Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Joining a Multitude of Believers

Leslie Basham: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth asks, “Do you ever get lonely serving the Lord?”

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: You may feel like you’re one of a very few, maybe the only one in your family, in your workplace, in your circle of friends. Perhaps one of a very few in your church who has a true heart for God. So few names. But I want to encourage your heart with that assurance that Scripture says the day will come when we will stand before the throne of Christ, the throne of the Lamb, and there will be not a few names, but a multitude so great that no one can number.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, for Friday, October 6, 2017.

It’s tough to stand alone. It was true for a remnant of believers in the first century church at Sardis, and it’s true for believers today. The letter to Sardis we read in Revelation encourages us today, and Nancy’s continuing to lead us through it.

Nancy: I shared with you earlier in the series that the ministry that is the parent ministry for Revive Our Hearts, Life Action Ministries, has teams that go into local churches across the country and minister these truths to the whole life of the church—to adults and teens and children—for an extended period of time. Anywhere from five days to two weeks or longer challenging God’s people, or so-called believers, about these truths of personal and corporate revival.

It’s always a joy to hear the testimonies that come out of those meetings. We call them summits—revival summits. Let me read to you one that came from one of our revivalists reporting on a church meeting that his team had been in.

The music director of the church (who’s in his late forties) shared with me that he had actually been saved at the age of twenty-seven, while serving on the staff of a church. [If you’re going to be on the staff of a church, it does help to be saved. That’s my little parenthesis there.]

During the service on Sunday [Steve, who’s in our ministry, said], I asked him to share his testimony with the church. Then I preached from Matthew 7 concerning genuine salvation. During the invitation, the music director’s twenty-three-year-old daughter went to the prayer room and was adopted into God’s family. [She realized she was lost and needed to be born again.] There were twelve others that morning that were hopefully converted.

You say that sounds kind of strange. Why would he say it that way? That’s the way they used to talk about it in centuries past. Because we don’t really know if somebody’s been converted and time will tell whether there’s true evidence that their profession is real. So Steve says there were twelve others that morning that were hopefully converted.

That afternoon I met with the deacons of the church and asked them to share what God was doing in their lives. One deacon broke down in tears and shared that he had received Christ as his personal Savior that morning. That night, both the music director’s daughter and this newly saved deacon shared their testimony in the service. The deacon asked forgiveness for accepting a position he is not qualified to hold and resigned as a deacon, since one of the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 is that a leader must not be a "new convert.”

After they shared, I gave another invitation to the prayer room, and before the night was over several other adults were ushered into the kingdom.

I have found that as we explain and illustrate basic Christianity and the need for revival of those basic truths, many longtime church members realize that they have never had a personal, saving encounter with the living God.

As I read that report, I thought of this letter to the church in Sardis in the book of Revelation chapter 3. How that church had a reputation, a name for being alive, but Jesus said, “The reality is you’re dead.” Then I thought how many in our churches today have a reputation, a name for being alive. They may even be in church staff positions. They may be serving in positions of leadership as deacons or elders, but they are dead.

The sad thing is you can be spiritually dead, especially in our spiritually deadened climate today and not even know it, thinking that you’re fine because actually you’re living about at the level of everybody else around you.

Well, Jesus addresses this issue to the church in Sardis, and I believe it’s the Word of the Spirit to the churches in our day as well. It says,

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, but you are dead. Wake up [be watchful], 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.

“Yet you have still a few names in Sardis [a remnant, we talked about the last time], 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” (Rev. 3:1–6).

Oh Father, how I pray that You would bring conviction through the Holy Spirit to the hearts of those who may profess something that they do not possess—who are lost church members, going through the motions, having a reputation for being alive but are actually dead.

I pray that today will be a day of conversion for many who would be in that category. I pray that You would woo and win them by Your precious Holy Spirit and by these promises from Your Word. In the name of Jesus I pray it, amen.

Now, we pointed out in the last session that Jesus promises three rewards for those who conquer, those who are proved to be faithful. The first was that he will be clothed in white garments. He will walk with Christ in white. Now the second and third promises are made here. “I will never blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.”

Many Greek and Roman cities in that era had a register of all the citizens in that city. As new citizens would move to the city, they would be added to the register. If someone died or was expelled from the city or was convicted of a crime, his name would be removed from the roll.

So when Jesus talks about a book, a register of names, people would have known, they would have had some familiarity with that concept. Now, first century Christians faced the real possibility that if they refused to renounce Christ, it would be considered a crime and their name would be stricken from the register of the city where they lived. They would be expelled. They would be written off as criminals.

Jesus’ letter would have been a reminder to these faithful believers in Sardis that you may have your name removed from the city registry on earth, but it will never be removed from My registry in heaven if you are a true believer. Let me say, making it a little more applicable in our era. You may have your name on a church roll and end up in Hell. The book of life is the roll book that counts. When it’s all said and done, the fact that your name was on a church roll will not guarantee you anything in eternity.

The Book of Life is a very important book. It’s referenced seven times in the New Testament and six of those are in the book of Revelation. Revelation 13:8 tells us that, "All who dwell on earth will worship it [the beast], everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain."

So there are those whose names have not been written in the book of life where names are filled in from before the foundation of the world. Revelation 20, verse 15, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire,” what Scripture calls the second death. Not just physical death, but eternal spiritual separation from God.

Revelation 21, verse 27:

Nothing unclean will ever enter it [speaking of heaven], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Now if you think that you are going to heaven or you claim to know that you are going to heaven you had better be able to answer the question, Do you know for sure that your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life?

Now Jesus says to these faithful believers in Sardis, the one who conquers, the one who demonstrates his faithfulness, that he has a covenant relationship with Me, I will never blot his name out of the Book of Life.

That sentence has caused some people to ask, "Well, does that mean that some names could be blotted out or erased, as some of your translations say?" Can a believer possibly lose his or her salvation? That is another topic for another series, and I want to do a whole series on assurance of salvation at some point, but I do want to make just a few comments about that phrase here.

First of all, there’s no explicit indication in this passage that anyone will have their name blotted out of the Book of Life. He says simply I will never blot his name out of the Book of Life. He doesn’t say, “I will blot some other names out.”

To the contrary, the grammar here in the original language (the Greek language) is a double negative emphatic. “I will never, no never,” is the gist. It’s emphasized. “I will never blot his name out of the Book of Life.” So actually this is intended to give assurance to those who are the few in Sardis who have not soiled their garments, who are faithful followers of the Lamb.

Jesus says in John 10, "I give my sheep eternal life and they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of my hand."

Those who have received life from Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life, can be assured that no one and nothing can ever take them out of the hand of Christ. Their name will never be erased or blotted out of the Book of Life where it has been since before the foundation of the world.

Now when I started this series, I mentioned this a couple of days ago, I thought this would be an easier one with not as many theological complexities. I was wrong. One of the big complexities is this whole thing of the Book of Life. I had no idea how many different viewpoints there were on what is the Book of Life and what does it mean to be blotted out?

There are two primary interpretations of the Book of Life. Some credible, good theologians would say that this is a book in which are recorded the names of all human beings who have ever lived. The Book of Life—all those who have ever lived. And that when they die, if they have not ever placed their faith in Jesus Christ, their name is blotted out of the book. That’s one interpretation.

Others would say that only those who place their faith in Christ have ever been written in the Book of Life, that names of unbelievers have never been recorded there. Only true believers in Christ are found there. The basis it appears for that position is two verses in Revelation, chapter 13 and chapter 17, where it talks about those being subject to the second death, God’s ultimate judgment, those whose names have not been written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world.

Regardless of whether you think all were there at one time and when you die your name gets blotted out if you’re not a believer, or if you think it has only ever included believers, I’m not going to solve that with any degree of assurance. But regardless, this word, “I will never blot his name out of the book of life” serves as both a comfort and an encouragement and a word of warning.

To those who are true believers in Christ, demonstrated by their being faithful to Christ to the end, this word provides assurance that their names will never be erased from God’s roll book in heaven. And a word of warning to genuine believers who are wavering in their faithfulness. They’re being tempted, they’re being drawn into sin, this is a strong warning that they need to examine their lives. They need to repent. They need to change their ways and receive assurance of their eternal security through the evidence of a changed life.

Second Corinthians chapter 13, Paul says to those so-called believers, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.” He’s writing to church members.

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Cor. 13:5).

Well, what is the test? The test in that context was how they responded to Paul’s call to repent. If they responded to the call and they repented, then they passed the test. They demonstrated that they were in fact true believers, true Christians. But if they failed to repent persistently over an extended period of time, they give reason to question whether they, in fact, are children of God regardless of what they may profess.

You see the same concept in 2 Peter chapter 1, where it says,

Be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you (2 Peter 1:10–11, NASB).

He says if there is evidence in your life that you are growing, that you are developing in your faith, that you are maturing in your walk with Christ, then you have a greater basis for being certain of your relationship with Christ. But if there’s no such fruit, no such evidence, no such sensitivity to the ways and the Word of God, then you have no basis for having assurance of eternal life.

Now false believers will not be at all troubled by this warning because they don’t care. They’re content to play church. They’re content to go through the motions. They’re dead, and they’re not going to be stirred up when they hear a word like this. But true believers when they hear words like examine yourselves, be diligent to make certain his calling and choosing you, they will be stirred up.

You say, “Well, you’re going to make true Christians doubt their salvation.” You know what, if they’re true Christians, then the Holy Spirit of God will give them assurance of their salvation because they will pass the test of responding to Christ, being obedient and following Him. And if they can’t pass that test, then they need to be shaken up. They need to be disturbed.

We’ve had a lot of talk in our generation, in recent generations, a lot of emphasis on the eternal security of the believer. I will go on record as saying I believe that the Bible teaches that if you are a true child of God, you cannot lose your salvation. I know there are those listening who will disagree with me, but the Scripture to me is clear on that count.

However, I will say this just as certainly. The only people who have a sure basis for assurance of eternal life are those who, as they’re described in this letter to the church in Sardis, who have not soiled their garments and who have overcome. Those who persevere. The evidence that your name has been written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world is that you overcome. You stay faithful as a follower of Christ.

  • That does not mean you never sin.
  • It does not mean you don’t fall.
  • It doesn’t mean you don’t get tempted.
  • It doesn’t mean you may not do some pretty hideous things. Saved people can commit great sins and sometimes do.

But it means the bent of your heart, the inclination of your heart and life is to follow Christ. You cannot stay in the pigsty and enjoy it. There will be conviction, and ultimately there will be a change of heart and repentance.

You say, “You sound pretty earnest about this.” I am because I believe there are so many, many, many people in our churches today who claim to have a relationship with Christ that they do not have in reality. So I would plead with you, I would appeal to you, let God examine your heart. Is your name in the Book of Life? Are you sure? What’s the evidence?

I’m not trying to make you uncertain, but I’ll tell you what. If you’re not saved, you will thank me one day that I warned you and that I shook you up and that I caused you to doubt. If you’re doubting, it’s not me causing you; it’s the Holy Spirit. If you’re not a child of God, He doesn’t want you to have assurance. He wants you to be uncertain so that that doubt will prompt you to go to Christ and to find out, "Am I truly Yours?"

Do you just have the reputation of being alive, or are you truly spiritually alive in Christ?

One of our Life Action teams sent in this testimony written by a woman in one of the churches where the teams ministered. She said,

After the service this last Sunday morning God convicted my heart that I was not truly saved. I had prayed a prayer when I was eight years old and had plenty of works, but the fruit was not there. On Monday night, I got real.

Jesus in essence said to the people in Sardis, “Get real. Wake up. Don’t live on your reputation. Get real.”

She said,

I got real with myself and with God and asked for His gift of salvation and for a repentant heart.

You see the Spirit worked within her to bring her to faith, to grant her the gift of repentance. She says,

Thanks be to God, I have an incredible peace and joy I have never experienced before. I am so excited about the rest of my life in Christ.

I’m thinking about some dear friends, Wayne and Gwen Stanford. They’ve shared this testimony in many places. Probably twenty-five or thirty years ago, one of our teams that I was ministering with at the time was in their church in Salem, Illinois. Wayne was in the leadership of the church. He was a deacon. They were active, teaching, leading, ministering in that church, but through the course of that what turned into a three-week period in their church, they both came under conviction that they had never been truly born again.

They believed in Christ. They repented of their sin. They were converted—truly converted. They became real. They stopped playing church. They took off the mask. They got real. They got clothed in the righteousness of Christ. They have become dear friends and over the years it has been an awesome joy to see the work of the Spirit making Christ real to and in and through their lives.

There may be a Wayne or Gwen Stanford listening to me right now. God’s been speaking to you through this series and you’ve been trying to drown out the conviction by changing the station on your radio or drowning it out in food or conversation or sleep. But God is speaking to you, and He’s saying, "Wake up! Get real. Get honest." Come to Christ. Come to Christ, and let Him make you truly alive by the power of His Spirit.

If God has convicted your heart of your need for salvation and has drawn you by His Spirit and you are coming to Christ and placing your faith in Him, or you want somebody to pray for you as you wrestle through this, would you write us or email us here at Revive Our Hearts? Let us know that God is speaking to you, that He’s drawing your heart. Tell us where you are in this journey and how we can pray for you. We would love to do that. My prayer is that many, many people through this series will come to true faith in Jesus Christ.

I’ve just got to share with you one more thing about this letter to the church in Sardis. I was studying late last night, and I’ve been studying this passage for some time—buried in it and immersed in it. But something caught my attention last night and it about raptured me. It was doxological. It was so exciting to me to see this.

We read in Sardis that Jesus said that there are still a few names in Sardis, a remnant, a small number, a minority. "Those who have not soiled their garments and they will walk with Me in white for they are worthy" (Rev. 3:4). We’ve talked in this series about how often we feel so hopelessly outnumbered, that there are so few. It’s such a small number who truly have faith in Jesus Christ and have a heart for holiness.

But as I thought through another passage in the book of Revelation. It occurred to me there may have been just a few names in Sardis, but in heaven there will be a great multitude of this redeemed group of believers. Revelation chapter 7, verse 9,

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number. [Remember there were just a few names in Sardis, but now he sees in heaven a great multitude that no one could number.]

From every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9–10).

Skip down to verse 13.

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where are they come?" I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:13–14).

You may feel like you are one of a very few—maybe the only one in your family, in your workplace, in your circle of friends. Perhaps you are one of a very few in your church who has a true heart for God. So few names.

But I want to encourage your heart with that assurance from Scripture that says that we will stand before the throne of the Lamb and there will not be a few names but a multitude so great that no one can number of those in every era, from the church in Sardis, the church in Ephesus, the church in Thyatira, the church in Pergamum, the church in Little Rock, the church in Niles, Michigan, the church in Houston, Texas, the church in Chicago, Illinois, the church in Beijing, the church in Laos, the church in you name the city, the country, the tribe, the people group, the language.

That remnant from each of those people groups from each of those eras and they come together before the throne of God—a great multitude that no one can number. They are dressed in the white robes of the righteousness of Christ. They have taken their robes and washed them in the blood of the Lamb and made them white. When you get discouraged, think ahead to that day, and let that vision carry you and sustain you as you continue to be part of that faithful remnant wherever God has placed you now.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been pointing you to a day when you’ll never be outnumbered or discouraged. If you feel alone in your faith, I hope today’s program will set your mind on eternity.

This week’s series exploring the church of Sardis is one of several series this fall based on the letters Jesus dictated to the churches in Revelation. If you’ve missed any of the past series, I hope you’ll visit ReviveOurHearts.com to listen to the audio or order the series on CD. We’re also encouraging you to read these chapters in Revelation and study these churches in your personal devotions.

To help you, we’d like to send you a booklet exclusively for Revive Our Hearts listeners. The booklet is called Ears to Hear, and it will help you capture your thoughts on these chapters and lead you to some new discoveries. Ask for Ears to Hear when you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Call 1–800–569–5959 to donate by phone, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Well, we’ve heard a lot about the church the last few days, and I hope you’ll be active this weekend with your local congregation. Join us again on Monday to learn about a church that Jesus told, “Persevere.” Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

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