What exactly are the signs of a dying
church? Is it declining attendance? That’s
probably the simplest answer to the question,
but I think the deeper question goes to issues
of spiritual vitality.
What about a church that is so comfortable
in its current situation that there is no
place for new people? What about a church
that has completely lost its vision to reach
people for Christ? If a church has no zeal for
the lost, can it truly be called a “living” church
of Jesus Christ? What about a church whose
best days happened a generation ago and that
continues to live off the reputation of its past
A church that seems dead may have
signs of life within it; far more ominously, a
church may seem full of life but acctually be at
the point of spiritual death.
I. A DISAPPROVING INDICTMENT
Such was the critical problem of the
church at Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6). When Jesus
comes to this church, He makes a quick and
disquieting diagnosis (verse 1).
This may be the most damning indictment
our Lord could give to any local church. And it
is a comment only He could make. The church
seemed alive and well. It had a good reputation
in the community. It was evidently not on the
brink of closing its doors. Christians in other
towns spoke well of the church at Sardis.
What Jesus does not mention is certainly
• The church does not seem to be suffering persecution.
• It does not seem to be seriously infected with false doctrine.
• There is no hint of sexual immorality in the church.
• The church is not warned about losing
its first love.
In some respects, Sardis is the most difficult
church to dissect because we don’t really
know what was wrong there. When Jesus
speaks to the other churches, He spells out the
problem so that there can be no confusion. But
here we are told simply that at Sardis, things
looked good on the outside but were dying on
II. A SHOCKING EVALUATION
Although apparently active on the outside, on the inside the church at Sardis had become
a “spiritual graveyard.”
All of this should be a solemn warning to
us because this church evidently looked very
good from the outside. How does a situation
develop where a church with a good reputation
turns out to be spiritually dead? We can list a
1. When the past becomes more important than the present.
2. When keeping a good reputation matters more than being a bold witness for Christ.
3. When religious ritual becomes an end in itself.
4. When tradition stifles every attempt at innovation.
5. When church activity substitutes for a growing walk with God.
6. When talking about Christ matters more than knowing Christ.
7. When appearence matters more than
III. A HOPEFUL REMINDER
What can be done about a dead or dying
church? We get some good news in our text
from the Lord Himself (Rev. 3:4).
God has people in the most unlikely places.
Even in a church like Sardis, there were
those who loved and served the Lord with pure
hearts. It reminds me of the time when, in his
despair, Elijah felt like he was the only faithful
servant of God in the whole land of Israel. God
called him to action by telling him that there
were yet 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to
Baal (1 Kings 19:14-18). God is not limited by
our small vision. This gives us hope for even
the most miserable church situations.
IV. A DIVINE ULTIMATUM
What, then, is the hope for a spirituallydead
1. The church must wake up. “Wake up!
Strengthen what remains and is about to die,
for I have not found your deeds complete in
the sight of my God” (Rev. 3:2). Because it
was located on a plateau, Sardis seemed secure
from invasion. But twice in its history,
invading armies had scaled the heights during
the night and captured the city. So Christ’s admonition
to “wake up” had special meaning to
the church in Sardis. No doubt the congregation
had become spiritually lazy.
2. The church must return to Christ before
it is too late. “Remember, therefore, what you
have received and heard; obey it, 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” (verse 3). To repent means literally
to change the mind. In this case, it involves
turning back to the Lord with a whole
heart. I daresay that nothing is more difficult
than for a comfortable church to repent.
V. A SOLEMN WARNING
If we do not take these words seriously,
there is an implied threat: Jesus will come like
a “thief in the night.” Like a thief who comes
when you least expect him, Jesus warns the
congregation to wake up or, when He comes,
the results will not be happy for the church.
Jesus is coming! Are you ready?
VI. A BRACING PROMISE
Note the three-fold promise to the overcomers at Sardis:
1. They will be dressed in the white robes of victory (verses 4, 5).
2. They will have their names reserved in heaven (verse 5).
3. They will be personally recognized by
our Lord (verse 5).
Where did the church at Sardis go wrong?
It was a church of the living dead. The church
was a bastion of dead orthodoxy and a beehive
of religious mediocrity. Its spiritual condition
was made worse by the fact that, on the
surface, it seemed to be spiritually alive.
Far worse than persecution from without
is rotting from within. The church was lethargic
because the people were lethargic. That
can happen to any of us at any time.
God still loved the church at Sardis. If Jesus
hadn’t cared, He wouldn’t have written this letter.
So, if we are spiritually asleep, we can say,
“Lord, start with me. Do your work in me. Wake
me up! Stir me up to love You and to serve You
so that the world will know I belong to You.”
May God wake us up and deliver us from
the Church of the Living Dead so that we become
once again the Church of the Living