Even within a dead church which has been seduced from following the true Christ, it is possible for some not to defile their garments. They remain in the life of Jesus, and are not deceived by the death and decay of a life following counterfeit Christs.
You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. (Revelation 3:4)
Today’s verse raises a challenge for every believer and every church. It contains both sobering truth and encouragement, and is well worth considering with honesty and humility. Just where do we stand in relation to Christ? Is our robe of righteousness real or is it counterfeit – something that looks real but is empty pretence? The letter to the church in Sardis brings to mind Christ’s rebuke of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:27: Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. What’s worth noting here is that the Pharisees considered themselves the elect. As the chosen out of God’s chosen people, they imagined themselves ‘untouchable’ and beyond reproach. Jesus, however, draws attention to the fact that what may appear righteous can be utterly unrighteous.
The counterfeit robe of righteousness.
If we read the full letter to the church in Sardis, what emerges is that it is a dead church. It has the semblance of life and can even appear vibrant and strong. But like the whited sepulchres of the Pharisees, it’s all an outward show. They wear the counterfeit robe of righteousness, one woven through human effort and pretence. Significantly, beneath this outwardly alive veneer, the inside is death. The outward white robe serve only to hide the dead bones within. There is no true life, which comes only from Christ. Religious form and ritual has replaced life in Jesus. It’s easy to regard religious ritual as staid and stuffy traditions, but this is a fundamental error. The current focus on hype and so-called ‘moves of the Spirit’ are as much religious ritual as the traditions of the orthodox churches.
The moment we replace Christ with any form of man-made ritual, we begin the slide into a dead church. Anything that is of man excludes Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. We’re essentially replacing His spiritual, resurrection life with a fleshly replica. The apparent ‘success’ of this is becuase human beings will often follow the path of self-gratification . We’ll happily don a counterfeit robe of righteousness if we get to feel good. The energy and apparent ‘life’ will easily seduce us into believing it’s good. But without the resurrection life of Christ our white robes are simply the outward veneer to a dying church. As we slide further and further away from the true Christ, the slow process of death takes over. We may have no idea. Everything seems so good, so alive, so abundant, but in Christ’s words, the uncleanness is what defines us.
The true robe of righteousness.
Jesus alone is the true robe of righteousness. All our righteousness – of our own ability – is as filthy rags. There is nothing in us that could ever pronounce us righteous. It is only through the blood of Christ that we can draw near in righteousness, because He identified with us completely on the cross so that we can identify completely with Him in salvation. One of the ways is by putting on the robe or righteousness which is Jesus. In effect, we clothe ourselves in the nature of Jesus and so walk blameless and free of condemnation. Jesus was made sin so that we could be made righteous. It’s a spiritual exchange that is only possible through His death and resurrection. The life of Christ in us is what empowers the robe of righteousness we wear. Without Him, it is simply pretence, an empty masquerade.
Jesus Himself warned us to beware of the many false Christs who would come. This doesn’t necessarily mean actual people. The warning applies equally to the ‘Christs’ the church portrays which are skewed or incomplete and therefore counterfeit. There can only ever be one Christ. That’s the one of Bible, and anything that deviates from this is false doctrine. Chasing after a Christ who doesn’t fully embody every aspect of His nature, character, and servanthood is following a false Christ. When we alter the real Jesus to fit in with what we are comfortable with, we’re creating a false Christ. It also means that we exclude the full measure of Jesus – His love, power, victory, and salvation. True resurrection life is only found in Him. To enjoy the abundance of life in Christ is to fix our eyes on the true Christ and avoid all others.
Defiling the robe of righteousness.
Jesus pointed out that it is what comes out of a man which defiles him. Every believer is given the robe of righteousness at salvation. Our robes remain pure as long as we fix our eyes on the true Christ, who is our righteousness. But when our hearts begin to seek after other things and learn to ‘bend’ the truth to suit the flesh, death begins on the inside. The outward robe may maintain a semblance of purity and life. But ultimately, unless steps are taken to change our focus, the death within will slowly work to defile that which God has given us by grace. This was the tragedy of the Sardis church. They were once alive and vibrant, but self and human agendas got in the way. The moment we begin to separate ourselves from Jesus is the moment the decay begins.
We cannot expect the abundant resurrection life of Jesus to work in us if we follow a Christ of our own devising. Unless we accept all of who and what He is – even the parts we don’t particularly like – we cut ourselves off from His life in us. Things of the flesh will always die. That’s the nature of the world. It is only the supernatural life of the cross that is eternal and which can lift us beyond earthly limitations. We will still die in the flesh, but our spirits are regenerated day by day. This is the victory of the cross available to every believer. The letter to the church at Sardis reminds us that there are dead churches filled with dead believers wearing a counterfeit robe of righteousness. They look good on the outside, but inside are little more than a tomb for what could have been.
The robe of righteousness and the remnant.
While we can mourn for the ‘sepulchre’ churches and those who have been deceived, it’s a condition that can happen to anyone. Today’s verse reminds us that there are some – the remnant – who remain true to the real Christ and have not defiled their garments. These are the believers who will be given a pure robe of righteousness with Christ at the end because they have overcome. They have not allowed deception or seduction to turn them from absolute surrender and obedience. The robe they were given at salvation remains undefiled, but it is through choice. They have chosen to fix their eyes on Jesus and to reject the deception of false Christs and the ‘easy’ way.
Every believer has this choice. We can, even in a dead church, remain alive and vibrant with the resurrection life of Jesus. It’s our choice to either keep our robes pure or to defile them with the decaying flesh within.
Thank You, Lord, for reminding us how easy it is to get distracted by the things of the world. Help us not to go the way of the dead churches, which is to defile the robe of righteousness You have already given. Help us to guard our hearts and keep them fixed on You. Grant us the grace to stand on Your truth and to serve only the true Christ, our life and righteousness, until the end.