Spiritual Growth and Recovery Procedures
Revelation 3:2-3: "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore you will not watch, I will come on you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come."
All of verse 2 and the first part of verse 3 focus on how to be watchful. The second half of verse 3 takes the other negative view: If you will not be watchful. In other words, there is a chance here to recover. God's grace is still going to provide. No matter how much of our life has been messed up God has a plan for our life. The plan includes the A,B, Cs of the spiritual life and we just have to go back to implementation. It may be difficult because by now, in the church at Sardis they have this whole habit pattern of negative volition, trying to live life on the basis of the flesh, thinking in terms of arrogant strategies for making life work apart from God. They have to break those habits.
"If therefore you will not watch, I will come on you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come." This is coming in judgment. If they don't straighten up there are going to be consequences and the Lord is going to come with judgment. It may end up in the sin unto death or some other form of serious divine discipline, but they won't know when it is coming. The principle: Don't wait for the lord to start discipline, the wake up call is right now: "Become watchful and strengthen what remains." That indicates the same thing that we see in the epistle to the Hebrews. That is, you can start losing ground. You lose capacity for righteousness, you begin to forget the doctrine that you have learned and stored in the soul so that it is no longer usable, you begin to be dominated by sinful habit patterns and thought patterns rather habit patterns and thought patterns that are produced by doctrine and the Holy Spirit in your life, and these things begin to become entrenched in your life and in your thinking. The next thing you know you begin to wonder how you got into the mess you are in. It took place just one step at a time, gradually and incrementally with one bad decision after another bad decision, thinking that you could just use 1 John 1:9 and you'd get forgiveness, be right back in fellowship, and everything would be okay. But the mandate in Scripture isn't just to get in fellowship, the mandate in Scripture is to abide in Christ, i.e. stay in fellowship, and walk by means of God the Holy Spirit.
Jesus says, "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain." There is still something left from that former maturity that they had, but they are about to die, about to be destroyed. And He says, "I have not found your works perfect before God" So grace provides a means of recovery. This is the same thing Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14: "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." The issue isn't how badly you have failed. A guilt trip doesn't impress God one little bit. If you have failed in certain ways in the past and you feel guilty about it, then you don't accept the promise of God forgiveness based on 1 John 1:9, now you are compounding the sin, because not only are you living the sin in your own thought but you are adding to it the fact that you are not believing that God's grace is sufficient to completely forgive the sin and to blot it out. No matter how much you have failed you can reverse course; there is hope; there is a future.
Now He gives that solution a little more substance in verse 3. It begins with the command to remember. Verse 3 is a subset of verse 2. In verse 2 the command is to be watchful. How do you be watchful? You have to remember, that is the first command. It is the Greek verb MNEMONEUO [mnhmoneuw] which means to remember, to recall to mind, present active imperative; it is an ongoing practice here. This is to be a standard practice for the believer. We have to remember something: "how you have received and heard." They are told that they have failed, they've blown it, there is no life there now and they are living like dead men. They just have a fake reputation now, they are living on past laurels, but the solution is to remember something: how they grew. So there is an emphasis here on procedure. You have to know what the procedures are for growth. They had them one time, they knew what those procedures were for spiritual growth at one point, and they have go back and remember what those procedures are and implement them all over again. They forgot how to stay in shape, how to exercise. They once knew what these drills were and they need to go back and remember how they advanced before and then they need to put that into practice all over again. The verb for "receive" is LAMBANO [lambanw]. It is a perfect active indicative here, which is interesting because the perfect tense always emphasizes the present reality of a completed past action. This is something they had received in the past so that it is a complete action. LAMBANO is a word that indicates the reception of the Word of God and how we have learned in the past. So they are to think about how they received the Word in the past. There is a procedure in Scripture, a mechanic, for how we take in the Word of God.
The Holy Spirit makes the Word understandable but it may take years before you understand it. Just because you can repeat what a pastor says doesn't mean you understand it. This isn't just a one-shot event, you don't just come in and sit down, confess your sins, and the Holy Spirit is going to make it understandable, so you go out and understand it right away. It is the Holy Spirit who over the process of time, the more you study the Word, makes it understandable to you. He builds that frame of reference with the basic building blocks and then constructs the understanding brick by brick on top of that. But it is done by the Holy Spirit. The spiritual life is a supernatural way of life. He makes it understandable but you have to exercise your volition to understand it. It is part of what the Old Testament talks about in terms of meditation. You have to think about it, it is not just coming and hearing and writing a few notes. You have to think about it, cogitate on it, and se just how you understand it. Then you have to believe it. You can't believe what you don't understand. We believe it and then God the Holy Spirit transfers it into the core of our thinking, making it more and more real to us, and that dominates our thinking. There is an exchange process going on here and what gets ejected out the other side is the garbage from human viewpoint. Now we have what the Bible called EPIGNOSIS [e)pignwsij], which is usable spiritual knowledge. It is a storehouse of usable spiritual knowledge. We will only apply a small percentage of what is there at any given time. Some of what you learn you may never apply again, but it is from that reservoir of knowledge that all of your application comes. The more you know, the more you are going to apply because the aggregate is going to continue to increase. So we have to learn more and more so that that small amount of application continues to increase. We don't learn this to go on some sort of intellectual head trip, we learn this so that everything else eventually makes sense. Everything in God's created is interconnected.
Once we get this storehouse of knowledge, then comes application. That, again, involves volition. We have to decide in this circumstance that we are going to apply the Word. So the Sardis Christians said: "Remember how you received and heard? Remember that process? You sat under the pastor, you fellowshipped, you thought about it, meditated upon it, God the Holy Spirit made it real to you and it became usable doctrine. You used it and applied." You have to remember, you have to go back to that all over again.
"…hold fast" is the word that He uses next. This is the Greek word TEREO [threw] which means to focus on something, to make it a priority. Then He uses the word "repent" which means to change your mind or to change your thinking. It isn't a one-shot decision, it isn't a synonym for confessing your sins. It is a statement that what has happened to these operationally dead believers in Sardis is that they have gotten so far away from divine viewpoint that they are thinking like unbelievers. They have to change the way they think. When you have really gotten away from the Lord and have lost the spiritual disciplines and procedures it is difficult. But God gives the grace to be able to do it. You have to stop and think about what your priorities are, how you are spending your time every day. Are you really spending enough time in the Word? Are you too busy with work and other details to make a study of the Word your priority? We have to get back to making that a priority. It is not enough to make a plan, we have to work the plan. The process of recovery takes a lot of work because you have to undo a lot of bad habits, mental habits, priority habits, times use habits, and you have to replace those with wise doctrinal priorities and time-use habits. It is the process of Romans 12:1, 2: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies [your whole life] a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind [renovation of thought], that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."