The Reputation and Reality of Holiness (Revelation 3:1-6)
A Blog Series on the Book of Revelation, Part 7
One of the things I’ve tried to emphasize most in my writing and speaking throughout the years has been what one might call the absoluteness of Jesus. I’m almost certain that “absoluteness” isn’t a word. But it does convey fairly well what the angel of the church at Sardis is saying about Jesus.
Jesus deals in absolutes. Something is right or it’s wrong. Something is good or it’s evil. You’re either with him or you’re against him. You’re either faithful or unfaithful. You’re a follower of his or you’re not. Our culture is very fond of blurry lines and expansive gray areas between the black and white, but Jesus really wasn’t. He draws a very clear line and asks us which side of it we’re on.
It seems to me that there is a tendency among believers to try to isolate areas of sin and rebellion in their lives—a few certain behaviors and decisions that are contrary to God’s revealed will, but nevertheless we try to “protect” from God’s intervention. We say, “I will give him all of my life, except this part. And I will go along with him as he refines and beautifies every part of my life, so long as he leaves this protected area of rebellion alone.”
It’s a story very familiar to me. I attempted to maintain a certain reputation among believers while I guarded a protected area of rebellion that for some time I refused to allow God to enter. Until it did what those protected areas always do. They turn on us. They break out of their boundaries and infect everything else. They never stay contained where we planned for them to. Suddenly we find ourselves ruined and broken, not having realized that what we were so closely protecting was actually a grenade with the pin pulled out.
Jesus says to the believers as Sardis, “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“ (vv. 1-2).
Perhaps the single most important element in the pursuit of holiness is one that is almost never addressed. It is the virtue of prizing God’s thoughts about us far above anyone else’s. Good reputation is what happens when our known deeds make us highly esteemed by other people. Holiness is what happens when our known and unknown deeds make us highly esteemed by God himself.
Our progress in holiness will largely be determined by which we decide we want more and will chase after. Of course, high esteem among people often follows in the wake of genuine holiness. But as Sardis found out (along with myself and many of you) good reputation can be achieved without an absolute commitment to Jesus in every part of our lives. It can be achieved by harboring areas of rebellion, so long as those protected areas are not known.
The problem, of course, is that there are no true “protected areas.” There are no “unknown deeds.” “I know your deeds,” God says. I know them. You have not confessed them. They may not be public. But I know them. You have a certain reputation, but your reputation does not reflect realty.
So the question is: Do you want the reputation of holiness? Or do you want the reality of holiness?
God shows his grace toward us reputation-chasers with his call to WAKE UP! It is grace that he shouts and shakes us, allowing us to blink our eyes and let fall away the trance we so often walk around in, believing that what people think of us matters most of all.
It does not matter most of all. Here’s what will matter most of all: “The one who is victorious will…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” (v. 5).
What does that mean? What does it mean that Jesus will acknowledge the holy and victorious ones before his Father?
It means that in the end he will introduce him to the Father. It means that Jesus will usher us into the very throne room of God and say, “Father, I’d like you to know [your name here.] I know his deeds. I’ve seen his life. He has given it to me completely.
That will be the moment in which reputation will become a perfectly and completely empty concept. We will be completely and truly known by the one whose knowing matters more than anyone’s. That’s the moment we’re after. That’s why Jesus is so absolute. It’s why he’s so demanding. It’s because he wants that moment for us. He sends his Holy Spirit to work in us, driving us toward that moment. He died to bring to life our hearts, minds and eyes so that we can see that moment.
So may we choose to concern ourselves above all with God’s thoughts about us. May we care less about our reputation among people, and care nothing about it if it is ill-deserved. May we seek the sort of life that leads to the moment when Jesus introduces us proudly to his and our Father.