The following is an excerpt from Wikipedia regarding the Church at Sardis:
Sardis or Sardes (Lydian: Sfard; Greek: Σάρδεις, Sardeis; Persian: سارد, Sārd) was an ancient city at the location of modern Sart (Sartmahmut before 19 October 2005) in Turkey's Manisa Province. Sardis was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia, one of the important cities of the Persian Empire, the seat of a proconsul under the Roman Empire, and the metropolis of the province Lydia in later Roman and Byzantine times. As one of the Seven churches of Asia, it was addressed by the author of the Book of Revelation in terms which seem to imply that its population was notoriously soft and fainthearted. Its importance was due, first to its military strength, secondly to its situation on an important highway leading from the interior to the Aegean coast, and thirdly to its commanding the wide and fertile plain of the Hermus.
Let's now analyze how Christ evaluates the faith of the Protestant Church during these the last days of the Church Age:
Revelation 3:1: And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars: I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead. (ASV 1901)
The pastors of the Sardis churches are addressed here. Jesus affirms that He has a complete understanding of the works of the Protestant church because He is guided by the Holy Spirit. There is not one work, good or bad, that Christ does not know about for each Christian in the Sardis church, and of course, every other Christian living in the world today. Even those works that the Christian has since forgotten are known in depth by Jesus Christ. Those idle words that we speak or all of those long hours watching television and other unproductive, self centered activities are known by Him. Those times that we are praying and reading the Holy Bible are also known by Him.
The "name" or "reputation" that Jesus is talking about in Rev 3:1 is the self-proclaimed belief that they are faithful disciples of Christ. This verse is a put down for them because Jesus finds few good works that they have accomplished. They continue to deliver week after week the need for members of their congregation to "get saved" but most of their members are most likely already saved and what their congregations need to hear in addition to the altar call to "receive Christ as Savior"--is to also deliver the messages about sanctification, the Judgment Seat of Christ, prophecy, watching for Christ's return, and living a holy and righteous life for God. They also need to hear about the consequences if they don't follow all of Christ's commands in the Holy Bible because Jesus expects all of His disciples to obey Him:
John 14:15: If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments. (ASV 1901)
Many members will not want to hear all of these rather "uncomfortable" messages from scripture and if a pastor does start to speak about them from the pulpit, the deacons, teachers and members might tell him to instead preach sermons that help them improve themselves. They could just ask him to step down and go find another church to speak in if he doesn't preach the messages that they want to hear. They will then call a pastor that will follow their direction. Some members don't want to feel uncomfortable when they hear difficult messages contained in the Holy Bible about Christ's return, the judgment of their works, prophecy and righteous living from the pastor. Not wanting to hear about the difficult passages in the Holy Bible is predicted to happen to the churches of the last days:
2 Timothy 4:3-4: For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables. (ASV 1901)
Here is the definition of fable from the Free Dictionary:
1. A usually short narrative making an edifying or cautionary point and often employing as characters animals that speak and act like humans.
2. A story about legendary persons and exploits.
3. A falsehood; a lie.
A lie is the definition of fable that is used in this scripture from 2nd Timothy. The "fables" mentioned in this verse will be false doctrine and in particular, self-help or self-improvement classes that many churches are bringing in for "benefit" of their members. These classes include managing your finances, how to exercise, losing weight, healthy diets, living beyond your means, giving your seed money so God will bless you with resources, finding a job, etc. Just go into Christian book stores and to online websites that sell Christian literature. Many books will show you how to personally improve yourself, but few will discuss in any depth how to be a disciple of Christ. If you watch secular television, there are many programs that constantly show you how to improve yourself physically, psychologically, financially, medically and emotionally. Having seminars or discussions inside the church buildings that include these non-Biblical topics leads the Sardis Church to be little different from the world. I am not saying that the self help classes should not be taken by Christians, but that they should not sponsored by the Churches or given inside a Church building. Some of the other types of false doctrine include telling them that all are members of the Bride of Christ, telling them that all Christians will miss being tested in the Tribulation and telling them that good works and rewards from God are not important.
The sad part of this whole situation is that many Christians in the world are not fulfilled in their lives because they are not crucifying their fallen, sinful nature and then walking close to God. Hence they need seminars, training or whatever that makes them feel "secure" in the way they live their lives. If you are now walking close to God and obeying Him in the way you live your life, you will be fulfilled and God will place the events in your life that give you joy and peace and help improve your faith. Some of these events that God allows to happen to us could include sickness, losing your job and being persecuted as a believer in Christ. Because of the power and love of our God for us, any difficulties that come up and any challenges that arise in our lives we will be able to handle with God's help:
2 Corinthians 1:3-5: Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, Who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow toward us, so also our comfort through Christ overflows to you. (NET)
If the pastor delivers messages that include in-depth studies of Bible doctrine, then the members of the churches will more likely crucify self and thus live a life in service to God. The lack of delivering this message is part of the "dead" or incomplete works that Jesus is preaching about to the pastors. This is also a warning by Christ to the congregation. If their pastors and teachers are not proclaiming of all of the messages in the Holy Bible, then it is the responsibility of the church members to pick up and read all verses in the Holy Book and then obey what the Bible says for us to accomplish. I am sad to report, but my observation of Sunday School members is that many only read the lessons in the "official" quarterlies. In most lessons the more difficult Bible verses are simply glossed over or even skipped.
The writers of these lessons put a heavy emphasis on getting the lost saved, but not much more. Evangelism is an important work to do if called by God to this mission. After a person places his faith in Jesus, the new believer then usually follows with Baptism. However Baptism is simply the first step in a building a life of faithful service to God and it should not be considered as the last action we should take to become a disciple of Christ. We should then follow with the studying and obeying all of the scripture, even those scripture that are difficult to hear at times.
Revelation 3:2: Be thou watchful, and establish the things that remain, which were ready to die: for I have found no works of thine perfected before my God. (ASV 1901)
Jesus wants all believers to be joyfully watching for His return. He wants us to beckon for Him to return and initiate the First Fruits Rapture. This beckoning lets Him know that we very much want to leave this world and the evil therein and be with Him and serve Him forever. This is the last prayer in the Book of Revelation given by John the Apostle:
Revelation 22:20: He (Jesus) who testifieth these things saith, Yea: I come quickly. Amen: come, Lord Jesus. (ASV 1901)
Paul tells the Church at Ephesus that we are called by God to accomplish good works:
Ephesians 2:10: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them. (ASV 1901)
Now, I've heard little from the pastors and teachers on how we should start what should be the next step after Baptism in our life as a Christian--how to identify and how to accomplish specific good works. I believe that the problem is that most of the pastors of the Sardis Churches have not gone very deeply into the scripture, which tells us exactly what we need to do to accomplish good works for Christ's sake. What are Bible topics that the Sardis churches should be given instruction? The following suggested topics are a starting point for becoming a sanctified disciple of Christ:
Grace. Our spirits are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no work we can perform that will save us. This is Spirit Salvation:
Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you are saved through faith; and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. (NET)
Election of the Saints. God saves whomever He wants to save. I believe that there are many more people that God saves than we may realize. Unfortunately, those Christians that are living a self-centered, sinful life are some times identified as "unsaved" by some Christians in the church. However, God knows all He has called and we as believers should not judge anyone as unsaved or not. If God wants to save someone, He will simply call them out from the world to be His own. For more details read: Doctrine of Election.
Baptism. Baptism is a public expression of dying to self and the world and being raised to a new life in-Christ Jesus: a life that is dedicated to God. Believers after Baptism are expected to begin a life of discipleship and sanctification.
Each book of the Holy Bible should be examined verse by verse. Difficult chapters should be given extra attention, especially those that are almost always ignored in Sunday School material and in sermons. This would include The Judgment Seat of Christ, Soul Salvation, the Book of Revelation, watching for Jesus' return and performing good works for rewards. Many chapters of the Bible could be explained prophetically in addition to being explained literally.
Agape Love. God expects us to love Him, fellow believers, the Jews and others as He loves us. We should also love the unlovable--to love those that may even hate us or want to hurt us. We need to forgive any sins committed against us as well as praying for those believers that are living a sinful life.
Crucify Self. Each Christian will need to put Christ first in his life and to resist selfish temptations: "And he said unto all, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." (Luke 9:23 ASV 1901)
Soul Salvation. The spirit is saved by grace through faith. The soul is saved by being faithful to God. For more details read: Soul vs Spirit Salvation.
The Four Gospels. Each verse should be explained. Many verses of the Gospels are commands from Jesus for how we should live our lives in service to God, how we should treat each other, end-times prophecy and to be watching for His return.
The Meat of the Word. These are the more difficult passages in the Bible which include the prophecy books such as Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation. Many passages in the Bible also have a prophetic interpretation, such as the Book of Ruth and the Book of Genesis.
The Ten Commandments. These are commandments from God for us to obey and they are not optional. If we make an effort to obey these, our lives will be greatly enriched and God will be very pleased with us.
The Seven Feasts. The Book of Leviticus describes seven feasts that God has commanded Israel to observe. For each feast there is also a prophetic interpretation that is applicable for Christians. For more details read: The Seven Feasts.
Prayer. This is how we should approach God through the Holy of Holies (Read Prayer: a hands-on Workbook). The Lord's Prayer and the prayers of David in the Psalms should be explained in detail. We should be praising God and giving thanks to Him for His blessings and the testing of our faith, making us stronger in the faith. There should be opportunity set aside for prayer time during any discipleship training.
Watching. This is how we should be watching for Jesus' return for the First Fruits Rapture and we should be beckoning for Christ's return for this blessed event.
Service. This is how we should be looking to accomplish any good work that God prepares for us to accomplish.
False prophets. Even during the time of the apostles taking the gospel to the Gentiles, false prophets would appear and attempt to lead Christians from the truth and wisdom found in the Holy Scripture. This deception has happened during the whole 2,000 year church age. By diligently studying and applying scripture to the way we live our lives, false prophets can be identified and not followed and asked to leave their congregation.
Book of Revelation. This book of prophecy should be read aloud and then explained by church elders. The admonition is to listen and obey the verses in this book. The spiritual weaknesses of the Thyatira, Sardis and Laodicea churches should be discussed and members of these churches should be encouraged to remove these weaknesses and thus become faithful followers of Jesus. Finally, the events of the Tribulation should be explained in detail. (The Book of Revelation)
Book of James. This is an easy to understand description of becoming a disciple of Christ. Several passages describe how we should avoid sin and how to crucify self and live for Jesus. (Book of James)
Book of Romans. This is a difficult book of the Bible to understand and if we persevere in its study, it gives us the verses to overcome our sinful nature and to use the power of the Holy Spirit to live our lives sanctified to Christ. (Book of Romans Part One)
Rewards. Reward for faithful service is very important in the mind of God, and reward should be important to us. He will reward us for good works done in the power of the Holy Spirit. In the very last chapter in Revelation Jesus tells us: And, behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. (Rev 22:12 KJV). If you are left behind and don't make the First Fruits Rapture, you will have opportunities to work for rewards during the first half of the Tribulation: The Prudent Steward.
Since He greatly loves them, Jesus will be merciful to Sardis Christians. He will insure that they are thoroughly prepared for their testing during the first half of the Tribulation. by allowing His faithful Philadelphia Christians to explain Biblical Doctrine to them in-depth: The Last Days of the Church Age. This training will be given to Sardis Christians a few days or weeks before the start of the Tribulation.
Revelation 3:3 Remember therefore how thou hast received and didst hear; and keep [it], and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. (ASV 1901)
In my over 30 years of attending a protestant church, I've heard only a few sermons that only briefly discussed the Rapture. When we've had open forum Bible studies on Wednesday night, when any mention of Rapture is brought up, most just say: "We are all going to Heaven in the rapture before the Tribulation starts, so we don't need to worry about it." Any further discussion about how the Churches of Sardis, Thyatira and Laodicea might have to endure severe testing during the Tribulation is simply dismissed and some even say: "They are not true Christian churches." If you want to read and analyze the Bible verses that discuss these churches, you are simply ignored.
Since the Sardis Christians have not been told by their pastors and teachers that they should be watching for Christ's return and since they are not reading the prophetic scripture in Revelation and verses in the Gospels from Jesus that He will come as a thief in the night, they are in a very precarious position. They are thus identified by Jesus as not ready for His return. If not ready, then they will be left behind to endure the trials of the first half of the Tribulation. What we should be doing is to read and understand the prophetic scripture, such as in Revelation and spoken by Jesus in the Gospels, and then just read the headlines in the newspapers and on the Internet. Prophetic end time events are taking place at an accelerating pace and they can be correlated with scripture. Thus, when these prophesied events have occurred, we know that Christ's return for the First Fruits Rapture cannot be very far into the future. These events include: the rapid spread of evil even among the Christian community, wars, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, famines, financial disasters at the personal, local and national level, and disease pandemics.
Jesus will suddenly show up one day in the very near future and will be calling out those Christians that are indeed watching for His return. Those that are members of the Church of Philadelphia will be taken out of this world just before the start of the seven year Tribulation. But those that are not watching will be left behind to be tested during the first half of the Tribulation.
Revelation 3:4 But thou hast a few names in Sardis that did not defile their garments: and they shall walk with me in white; for they are worthy. (ASV 1901)
Jesus observes that there is a small percentage of Protestant Church believers that have studied their Bibles and have lived a sanctified and holy life in service to God. He has seen how they live their lives and He notices that they have avoided sin and when they did sin, they confessed their sins to God and were hence cleansed from the effect of sin (I John 1:9) and these are the undefiled garments mentioned by Jesus in this verse. They have also accomplished good works in the power of the Holy Spirit. Since sin is dealt with in their lives and since they have accomplished good works for God, they are counted as worthy to be taken by Jesus to Heaven in the First Fruits Rapture. Some of these believers have not been watching for His return, but their lives have been lived for Christ and not for themselves. They are considered worthy to rule with Jesus as a member of the 24 elders which are sitting on their own thrones around the grand throne of Jesus in Heaven (Revelation chapter 4).
Revelation 3:5 He that overcometh shall thus be arrayed in white garments; and I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. (ASV 1901)
There seems to be a small window of time here in the last days of the Church age for some members of the Protestant Church to overcome the spiritual weaknesses that Jesus has observed so far and thus be taken to Heaven in the First Fruits Rapture. They will be wearing white garments, which are symbolic of being cleansed from sin by the daily confession of their sin to God and performing righteous deeds that are accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit. They are beginning to also watch for His return. This is being an overcomer. If these changes in their character are not accomplished before the First Fruits Rapture, then those that are not overcomers will have to overcome their spiritual weaknesses during the first half of the Tribulation, after they are left behind (Christians Left Behind) after Christ's most faithful, the Church of Philadelphia, are taken to Heaven through the open door (Revelation chapter 4).
Since so few protestant Christians are reading the prophetic passages, such as Revelation and Daniel, most of these believers do not have a clue as to what Christ expects them to accomplish. There are few pastors and few teachers that are delivering these words of warning from Revelation and hence the members of this church are approaching the Tribulation without being prepared. Now there is no excuse for their condition of not watching for Christ's return; since they can simply open up their Bibles and read and obey the scripture that gives them the warnings needed to turn their life around. However, most Sardis Christians are happy to just read the Sunday School materials that almost never mention prophecy and almost never give warnings about the terrible events that will happen during the Tribulation.
Those Sardis Christians that are faithful and have overcome their flesh nature and lived for Christ will be given a special award by Jesus at their judgment time. He will announce to God the Father and the Holy Angels something like: "These are my most faithful disciples that I love. Please welcome them to Heaven." He will also announce the name of each of His faithful Sardis Christians before the throne of God the Father and He will be very satisfied with the way they lived their lives while on this earth.
Revelation 3:6 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. (ASV 1901)
The final word from Jesus is to strongly encourage the Protestant/Sardis Church members to read the Book of Revelation and to hear--to take to heart and obey the words of prophecy in this final book of the Holy Bible. This message is spoken by Jesus to all seven churches, so it is a very significant warning for all Christians to obey.