"I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God." (Revelation 3:1b-2 ESV)
"Deliver us Lord, from the formalities that do not have reality. We pray that we may truly have the kind of spiritual reality that we confess in our faith in Jesus Christ." (S. Lewis Johnson, prayer)
A group of us are studying through Jesus' words to the seven churches of Revelation (Rev chaps 2-3). We have found the messages given by Dr. Lewis Johnson back in the late-1980s at Believers Chapel (Dallas, TX) to be especially helpful. Following are some excerpts from his message regarding the church at Sardis:
"One of the things that the Christian church must contend with is the fact that it is offensive to the world when it is being true to the word of God. And really, as one of my old teachers used to like to say, 'It is a terrible thing when a church is content to cultivate inoffensiveness.' In other words, to try to be the kind of church that no one can really fault. Because if that is true, then we really are not giving the kind of testimony to Jesus Christ that we should. If there is one thing the Bible tells us, it is if we proclaim the cross, we proclaim that which is an offense to the natural man about us, and if live in the light of the Christian truth of the cross, we also evidently will be offensive to the world about us as well. So, when a church cultivates inoffensiveness, it is really doing the impossible, if it is honestly, and truly, and faithfully following the word of God.
"That’s something that each of us should ask ourselves. We have a name as a Christian, as a believer, but is there vital spiritual life within us? That is the first thing which our Lord has to say to this church by way of complaint. We know that the Reformation, in the vitality of the discovery of the great truths, such as the justification by faith, before long lapsed into orthodox formality. Someone has said, 'The orthodox formality of denominationalism’s clanging Ecclesiasticism,' and we have had that down to our present day. The Reformation, what magnificent things happened then! The church was offensive, and as a result of being offensive, they were truly representing our Lord Jesus Christ, and many were responsive to it as the Holy Spirit worked.
"[T]here are certain laws of the body as well as certain laws of the souls. And the law of the body is that our body gets cold during the night. That’s why during the night you have to pull up the cover. But the same thing is true of the soul. The soul, if there is not the constant fanning of the flames of the spiritual life, we get cold too. There’s the law of coldness that is a tendency within us, this cooling tendency. It is true of our spiritual lives if we do not spend time with the word of God, if we do not spend time in prayer, if we do not spend time in pondering the things of the word of God, we will become cool and ultimately cold.
"So, stir up the gift of God which is in you. Our Lord’s words remind me of when he says that we are to be 'watchful, to strengthen, to remember, to hold fast, and repent.' How important that is. If you are neglecting prayer, you are growing cold. If you are neglecting the word of God, there is a cooling tendency that is characteristic of the Christian life. It always is true. Neglect the spiritual exercises, and coolness and coldness will inevitably come."
The message, "Sardis, the Model of Past Glory," can be found here.
Dr. Johnson's entire series on Revelation is here.
Credit: the photo above is by Jason Leung on Unsplash.