To the Church in Sardis
3 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits[b] of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 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.
4 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.
There are a couple of differences in the words to the church at Sardis than the first four churches that one can notice right away. First, there is no initial commendation given as with the first four churches. The first thing that is said is that they had a reputation of being alive but they were dead. Meaning things looked good on the outside, but internally there was a big spiritual deficit. It reminds us that worldly evaluations of a church are not the only indicator of a healthy church. Even works done by the church can be hypocritical, if the motives are other than for extending the love of Christ and His kingdom.
Although they are in a precarious situation, there is still time to repent and turn things around. God's power is still available to them through the power of the Holy Spirit. There are still some who are holding on to a true relationship with Christ, as evidenced by a lack of compromise. When the majority of the church are spiritually dead, it points to the great character of those who have not "soiled their clothes". This is a reference to the white robes that have been given to us by Christ. They are a sign of the purity He has given us by His work on the cross. When we return to sin in whatever form and refuse to repent, it is likened to soiling those white robes. We have taken what Jesus has given and dragged it through the mud.
Third, there is the warning that if they do not wake up that He will come like a thief in the night. The problem with returning to a sinful lifestyle after you have been delivered from it, is a spiritual dullness. This dullness can lead one to be unaware of the consequences of their falling from grace. The deeper one gets into this downward spiral, the harder it is to turn from it. That is why he says strengthen what you have. There was still some reseeming qualities that he wants to stir up in them.
Finally, there is the promise that the one who perseveres will never be taken out of the book of life. They will appear in white robes, and Jesus will acknowledge them before the Father in heaven.
This message is a sober one. This church, like many other churches, is in danger. They are at a critical time in their life. God has not withdrawn His Spirit, but they need to need to remember what they heard and saw at first. They need to worry less about what they look like and focus more on who Jesus is and what He has done for them.
Is it is easy for any church to stray from its original purpose and reliance on the One who has called her. The evil one will use any tactic to divide or distract the church. And he works from within, especially within the leadership. This is why it is important for leaders to continue to stay rooted in Christ, and the spiritual disciplines that help us to remain in Him, like prayer, being in the Word, and silence and solitude. Pray for your church and others that it will remain spiritually alive.