Revelation 3:1-6

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 glories?

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.


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 notable:

• 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 the inside.


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 few indicators:

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 reality.


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.


What, then, is the hope for a spirituallydead congregation?

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.


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?


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 Christ.