Complacency Kills (Revelation 3:1-6)



At beach this week – annual trip with family…

  • Seeing sky and stars touch water and fathoming that a star’s light is far removed from us. One light year equals the distance that light travels at more than 186k miles per second… so more than many trillions of miles away. A star can die and yet we still see its shining light decades later as if nothing had changed for that star, yet its existence is no more.
  • This illustration can characterize many churches. They still shine with reflected light of an accomplished past. When looking at the church one might think nothing has changed, but the spiritual darkness and death has taken root from negligence to evangelize and disciple next generations, and worse, false teaching that extinguished its light.
  • Such was the church at Sardis.

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EXAMINE           Revelation 3:1-6        Complacency Kills

Revelation 3:1
1  “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.


  • Prominent: City was situated on Mt. Tmolus with three sides of the mount having a 1,500-foot steep slope, nearly impenetrable for opposing armies.
  • Prosperity: City was wealthy based on gold found in a river Pactolus, which flowed in middle of the city. The gold here gave partial connection to the mythical history of Midas of Phyrgia who cleansed himself of the golden touch by washing in the river Pactolus.[1] The city also was prosperous from its famous woven textiles, trade, and first to mint gold and silver coins.
  • Prideful: Sardis was previously the capital the ancient kingdom of Lydia, and an important city under Persia, and for a time under Rome. Yet, the city became self-focused and its esteemed reputation became its downfall. Its best days were history and a burden for the future. The city became inattentive to being good stewards of their prominence and prosperity. The city was conquered by its enemies twice in the same way in leaving unguarded entrances on the steep slopes of the city. Enemies scaled the mountain to enter and capture the city. During the time of this letter Sardis was a desolated town of insignificance. Overconfidence led to negligence and then defeat.


Jesus: Words of him who has [holds] the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

  • This phrase reminds from Rev 1:4, 16.
  • Seven spirits of God could be reference either to the seven eyes (Rev 5:6) or seven angels surrounding the presence of God (Rev 8:2).
  • Some also reference a seven-fold ministry of the Spirit mentioned in Isa 11:2-5: Spirit of the Lord, of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
  • In sum, John wants us to know the fullness (symbolic of “7”) of observation and judgment by Jesus. Jesus holds the churches to be near for rebuke and restoration. If there is any hope of personal resurrection or church revitalization, it will come from the glory and grace of Jesus Christ.


3 wake up calls for Christians and the church.

Revelation 3:1-2

‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.

We must wake up to our present reality.

Once again, John describes Jesus as omniscient (all-knowing). Jesus knew the works of the Sardis church and was able to assess its sincerity and success. Jesus acknowledges their perceived reputation did not align with reality. Abraham Lincoln said, “Character is like a tree and reputation is like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”[2]

Sardis’s works were hollow and hypocritical; like Jesus says those who did many works in His name and will call Him “Lord, Lord,” but Jesus will respond “I never knew you. Depart from me workers of iniquity” (Mat 7:23).

Unfortunately, some of profess Christ with their lips are counterfeit with their life. The same could be said of churches, where as one preacher says are a “morgue with a steeple” (Swindoll). They have the appearance of being alive with clusters and crowds of people, but really, they were not converts of Jesus and were spiritually dead. Sardis expected to be affirmed because they had the applause of the world, but instead they were rejected because they lacked authentic relationship with Christ.

Notice what is missing for the Sardis Church:

  • Sardis Church is not infected with false teachers.
  • Sardis Church is not conflicting with Nicolaitans, teachings of Balaam, or Jezebel.
  • Sardis Church is not infiltrated with immoral lifestyles.
  • Sardis Church is not congratulated on anything, nor do we specifically know the problem of the church.
  • We just know Sardis Church was Christian in name only (cf. Isa 29:13; Mt 15:8-9; 23:25-28; 2Tim 3:5).
  • Sardis Church was dead. And being dead is a serious problem.

I do not believe you can be a dead Christian bc there are only two categories of persons: spiritually lost / dead in sin OR spiritually saved / alive in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:1-8). I do believe a Christian can experience spiritual dryness, depression, and sadly even a season of disobedience (“backslidden”). But these are not the state of mind that Jesus desires for us to live. A Christian may get sick physically or spiritually, but there is healing in the grace of Jesus – common grace of human wisdom & medicine/counsel and special grace through the gospel and truth of God’s word.

So, while I do not believe a Christian can lose their salvation, I do believe a church can spiritually decline and die. I believe a church that used to be a lighthouse can have its lampstand removed.

How do you know you’re in a dead church?

  • When the past is discussed more than the future.
  • When appearances on earth matter more than reputation in heaven related to faithfulness to the Scripture.
  • When discipline of church members for unbiblical doctrine or ungodly deeds is avoided.
  • When tradition silences discussion for change.
  • When church meetings are better attended than outreach events and mission trips.
  • When church activity substitutes for intimacy of faith and personally walking with God.
  • When bible studies discuss opinions more than text meaning and personal application.
  • When prayer requests focus on physical health or comforts but seldom mention spiritual growth through trials and suffering.
  • When faith rituals become routine and empty of meaning. When attendees at worship gatherings come and go during the service to get to other events in the church or for personal schedules.
  • When member conveniences are prioritized over mission to the community.
  • When faith risks to obey the Great Commission are not expected of every member but a seldom few.
  • When baptisms of the newly saved are rare.
  • When the church dreams nothing, dares nothing, and demands nothing according to the authority of Jesus Christ.


Our application is to wake up to present reality.

  • Do you have peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ; or inner turmoil and unrest with your spiritual life?
  • Do you hunger for God’s word and a thirst for righteousness; or have others pointed out to you inconsistent habits and patterns of behavior in your life?
  • Did one or more of the above autopsy diagnosis sound shockingly familiar to our church?

The action to take is to ruthlessly attack these malignant markers.

  • Pray today and respond to the voice of God.
  • For those alive, do not take spiritual health or vitality for granted. Devote some time this Lord’s Day or this week to enter thanksgiving with God and ask for a greater surge of spiritual vibrancy in your faith and the life of our church. – – – > Last Sunday First Priority next week.


Revelation 3:2-3
2  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.
3  Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.

We must wake up to our prioritized relationship.

While some/many in the church were dead, there was still a remnant with opportunity to be revived. Jesus found these backslidden Christians as having works lethargic and lacking. Similar to the encounter Jesus had with the young rich ruler who had good intentions, but his faith was incomplete (Mat 19:21). We must discern if our security and satisfaction are in Christ and His finished work on the cross or in God’s favors and handouts.

Side Note: Jesus’s warning is a sign of grace. No sin is too harrowing for Jesus to rescue and no church is too hopeless for Jesus to revive. This is one of the most significant takeaways from these 7 letters that has personally strengthened my soul and ministry. We can all receive fresh starts and new beginnings!

Jesus seeks to help us prioritize the right relationships in our life by unloading a series of commands for church members to take action. In each of the successive five commands, Jesus expects immediate and comprehensive obedience.

Wake up (γρηγορέω). Rouse from slumber, be alert to reality, and prioritize your relationship with the Lord and Savior. Unlike the Sardis army who was negligent in leaving openings to the enemy, Jesus called the church toward vigilance and standing guard to protect our prized relationship with Christ.

Strengthen what remains and is about to die. What remained that needed strengthened? How is a church about to die? It seems the Sardis Church was likely failing in its witness in the city. Sardis was the prototype of today’s politically correct church that doesn’t want to offend anyone; except when we choose not to offend the world we offend God.
Sardis had a level of works but they were incomplete, showing neglect, and on the brink of death. Unlike the Smyrna Church that was persecuted unto death but received the crown of life (Rev 2:10), the Sardis Church avoided persecution by not confessing Christ, which ends in spiritual death (cf. Mat 10:32-33).

Remember and keep it. Jesus wanted them to recall the price paid for their salvation and the love on display in the life and death of Jesus. The remembering Jesus has in mind is more than memories and leads to movement. When we remember all the gospel provides in forgiveness of sin, lavish love and sustaining strength with a bright hope for tomorrow, then we will quickly and frequently turn away from sin and be telling others about Jesus too. Jesus is too good to keep to ourselves.
à How did you receive the gospel… go and do likewise.

Repent. The Christian life is one of sensitivity to the Spirit to walk in humility, repentance, and faith. Repentance is the pathway to revival.

Illus: Story of a family who had just painted several rooms inside their house. The father had spent hours sanding and painting walls, so the area was dusty and filled with paint trays. Mom had sent the children out to play while they painted, but time had passed and it was time for the children to return inside. The mother calls from the window: “Johnny & Susie, come inside, it’s time for dinner; but enter through the front door.” Mom keenly watched the children, knowing their tendency to enter the backdoor as normal. She instructed again: “Johnny & Susie, enter through the front door. Your father and I have been painting and the back room is a mess.” The children continued their stride towards the backdoor. Mom heard them climbing the back steps and yelled this time: “Kids, do not enter through the back. Go around front.” As most children have exceptional hearing and peculiar obedience, they yelled back: “We will be careful mom” and they attempted entry through the backdoor. Mom met the children at the backdoor and gently placed her hand on the children’s chins to look them into the eyes, and she whispered: “Children, I was not asking you to be careful, I was commanding you to be compliant.” MAY WE HAVE COMPLIANT HEARTS & COMPREHENSIVE OBEDIENCE BEFORE THE LORD.

Revelation 3:3-5
3  If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.
4  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.
5  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.

We must wake up to our plain consequences.

The Jesus of the Bible is not the P.C. Jesus of our culture. If you do not wake up to obedience, then Jesus will shock and sentence you for all eternity. His coming will be like a thief – when you least expect and likely the most inopportune moment for you (cf Mat 24:42-44; 1Thess 5:2; 2Pet 3:10; Rev 16:15). There will be no excuses to rationalize your willful waywardness or to justify your delayed obedience. The time will be up, and judgment will move beyond a potential happening to a profound reality as close as your breath (ex. sensation of blowing on hand). 

In Sardis, and NT times, Christians who confessed faith and proclaimed Jesus as their Savior and Lord had their names blotted out of the synagogue register. While the Jews maintained a level of protection from Rome, Christians having their names removed from synagogue registry were marked for persecution. In contrast, Jesus notes the Christian’s names may be removed from worldly organizations or religious institutions, but they will never be removed from the heavenly roll calls because they’re woven with the scarlet thread of redemption. He will purify us with new clothes (cf. Rev 3:18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 7:13-14; 19:8). The blood of Jesus is powerful and permanent to sustain our salvation.

  • What is your confidence level to stand before Jesus eye to eye? Are you unclothed or covered with grace?

Revelation 3:6
6  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’



  • Many churches and Christians live off past success. The growth and achievement of the past allows them to do just enough in the present to get by. Excellence is abandoned for the sake of ease and effortlessness. It’s not that spiritual activity is lacking, it’s simply that all activity is incomplete lacking the quality depth to have any effectiveness. For these churches, death is subtle but sure without immediate and drastic transformation.

    SPBC, by the grace of God, as your pastor, I am calling us (myself included) to drastic transformation.

    • Party – 60th Anniversary
    • Place – inviting campus
      (sports field & object, walking path, recreation benches, playground & disability friendly)
    • Groups
      • Sunday AM transitioning in 2020. Meet Thursday Oct 24
      • 2Gather & Missional
    • Leadership
      • Staff Search Team
      • Elder & Deacon structure recommendations
    • Local Outreach with a focused “Sent:SP experience” in 2020.
    • Preaching & Worship
    • Prayer
      • Sun 9am weekly with search team
      • Last Sun each month 6pm


[1] Patterson, NAC: Revelation 3:1.

[2] Quote found at

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