“Ma,am, they won’t let you in with a purse that size,” the security officer said to me.
My husband and I had just parked our vehicle and left the parking lot to walk to a stadium for a NFL pre-season football game when an officer stopped me to warn me about the size of my handbag.
Surprised, I responded, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know!” Quickly, I turned around with my husband and retraced my steps to the car to rid myself of my sizeable accessory. Taking out my phone, lip gloss, and essentials from my wallet, I left my bag behind in the car. I then walked past the security officer once again and then down a street, up several flights of stairs, and through a park to reach the stadium.
At the stadium gate, I put my meager items in the security checkpoint and got through with no problems. I looked around me and noticed other women had small purses or transparent bags. They had obviously gone through this routine a time or two before. I hadn’t been to a stadium in several years and didn’t know the proper protocol. Thankfully, the officer’s warning outside the parking lot helped me avoid an extra 20 minutes of walking.
God Warns Us When We Veer Off Course
Warnings exist to tell us that there is danger ahead or to help us turn from the wrong course. Not only do we have warnings in daily life that help us avoid inconveniences or even warn of danger, God gives us warnings to help us stay on the right path. As I expressed in the first segment of this series, we don’t always love Jesus’ warnings, but He warns us because He loves us and wants the best for us.
In Revelation 3:1-3, we see a church that had fallen into spiritual complacency. While they still maintained programs and had a good reputation in the community for their works, Jesus assesses that the church is far from Him and involved in outward forms of religion only. Note what He says:
‘To the angel of the church in Sardis write: 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. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 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. 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.’
What we can learn from God’s warning to Sardis:
1. God gives us a prescription when we stray.
Out of His love for Sardis, Jesus tells Sardis not just what is wrong, but how to remedy their problem. He tells them, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent.” Essentially, Jesus prescribes repentance as their prescription, and tells them what that should look like.
Repentance in the New Testament sense means to “change one’s mind.” Essentially, repentance is more than just confessing wrong to God and asking Him to forgive us. Repentance means also to change our course of action. If we look earlier at the instructions given for the church before the word “repent,” we see a few ways that the church of Sardis can change their course of action. They are urged to “strengthen what remains and is about to die.”
While it doesn’t tell us specifically what “strengthening” means here, it most likely included two things: resurrecting their devotion to God by returning once again to prayer and time spent in God’s Word. Perhaps they were neglecting this time or reading the Word and praying more as a “check in the box,” rather than a vital time of connecting with God. In addition, most likely repentance included “stirring up” their spiritual gifts by developing and using their gifts in accordance to the will of God (2 Timothy 1:6; 2 Peter 1:5-7).
Spiritual death occurs when we allow anything to stand in the way of the flow of God’s Spirit. We can receive the gift of salvation and even engage in Christian service and serve Him — and yet, still allow obstacles to creep in that impede our ability to do meaningful work for Him. That had happened to the church of Sardis. By reconnecting with the Source, they could once again receive needed nourishment to fuel their spirits, know what His will was, and do His work. And, for some, they may have been connected to Him, but were blocking his Spirit by simply attempting to abide in Him without exercising their faith by obeying what He said as well.
In addition, Jesus urges them and believers in a similar state to “Remember” and “hold fast” to the instructions they have received. In other words, Jesus tells them and apathetic believers not only to revive their relationship with Him and engage in meaningful spiritual work again by remaining connected to and walking in His Spirit, but also, to continue to cling to what He had told them and the truths of the Gospel in future days.
2. We can avoid unneeded consequences if we heed the warning.
In addition, also out of His love for them, Jesus warns Sardis to turn away from their apathy not only to revive their spiritual life and connection to Him, but also to help them avoid unnecessary consequences. Therefore, not only does Jesus warn Sardis to wake up; he includes an additional warning about what will happen if they do not heed his words: “But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I come to you.”
This can be terrifying passage to look at. What does Jesus mean here exactly? Why does He refer to Himself as a “thief”? While this passage certainly can refer to Jesus and His second coming, returning at a time that may catch some by surprise, I believe the application isn’t merely in relation to end times. As theologian Albert Barnes advocates, Jesus is clear by His words that the church will run into consequences if they do not heed His warnings. The mention of Jesus coming like a “thief” suggests that they will not know at what time they will experience trouble and trials because they did not heed the warning, but rather, they will be taken by surprise.
What is the application for us? While we may not experience any adverse situations at the moment for our wayward actions, there will be a time when we will experience repercussions if we do not heed Jesus’ words. Many times we hear of a scandal related to a minister who hid an affair or mismanagement of money for some time; then details of their hidden sin came out, and the person lost his or her ministry, marriage, and the respect of others. Certainly, that person can still repent even after wrong choices such as these, and Jesus may be gracious enough to restore what was lost. However, the point here is that Jesus’ warnings help us to avoid such heartbreak altogether.
Many of us struggle with the idea of Jesus bringing consequences into our lives or allowing them. Isn’t Jesus full of grace and mercy? He certainly is, but one idea I found in my study of this passage is that grace does not encourage us to keep sinning and continue down our own path when Jesus has pointed out another one for us to follow (Romans 6:1, 2; Romans 6:14, 15).
Recently, a pastor at our church shared a story of a man he met in his travels that had been restored back to the faith. He had been working as a website developer for a pornographic site and had been paying for prostitutes without telling his wife. One day, when waiting for a prostitute, he heard very clearly, “You’re breaking my heart.” It was the Lord, telling him very clearly to step away from his poor choices. He went home, confessed to his wife, found a different job, and stopped seeing prostitutes.
Friend, when Jesus warns us, it is always for our good. Has Jesus been speaking to us lately? Can we receive His words or have we been resisting His words, telling ourselves we are in no real danger? As Revelation tells us later in the passage, those who listen will be “dressed in white.” In other words, when we stay in communion with God and do as He says, we begin to exhibit the very likeness of Christ. We “walk” with Him. We are ever growing and advancing in God’s kingdom — rather than slipping into spiritual uselessness and decay.
This is the second article in a series on holding fast to our faith. To get a more complete picture of what this passage tells us about breaking out of spiritual apathy (or avoiding it), check out the first article by clicking on the link below. Next week, we will continue to explore this topic by looking at using our spiritual gifts and walking in God’s will.
Are you tired of fighting a battle that doesn’t seem to quit and feel tempted to let up on your vigilance when it comes to keeping the faith? Join us for a brand new series “Holding Fast to Our Faith in Troubled Times.” The series draws lessons from Jesus’ messages to churches in Revelation 3 and will encourage you in those places where you feel despair and a lack of hope; help to revitalize the vitality in your relationship with God; and reveal steps, if needed, to help get you on the right track again.
Last week, we started the series by diving into a discussion of what spiritual apathy is and how it happens. Check out Part 1: “Stopping the Drift Into Spiritual Apathy” to get a better understanding of spiritual apathy and how to guard against the drift in your spiritual life.
To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast where co-hosts Suzy Lolley and Carol Whitaker sit down at the Daily Grind Coffee Shop to chat about spiritual apathy. They walk through the points of the post but also add in a few bonus extras that you don’t get in the written version.