintain a reputation of being alive when you’re in fact, dead?” The question arose because I’ve seen my fair share of dead things. I’ve been around corpses at funerals, I’ve seen road kill, I’ve studied dead organizations, and I myself have put to death quite a few plants. Here’s what I know – dead things tend to look dead!!
So how is it that this Church, which had a great reputation in its community of being a happening and “alive” Church, was in fact on its last breath?
Luckily, just as quickly as the question popped in my mind, so did the answer. The only way a Church can maintain so false a reputation is if indeed, it at one point was an alive Church!
So, if this were in our day, the Sardian Church would be the Church in the community that was well known as a mega-Church back in the 90s. This Church may have been the kind of Church that produced and published Children’s ministry, women’s ministry, and even Small Groups curriculum for other Churches back in the day. They probably hosted sold-out leadership conferences and may have even been blessed with multiple gifted preachers and worship leaders on their staff.
But that was then.
In the last few years, however, something had changed, dramatically. Perhaps “growth” in itself had become the mission while the name of Christ and the Gospel of Christ had taken a backseat. If this fictional Church I’m picturing for you is anything like the actual Sardian Church, then chances are its leaders had become complacent over the years and were relying on their reputation as an “alive” Church to draw the lost to Christ, rather than on Christ to draw the lost to Himself.
And that, my friends, is the beginning process of how a Church gets “Dead!” In fact, let me give you three reasons why a Church (or a Christian) experiences spiritual death.
3 REASONS WHY A CHURCH/CHRISTIAN GETS SPIRITUALLY "DEAD"
ONE: Spiritual death happens when your affections for the past is greater than your excitement for the future. This is true of the Church at large and individual Christians.
So, think of your own life. How are you doing with nostalgia? There’s a place and time to look back and celebrate the things God has done, but when you SOLELY look to past inspirations for your present day motivations? You may be dying (or are possibly already spiritually dead!). The Church in Sardis may have been relying on its past victories than on the ONE who is victorious.
Conversely, to awake from your slumber, your excitement about the God who is ever present should outweigh your affections and memories of the "good ole days." His mercies and His grace are new each morning, seek Him afresh each day!
TWO: Spiritual death happens when we spend more time working on our reputation than we do on building godly character. Think of this Church in Sardis for a moment. The only way they could have maintained a reputation of being alive, even though they were dead, is if they were pouring lots of energy into maintaining their reputation to their neighbors. Did you catch that? They were more focused on how they were being perceived than they actually were on the Gospel-mission they should have been about!
Here’s the problem with that kind of strategy; it is only a matter of time before who you truly are on the inside catches up with who you are on the outside. You can’t hide behind your profile picture forever, Jesus sees the real you!
THREE: Spiritual death happens when Church is all about “ME” rather than all about “THEM.” (“Them” = men and women far from God). Jesus hints at this at the end of verse 2 when He says, “…for I have found your deeds [works] unfinished in the sight of my God. ” The implication here is that there was ministry work to be done inside and outside the Church of Sardis that was NOT being done, hence “unfinished.”
After looking at the context, the conclusion I arrived at is that the Sardians had adopted a consumer-mentality instead of servant’s attitude. It’s possible that in their heyday, they had grown so large that they turned their focus inward to manage and protect what they had accomplished. As a result, they became cautious, territorial, took very little risks and stopped innovating for the sake of the Gospel. They began to focus on pleasing the congregation rather than reaching their community! It became all about “ME” instead of the lost “THEM” in the community!
These three, my friends, are just a few reasons why and how a Church and a Christian gets “dead!”
FALLING ASLEEP ON DUTY, AGAIN!
The Church in Sardis had fallen into a spiritual slumber and was nearing a fatal coma, which is why Jesus calls out to her to, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die” (verse 2). Interestingly, this spiritual napfest they found themselves in, parallels another tragic event that occurred in the same city many years earlier.
Sardis was once the ancient capital of the Lydian kingdom and was ruled by an extremely wealthy king named, Croesus. In his pride, Croessus launched an attack against Cyrus, king of Persia, but was defeated in battle. He later returned to Sardis to regroup and rebuild an army, only to discover that the entire Persian army was mounting their own counterattack. At the time, the main city was on an acropolis about 1,500 feet high. It is said that in their pride, the Sardians couldn’t imagine anyone scaling their high walls to enter the city. So complacency crept in and security became very lax. The watchmen on the towers became less vigilant and apparently fell asleep. Unfortunately, their misguided complacency led to an invasion, as skilled Persian climbers easily scaled their walls and invaded the city.
Now, here’s what’s really sad about this story, it happened twice in the history of Sardis!! The first one I just recounted was sometime in 549 B.C. with king Cyrus and the Persians. The second time around was three centuries later in 195 B.C when Antiochus the Great conquered the city through the exact same strategy (his soldiers climbed up their walls undetected).
So when Jesus calls the Church in that city to snap out of their spiritual slumber, it isn’t a gentle plea, HE IS SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS TO THE CHURCH!!! “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.”
WAKE ME UP INSIDE!
So, how do you wake up from a dead sleep?
Generally, a bucket of ice-cold water on the face or a sharp slap to the face will do it. Its spiritual equivalent, however, should be no less jolting. Jesus tells them exactly how in verse 3, “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, 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.”
Just as the watchmen of Sardis had fallen asleep at the walls during an enemy invasion, so Christ urges the believers in Sardis to WAKE UP because death was at their door.
This then, calls for some drastic action.
Imagine being in your home late at night and tucked in bed with your family. Then you hear burglars breaking into your living room. You even overhear them talking about the harm they’ll do to your family if they don’t find cash. Now imagine trying to wake the rest of your loved ones up, but they whine or complain or even barely move because they’re so deeply sweetly asleep.
It’s safe to say you will do some things in that moment to get their attention that they will not appreciate, why? Because the threat is so close! Right? This is no different from what Jesus is calling dead-Christians to do!
SERIOUSLY, YOU BETTER WAKE UP, NOW!!!
For some of us wearing a false façade of active faith, practically, it may require that several unhealthy relationships be severed, it may require an abrupt change of routine, or it may require experiencing some sort of loss – in order to avoid the greater danger looming ahead! Think, drastic!
Secondly, waking up from a spiritual slumber (according to verse 3) will require you to return back to the basics of the faith. Jesus is instructing them to leverage their last breath so they might find life, the source of which is:
“Remembering” the truths of God’s word that they “received and heard.”
“Holding fast” to it, which simply means, do what it says!
And finally, “Repenting”, which means they were to confess before God and before one another that they truly were “dead” inside and desperately needed Christ to revive them with some Holy-Spirit-filled-CPR!
For you, this simply means (along with any drastic action you need to take) that you need to go back and do the things that stirred your affections for Christ when you first became a Christian. I’m not speaking of the superficial things that were emotion-based, but concrete Biblical activities that revealed God in all His goodness, holiness, loveliness, …fill in the blank. For me, in times when my faith has felt like it was waning, I’ve found that returning back to fasting and prayer often stirs my affections and grows my love for Jesus Christ.
For you, it may mean you start by going back and prayerfully rereading the Gospels so that you see Jesus Christ anew. "Holding fast" means that you imitate Christ in whatever you see Him doing and obediently walking in the direction His Spirit leads you in. Lastly, it also means you confess your sin of "deadness" to God and confide in a trusted Christian friend who will back you up in prayer.
Don't overcomplicate it. Start small.
YOU’RE ON THE GUEST LIST OF HEAVEN!
If you do these things, there’s some incredible heavenly goodies in store for you! Jesus explains your reward in verse 4-6, “Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. 6 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
To not have your clothes “soiled” is tantamount to saying you’re not wearing the clothing of a corpse (because that’s what dead-Christians wear and smell like!). To be “dressed in white”, however, is to be deemed worthy to come in and out of the presence of God as if you were a 3-year old unafraid to wake your dad-king up in the middle of the night (even though everyone in the palace knows not to even dare do such a thing).
The best part in all of this, though, is the promise of having our names eternally imprinted in the “book of life.” In other words, your name will be on the guest list when you get to heaven’s gate.
Being on the guest list of heaven means you will be known in heaven.
Being on the guest list of heaven means you will hold a special place in God’s heart and God’s story.
Being on the guest list of heaven also means there will be a moment in heaven when Christ Himself will call you out in the presence of every angel who has ever been created, every saint who has trusted in Christ, and in the presence of God’s blazing glory.
In that moment, Jesus will give a speech on your behalf (because, along with all the redeemed saints, you are a special guest whose name is in His Book of Life).
In His introduction of you, Jesus Christ will tell the story of what He accomplished in and through your life. He will speak about the day you were born and the day He called you into God’s family by faith. He will talk about the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit deposited in your life and what the goal of those gifts were in serving God’s purposes and building His kingdom. He will talk about how you overcame adversity and persevered in faith in spite of the difficulty He allowed you to encounter. He will brag about the high points of your life when you functioned in His anointing and power. Perhaps He’ll even go into detail about the rewards your life has earned in eternity and what your new role will be in the new heaven and the new earth.
This speech is going to be the most incredible moment of your life!
"For He who overcomes will…be dressed in white…and Jesus Christ will acknowledge his or her name before His Father and his angels in heaven. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 3:4-6
O, what a day that will be!
But first, you must WAKE UP!
Husband. Dad. Pastor. Nigerian American. Storyteller. Aspiring Prayer Warrior. Steak Lover. Follower of Jesus Christ reminding you that God the Father still loves you.