The score was getting close… TOO close. With only a few points separating our two teams from a hard-fought victory or narrow defeat, EVERY move mattered. Cautiously, I dropped to a crouched position and slowly eased my way into a moderately covered position near one of my teammates, who had a sniper rifle aimed across the field to pick off any opposing players who carelessly poked their heads out. We all knew what was at stake here… the next mistake would decide the outcome of the entire match for their team. As we hunkered down for the final stretch, I called out to one of my teammates on my headset to coordinate our movements. They were quiet… strangely quiet, considering they had been talking non-stop during the entire match up until this point. Maybe they were just trying to concentrate. Actually, EVERYTHING seemed to be exceptionally quiet right now… the in-game sound effects, the ambient background music, the sound of my character moving… WAIT. Why isn’t my character MOVING? No… no, no, no, no, this can’t be happening… THAT is why I can’t hear anything. My controller is DEAD… and my headset is powered off of my controller. This could not happen at a WORSE time… the game is on the line and some immediate decisions need to be made.
What to do, what to do… should I grab another controller and try to synchronize it in time to help my team win this match? Or should I try to find some batteries to temporarily replace my rechargeable battery pack? Where do we even KEEP the batteries? Oh, here they are, in a giant Ziploc bag full of everything EXCEPT AA batteries. What do all these extra screws go to? Why do we even HAVE all these AAA batteries? I need to write AA batteries down on the shopping list, but there is NO TIME and the battle is STILL going! I finally manage to find two random AA batteries and insert them into my controller just in time to watch my helpless, unmoving character get beat down from behind to lose the game. As my headset and controller finally lurch back to life, I hear the frustrated groans from my teammate as he wonders how we managed to lose… and I have to painfully explain that it is all my fault. Well… me and my controller’s fault.
Did I control that my batteries died at that exact moment? Not exactly… but I WAS the one responsible for failing to set my controller back on the charging station properly after the last time I played, resulting in the painful disconnection from my console when I could least afford for it to happen. And I WAS the one who ignored all of the warning signs, such as the rumble feature in my controller turning off as a battery-saving feature as well as the on-screen notifications that my battery power was running low. On the surface I had a fully functioning controller and headset… externally, they looked perfectly capable of performing the tasks assigned to them. But they didn’t actually do anything other than LOOK useful when I NEEDED them to actually, you know… DO something. And when my controller ceased to function, so did my headset… I couldn’t even verbally warn my team of our imminent loss. My controller’s disconnection from the console meant EVERYTHING connected to it stopped working… and when it comes to a controller and a headset, what they DO is much more important than how they appear on the outside. It is only when the power on the INSIDE of the controller works in combination with my efforts on the OUTSIDE that it accomplished what it was designed to do.
The balance for believers between faith and works is much like my controller performance issue… for a video game controller to serve its’ designated purpose, it has to DO something. It has an expectation of performing specific functions in a manner that supports the completion of my mission objectives… I expect it to respond to my button presses and power auxiliary items that are attached to it, such as my headset. I also have a responsibility to my controller… I have to synchronize it to my console and keep my battery charged. There is a direct correlation to the presence of the power that makes my controller operate and what it is expected to DO once it receives that power… similar to the correlation between faith and works. And as we continue our series on the seven churches from the book of Revelation, it is time we deal with the one that we are probably most familiar with… the church at Laodicea. If you missed the first four parts, they are included below so you can get caught up:
Of all the churches mentioned in the book of Revelation, the church of Laodicea is typically the most well-known… thanks mostly to the dramatic visualization the Lord uses to demonstrate His dissatisfaction with them. But if you weren’t already familiar with them, go ahead and finish what you were eating really quickly… the language is a bit more graphic than you may expect:
Revelation 3:14-21 “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
There are a lot of different historical moments captured in the Bible… over the thousands of years of human history the Lord has seen it all, and at no point did He mention that He was provoked into vomiting. But in this case, it seems He will make an exception… and that deserved to be fully understood. And in order to fully understand what set the Almighty God’s stomach off, we need to look at a pattern that has been developing in each and every message that He had for the churches in Revelation. As a matter of fact, it is not only something He says to EACH of the churches… it is the VERY FIRST thing He says to each of them. Have you noticed? I will underline them for you just to make sure…
Revelation 2:1-2 To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;
Revelation 2:8-9 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, ‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
Revelation 2:12-13 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
Revelation 2:18-19 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write, ‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass: “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.
Revelation 3:1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.
Revelation 3:7-8 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, ‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens”: “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.
Revelation 3:14-15 “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.
In each of these letters the Lord starts His message with the phrase, “I know your works”… in the Greek the word used in these instances is the word “ergon” that can be translated as works, actions, or deeds. It is the same word that is used in the book of James when he asks the rhetorical question:
James 2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?
And then James goes on to answer his own question quite emphatically…
James 2:15-26 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
In His letters to the previous churches, the Lord confronted a variety of issues and challenges… but the only one that made Him physically ill was dealing with a body of professing believers who were nothing but “talk”… sure, they “believed” in God. They “professed faith” in Him. But there are no participation trophies in heaven for merely signing up to be in the club… Christ made it abundantly clear in His message to each of these groups of followers that He was observing what they DID, not merely what they BELIEVED. If He didn’t mean it, He probably wouldn’t have repeated Himself SEVEN times. They were not described as “lukewarm” in their BELIEFS… but in their WORKS. It was not that their faith had gotten stale, nor had their love run cold… it was their lack of corresponding actions in combination with their faith that made them reprehensible. They had become comfortable and self-sufficient in their faith, blinding themselves to the reality that they were parasitic consumers of His blessings rather than producers of life-giving fruit for others… and the disconnect between what they claimed to believe and what they actually DID about it made Him sick.
This is a tough sentence to write, but here it goes… the devil does not CARE what we believe. Even satan and his demons BELIEVE in God… they are painfully aware of His existence and are engaged in a daily war against Him. Our enemy only cares about what we DO as a result of our belief in Him. One of the most famous verses in the entire Bible is the often-quoted verse in Ephesians in which Paul clearly states that we are not saved by our works, but by our faith…
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
But that was not the end of Paul’s train of thought, and we do His full message a disservice if we quote that verse without continuing into the next sentence for necessary context. In the VERY next verse Paul continues this topic and explains that while we are not saved BY our works, we were absolutely saved for the purpose of DOING good works…
Ephesians 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
We are not saved BY our works, but for the purpose of DOING good works. Our actions and deeds are not a replacement for our faith, but the logical conclusion of what occurs BECAUSE of our faith. Much like a nice, shiny controller that fails to respond to a player’s input, we are little more than paperweights occupying space if we are not actively involved in doing what the Lord has told us to do. Abraham, Rahab, James, Paul, and John are all in agreement on a very simple tenet of our faith that the Laodiceans failed to follow… believing in Christ is our one and only path to salvation, but it is what we DO as believers that demonstrates His love is actually within us. Otherwise, our faith is just as dead as that controller that sat uselessly in my hands as my teammates and I lost our match… and as I watched helplessly as our team lost a match we should have won, that nauseous feeling in my stomach paled in comparison to the feeling our Father feels when He watches His self-proclaimed followers say all the right words but fail to actually DO the good things we were placed here to do.
1 John 5:1-3 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.
Will we mess up sometimes? Of course we will… there are still plenty of matches that I lose that have nothing to do with my controller and everything to do with my poor choices and gameplay errors. But when I am selecting a controller, I would rather have a choice between a controller that is fully dead or a controller that is fully charged, because at least then I won’t have to wonder if it is going to stop working when I can least afford for that to happen. The Lord is seeking the same… He would rather for us to be on fire for Him or completely cold to Him. We aren’t saved by our works… but similar to a gaming controller, we ARE expected to fulfill our function once we have placed ourselves into His hands. The infamous visual of Christ standing OUTSIDE the door and knocking was not a reference to those outside of the faith… it was His message to this very church, as well as to any of us who fully believe in Him but are not performing the actions that correspond with our faith (Revelation 3:20). The good news is that there was a path forward for both the church at Laodicea as well as for us… repent, open the door, and invite Him back in. Our choice to serve Christ doesn’t end with our belief in Him, but in our decision to FOLLOW in His footsteps through our intentional actions to love, obey, and serve Him and the others He brings into our path. We will all be known by our fruits (Matthew 7:15-20)… not because our works are the WAY to heaven, but because our actions in service to Christ show that we are ON our way.
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