OSAS And The Church In Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6)
By Jack Kelley
I keep getting questions from people who wonder if Rev. 3:5 denies OSAS. Usually these questions come from folks who believe in OSAS but have had Rev. 3:5 used against them by those who don’t. They write in hoping I’ll have an answer that will confirm their belief and that they can also use to defend it the next time they are confronted with this verse.
I’ve answered the question several times and posted my answer on our “Ask A Bible Teacher” page but I’ve never devoted a whole article to it. When I got the question again this week, I decided to offer an expanded answer.
This would be a good time for us to remember that the Bible, being the Word of God, cannot contradict itself. Therefore, when there are multiple verses in support of a position it’s a mistake to think any other verse could negate that position, even if at first glance it seems to be contradictory. Instead we should look more closely at the “contradictory” verse to see where we’ve misunderstood it.
Where OSAS is concerned there are multiple clear verses that support it. John 6:37-40, John 10:27-30, Romans 8:38-39, 2 Cor. 1:21-22, Ephes. 1:13-14 are good examples. Therefore, our goal in reviewing Rev. 3:1-6 is to see where those who believe that it contradicts OSAS have misunderstood it.
Let’s begin with some background on the Book of Life, mentioned in Rev. 3:5, because that’s what the deniers focus on. They claim that the Lord’s promise never to blot out the name of the overcomer means He can blot out the name of those who are not overcomers. Therefore a person can lose his or her salvation for failing to overcome. (For a complete study on what it means to be an overcomer read “Who Are the Overcomers?”)
The Bible actually speaks of two similar books, a Book of Life and a Lamb’s Book of Life, and only the Book of Life appears in Rev. 3:5 so we’ll start with it.
The Book Of Life
According to Ps. 139:16 all the days ordained for us were written in the Book of Life before one of them came to be. Most scholars take that to mean that the names of everyone ever born are written in the Book of Life.
The first mention of the Book of Life (literally Book of the Living) is in Exodus 32 where the Lord threatened to destroy all the Israelites because of the Golden Calf rebellion (Ex. 32:10). Moses made intercession for them, asking the Lord to forgive the sins of the people, but if He was not willing He should blot Moses out of the book instead of them (Ex. 32:32).
Moses was offering to be eternally banned from the Lord’s presence for the sins of the people. It was an incredible thing for him to offer and in some ways it was a preview of what Jesus would later do for all of mankind. The Lord said instead of destroying them all right then He would delay their ultimate punishment until a future time. But when that time came He would blot out the names of all who had sinned against Him (Ex. 32:33-34). That tells us the names of those who sin against God can be blotted out of the Book of Life.
In Judaism it’s believed that this book is opened and updated every year during the 10 days leading up to Yom Kippur. During that time the people try to right all the wrongs they’ve done in the previous year through repentance, prayer, and good deeds. They do this in the hope that their names will be inscribed in the book of life for another year before it’s sealed on Yom Kippur. A traditional blessing among Jewish people during this time of year is, “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”
The Lamb’s Book Of Life
In Rev. 13:8 we’re introduced to another Book of Life, this one belonging to the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world. In this verse John said all those who dwell upon the Earth will worship the anti-Christ, whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Peter confirms the Lamb is Jesus, so the Lamb’s Book of Life appears to be the registry of the Church, rescued from the time and place of the End times judgments (1 Thes. 1:10).
Some translations of Rev. 13:8 indicate the Lamb’s Book of Life was written from the creation of the world. If so, it means the name of every member of the Church was known to God and inscribed there at that time. God could do this because He knows the end from the beginning. (Paul mentioned God’s foreknowledge in Romans 8:29.) Since the Church is promised the blessing of eternal security, if it was possible to blot anyone’s name out of the Lamb’s Book of Life, it would mean that God had made a mistake in putting it there in the first place. Of course, God could not make such a mistake.
Rev. 21:27 says only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life can live in the New Jerusalem. In my opinion, that means the New Jerusalem is the exclusive home of the Church. It contains the mansions Jesus has been preparing for us in His Father’s house (John 14:2-3). Rev. 13:8 and Rev. 21:27 are the Bible’s only references to The Lamb’s Book of Life.
Some have expressed the opinion that since post rapture believers are also saved by the Lamb, their names should be in the Lamb’s Book of Life as well. But the fact is that every saved person in history, whether from the Old Testament or New, owes his or her salvation to the Lord for His substitutionary death on our behalf. After all, it was a once for all time sacrifice (Hebr. 10:12). And of all the saints, only the ones from the Church Age are unique. We alone are promised membership in God’s family (John 1:12-13), eternal security (Ephes. 1:13-14) salvation by grace through faith alone (Ephes. 2:8-9), a seat at the Lord’s side in the heavenly realms (Ephes 2:6), a joint inheritance with Him (Romans 8:17), and a home in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:27). If the Lamb’s Book of Life is for every believer there would be no need for it, because every believer’s name will appear in the Book of Life. With that background lets take a look at Rev. 3:1-6.
The Letter To The Church At Sardis
“To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
There are three details that give us the context of this letter. First of all notice that the Lord refers to His coming to them (2nd Coming), not for them (Rapture). Then we see that He is talking about the Book of Life and not the Lamb’s Book of Life. Finally, he said only a few in that church had not soiled their clothes and would walk with Him dressed in white.
(When used symbolically, clothing represents our righteousness. Isaiah 61:10, Isaiah 64:6 are examples. Having soiled clothing means their righteousness is not sufficient to dwell with God. This is what Jesus meant when He said their deeds were unfinished.
That means only a few from the Church in Sardis will qualify for the rapture. He was talking to the others when He warned them to wake up, remember what they have received and heard (the Gospel) and repent (change their minds about needing a savior). Otherwise they will not know when He is coming and could miss their last chance to be saved.
These details tell us that although He’s speaking to a church, for the most part the people in it don’t belong to The Church. If they did, He would have referred to the Lamb’s Book of Life, which contains only born again believers, He would have said He was coming for them in the rapture, and He would have said they would all walk with Him and be dressed in white. (In Ephesians 5:25-27 the Lord described the Church as being radiant, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.)
Who Are These People?
When viewed in the order in which they appear, the seven churches of Rev. 2-3 provide an overview of Church history. By the particular way in which the Lord described them, we can see the apostolic church in the letter to Ephesus, the church of the persecution in Smyrna, the church that was merged with the pagan Roman system in Pergamum, the Roman Catholic church in Thyatira, the protestant church in Sardis, the evangelical church in Philadelphia, and the apostate church in Laodicea.
Of the seven churches, Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum are gone, but Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea are still represented as the end of the age approaches.
Sardis represents the church of the reformation, which grew into the main line denominations of today. Only a few are born again and will be raptured. These are the ones who have not soiled their clothes and are worthy to walk with Him. But those who overcome during the end times judgments will still be able to enter eternity with Him.
In all seven letters to overcome means to remain true to the simple Gospel; believing Jesus died for our sins and rose again, without adding to or subtracting from it. When Jesus said the church in Sardis had a reputation of being alive but was really dead, He was accusing them of having subtracted so much from the gospel that what’s left is no longer sufficient to save them. This is certainly true of the liberal denominations, who believe people are saved just by joining their church. But by reading their Bibles people in these churches can easily find out the truth about what it takes to be saved (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
What’s It All About?
From this we can see that Rev. 3:1-6 is a letter to protestant church goers, not to born again believers. In it the Lord was admonishing the majority to do what the few had done, and remember what they had originally been taught.
The five “solas” of the reformation summarized the original theology of the reformers. Sola fides, faith alone; Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone; Solus Christus, Christ alone; Sola gratia, grace alone; Soli Dia gloria, to the Glory of God alone. These five solas were the reformers rebuttal to the Catholic Church and its extra-biblical traditions. This is what they taught, this is what the protestant church originally received and heard, and this is what Jesus was admonishing them to remember. They need to hold fast to the five solas and change their minds about their current non-biblical theology.
Now we can see that Rev. 3:1-6 is not about eternal security at all. It’s about reminding people who aren’t saved in the first place to remember what the reformation originally stood for, and return to what they had received and heard. Doing this is how they’ll avoid having their name blotted out of the book.
Since there’s no mention of the Lamb’s Book of Life it appears that the ultimate recipients of this warning will be those who are left behind when the true Church is taken in the rapture. Failing to heed the Lord’s warning could leave them in a bad way at the Second Coming.
Four times in the Olivet Discourse the Lord said people on Earth at the time will not know the day or hour of His return (Matt. 24:36, Matt. 24:42-44, Matt. 24:50, Matt. 25:13). He warned the church in Sardis of the same thing. They run the risk of realizing after it’s too late that they’ve missed their chance. I believe this is what Jesus meant when He said,
“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky and all the nations of the Earth will mourn. They will see the Son of man coming on the clouds with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30).
The nations (people) will mourn because they will realize that what they heard about Jesus is true. He is coming to judge the world and it will be too late for them. They will have been caught on the wrong side of the most important decision of their lives.
If you have friends and loved ones in the same state as the church in Sardis, please warn them what’s at stake once again. Don’t let them risk missing their last chance to be saved.