by Mike Ratliff
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘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 3:1-2 ESV)
We had my dad’s funeral on Thursday the 25th. He died on Saturday the 20th. The funeral was more of a celebration of my dad’s life than anything else. My dad had 13 siblings all older than him. All but one of them preceded him in death. Some of them were adults with children of their own when my dad was born in 1924. My grandfather was a remarkable man. He was born in 1877 and became a preacher of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the 1890’s in Indian Territory, which is now Oklahoma. My mother allowed me to take some of the things stored in her house that had belonged to my dad. One prized possession I have with me now is my grandfather’s bible from which he preached well into the 1950’s. It is full of notes and his own cross-references. However, there is one thing in the bible that no one, apparently, knew was there. It is a letter written to him from one of his sisters, Lucy. It had to have been written to him either in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s since she died around that time. Below is a quote from it that I found especially fitting in light of the present condition of the visible church.
Enjoyed your letter very much even if you thought otherwise about it. It sounded like the J.A. (my grandfather’s initials) of long ago. I agree with you about the condition of most of the churches of today. The spiritual drouth (sp) is not coming but is here. However, our Lord does bless His children here & there in spite of all the backsliders as He has here in Shidler these last two weeks. A lot were saved & backsliders renewed. Believe it or not, I saw a lot of tears.
The preacher was very good and could drive God’s Word home to hearts better than anyone I have heard for the longest. From the newscast today this old world is in a turmoil. Earthquakes & hurricanes…& the so called faith healers are going like a grass fire, but all these things don’t disturb the people who do know their God & His Word, but rather strengthens their faith & brings joy to their hearts knowing He is coming soon.
Well here it is Monday 24th. Saw 20, most of them men & women, baptized last night, but I’m wondering about their growth in Grace as the Church is not what it should be.
The apostasy that my grandfather and his sister were discussing had to do with a temporal focus within churches. People were simply being religious. There was little evidence of the working of the Holy Spirit in the people’s lives. In other words the transforming work of Sanctification (Romans 12:1-2) was not in evidence. Churches may have been stable in growth or even growing, but the focus within was on religiosity rather than the Cross of Christ and preaching the Gospel and the spiritual growth of believers. According to some sources I have read about this, many mark this era of apostasy as having begun in around 1900 and has only downgraded from there. The fruit of rank apostasy that calls itself true Christianity that we have all around us now has sprung from these apostate roots. However, God has sustained and keeps faithful His remnant throughout all of these difficult spiritual times.
In Revelation 3 there are three letters to three churches. The first letter is to the church at Sardis. The second letter is to the church at Philadelphia. The third letter is to the church at Laodicea. It is fascinating to see the contrasts between these three churches.
Our Lord tells Sardis in v1, ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.’ However, in v4 He says, ‘Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.’ Then in v5 He says, ‘The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.’ The words “The one who conquers” are the Greek words, ο νικων. The word νικων, “one conquering” is based on the word νικος, which means victory. Νικων, then, is describing one who “gets the victory.” These are the ones who, even in the midst of apostate times, remain faithful, grow in Christ, and do not compromise with the growing apostasy all around them regardless of the pressures put on them to do so.
The contrast between the church at Sardis and the one in Philadelphia is striking. Our Lord said to them:
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. “‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie–behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” (Revelation 3:7-12 ESV)
What we have here is a church νικων regardless of the fiery trials they are enduring. They are not compromising with the pressures of apostasy, but are overcoming or conquering in their obedience and faithfulness. They are cross-centered. They are keeping our Lord’s Word. In other words, they would be right along side those of us who stand firm with the necessity of adhering to Sola Scriptura. The promise to believers here is not that they will be kept from suffering, but that they will be sustained in the midst of it by the grace of God.
Then we have the last letter to the church at Laodicea, the lukewarm church. I call this the apostate church or the deceived church.
“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:14-21 ESV)
This church thinks it is right in the middle of God’s will. It thinks it is in fine shape. The people think they are rich in God, but are paupers. They are spiritual, but it is not Christian. It is of the flesh and the devil. They claim they are the ones doing Christianity the right way, but are blind or deceived into not seeing the truth of their spiritual bankruptcy, which is that they are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. These are not regenerate people. They are not Christians, but are only religious. They are being called to faith by our Lord so that, by His grace, they would be able to “buy” gold refined by fire, so that they would be rich and white garments so they would be clothed and salve to anoint their eyes so that they may see. This is describing what real Christians have while the apostate, so-called Christians are really only pretenders who have nothing. What is their solution? They are being called to hear the truth and repent. This is the result of hearing the preaching of the truth from God’s Word as the Holy Spirit applies it to the heart. They are being called to hear this, believe, and repent.
My brethren, I am convinced that in our time, most of what is called Christian is either like Sardis or Laodicea. There are very few Philadelphias out there. What we are being called to do is to stand firm and be overcomers regardless of what those all around us are doing. In this, we pray for the backsliders and false Christians to hear the truth, believe, and repent. We pray for the false Christian leaders to be exposed and rebuked. We pray for God to continue to preserve us as He works out His plan for the Church. God’s will be done!
Soli Deo Gloria!