The church in Sardis started out in great apostolic power, with God’s blessing and favor. In Revelation 3, Christ tells the pastor at Sardis: “I know you started out with a powerful reputation, but you have allowed the life I gave you to ebb away. Tell this to your congregation: ‘You are dead. Will you have the capacity to hear this word, accept it and be aroused by it?’”
Beloved, if Jesus calls a congregation dead, it is dead! Yet Christ tells us there was also in that church a holy, wide-awake remnant, and says He still has hope for them: “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments” (Revelation 3:4).
When Jesus speaks of “defiled garments” here, He is describing spiritual death. What caused the defilement of those believers in Sardis? It happened because something had hold of their hearts, a “special interest.” At one time, the center of everyone’s life was God’s interests: charitable works, a missions mindset, the faithful gathering of His Body. Simply put, Christ’s work had been their chief concern. But now, everyone was running after his own interests.
Sardis was a prosperous town, known for gold smelting and the making of fine garments. Evidently, the Christians in Sardis became enamored of the surrounding culture of prosperity, and their focus shifted. They quickly began drifting away from the Lord’s interests toward a materialistic mind-set.
By all outward appearances, nobody could fault these Christians for their pursuits. They were making a living, building up their businesses, and taking care of their families. Yet these things became so all-consuming that they began to neglect the works of God. So Jesus issued a warning to the faithful remnant there: “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect [finished] before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent” (Revelation 3:2–3).
What does Jesus mean here when He speaks of things “that are about to die”? He’s saying, “Beware! The excitement you once had for My house—your passion for My Word, your joy of public worship, your love for one another—has been dying. Slumber is falling over your eyes, and you’ve grown lukewarm. Wake up now! If you don’t, you could end up spiritually dead.”
Like the enemy of our souls, our flesh clamors to be heard. It always insists that it’s okay to appease its desires from time to time, that all we need is a friend to agree with us, and God will bless our decisions.
The Lord provides us with another great and precious promise here. Scripture says the Spirit fights within us against everything that is of flesh: “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other” (Galatians 5:17). Paul is saying that the battle against the flesh is not ours to wage. Only the Holy Spirit can mortify our flesh.
The voice of the Holy Ghost will urge you to take His word to prayer and also to confirm it in God’s Word. We have been given all these promises of protection for any and every situation. And they’re available to us in every conflict that arises, no matter how small or large.
Whenever the flesh or the devil comes in like a flood, the Holy Spirit is always faithful to rise up and crush the attack, if we will trust Him.
Today, an entire generation of Christians is making decisions without consulting the Holy Spirit. Many believers are acting out of fear or despair, with no faith in God’s promises. They simply decide what to do on their own, based on what they think is best.
What is the outcome for such believers? What happens when God’s servants operate outside the complete government of the Holy Spirit—when they devise their own plans, refusing to yield to the leading and direction of the Holy Spirit? They stir up a spiritual bees’ nest, bringing not rest but distress, pain and confusion.
There have been many times when I didn’t listen to the Spirit’s voice. In fact, I could write a book about all the times I ran off to do my own thing, following my own direction, and things went terribly wrong.
I have learned over the years to listen to the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. And I have determined to say “yes and amen” to His absolute government in my life. I know He will lead me into all truth, that He will guide me, and that He will show me things to come. Yes, I can testify that such a life is possible. And, as He has taught me, I just say yes.
You may wonder, as I have, “How can I be certain that I’m hearing the Holy Spirit’s voice, and not another?”
First of all, the Holy Spirit cannot, and will not, govern any believer who isn’t wholly surrendered to His will. The Spirit speaks to those who are prepared to obey His voice. And something else concerned me as I thought about walking in the Spirit. If walking in the Spirit involves total confidence in hearing His voice and being led by it, how can we be safeguarded against deception? How can we know we’re hearing the voice of the Spirit, and not our own, or that of the devil?
I’m convinced that multitudes of Christians have developed doubts about listening to the Spirit because of bad experiences in the past. They wonder, “How can I know if it’s the Holy Spirit speaking this time? I thought I heard clearly the last time, but it turned out not to be Him at all. I felt deceived.” And still others have been turned off by the bizarre antics of those who go about saying, “God told me this; God told me that.”
This important matter requires of us another emphatic “amen” to trusting God’s promise of protection. Paul points out that such trust demands an act of faith: “Taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Ephesians 6:16). This is a promise from the Lord that He will shield us from delusion and error.
The voice of Satan constantly shouts all kinds of accusations at us. And the only way to shut out these fiery darts is to turn to the promise God has given us: that no weapon formed against us can prosper (see Isaiah 54:17). Satan’s weapons include condemnations and lies, and the Holy Ghost is faithful to expose them all to us. The voice of the enemy would urge you to act impulsively, without checking with God’s Word. But every word of the Spirit will be confirmed by the Bible.
“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:16-19).
As a teenager, I had doubts about God and I started looking into other religions. At that time I found the Baha’i faith appealing because it basically says that all religions are true and all roads of faith lead to heaven. But then I read the great Christian author C.S. Lewis who corrected my loosey-goosey thinking. He wrote that all of Christianity rests on one question: Was there a resurrection or not?
If we cannot answer yes to this, then it doesn’t matter whether there was a literal Noah’s ark or a six-day creation period or an actual Garden of Eden. If Christ’s resurrection didn’t take place, none of those things matter at all. But if there was a resurrection, then everything else became possible: Lazarus could be raised from the dead, people could be healed, sins could be removed, heaven could be a reality. That is resurrection power—and it gives us something Paul calls our blessed hope—“Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
The more I read as a teenager, the more I came to a firm belief about the witnesses who saw Jesus after His resurrection: “Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:6). I began to see the resurrection as not just an additional event, but the culmination and consummation of the work of Jesus’ death for us. And the blessed hope that was planted in me became a source of life each day.
If we don’t claim Jesus’ resurrection power in our everyday life, we won’t experience what His resurrection won for us.
The unique will of God has led me into many places throughout my life, and it has been an incredible journey. However, we must learn to do the first things first. Come back to your first love if you need to; open the Word of God and begin to read it. Don’t live in an illusion that one day this mystical will of God will fall into your lap while you are choosing to ignore the revealed will of God.
Scripture says, “This is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:15). The revealed will of God is this—doing good; speaking the truth; caring in an uncaring time; praying when nobody else prays; studying when everyone else is writing off the Word of God; speaking the name of Jesus when everyone else wants to curse His name. This is where character is formed! You have to win battles in secret before you can win them in public. Remember, you will not become a super evangelist who loves everybody if you have not learned to love people in private. That is how it works. So do not worry so much about finding the unique will of God for your life; it will come to you. Concern yourself today with the revealed will of God, and the unique will of God will surely follow.
Paul said in the book of Ephesians that we “should do the will of God from our hearts” (6:6). I encourage you to ask God for the will to do His will. Come to Him and say, “Lord, open my heart to what You have for my life. Don’t let me consider anything as too small or undignified. Help me to be the one who sees a piece of paper on the floor and picks it up. Help me to be kind, truthful, and faithful; a builder rather than a destroyer. Help me to be the one who will promote unity in the midst of a divided society. Yet, let me also be willing to take a stand for truth when everyone else is content to deal with lies. Lord, give me the courage to follow You fully.”
As you trust God for the will to do His will, I believe Jesus will be revealed to You in a way that you have never known Him. You will be absolutely amazed at where God is going to take you and what He will do through your life.
Carter Conlon joined the pastoral staff of Times Square Church in 1994 at the invitation of the founding pastor, David Wilkerson, and was appointed Senior Pastor in 2001.