Revelation 3:1-3

Sermon preached on December 4, 2011 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Some years ago a survey asked 161 students in Sweden and the U.S. to compare their driving safety and skill to other people in the experiment. For driving skill, 69% of the Swedish students said they were better than average drivers. A whopping 93% of the American students said that they were better than average. Another study, this one not restricted to students, asked 178 participants to evaluate their driving skills based on 8 criteria. Only a small minority of people rated themselves as below average and when all eight dimensions were considered together it was found that almost 80% of participants had evaluated themselves as being above the average driver.

Now how can that be? Only 50% can be in the top 50%. A lot of drivers delude themselves regarding their driving skill. They delude themselves.

In 1976 a survey by the College Board in the USA was attached to the SAT exams. It asked students to rate themselves relative to the median of the sample. In ratings of leadership ability, 70% of the students thought they were above average. In ability to get along well with others, 85% put themselves above the median, and 25% rated themselves in the top 1%.

Another survey of MBA students at Stanford University, 87% of the students rated their academic performance as above the median. And it's not just students who delude themselves. In a survey of faculty at the University of Nebraska, 68% rated themselves in the top 25% for teaching ability. Other studies have found that most people think they are more popular than they really are. A majority of people think that they engage in healthy behavior more often than their peers and also that they think they engage in unhealthy behavior less often than their peers.

After reading the results of such surveys, I agree with Michael Novak when he said,

"Our capacity for self-deception has no known limits."

Self-delusion affects us all. Unfortunately we also can deceive ourselves about our spiritual condition. That happened to a lot of people in the church at Sardis. Jesus said to them,

"I know your deeds;
you have a reputation of being alive,
but you are dead.
Wake up!
Strengthen what remains and is about to die,
for I have not found your deeds complete
in the sight of my God."

They were deluded about their true condition. What's interesting about Jesus' description of the church is that it fits right in with the reputation of the city of Sardis. In ancient times the city of Sardis was renowned for a lack of watchfulness. Sardis was surrounded on three sides by sheer 1500 foot cliffs and they were thought to be impregnable. When the Persian army invaded in 546 B.C. Sardis was besieged. But the defenders were not worried. They were protected on three sides. The fourth side was heavily defended. On the fourteenth days of the siege a few Persian troops climbed one of the cliffs. No guards were stationed there because they thought it was impossible for an enemy to climb up that way. The invaders were able to open the gates and the city quickly fell. Ancient historians blamed Sardis' tragic fall on, (Johnson, The Triumph of the Lamb, p. 83)

"a lack of vigilance in its defenders."

This story from the history of Sardis was well known, yet the church in Sardis did not learn from the city's history. The church in Sardis was complacent. It was asleep, not vigilant. It had a reputation for being alive, but it was dead. Verse 2 makes it clear that Jesus didn't mean that it was completely dead—they could indeed strength some things that remained. They still had the possibility of being revived. Jesus used hyperbole to drive home the church's precarious spiritual state and the imminent danger of its actual death. The church at Sardis was breathing its last. It was at the point of death. If they didn't change the way they were living—there would be no hope for them. They were almost dead.

Jesus told them to wake up. His words are a warning against self-deception. The great message to us is that

we need to guard against self-deception.

Most of the people in the church at Sardis thought that they were doing great. They thought that they were alive, that their church was just as it should be. Not only that, but they were getting lots of positive feedback from the people around them. Jesus said to them,

"you have a reputation of being alive…"

Jesus doesn't mention anything about persecution to the church at Sardis. Instead, Jesus says that most of the people in the church at Sardis had soiled their clothes. (verse 4) Thus it seems probable that the church in Sardis compromised with the pagan culture it found itself in. They apparently decided not to follow Paul's command in Romans 12:2,

"Do not conform any longer
to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."

Instead, they accepted the idolatry and sexual sins of their society and decided to downplay God's commands relating to holiness and purity of life. They were guided more by culture than by the commands of God's Word.

Jesus said that they were dead, that their deeds were not complete, that if they did not wake up and repent He was going to come like a thief and judge them.

What this means is that we need to make sure that we don't deceive ourselves. Spiritual self-deception is the worst kind. We need to make sure that we don't think that God is pleased with us when in actual fact He is not.

Self-deception is commonplace. Most people don't see themselves as they actually are. We don't see ourselves as God sees us.

Micah 3:9–12 tells us about the wicked leaders of Israel in Micah's day. He said,

"Hear this, you leaders of the house of Jacob,
you rulers of the house of Israel,
who despise justice and distort all that is right;
who build Zion with bloodshed,
and Jerusalem with wickedness.
Her leaders judge for a bribe,
her priests teach for a price,
and her prophets tell fortunes for money.
Yet they lean upon the Lord and say,
'Is not the Lord among us?
No disaster will come upon us.'
Therefore because of you,
Zion will be plowed like a field,
Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble,
the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets."

They thought that they were God's people. They thought that they were safe from disaster. Nothing could have been further from the truth. God was going to come against them in judgment.

The Pharisees were like that too. They thought they were righteous. They thought that they were good. You'll remember the story that Jesus told about the Pharisee and the tax collector in the temple. In Luke 18:9–12 we read,

"To some who were confident
of their own righteousness
and looked down on everybody else,
Jesus told this parable:
Two men went up to the temple to pray,
one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself:
'God, I thank you that I am not
like other men—robbers, evildoers,
adulterers—or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'"

Yet Jesus said that the tax collector went home justified but that the Pharisee didn't. One of Jesus' typical sayings to the Pharisees was, (Matthew 23:29)

"Woe to you, teachers of the law
and Pharisees, you hypocrites!"

Now those people weren't really God's people. But the fact is that even Christians can deceive ourselves. David is a great example of this. He deceived himself after he sinned. He had committed adultery and murder and then took the wife of the murdered man to be his wife. It was then that God sent Nathan the prophet to David. Nathan began his meeting with David by telling him a story. He said, (2 Samuel 12:1–6)

"There were two men in a certain town,
one rich and the other poor.
The rich man had a very large
number of sheep and cattle,
but the poor man had nothing
except one little ewe lamb he had bought.
He raised it, and it grew up with him
and his children. It shared his food,
drank from his cup and even slept in his arms.
It was like a daughter to him.
Now a traveler came to the rich man,
but the rich man refrained
from taking one of his own sheep
or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler
who had come to him.
Instead, he took the ewe lamb
that belonged to the poor man
and prepared it for the one who had come to him."

The Bible tells us that when David heard that story he burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan,

"As surely as the LORD lives,
the man who did this deserves to die!
He must pay for that lamb
four times over, because he did
such a thing and had no pity."

Then Nathan said those penetrating words,

"You are the man!"

How could David be so blind to the fact that he was the man in Nathan's story? He deceived himself.

Yet, we indulge in self-delusion just like David.

We deceive ourselves about what we deserve, about who we really are.

You hear it all the time. When something bad happens to someone, they, or someone else will say about it,

"I don't deserve this."

Really? Does God really treat people worse than they deserve? Is God unjust?

Did Job deserve what happened to him? Job was the most righteous man on the face of the earth. The Bible says, (Job 1:1)

"In the land of Uz there lived a man
whose name was Job.
This man was blameless and upright;
he feared God and shunned evil."

God said to Satan about him, (Job 1:8)

"Have you considered my servant Job?
There is no one on earth like him;
he is blameless and upright,
a man who fears God and shuns evil."

Yet horrible things came upon Job. He lost most of his possessions. He lost his children. He lost his health. His wife became a snare to him. His three friends let him down.

Did God treat Job unjustly? No. As Deuteronomy 32:4 says of God,

"He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is he."

God couldn't treat Job worse that He deserved. Job deserved everything bad thing that happened to him.

Now, if Job, the most righteous man on the fact of the earth, deserved all those evil things—what does that say about you and me? It means we deserve worse that Job received—a lot worse.

Christians, the only reason that people think that they don't deserve it when something bad happens to them is because God's normal way of treating us is to give us blessing after blessing that we don't deserve. That is the norm. We think that's the way that it should be. But that's self-deception. That's not the way that it should be. That's grace. John Frame writes, (Salvation Belongs to the Lord, p. 23)

"Because of him [Jesus], we get far better than we deserve, blessings we do not deserve at all."

Not one of us should want what we deserve from God. Not one of us should want justice from God. God always treats us better than we deserve. If we ask God to treat us justly and He answers that prayer things will get worse for us.

We should desire mercy. If we don't see things that way, we are deluding ourselves. Jesus is so very good to you. Praise Him for it. Give Him glory and thanks every day that you live. This is one of the reasons we can give thanks in all circumstances. God always treats us better than we deserve.

And that's just one example of our self-delusion. There are countless others. Many people are also mistaken about their own worth. Anyone who has pride is self-deluded. (1 Corinthians 4:7)How can we have pride when our goodness is all of grace? As Jesus said to His disciples in Luke 17:10,

"So you also, when you have done
everything you were told to do, should say,
'We are unworthy servants;
we have only done our duty."

We're also all Gentiles. Remember what Jesus said to the Canaanite woman who asked Him to cast the demon out of her daughter? At first He ignored her. He didn't even answer her. Later she came and knelt before Him and begged him for help. He said to her,

"It is not right to take the children's bread
and toss it to their dogs."

Jesus called the Gentiles, 'dogs'. In light of that, how can we have pride? How can we look down on others? Yet we do.

The great question is:

How can we make sure we don't deceive ourselves?

What is the cure for self-deception?

Jesus gives us the answer in verse 3. He said,

"Remember, therefore,
what you have received and heard;
obey it, and repent."

A good church, a healthy church, a church that is alive—is one that obeys Jesus.

A lot of churches today are like Sardis. They deceive themselves. They think that they are alive and yet they're dead. They've left the teaching of Jesus and are conformed to the world. We see it in our community, we see it throughout our country. One of their great goals is to fit in with the world. If the world stops calling some behavior a sin, they stop calling in a sin. In fact, if anyone keeps calling it a sin, they will consider him as sinful and promoting hate. But they are totally wrong in doing that. In Isaiah 5:20 God said,

"Woe to those who call
evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter."

Anyone that has done that has left the gospel. In 1 John 2:15 the apostle wrote,

"Do not love the world
or anything in the world.
If anyone loves the world,
the love of the Father is not in him."

The church at Sardis was commanded to go back to what they had received.

What we should understand is that the gospel is not changeable.

It has content that comes from God and represents His truth. It is for people of all ages and tells them how to be saved and how to live in order to please God. This gospel is contained in the New Testament. It is referred to by various terms— a 'deposit', the 'faith', the 'pattern of sound teaching', the 'Scriptures'—and in our text, 'what you have received and heard'.

In Jude 1:3 the apostle Jude puts it this way,

"I felt I had to write and urge you
to contend for the faith
that was once for all entrusted to the saints."

In 2 Timothy 1:13–14 the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, his son in the faith,

"What you heard from me,
keep as the pattern of sound teaching,
with faith and love in Christ Jesus.
Guard the good deposit
that was entrusted to you—guard it
with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us."

In 2 Timothy 3:14–17 Paul said to Timothy,

"But as for you,
continue in what you have learned
and have become convinced of,
because you know those from whom
you learned it, and how from infancy
you have known the holy Scriptures,
which are able to make you
wise for salvation
through faith in Christ Jesus.
All Scripture is God-breathed
and is useful for teaching,
rebuking, correcting and
training in righteousness,
so that the man of God may be
thoroughly equipped
for every good work."

How do we keep ourselves from self deception? By rigorous application of God's Word to our lives. James tells us that we are to use it like a mirror. We are to use the Word to change our lives. Too often we Christians read the Bible and we don't apply it to ourselves. We're like the Fonzie in that old TV show, he would take our his comb, look in the mirror, and, then, we an expression of happiness, put the comb back because he thought he looked perfect. So often we're like that.

Don't be like that. When you read the Bible, determine what it means and apply it to your life. Keener,

"Our faith in the Bible as God's Word requires us to revise our thinking to fit the text, not the reverse."

Let it change you like it's supposed to. Let it conform you to the glorious image of Jesus. As the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:21–24,

"Surely you heard of him and
were taught in him in accordance
with the truth that is in Jesus.
You were taught,
with regard to your former way of life,
to put off your old self, which is being corrupted
by its deceitful desires; to be made new
in the attitude of your minds;
and to put on the new self, created to be like God
in true righteousness and holiness."

So I ask you—what about our church, what about you? Do we obey the Lord like we should?

Are we alive like we should be?

Vern Poythress writes, (The Returning King, p. 90)

"Groups can bear the name of church, and have a certain reputation, when it is doubtful they are truly churches at all. The essence of a church is not its programs, buildings, past achievements, reputation, institutional greatness, or formal doctrinal correctness, but its spiritual life. This life comes only through fellowship with the living Christ, and is demonstrated through the seriousness of repentance and obedience."

Do we have Christ's life in us? Are we spiritually alive? Are we as individuals getting rid of the sin in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit? Are we walking in newness of life? Are we, like Paul, able to say, (Philippians 1:21)

"For me, to live is Christ…"

Craig S. Keener tells us that in our text there,

"is a deliberate contrast with the Lord himself, who was dead and is now alive."

In contrast, the church in Sardis was once alive but now it is dead. Is that happening to us?

Are we being the light of the world like Jesus wants us to be? You can only be a light if you shine and illuminate the darkness. In Matthew 5:13–16 Jesus said,

"You are the salt of the earth.
But if the salt loses its saltiness,
how can it be made salty again?
It is no longer good for anything,
except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
You are the light of the world.
A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
Neither do people light a lamp
and put it under a bowl.
Instead they put it on its stand,
and it gives light to everyone in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before men,
that they may see your good deeds
and praise your Father in heaven."

What are we deceiving ourselves about? I think we're often like the rich young man that, when Jesus pointed him to the commandments, said,

"All these I have kept from my youth."

Do we really love others as Jesus loved us? Do you do that? We pay lip service to it—but do we really do it? We don't. We fall far short.

We need to wake up. We're not showing love, compassion and kindness to one another like we should be. We're not obeying Ephesians 4:29 which says,

"Do not let any unwholesome
talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful
for building others up according to their needs,
that it may benefit those who listen."

We don't keep our tongues in check. We're not humble like we should be. Are we concerned about the mission field—the fields being ripe for harvest?

In a very real sense we need to wake up.

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians, what this text shows you is that you're lost.

You're suffering from the biggest delusion ever. You're in great danger and you're not going to the One Person who can save you—Jesus. Nothing you're living for is really important if you don't have Jesus. You're a sinner. You're deserving of eternal punishment. Go to Jesus today.