“Marks of the Church: Holiness” Revelation 2:18-29 November 9, 2008
SI: We’re studying the seven letters in Revelation 2 and 3.
These are letters from Jesus Christ to seven churches in Asia minor,
written by the Apostle John as they were revealed to him.
Studying these letters makes us wonder:
What would Jesus say to us if he wrote Christ Covenant a letter?
What things would he praise us for?
What would he warn us about, what would he rebuke us for?
What promises would he make in his letter to us to stir us up and encourage?
Let’s read his letter to the church of Thyatira.
INTRO: My dad is very thoughtful and deliberate in his speech.
You know that Proverb:
“Where words are many, sin is not absent,
But he who holds his tongue is wise.”
Second half of that proverb describes him.
But a number of years ago he had surgery,
and as he was going under anesthesia, he started getting chatty.
And according to my mother, a young nurse came in and dad said:
What’s your name. She said, My name’s Karen.
Then he said, Karen, I think I have a crush on you.
He denied it. Claimed my mother made it up.
And I have a hard time believing it.
I think if I had heard him say it, even under anesthesia, would have been stunned.
It’s something I never would have expected him to say.
Jesus says something in this letter that we don’t expect him to say. In verse 23.
“I will give to each of you as your works deserve.”
“I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”
That’s something we don’t expect him to say.
We expect to just hear the Gospel from his mouth.
We expect to hear Jesus talking about the forgiveness of sins
and salvation as a free gift,
and how our righteousness before God not our righteousness but Christ’s
righteousness credited to us when we trust him.
We expect to hear Jesus say it’s all grace and not works.
But when Jesus speaks to this church he says they must obey,
they must turn away from their sins and obey him,
they must practice deeds of faith and love—or else!
If they don’t, Jesus says, he will see it and will repay each person for his deeds.
We expect to hear him say, grace, grace, grace—not works.
Instead he says, deeds, works, payment, judgment.
These words of Jesus are deliberately emphasized by placing them
in the very middle of the middle letter of the seven letters.
And this emphasis on the importance of works is repeated throughout Revelation.
Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”
The wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)
The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.
“Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.”
The book of Revelation is certainly full of the Gospel and the grace of God
and the message of salvation by faith in Jesus alone.
But at the same time, God’s people are told over and over to pay attention
to their lives, and do the deeds of godliness, and expect to be judged
according to what they have done.
And this is found many other places in the Bible as well.
So the word of Jesus comes powerfully out of this letter to his church
and hits us right between the eyes—
You must live a holy life and do good works because Jesus is your judge
and he will judge you according to what you have done.
It’s not what we expect him to say but he says it very clearly.
Let’s look at this in more detail and see what it means
that Jesus will judge us according to what we have done—
will do so under three headings:
1. The importance of works
2. The abuse of grace
3. The hierarchy of motives
MP#1 The importance of works
In this letter, Jesus looks at the church of Thyatira
and he distinguishes between those who are true and those who are false
according to what they are doing.
He does not distinguish the saved from the lost
by whether they professed faith in him or not—because they all did.
Everybody in the Thyatira church had prayed to receive Christ,
and called Jesus, Lord, even Jezebel and her followers.
(We’ll talk about her in a moment.)
Jesus separated the true from the false by their works.
And the contrast is pretty sharp.
He praises some for their deeds, their love, faith, service and perseverance.
And he praises them for doing more than they did at first.
In other words, they were growing in good deeds.
And he describes the future of those who are doing these good works and continue.
To those who “keep my works until the end—I will give authority over nations.”
Talking about eternal life in his coming kingdom.
And then he switches to the other group and he says—
Your lives are characterized by compromise with the unbelieving world.
You fit right in with the values and practices of paganism.
I gave you time to repent but you were unwilling.
And he threatens them with intense suffering, great tribulation, and death.
He’s talking about eternal punishment.
We’re brought face to face in this letter with a doctrine of Scripture
that we probably don’t emphasize enough.
Your works will be judged Christ—
and they will prove or disprove the reality of your faith in him.
Now, let’s remind ourselves of some important things.
We are not saved by our works.
We are not saved by faith plus works.
We are saved by faith in Christ alone.
But true saving faith in Christ produces good works.
True faith is not just saying: I believe in Jesus. I’ve asked him into my life.
Anybody can say that—Jezebel’s followers could say that, and they were.
True faith produces good works in your life.
And the one who judges our works is Jesus Christ.
His eyes are like flames of fire, and he searches the mind and heart.
This is sobering but Jesus sends us this letter because he loves us.
He wants us to look at our lives now, and see if there is evidence of true faith.
He wants us to submit our lives to his judgment now,
so we don’t get a nasty surprise on the day of judgment.
A few years ago I rented a pressure washer at AK Rental over on 31.
When I picked it up they asked, do you need us to show you how to operate this?
And I said what any man would say—No.
So I got it home and cranked it and it started and died—
and that went on for the next 30 minutes.
Then I thought I had flooded it, so I did something else and came back.
And I pulled on that thing till my arm was almost out of socket.
My Saturday and rental money was slipping away, loaded it back up,
and took it back and said—There’s something wrong with this thing.
And at that point I was subjected to the ultimate humiliation.
Man looked at it and said, we’ll you didn’t have the such and such set right—
and he gave it a pull and it fired right up.
If I had honestly looked at myself when I went into the store,
if I had taken their offer for help then,
and worked it out under their instruction then,
I wouldn’t have been shown to be an incompetent fool later.
Jesus wants you to work it out right now, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.
He wants you to produce works that come from real faith in him.
What did he commend believers in Thyatira for?
Love—Who do you need to love more? Who do you need to forgive?
Service—What acts of kindness and generosity do you need to do this week?
If there are things on your heart, that’s the Holy Spirit, don’t say later, now.
Endurance—What things in life are really hard, how do you need to press on?
Repentance—Where do you need to say, Lord, I blew it, help me back?
wants you to live a life full of good works that proves your faith in him.
Why had some people in the Thyatira church completely missed this message?
Why were they refusing to live the good life that Jesus wanted them to live. Brings us to second point—
MP#2 The abuse of grace
Grace means that your forgiveness and acceptance and eternal life
does not depend on anything you do but only and completely on what
Jesus Christ has done for you.
God’s grace means he freely and completely and forever forgives and
accepts and embraces everyone who trusts in his Son. Wonderful.
But can be abused, this is how: A person says—
I’ve put my faith in Jesus Christ. I’m forgiven. I’m saved.
So obeying God and doing right is not a matter of eternal life or death.
If I sin, it’s not a big deal, God will forgive me.
And so they use grace to completely ignore God’s warning of judgment.
The church of Thyatira was surrounded by pagan culture, just like other churches.
There were the temples to the Greco-Roman gods and to Caesar.
There were the feasts and celebrations everybody expected to attend.
And this was a culture that glorified sexual promiscuity.
It was hard to be a Christian and not join in. Everybody did it.
And if you didn’t, you were not only considered weird and anti-social,
you were blackballed in business and employment.
A woman in the church who was a popular teacher.
Imagine person like Kay Arthur, Beth Moore, woman was appealing
But unlike those women, her message was wrong. Jesus called her Jezebel.
Wasn’t her name, describing her. Jezebel queen of Israel, led into Baal worship.
This woman’s teaching gave people in Thyatira church what seemed to be a biblical
justification for joining in the immoral and idolatrous practices of Thyatira.
When Jesus praises those in Thyatira have not learned “the deep things of Satan”
apparently using this woman’s terminology.
Perhaps Jesus mocking her words.
Woman probably called her teaching, “the deep things of God.”
Jesus says—these are really the deep things of Satan.
What was she teaching?
What were the deep things of God, really of Satan?
We know from Paul’s letter to the Romans that there were people in early church
who said—We’re under grace, so the more we sin, more experience God’s grace.
Seems likely that Ms. Jezebel’s teaching was something like that.
God’s grace is huge. Jesus understands pressures, covers your participation.
You’re saved. You’re forgiven. Jesus won’t judge you, he understands.
He’s with you when go to pagan temples and your salvation bigger than that.
There were members of the church who ate it up.
It gave them a soothing justification for going with the culture.
They could go though these theological gymnastics and have cake and eat it to.
Could be assured going to heaven and be accepted by pagan neighbors.
They were abusing grace to excuse their sin.
A few months ago I told you a story you might remember.
One night in college dorm boy started telling about father’s cruelty.
Then he said with passion, I will never forgive my father!
Somebody said—What about Jesus’ words:
“If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
He said, I will never forgive my father. And when he was pressed again
he basically said, How dare you say that there will be any eternal consequences
for me not forgiving him. I’m a Christian, I’m saved.
Nothing can change that.
He used grace to escape the force of Jesus’ words
and as the ultimate justification for his bitterness and hatred.
Are you abusing God’s grace to excuse your sins?
Do you think you can enjoy your sins and your salvation too?
If you are mean to your wife or disrespectful toward your husband,
if you tear people down with your words,
if you are dishonest in your business, if you hold grudges, refuse to forgive,
if you are involved in an immoral relationship—and if you think,
God will forgive me, that’s his job—you are following Jezebel.
And you are denying a fundamental fact about Lord’s relationship to you—
He is your Savior but he is also your Judge.
He has eyes of blazing fire, he searches your mind and heart
and gives to each person according to what he has done.
That ought to frighten. If doesn’t, you’re in danger.
This raises an important question about the Christian life:
Does this emphasis on Jesus as Judge spoil our relationship with him?
If we think this way all the time, won’t it make our faith a religion of fear?
Bring us to last point—
MP#3 The hierarchy of motives
I admit this is not a very catchy phrase—the hierarchy of motives.
But it’s something that took me a long time to understand about the Christian life.
When I was in seminary, the classes that affected me most profoundly
were my preaching classes, taught by Dr. Brian Chapell.
One thing that Dr. Chapell pressed home over and over, lesson after lesson,
year after year, was that true, biblical preaching motivates by grace.
Grace compelling holiness is the way he put it.
In other words, you preach about what Jesus Christ has done for you,
how he is with you and enables you and is for you.
How he demands nothing of you but that you come to him with empty hands
and receive his forgiveness and power and Spirit and love.
You tell people that they must obey God, not because he will reject them if don’t—
but because God can’t reject them, his Son has died for them.
How can they do anything else but be filled with gratitude for the one
who loved them so much and respond with obedience.
Dr. Chapell would say: What’s going to change people?
What’s going to make them hate sin and love good? It’s grace.
He would say: Preaching that motivates by fear, guilt, or shame
will produce shallow, joyless Christians who are always looking at themselves
and trying to be good enough for God. Rules don’t change, motives do.
As this began to sink in, it was very exciting.
I had grown up in good churches, sat under good preaching—
mostly my dad’s—which was always grace-centered.
But hearing it explained like this—like learning secrets from great chef.
And there were men in seminary with me, grew up in legalist churches
that were always pounding people over the head with guilt and fear—
they were just liberated by this teaching.
And so this became my goal in every sermon—Motivate by grace.
Fast forward a number of years, I’m the preacher at Christ Covenant.
I began to realize—there are passages in the Bible that motivate by fear.
There are passages, to a lesser degree that motivate by guilt and shame.
I started wondering, how do I preach these?
Lo and behold if Dr. Chapell didn’t come to Birmingham for lecture
at Beeson Divinity School, spoke on motivating by grace.
Afterwards question and answer. I read Matthew 7
“Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord—then I will tell them
plainly, I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers.”
That’s a terrifying passage and it motivates by fear.
Dr. Chapell anticipated my question and said:
There is a hierarchy of motivation in the Scriptures.
There are passages that motivate by fear and guilt.
We need to preach those and be true to passage, let people feel weight of them,
and know it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
But the greatest and highest motive in Scripture is grace.
And so even in the most frightening warnings of Scripture,
even in the passages with the most dreadful condemnation of our sins—
have to remind people—Jesus is saying this because he loves them.
And you see that in this passage—It’s in the midst of Jesus’ harshest words
to the followers of Jezebel. I’ve given time to repent, you’ve refused,
I’m going to punish with great suffering—then this line—“unless you repent.”
There we see, that even Jesus the Judge, with blazing eyes, speaking to
unrepentant people, deserving judgment says yet again, Repent.
That’s what he wants from you.
Jesus is our Judge.
“And we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
That should fill you with fear. Should make you examine your life.
If you see evidence of faith,
if you are doing works of love, service, and patience.
Good. Press on.
If you’ve abused grace, fallen into moral compromise.
Take heed to this letter.
Jesus is your Judge, and he sees all things.
But he’s a judge who says—repent.
Do that now. Repent.
There is no good work that pleases him more than repentance.
Because repentance shows that your faith is really in him.