Recovery Through Spiritual Dynamics
Revelation 3:1: "…I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead." This is a reference to operational death when a believer is operating like a spiritually dead person. James talks about this in James 2:26: "Faith without works [application] is dead." It doesn't mean that that person in that section is an unbeliever, he is operationally dead like the believers in Sardis and Laodicea. He is living a life based on works, based on other elements but there is no spiritual dynamic there from the Holy Spirit. You can have doctrine on the one hand but if you are not marrying your doctrine to application then it is not going anywhere. Faith means application. We learn the Word of God, study the Word of God, but that listening moves toward application—the hearing and doing. The doing isn't Christian service. Christian service should be an outgrowth of our spiritual growth, our spiritual maturity where we develop a capacity for serving in various areas. Hearing and doing has to do with hearing and applying. In the Bible, hearing without application is considered just a false exercise. They key is that we are to learn the doctrine and apply it in our life so that the Holy Spirit produces a life-changing operation. Faith must result in application of what we believe, and when there is no application we are operationally dead in our Christian life. So this verse is addressing believers but they are in operational death, they are in carnality, they are operating like mere men and not under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit. What is the solution?
Revelation 3:2: "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God." If they were unbelievers and spiritually dead they wouldn't have anything that remained, because they couldn't have produced anything from the flesh. The first command, what we have in our English a "Be," is the Greek verb GINOMAI [ginomai] in a present middle imperative. It is a deponent verb, which is why it is a middle voice, but it is a present imperative. The present imperative means this is something which should be a ongoing characteristic, a standard operating procedure, habit pattern of any Christian life. We should always be watchful. It has the idea of becoming something that you were not already, so it is indicating the fact that they are not watchful, not alert at all to what is going on in their own spiritual life. So they need to become something they are not already, and what they are to become is "watchful." This is the word GREGOREO [grhgorew] where we get the name "Gregory." It means to wake up or to awaken. They are to be watchful. A dead person can't be watchful but a temporally dead person, someone who is in carnality, can be watchful. They need to wake up, become alert, which they aren't already, and they need to stay alert. So the idea there is that they are to wake up, put their focus on the right priorities, and to be alert and watchful about their spiritual life. They need to pay attention to what is going on around them and not just drift lazily through their spiritual life but to realize what Paul says in Ephesians chapter six that we are involved in a spiritual warfare. We are engaged in a battle and there are three enemies in that battle. The first is the enemy within, the sin nature which is constantly pumping out temptation to get us to operate independently of the grace, the provision and the power of God. That sin nature is allied with an external enemy called the world system, or the cosmic system. This is simply the total collection of all the thoughts and values of a local culture that is based on principles that are antagonistic to or independent from the Word of God. The word system often presents rationales and justifications and truisms that sound good but are in contradiction to the Word of God.
The New King James Bible says, "strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die," but the majority text says something completely different. The word STERISON [sthrion] means to stand fast, to set fast, to fix firmly, to establish something. Establishing something means to make a certain condition permanent, to cause something to grow. It is related to putting something in a place where later growth could occur. It has to do with bringing stability to that which is unstable, to make something firm or stable. The other word which is from the Greek word TEREO [threw] means to keep, to guard, or to protect things that are under attack or in danger. So we can see that either word works within this context, and either word presents a very similar sense. The latter part of this sentence varies from one version to another. One says "strengthen the things which are about to die"; the other says, "keep the things which are about to be thrown away." The first option is probably the best. We are to strengthen what remains. They are about to die and go into non-existence. There is a regression that occurs in the spiritual life where you can reach a certain level of maturity but then as you reverse course and backslide you can lose the ground you have gained. You lose even the doctrine that you have learned. You forget about principles and how to apply them. This is the condition that the Lord is pointing out in the Sardis church.
The question we have to ask: How do we stabilize that which remains? How do we go about establishing our Christian life, or even re-establishing our Christian life? Because there is a threat here, these things are in jeopardy if there is continuance in carnality. One point to be made here is that even though they have reversed course, even though they are falling apart, even though they are in carnality, and even though instead of being spiritually mature they are spiritually immature, there is hope. There is an opportunity to reverse course. No matter what you have done in your life, no matter how you have failed, no matter what sins you have committed, no matter how you have shocked yourself—and we have all done that at times—somehow His grace covers it all. Certainly there is damage, loss of reward, things that you have to surmount now that are more difficult than if you hadn't gone through that, but there is always hope, always recovery. 1 John 1:9 is the starting point for that recovery but it doesn't mean that once you have confessed your sin you have recovered. Now you have to go through the recovery process, which means learning all over again—to walk by means of the Spirit, to abide in Christ, to take in the Word of God, to apply the Word of God, to re-establish those spiritual disciplines that are necessary to advance in the spiritual life.
"…for I have not found thy works perfect before God." This is a perfect tense of HEURISKO [e(uriskw], meaning to find or discover something. The perfect tense means this is emphasizing completed action. Some level of evaluation has been completed at this point, and what He is saying is that at this point as a result of the evaluation done already the present result of this is failure. They are getting an F-minus for their progress in the spiritual life right now. "I have not found [as a result of a previous evaluation completed] your works perfect." The word there for works is ERGON [e)rgon] meaning production, whatever it is. "Perfect" is the Greek verb PLEROO [plhrow] here, meaning to make full, to fill, to bring to completion, and it is used periphrastically here to complete the thought, "I have not found complete your works before God." So there is much left that they need to do in their spiritual life. They have a lot of growth left and they need to pursue that, it needs to be their priority.
Revelation 3:3, the conclusion. "Remember therefore how you have received and heard." Those verbs indicate how they received Christ as savior—by faith alone in Christ alone. Grace. You have to come back to a grace oriented position. Remember how you received the Word that you learned originally, not just the reception of salvation but also receiving the Word, the idea that is linked with the next verb, hearing. Hearing is never viewed in the Scripture as the simple process of listening to the teaching of the Word of God. It includes within its idea that of application of doing, of not just listening but also applying what you hear. So He is calling them back to what they did earlier when they were advancing spiritually, to remember the principles that they implemented earlier in their life.
"…and hold fast, and repent. If therefore you will not watch, I will come on you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you." The key is changing one's mind. It is not talking about emotion, remorse. There is always recovery. The recovery procedure is laid out here in verse three and it is a refocus on how we originally learned and accepted Christ as our savior, how we originally learned doctrine, received doctrine, underwent those principles, and understanding at the root the spiritual dynamic that is crucial to that supernatural means of growth, which is walking according to the Spirit.