Sardis was one of the seven churches to written to at the beginning of revelation. Each church was guilty of a particular sin that needed to be exposed. Sardis lacked authenticity, filled with scammers, posers, and frauds. Unlike other churches that were constantly under duress from opposition like false teachers and cults, Sardis didn't seem to have the same outside pressures. Nonetheless, God saw them as a church filled with the living dead, having all the vestiges of life but no true heartbeat beneath it all. Hence the "wake up" in v.2 and 3, a command often used in Scripture to call forth believers to rise from a sleepiness that leads to eternal death.
A historical point of Sardis proves to illustrate the lull Sardis dwelled in. Sardis prided itself, thinking it could not be overcome. It sat on top of a gigantic bluff, surrounded by cliffs on three sides, fortified by high walls. Yet at the time of this letter, Sardis had already been sacked twice. Both times, invading armies climbed the cliffs and walls and overtook the city because no soldiers or watchmen had been stationed. Her own blindness and self-delusion had led to her physical downfall more than once. God was now pointing out her spiritual foolishness. What did Sardis have to do?
1. Remember and return to the gospel.
In v. 3, John reminds them to, "Remember, then what you have received and heard." They had not only forgotten the free grace of the gospel, they had forgotten how they had received it. It wasn't something they had deservedly earned, not something that had welled up from within, a newfound, homegrown philosophy that their wisest and brightest had come up with. No, it was the joyous news that had come from heaven to earth, from outside their walls into their city, from God to man, that Christ had come and everything was now changed. v.4 charges them to "keep it," letting it simmer in their hearts and minds so they might be transformed by God's truth and the Spirit's work. Clearly this was not happening for the Spirit brings new life to all things, not delivering death and decay.
2. Repent and turn from their ways.
Sardis was called to name its sin for what it was, to see it clearly, to turn from it, and return to their Savior. God's appeal to them came in reminding them that Jesus' return is unknown yet imminent. This city had sacrificed this future hope of Christ's second advent and its present implications for how they should live now for current comfort, worldly status, and foolish gain.
3. Rejoice that God still perseveres with his people.
The good news amidst all of this was that there were still some in v.4 who had kept the light burning. A remnant in a city that was floating away who continued to be faithful, remaining clothed in the righteousness of Christ. A people who desired to pursue the purity of a life lived in gratitude to grace rather than satisfaction of one's belly. It was their names that God remembered, never to be blotted out of his book of life, uttered from the lips of Jesus as he plead and prayed on their behalf. Sardis was called to embrace this reality again, to know hope was still held out for them, that their God still desired to run with them.
To what degree does has your heart drifted in the same way the people of Sardis did? Do you feel as if you don a spiritual mask and that others see you differently than who you know you truly are deep down inside? How much of your faith is rote habit and duty and devoid of delight? Are you the same privately as you are publicly?
Wake up! Remember the gospel, repent of your falsehood, and rejoice in Christ. Our God has more grace than you can ever understand. May you find that to be true as you strip yourself of everything that you've used to hide and put on the righteousness of our Savior, Jesus Christ.