The Seven Churches, Part VIII: The Church of Sardis

The people of Sardis had a name depicting they were alive, but they were dead. They thought they were alive, because they had followed Martin Luther. Because he was alive, they thought they were alive as well. They, for some reason, thought that if they were followers of someone who was spiritually alive, they would be alive also.

That is especially applicable to our young people. Have you ever heard about preachers’ kids or teachers’ kids or doctors’ kids—kids of people who are especially religious? Sometimes those kids grow up to be absolutely irreligious! That can happen. Do you know why it can happen?— because, as the followers of Luther who said, “Luther’s great, and I am a follower of him. He is a Christian; I must be a Christian too,” they grow up thinking, “My mother is a Christian; my father is a Christian. They go to church; I go to church. They go to Sabbath School; I go to Sabbath School. We have family worship. They are Christians; I must be a Christian too!” These people fool themselves. It is one thing to fool others, but it is worse to fool yourself.

It was a noble act for Martin Luther and even his followers to put their lives on the line for the gospel. The message had to be lived. It had to be more than just heard and believed. It had to be lived.

Implanted Word

In James 1:21, we read: “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” The Word must be received within, not just heard. Is there something in the Word that can save our souls? Yes, if it is implanted, if it is written on our hearts and minds.

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Verse 22. It is bad to deceive others, but it is worse to deceive yourself. That is the picture of Sardis. They thought they were alive, but they were dead. That is the picture of Laodicea. They thought they were rich, but they were poor. This will be the picture of most Christians as Jesus is about to come again. They think they are Christians, but they have absolutely deceived themselves.

I hope and pray with all of the fervor I have that your church is filled with the Holy Spirit and the love of God, and that it is on fire for Him. But I want to tell you, it does not matter whether the whole church is on fire for God; that will not save you, unless you are on fire for God too. Being in the midst of Christians will never save you; you must become a Christian too.

James continues, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.” Verses 23, 24. I guess he supposes that Jesus will cover him with His righteousness regardless of what he does, as long as he hears the Word and accepts Him. He immediately forgets what kind of a man he was. It is not that important, you see, for he thinks his sins are forgiven.

Hearers or Doers

“But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues [in it], and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” Verse 25. What does it say in Revelation? Those are blessed who read and hear and keep the things that are written therein.

Many of the Reformers were hearers, and they outwardly performed the work. Inwardly, they were unconverted. In short order, they allowed Jesuits to start schools in their midst, and outwardly, they were good schools. They decided to send their young people to these schools, because they wanted them to have a liberal education. They put the arts and the sciences above the integrity of the faith. Were they truly converted? No, they were not.

Follow the Leader?

Moreover, the early Protestants trusted their leaders. However far their leaders went, they went equally as far. When their leaders died, they died. They thereby showed that their faith was not built upon God but upon people, upon their leaders. When others came along and preached something different or taught more light, they persecuted them.

When Wesley appeared, these good, strong Protestants threw stones at him and threatened his life more than once. In one attempt to kill him, they found a wild bull, and, by poking it, they got it to cause a great disruption by stampeding right through the audience, straight toward Wesley. If it had not been for the grace of God, these Protestant brethren would have killed Wesley, just as the Catholics killed the earlier Protestants.

These later Protestant Reformers began to understand the dangers of building their faith on their leaders. John Robinson, a pastor of the Pilgrims, was not able to come to America, because he was too old by the time they finally crossed the ocean. When the Pilgrims boarded the Mayflower, he preached a closing sermon. He said, “Brethren, we are now erelong to part asunder, and the Lord knoweth whether I shall live ever to see your faces more. But whether the Lord hath appointed it or not, I charge you before God and His blessed angels to follow me no farther than I have followed Christ. If God should reveal anything to you by any other instrument of His, be as ready to receive it as ever you were to receive any truth of my ministry; for I am very confident the Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth out of His holy word.” The Great Controversy, 291, 292.

Oh, if only the early Protestant Reformers could have heard that word and accepted it. We must learn from God’s instrumentalities. The Bible says that He ordains preachers, evangelists, and teachers. If we do not hear the word that God sends to us through human instrumentalities, most of us will never hear it. We will be lost.

I think of the eunuch out in the desert. (Acts 8:27–39.) If he had not listened to Philip, would God have somehow raised up another instrumentality? Would He have said, “Well, he was not good enough for you; I will raise up somebody else”? No, the eunuch would have gone down to his grave in ignorance. I think of the centurion and how God sent Peter to enlighten him. (Acts 10.) If he had rejected Peter, would God have sent someone else? No, he had his one opportunity.

God uses human instrumentalities, and we need to listen when God sends them, but our faith must be grounded, not in the people, but in God. As with Paul, we are counseled that we should study the Word daily to find whether those things are so. (Acts 17:11.) Then, when the Word is preached, it must be more than believed; it must be lived. We must not just know the truth; we must be converted.

Death of Reformation

For the great majority of the Protestant followers, this was not the case, and that is why the Protestant Reformation was cut short. The historians look back to that era of the 1500s, when the Protestant Reformation mowed down the Catholic theology until whole countries, one after the other, became Protestant. It appeared that the Catholic Church was dead, never to recover again. But the Protestant Reformation died, and the deadly wound, as the Bible calls it, was healed. (Revelation 13:3, 12.) The Bible says that there is coming a time when the entire world will once again follow after the beast. (Revelation 13:3.)

The Protestants did the same thing as did the Israelites when they entered into Canaan. God had told them to conquer all of Canaan, to take all of their images, and to get rid of their religion. But they only conquered a few and then decided they were tired of fighting and would rather settle where they were and plant gardens. Then they let the Philistines live among them. They told themselves that there was no reason for concern, because they were stronger than the Philistines. But sooner or later the Philistines came back to conquer them.

A Good Beginning and Ending

In Revelation 3:2, God says, “Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.” It is not just a good beginning that assures one’s position in heaven; it is a good ending as well! We must remain faithful; we must grow every day.

No one is ever getting to heaven by just making a good beginning. We are not getting to heaven unless we also continue unto the end. Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” That is a conditional statement. There are a lot of people who are claiming, “once saved, always saved.” They think that as long as they make a good beginning, that is all that is necessary. That is a soothing philosophy from the devil, which he has spread upon the church of today.

That is what happened in Sardis. There were many people who made a good beginning by listening to Martin Luther, but they did not continue to the end. They grew discouraged. In the last days, we are told, the same thing will happen. In Matthew 24:13, Jesus said, “He who endures to the end shall be saved.”

Parable of Virgins

In Matthew 25, Jesus told a parable about some virgins, or bridesmaids, who went out to a wedding, and as it was the custom to do in Bible times, they waited for the bridegroom and his attendants. Back then, the wedding attendants went into the wedding with the bridegroom, so they waited for him. When the bridegroom went in, the door was shut and locked.

This is similar to an old tradition in America. In the past, when the wedding began, the door was locked, and no one else could enter. If a guest arrived five minutes late and the marriage ceremony had begun, he or she was left outside the wedding.

So the bridesmaids waited. The trouble was, the bridegroom did not come when he was expected. They had made a good beginning, but they had not prepared for a delay. The delay was a lot longer—the trial a lot greater—than what they had anticipated. By the time the bridegroom finally arrived, half of the virgins’ lamps had gone out, so they had to go in search of more oil. While they were searching, the bridegroom went into the marriage with those who were ready, and closed the door.

At the close of time, half of the virgins will still be looking for oil for their lamps, but the door of probation will be shut. The bridegroom will then enter into the marriage supper (Revelation 19:9) with those who are ready and waiting. Those who will be left out will be left out forever, and those who are taken in will be taken in forever. It is not just a good beginning that counts.

Complete to the End

In giving prophecy seminars, many times have I seen people who have come and heard and listened and enjoyed and believed and accepted, but they never went on to complete what was beginning. What good did it do them, if they did not complete the beginning? It did not do any good at all. Dear friends, all of us have made a good beginning. But what counts is how we finish the race. Are we going to finish?

Jesus spoke of two classes of Christians in Matthew 7, represented by two builders who both heard the word. One did as he was told and built his house on the rock. When the storm came, the house stood. The other heard but did not do, and his house was likened to a house that was built on the sand. He also had a Christian house; they were both Christians. But when the storm came—and I want to tell you, the storm is coming to every life; no one is getting to heaven without having to weather a storm—the house did not stand.

We will not get to heaven by being Christians in the sunlight. We will get to heaven by being Christians through the storm. In the parable that Jesus taught, both believers built a house. They both built a house in the sunlight. They were both Christians, but were both saved? Only the house that withstood the storm was saved. During the storm, Christianity is tested to show whether or not it is genuine.

Good Enough for Dad

Revelation 3:3, 4 says, “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.” Just as those virgins in the parable. “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.”

Another problem with many of the Reformers was that they somehow thought that whatever religion was good enough for their fathers was good enough for them. How many people today have I heard say, “Well, my parents kept Sunday. It was good enough for them; it is good enough for me.” The Bible tells us to repent. We are held accountable for more than for what our fathers were held accountable. They were held accountable for their lives, but if we go no farther than they, we are dead, though we may have a name that we are alive.

Verses 5 and 6 say, “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My father and before His angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Today, the torch has been passed to us. We are held accountable for more than any other generation of people. Dear friends, we are held accountable for more than were the Reformers in Martin Luther’s day. We are held accountable for more than were the Reformers in Wesley’s day. We are held accountable for more than were the Adventists 20 or 50 years ago. I want you to contemplate that the Adventists 50 years ago never finished the work. Today, God is calling for 144,000 people who come up to a higher plain than anyone has ever before come. If we live the way our fathers lived, they may be saved, but we are dead.

Remember This

In summary, let me share three things I would like you to remember. First, the church of Sardis teaches us that we must be doers of the Word and not hearers only. Second, the church of Sardis teaches us that we must go beyond the faith of our fathers. Third, the church of Sardis teaches us that we must not just make a good beginning, but we must remain faithful unto the end, or our names will be blotted out of the Book of Life.

Your name and my name may have been written in the Book of Life at one time. The only way it can be written there is if you have been saved at some time. But the Bible says that although you have once been saved, although you have once accepted Jesus, although at one time you were converted, your name will be blotted out of the Book of Life unless you go on to higher ground. May that not happen to any of us. May we be clothed with the white raiment of Christ’s righteousness.

To be continued . . .

Pastor Marshall Grosboll, with his wife Lillian, founded Steps to Life. In July 1991, Pastor Marshall and his family met with tragedy as they were returning home from a camp meeting in Washington state, when the airplane he was piloting went down, killing all on board.