“I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” Revelation 3:1
Jesus didn’t have anything nice to say to the church in Sardis. Then again, why should he?
It wasn’t really even a church any longer. There were just a few faithful folks left. They had a reputation for being alive, but as Jesus says, they were dead. He wasn’t talking about a season of dryness where they were bothered by the lack of their passion for Jesus. The church in Sardis was disconnected from Jesus, and it didn’t bother them one bit.
Jesus’ words to the church in Sardis are just as important for us to hear today. As the members of the body who make up the church, we are just as susceptible to decay and death as the people who made up the church in Sardis. So, we need to ask ourselves, “What is there in my life and the church that would lead Jesus to say the same thing about me and my church that he said to Sardis?”
Here are five things to be aware of in your life and your church that may indicate you’re on a path of spiritual decay and death.
1. You treat your faith like a routine, not a ritual.
There are countless ways individuals and churches who were once alive in Christ can move toward decay and death. Whatever the reason may be, I believe, it boils down to treating Christianity like a series of routines, not rituals. Routine is a life of check-marking the boxes of minimal obedience and compliance. Ritual is when there’s meaning, value, purpose, mission, and passion in what you do because of Jesus. If your faith in Christ is more routine than ritual then you’ll inevitably stop marking off the boxes because you don’t really love him.
2. You’re not passionate about Jesus.
Are you passionate about Jesus? We tend to be passionate about the things and people into which we invest our time and energy. The more time and energy we invest in things and others, the more passionate we’ll become about them. Where are you with Jesus? Are you passionate about him? Do you invest a lot of time and energy into your relationship with Jesus? If not, then don’t go and pretend to be. Be honest with yourself. Get with Jesus. Spend time with him in silence, prayer, and Bible reading. I also encourage you to spend time with other people who are passionate about Jesus.
3. You treat your faith like a have-to, not a get-to.
Is reading the Bible like reading a phonebook? Do you treat participation in the life of the church like something that needs to be done so that you don’t get into trouble? If so, then you have it all wrong. Christianity is not about laying upon people a burden of religious duties and moral obligations. It’s based upon a relationship with Jesus. Christianity is not a religion of have-tos. It’s a relationship with God where we get to do a lot of things. We get to hangout in relationship with God and other Christians. Your faith in Jesus will be sustained by God’s grace through your love and joy in Jesus—not guilt. Guilt cannot sustain a faithful walk with God for a lifetime.
4. You’ve closed your eyes to Jesus’ mission.
Do you care about Jesus and people? Or, are you the type of Christian that says, “I don’t see any opportunity for the gospel where I’m at. I can’t see any needs in my community.” If you are, then you have intentionally closed your eyes to Jesus’ mission for the people in your life and community. Instead of focusing on what you don’t see, by God’s grace, change your perspective by asking, “What am I not seeing? Where am I not caring? Where are the opportunities that God has given me that I am either just too busy, indifferent, or hard-hearted to really see or care about?”
5. You’d rather see your church die than grow and change.
Would it really bother you if your church died and closed? Have you ever thought this about your church, “It wouldn’t bother me if my church died and I didn’t see the people anymore?” Personally, it would devastate me if Mars Hill Church died and no longer existed. Unfortunately, there are people out there who could care less about their church. For instance, there was one church I worked with that was in declined for over 20 years. To turn things around they hired a young pastor who loved Jesus. He made changes to the service and the music. As a result of these changes, new people started participating in the life of the church. In response to these changes, the “old guard” fired the pastor and they’re back on a trajectory of decline and inevitable death.
Jesus not only sees dead people and churches, he speaks to them too. He doesn’t mince words with people who live for him off of their reputation gained from previous spiritual feats like a former beauty queen or sports star. He says, “This is wrong. This is unacceptable. This cannot continue. Things need to change and they need to change now.” I believe through his message to Sardis that Jesus says two things to us today.
First, where are you? Are you alive, decaying, or dead? If you think that you’re on a path of spiritual decay and death, then by God’s grace repent and get with Jesus.
Second, is there someone in your life who is spiritually decaying or dead? What is the current state of your church? You need to model and mirror Jesus’ example by speaking boldly and compelling people who are spiritually dead toward repentance and life in Jesus.
This post is adapted from this week’s sermon, “Dead in Sardis: Stopped Trying or Caring,” part 7 of Mars Hill’s current sermon series, the Seven. Visit the sermon page for audio and video downloads, as well as English and Spanish versions of the transcript.