Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Don’t you often feel vastly outnumbered? If you’re trying to live for the Lord, if you’re trying to please Him, if you have a heart for holiness, if you lift up the standards of God’s Word; don’t you sometimes feel like, “We are the only ones who think this way? Like, am I crazy?”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, for Thursday, October 5, 2017.

This week we’ve been in a series called "Wake Up." It’s been based on the letter from Jesus to the church is Sardis. We’ve been studying all the letters to the churches in Revelation. If you have a burden for your church to wake up, I think you’ll get a lot of encouragement today.

Nancy: I’ve spent literally all my life in the evangelical world. In fact, I was in church nine months before I was born and ever since in evangelical churches, Christian schools, ministry settings. I’m so thankful for the faithful input of many men and women of God put into my life over those years.

But I have to say, as I survey fifty years of the landscape there, that I’ve seen a lot of religious activity and many people who were living decent lives, not living in major sin. But for the most part, I found the majority of so-called Christians in the West show few, if any, signs of true spiritual life. Now, there’s some notable exceptions, but for the most part, there’s little spiritual hunger, little heart, little discipline, little zeal, little passion for Christ, little love for Christ, and little willingness to sacrifice for His kingdom.

From time to time I’ve asked kids who are attending Christian high school or Christian college, “Have you found some other kids there who have a hot heart for God?” Invariably, the answer is, “Very few,” or “Hardly any.” These are at the places where you would most expect to find that or hope to find it.

I realize increasingly that those who have true spiritual life in our country, in our culture, are generally a small minority. What we might call a remnant.

Interestingly, the name Sardis, some scholars believe, may actually mean “remnant.” And certainly, that’s what they had in Sardis, a small remnant.

The word remnant comes from the French word for "remain." When you think of a remnant, what comes to mind? Do you think of a piece of carpet, a leftover piece of carpet that remains after the rest has been used? You usually consider those pieces scraps, a piece of fabric; it’s a leftover.

It’s something that most people wouldn’t be interested in, wouldn’t find particularly valuable. But in the spiritual realm, it’s usually only a remnant of professing believers who actually get it. In God’s economy, He places great value on the remnant and does amazing things in and through those leftovers, those quote “scraps,” those little bits of remaining life that you can find.

As others looked at this church in Sardis, and often as they look at our churches today, they saw what seemed to be a thriving, effective work. He said to this church, “You have a reputation for being alive.” But Jesus looked at the hearts of the people, and the church is the people. So He looked at the church as a whole, and His assessment (and His assessment is the only one that really counts) was that only a remnant was faithful, only a remaining few were faithful.

Yet, it’s encouraging to me that Jesus in this message to the church, though He speaks to the majority, the ones who were dead or almost dead, He doesn’t overlook this faithful remnant. He doesn’t consider them insignificant. He singles out those few faithful ones, and He takes time to address them and to encourage them. He makes some precious promises to them. That’s what we want to look at today in the letter to the church in Sardis.

Revelation chapter 3, let me pick up with the beginning of the letter so we get the context:

And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: "The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. 'I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive [you have a name that you are alive], but you are dead.'"

You are nominal Christians; Christians in name only. And we’ve said that our churches today, I believe, are filled with nominal Christians. I’m not just talking about our liberal, mainline churches that long ago ceased to preach the gospel. I’m talking about our Bible-preaching churches. I really, really believe there is a huge percentage, only God knows what that number is, of people who profess something they do not possess.

You say, “You’re really harping on this hard during this series.” It’s because the Scripture harps on it, and because I believe it’s true. I believe it’s a message of Jesus to the churches in our day.

Jesus says, “You have this reputation, you have this name, but you are dead.” Then He says, in verse 2:

Wake up [be watchful; be alert], and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.

Today we come to verse 4: "Yet . . ." There’s a yet; there’s an exception; there’s a remnant, a holy, faithful remnant. It was true in the church in Sardis; it’s likely true in your church. Even though it may look like there’s no one faithful, Jesus says,

Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. 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 (vv. 4–6).

Jesus says, “You have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments."

It’s interesting that this word name or names appears four times in this passage, depending on what translation you have. But in the Greek, it’s the same word four times. You have a name for being alive. My translation says, “You have a reputation for being alive.” It’s the same word used here, “You have still a few names in Sardis.”

Most of the church members in Sardis were Christian in name only, they were nominal Christians. They had a reputation, a name for being alive, but they were dead.

But there were a few who did live up to the name "Christian," who were true followers of Christ, who were made alive by the Spirit of God. There was a remnant in Sardis that had not compromised; they had not grown complacent; they had not fallen asleep; they were still watchful and awake.

Now, just for context here, remember over the last few weeks, as we looked at Pergamum and Thyatira? In those churches, there were a few bad apples, so to speak, that were infecting the whole. In Sardis, the whole was messed up, and there were just a few who showed evidence of true spiritual life or a heart for God.

Jesus says that these few names, these true Christians in Sardis, have not soiled their garments, and as a result they are going to be able to wear white garments, pure, holy garments. Again, this is a reference that would have quickly resonated with people who lived in Sardis because in those days many of the pagan temples would not allow worshippers to go into the temple with dirty clothes. They felt this would insult the deity, the pagan god, and so people had to have a clean, white robe in order to approach the god in that temple.

Now if people should need clean, white robes to approach a pagan god who is nothing, how can we hope to approach a holy God in His holy temple with soiled garments?

Jesus said—and this is His description of true Christians—“they have not soiled their garments.”

That word soiled, some of your translations say, “defiled." They have not defiled their garments.” It’s a strong word. It means "to smear, as with mud or filth." This is not like just accidentally spilling something here. This is a really, really dirty garment. It means to be foul. It’s filthy. It’s defiled. It’s contaminated by sin.

So Jesus is saying of these few in Sardis who have not soiled their garments, they had not compromised with the pagan culture as most of the other so-called Christians had.

There’s such a pull in our day for those within the church to accommodate to the world, as we’ve seen throughout this series, to live like the world, to engage in the world’s practices. And then all these teachings saying, “That’s okay. We’re under grace; we’re under grace, we’re under grace.” It’s a perversion of the grace of God, and Jesus commends those few who have not soiled their garments.

Now, Jesus says there’s a remnant, even in Sardis, which is this dead church. I think that calls for at least two responses.

First of all, if you’re a part of the remnant, take heart and realize there are a few—there are a few. You’re not the only one; there are a few who have not soiled their garments, and it’s not as few as some think.

Don’t you often feel vastly outnumbered? If you’re trying to live for the Lord, if you’re trying to please Him, if you have a heart for holiness, if you lift up the standards of God’s Word, don’t you sometimes start to feel like, “We are the only ones who think this way? Like, am I crazy? All the other Christians . . . Why do they allow their kids to do these things? Why do they not protect their children and their minds and their hearts from these kinds of things?” Then you get thrown at you so quickly, “Oh, you’re just being legalistic.”

Well, there is such a thing as legalism. That’s another topic for another time. We’re talking about those who say, “I want to be holy.” That has become very out-of-date in the church today. It’s so, so sad.

It's easy to get discouraged. Elijah got discouraged—"I'm the only one left who wants to serve God." God reminded him, "Elijah, there are 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal." Some of those were hiding in caves; some of those were not being real out-spoken, but there are others.

God doesn't need a majority to accomplish His purposes.

It should encourage our hearts to know that there are a few; there are some. Many of you in this room, many of you who love and pray for this ministry, if you could only see through the radio waves all who listen day after day and who write to us and say, "Yes, this resonates with us. We get this. We're hungry for this. We believe this." It would encourage your hearts as it does mine.

Remember, God doesn't need a majority to accomplish His purposes.

As I think about the True Woman Movement and our burden at Revive Our Hearts to believe God for a movement of revival and reformation in the hearts of Christian women around this country, I know it will only ever always be a remnant movement. I know the vast majority are not going to go the way of truth because wide is the road that leads to destruction and many there be that go on that road. Narrow is the way that leads to life and few there be that find it.

This is a remnant message. So we pray for a remnant of women to have a heart of holiness. I’m so grateful for the few names that God has raised up in our day who have a heart for holiness, a heart to glorify God, a heart to be a remnant of true biblical women.

Not only should it encourage us, if we know that we’re part of the remnant, to know that there are a few others—not as few as some think. But it should also call us to search and examine our hearts and to ask ourselves the question: “Am I one of those few?”

Are you one of those few? If Jesus were looking at the church today and saying of it what He said of the church in Sardis, “You have a reputation, a name for being alive, but you are dead, but there are still a few names who have not soiled their garments,” would you be in that few He would be thinking of?

Take heart that there are a few, and not as few as some think. But search and examine your heart because there are only a few, not as many as some think.

As we continue in this passage, Jesus gives three promises to the one who conquers, the one who overcomes. We’re going to look at the first one today and then the other two in the next session. Let me just list what those three are. You see them beginning in verse 4. These few who have not soiled their garments:

Number one: "They will walk with Me in white, for they will be worthy." The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments. We’ll talk about that in just a moment.

And then number two, the second part of verse 5: “I will never blot his name out of the book of life.”

And then number three, at the end of verse 5: “I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.”

So what’s the first promise to those who truly have been born again of the Spirit of God, those who have true spiritual life and those who, as a result, have kept their garments unspotted from the world? Well, Jesus says, “They will walk with Me in white.”

I think the first part of that promise is communion with Christ, fellowship with Christ—here on earth—now. Led by the Spirit of God, we can walk with Christ, but not only here and now but ultimately in heaven. The promise, the prospect of walking with Him, and really, it’s the fellowship of Eden restored. Remember how God would walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day, and then sin broke that, so they were separated from God?

In heaven we will again walk with Him in the undisturbed pleasures and joys of intimate communion that Adam and Eve experienced there in the Garden of Eden. To walk with Christ—it’s our highest prize. It’s the greatest joy, greatest reward we could have. Jesus offers this as a greater motivator than fear of punishment.

Now there is fear of punishment involved because God is a righteous, just judging God. But what He holds up for us is, “You can walk with Me in white.”

The art of dyeing wool was supposedly invented in Sardis, and their chief industry was making and dyeing woolen garments. So when Jesus had all this talk about garments, again, they would resonate, because they knew something about garment making and keeping garments pure. He promised special garments to those who were faithful. He said, “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments.”

Now this whole thing of white garments is a concept that figures prominently in the book of Revelation. White may nor may not be your color here, but it will be your color in heaven, and you will love it. You see this theme not only in the book of Revelation but also in other parts of the Scripture.

Daniel chapter 7, for example, verse 9, a vision that Daniel was given where "thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow.”

You don’t get a lot of snow down here in Little Rock, but up where my home is in Southwest Michigan, we get lake effect snow there. You can go out some days and that snow is so white it’s almost blinding. You’ve got to wear sunglasses because it’s so brilliant, so blinding.

Jesus was dressed in clothing white as snow in this vision.

Then yesterday, as I was thinking through this passage, the Mount of Transfiguration came to mind. I thought, Isn’t there something about white clothes in that passage, in that account? Well, sure enough, in all three of the synoptic gospels that tell the story of the Mount of Transfiguration, it talks about Jesus being clothed in white garments. Listen to how they’re described—these details all inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Matthew’s version says, “His clothes became white as light”—this blinding whiteness (17:2).

Mark’s version says, “His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” (9:3).

Luke’s gospel says, “His clothing became dazzling white” (9:23).

Jesus Himself, in His glorified form, clothed in this beautiful, dazzling, brilliant white clothing. I think that’s a picture for us. As He gives us those white garments, He clothes us in those garments. It’s a picture of our justification as we are clothed with the dazzlingly pure righteousness of Christ that has been credited to our account.

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool (Isa. 1:18).

Then there’s that wonderful passage in the book of Zechariah. I don’t purport to know all that it means, but it’s a beautiful picture there where it says Joshua the priest was standing before the angel clothed with filthy garments. That’s a picture of us in our unregenerate condition.

And the angel said to those who were standing before him, "Remove the filthy garments from him." And to him he said, "Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments." And I said, "Let them put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments (Zech. 3:3–5).

What a beautiful Old Testament picture there in Zechariah chapter 3 of the transaction that takes place when Christ removes our old, filthy, sinful garments from us.

You think, Well, I haven’t done anything all that sinful.

Well, the Scripture tells us that even our righteousnesses, even our good deeds are as filthy rags in the eyes of God. Our self-righteousness is polluted; it’s defiled; it’s contaminated; it’s soiled. But He takes those soiled garments, and instead He clothes us in the white, pure righteousness of Jesus Christ—clean garments.

Jesus says, “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments.”

Those garments are a picture of purity, of faithfulness to Christ, of a refusal to compromise; contrasted with those, the majority in Sardis, who have soiled their garments.

Then white garments in Scripture are also associated with joy, with festivity, with celebration, with gladness and triumph. I think all of this and perhaps more is encompassed when Jesus says, “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments.”

Now, let me just back up and close here by commenting on one phrase in verse 4. It says, “They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.”

What makes us worthy is the righteousness of Christ counted to our account.

Let me just remind you that those few in Sardis were worthy, and any of us who are found worthy are worthy, not because we have not sinned, but because our sins have been forgiven. They have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. That’s what makes us worthy. The righteousness of Christ imputed, reckoned, counted to our account.

In his message on this passage, Charles Spurgeon says something I found particularly gripping. I want to read a couple of paragraphs from that message to you because it’s a challenge to those who are not among the few. He says:

But what shall be done with such persons as live in the church, but are not of it; having a name to live, but are dead? What shall be done with mere professors [that is those who profess Christ] who are not possessors? What shall become of those who are only outwardly religious but inwardly are in the gall of bitterness? We answer, as good Calvin did once: "They shall walk in black, for they are unworthy." They shall walk in black—the blackness of God’s destruction. They shall walk in black—the blackness of hopeless despair. They shall walk in black—the blackness of incomparable anguish. They shall walk in black—the blackness of damnation. They shall walk in black forever, because they were found unworthy.

Then he makes this earnest appeal, and I couldn’t say it any better myself. He says:

Oh you, who make a profession of religion . . . put your hands within your hearts, and search your souls. . . . It is not a matter of half-importance for which I plead, but a matter of double importance. I beseech you, examine and cross-examine your own souls, and see whether you be in the path, for it will go ill with you if you shall find at last that you were in the church, but not of it, that you make a profession of religion, but it was only a cloak for your hypocrisy—if you should have entered into His courts below, and be shut out of the courts above [the courts in heaven].1

You say, “That’s pretty desperate. It’s pretty earnest.”

If you’re not clothed in Christ, if He has not cleansed your heart and forgiven your sins and clothed you in His righteousness, that is a word of warning to your heart.

But I want to tell you, and here’s the good news. . .

There’s a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.

A dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I [there may you] though vile as he
Wash all our sins away.


("There Is a Fountain," William Cowper)

Believe in Christ. Believe the gospel. Repent. Place your faith in Jesus Christ. Let Him take your soiled garments. Let Him clothe you in His righteousness. Let Him give you the joy of walking with Him in white now and for all of eternity clothed in white garments, the garments of justification, the garments of purity, the garments of joy, festivity, and gladness, the garments of Christ.

Leslie: If it seems like you’re serving the Lord without the support of those around you, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been offering encouragement. Today’s message was part of a series called, "Wake Up." It’s one of many series we’ve tackled this year on the letters to the churches in Revelation 1–3. If you’ve missed any of this series, you can read the transcript or hear it at ReviveOurHearts.com.

During this series we’re inviting you to read these letters to the seven churches yourself. To help you get the most out of them you can, we’d like to send you a Bible study booklet our team developed called Ears to Hear. It will help you get more out of these letters and hear the Lord speaking through His word to your life.

When you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount we’ll send the booklet Ears to Hear. Visit Revive Our Hearts.com and get your copy, or call with your donation and ask for the booklet. The number is 1–800–569–5959. 

Tomorrow, Nancy will continue to help you faithfully serve God even if it feels like you’re outnumbered and not getting support from anyone else. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is calling women to freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “A Solemn Warning for All Churches”  http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/articles/index.php?view=article&aid=437

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