Think for a moment about the kind of reputation you want people to know about you. What kind of reputation do you think you have among your family? Your coworkers? Your church family? Are you one person at church on Sunday, but another person in the office Monday-Friday?
You might be able to fool other people…even your family. However, if God examined your reputation, what would He have to say about it? In Revelation 3:1, He said about the church in Sardis: “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” (Revelation 3:1) God is omniscience, meaning He is all-knowing. While you might be able to fool others, God knows your heart and you cannot fool Him.
Sardis was the capital city of Lydia and it was known for its great wealth. During the time that John wrote the book of Revelation, Sardis was a trade center known for textile manufacture, dyeing, and jewelry. Because of it’s riches, it was complacent, soft, and degenerate and it’s king, Croesus, led the empire into defeat and decline. In fact, when Alexander approached the city, they didn’t even defend it, but hurried out of the mountain fortress to surrender the city without any resistance. It was captured again in 214 BC by Antiochuss III, because the people of Sardis considered themselves too safe to need a guard.
The city was known for worshipping the mother-goddess, Cybele and their worship included some of the most debasing orgies with the most foulest and darkest sins committed during the festivals that honored the goddess. However, a small number of the people became Christians and turned from such idolatry worship. However, living amongst this culture they had known all of their lives would have been very difficult to stay away from. They were a church on the outside, but God told them they were dead on the inside. To the people in the city, they had a reputation of what the people thought about them. They saw a church that was active, had all the newest programs and activities for all ages. They were at the church every time the doors opened. They would have been seen as a successful church.
Yet God knew them from the inside. There was no true spiritual vitality. Where living for Christ was concerned, they were dead. Ephesians 5:14 says “Get up, sleeper, and rise up from the dead, and the Messiah will shine on you.” In other words, the “sleeper” here is a Christian that is living like the world and out of fellowship with God and therefore is missing out on the abundant life Christ promised to believers. There were probably also some who called themselves Christians, but had not truly given their life to Christ and therefore were spiritually dead. However, God was calling out the true believers who lived spiritually carnal lives out of their own abilities rather than obeying the Word of God and following the leading of the Holy Spirit. They were caught up in worshipping their own successes, abilities, and were proud of the reputation they had created for themselves. It was more caught up in the appearance of being a strong, successful church, having all the right programs than it was in living spirit filled lives. Rather than focusing on spiritual growth, they focused on numerical growth.
There is much we can learn from the church in Sardis. By examining our own hearts and motivation to worship God and our level of passion to have fellowship and a close, personal relationship with God we can determine if we too are alive, but dead. We need to determine if there is unconfessed sin in our lives, or habits we hang on to that keep us from focusing on God and growing Spiritually. We allow our days to be filled to the brim without any time spent with God. We might spend time reading the Bible, but more so we can check off today’s passage, but not ever allowing the Words of God to penetrate our heart and change our lives.
Francis Chan wrote in his book Crazy Love, “When we face the Holy God, “nice” isn’t what we will be concerned with, and it definitely isn’t what He will be thinking about. Any compliments you received on earth will be gone; all that will be left for you is truth. The church in Sardis had a great reputation, but it didn’t matter. All that matters is the reality of who we are before God.”
What reputation do you have before the God who knows your deeds? Would He say that you are alive, but dead?