Revelation 3:4-5: "You have a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He who overcomes, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels."
Sardis is the first of two churches where nothing positive is said to commend the people, the believers in the church for their spiritual growth, their production, their maturity. In fact, what there is is a warning. However, within this warning to this congregation we realise that there is a minority of believers in the congregation who are advancing spiritually, who are obedient to the Word, and who have not fallen prey to the compromises that characterize the vast majority of those in this congregation. So there is a statement for them in verses 4 & 5 related to the promise of reward.
The best way to understand these overcomer passages, which is what we are focusing on here in verses 4 & 5, is to understand that when we enter into salvation, when we trust Jesus Christ as our savior, at the instant that we believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross as a substitute for us, we receive eternal life. We dont receive partial life, intermittent life, the potential of eternal life, we receive eternal life. We are adopted into the family of God, we are justified; all of these various things take place at the instant of salvation. It is like an eternal contract with God that cant be broken. We not only have an eternal contract that secures that life, we also have incentive clauses. That is related to rewards and blessings. That is the focus of these overcomer passages that we find.
Verse 4 begins, "But." The King James version didnt translate the "but." This is a conjunction of contrast. "…you have a few names even in Sardis." He is drawing a contrast between these few versus the whole. "…who have not defiled their garments."
First of all, it is the Lord Jesus Christ who is evaluating these local churches. He is presented in this evaluation report as the one who has the seven spirits of God and the seven starts. He is pictured as a judge. This goes back to the image of Jesus Christ as he appeared to John in chapter one, and because if its significance to what we are going to read we will go back and read verses 12-15 of that chapter to remind us of what that image consisted: "And I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned, I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the midst of the seven lampstands one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters." All of this is of a brilliant white, shining image of the Lord Jesus Christ. His hair is white, His robe is white, He wears this garment that is down to the feet and it is girded about with a golden band. The imagery there of this robe and a golden band is the image of a priest. He is coming as a prist-judge. That is the thrust of that image. When we come to understanding verses 4 & 5 of chapter three where we talk about those in Sardis who have not defiled their garments and that the overcomer will be clothed in white garments, it is the same kind of garment that the Lord Jesus Christ is wearing in Revelation chapter one. This indicates that the reward for the overcomer is related to the priestly ministry. We know that when we return with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Millennial kingdom we will be reigning as priests and kings. So today we are in the training mode in preparation for being able to reign with the Lord Jesus Christ during the Millennial kingdom. So the maturity and the capacity for wisdom and the application of doctrine that we develop that we develop during this age is specifically in preparation for our role as those who will reign as priests and kings during the Millennial kingdom.
The commandment for the believers to remember how they had received and heard. That commandment right there tells us that Jesus is addressing them as a congregation of believers, not as a congregation of unbelievers. That needs to be made clear because when we get into understanding the crucial phrase in the middle of verse 5, "I will not blot out his name from the book of life," there are those who want to come along and talk about the fact that they can lose their salvation. Furthermore, there are those who want to equate the overcomer with all believers, and that those who dont overcome were simply "false professors," they just had a false profession of faith in Christ and werent truly saved. Whenever we see anyone adding some sort of adverb to the word "saved" then they are basically in the Lordship salvation camp. What Lordship salvation is, is basically the idea that the only way that you can know that you are truly saved in the long haul is if you what they call works that are in keeping with righteousness. That is, if you dont have the right kind of works you really werent saved to begin with, you just had a false profession; and the only way you can know you were saved is by the works, the fruit produced in the course of your life. So up to the point you die you cant truly have an assurance of your salvation because the real test of whether or not your faith was genuine was these kind of works. So Lordship salvation always produces fruit inspectors who are trying to figure out if you have the right kind of works.
At the very core of this evaluation report Jesus is indicating that there are two categories of believers in this congregation. There is one category of believers who are failures at this point. They are not walking by the Holy Spirit, they are not producing anything by the Holy Spirit, theres no fruit of the Spirit, no spiritual growth, no spiritual advance, they are not developing any capacity for righteousness at all, but they are saved. If they werent saved in verse three, which is addressed to these believers who are failures, these who have the name of being alive but are dead, the verse would be absolutely meaningless unless they were saved. If they werent saved, what would they be remembering? So it is clear that verse three addresses the large segment of this congregation that are believers who had become complacent in their spiritual life, they are no longer walking by the Holy Spirit, they just have an external form of godliness of the spiritual life but are by their practice, their day-to-day life, denying the genuine power of the spiritual life, which is the walk by means of God the Holy Spirit. So having challenged these failure believers, these believers who are not going anywhere, with what they need to do to recover, there is a positive statement of potential reward to those who are hanging in there in their spiritual life and are going forward. This is the focus of verse four. It is contrasting the operationally dead majority with those few who are spiritually vibrant and advancing in their spiritual life.
"…a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments." The fundamental concept of defilement is that to be defiled is to live in ongoing carnality. There are a few who have not defiled their garments. It is not talking about individual acts of sin, it is talking about being operational dead. That is what the context tells us. The Lord says, "and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy." That is the promise, the incentive clause. Because they are not living in operational death any believer that is operating his spiritual life on the basis of the Holy Spirit is going to grow and advance and there is a future promise of walking with the Lord is white, and that has to do with their future reward.
Then verse 5 states: "He who overcomes, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels." Just a note here—we will have to come back and deal with this later: he who overcomes in context is clearly in contrast to these operationally dead believers who are not overcomers. The reason to say that is because in much of the commentaries that we read on Revelation and much of the teaching we hear on Revelation the concept of an overcomer is equated to a believer: everyone who is a believer; everyone who is an overcomer is a believer; because of a passage in 1 John which says that all of us have overcome the world because we have believed in Jesus Christ. Many people take that passage to indicate that overcoming equals those who have expressed faith in Christ. But the is there is, is the faith there is terms of phase one faith justification for salvation, or is it talking about ongoing trust in Christ and the spiritual assets He has given us in the spiritual life.
The reason we are bypassing several things in verses four and five is because when we look at these two verses they hang together. You have to interpret the whole thing, you have to understand what they are saying, and the core issue is in the middle of verse five, which we have to understand, and that is the phrase, "and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life." This is a difficult passage to interpret, there are a lot of different things that are written in it, but in some sense we have to understand what is going on in verse 5, and then we back our way out to understand everything else that is going on. There are a couple of different ways in which we have to interpret this phrase. The first is to understand the phrase "blotting out his name" as a reference to losing salvation. Since the name is originally written in the book of life, if you have it blotted out or removed it would suggest that the person has lost their salvation. The other option is that whatever blotting out his name means, it doesnt refer to losing ones salvation.
The idea that a person can lose his salvation is in direct contrast to a doctrine known as eternal security or assurance of salvation. We hear both terms and they refer to the same thing: that the believer is secure in his salvation, and from the instant of salvation has because of the internal witness of God the Holy Spirit an assurance of their salvation. The idea that you can lose your salvation is an idea that is usually associated with a theological system known as Arminianism.
The idea that you can lose salvation fails of various fronts
1) It fails because it assumes that you can commit some sin or series of sins that is too great for the grace of God.
2) Secondly, it assumes that you can commit some sin or series of sins about which the omniscience of God was ignorant and therefore it wasnt paid for by Christ on the cross.
3) Another failure, it assumes that you do something to merit the approval of God to be saved, and thus you can do something to lose that favour.
1) Definition: Eternal security is the work of God which guarantees that Gods free gift of salvation is eternal, and cannot be lost, abrogated, nullified, or reversed by any thought, act, or change of belief in the person saved.
2) God the Fathers purposes in salvation cannot be overridden. When we get into Romans 8:29, 30 the same group that He foreknew is a group that He predestines, calls, justifies, and redeems. Nobody gets dropped out. "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." Those He justifies, every one of them, He glorifies. He doesnt lose a few on the way because they stop believing in Jesus.
3) God the Fathers omnipotence is more powerful than human attempts to negate salvation. He is more powerful than anything that we can do. He is powerful enough to provide a salvation that covers every sin and He is able to keep the believer secure. Jude 24, "Now unto him that is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy." John 10:28, 29, "And I give to them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Fathers hand." When Jesus says He gives them, He uses a present tense, and that present tense here indicates that this is a permanent possession. He gives permanently eternal life.
4) God is omniscient, He knows all the knowable. He knows every single sin that you will ever commit and he was able to impute that to Jesus Christ on the cross. God is omnipotent, therefore between His omnipotence and His omniscience He is able to keep us secure because He had all the sins paid for. No sin that you commit surprises God, no sin was left undealt with, no sin is too great for the plan of God or the grace of God. People who think they can lose their salvation are just arrogant; they think they can outdo Gods plan.
5) No one, angelic or human, can bring a charge against or condemn those who are saved, Romans 8:33, 34: "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of Gods elect? It is God that justifies.
6) 34 Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us." The core issue is justification. At the instant of faith alone in Christ alone, the first thing that happens logically is that the Father imputes the righteousness of Christ to the believer and he is declared just. You can't be condemned if you possess the righteousness of Christ.
7) When we understand the dynamics and complexities of what God must do to save even one unbeliever we realize how complex it would be to lose salvation. All kinds of things happen at the instant of salvation: we are justified, redeemed, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, given new life, all kinds of things. There are so many things that happen at salvation that to think that one can lose his salvation means that God has to reverse all of that, and it is absurd.
8) According to John chapter 17 Jesus Christ is praying continuously for us to be kept in salvation. Jesus' prayers always get answered. He is constantly praying that the Father will keep us, so we can't be lost.
9) Christ as the head of the body cannot sever a member once it is joined to the body. This is one of those things that happens at salvation, we become part of the body of Christ. It is just absurd in terms of the imagery of Scripture to think that you can lose your salvation. 1 Corinthians 12:13. We become part of the body of Christ and cannot become unbaptized or amputated to lose our salvation. Cf. 2 Timothy 2:11-13.