Now the Lord can say, "Become watchful and establish the things which remain, which were about to die; for I have found none of your works completed before My God."
This shows that they originally belonged to God. Although they were "about to die," they have things "which remain." However, their works were not found to be completed. The church in Sardis has not left the first love like the church in Ephesus did. Neither has it been persecuted under Satan’s hand like Smyrna was. It does not live in the world and does not hold to the teaching of Balaam and the Nicolaitans like Pergamos did. Unlike Thyatira, it has not tolerated Jezebel to tempt the servants of God to commit fornication and to eat idol sacrifices. It has not degraded into the condition of Laodicea, where God would spew it out of His mouth. Here grace is still able to do something, which is why grace is still doing something. We have seen how the church in Sardis has forsaken the corrupt works and teachings. The failure of Sardis is a negative one, the absence of completed works. Its works are not evil; they are only short. Its goal is complete, but its works have not attained to its goal.
Here it is not a question of Jezebel, the eating of idol sacrifices, or the spewing out of the Lord’s mouth. Those here have received the outward truths. They are merely lacking in the power of life. They already have the façade, the name, and the teachings of Christianity. However, Christ is not in their organizations. I am not saying that the Lord is not in their hearts. They have been delivered from Jezebel. However, they have fallen into the dead formalities. God is not judging the work of the Holy Spirit here. Rather, He is judging the way man applies the grace and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
We have seen that God lit the lamp at the time of the Reformation. His goal was not to put the lamp under the bushel but to have it shine on the lampstand and to enlighten the whole household. God is not judging His own work. He is watching to see if the lamp is shedding the light He has provided. In these seven churches we observe that the Lord considers some of their conditions good and some of their conditions bad. He judges the churches according to their own condition. Even if the condition of a church is very good, the Lord does not reckon that as the result of the work of the Holy Spirit.
What the Lord has built is complete. His work is just like Himself. The Lord expects the church in Sardis to be complete in its works so that it would match His original design. The Lord has His standard. According to this standard, He is judging His church. The church is judged according to what it has and according to what it can have. The Lord will never judge the church in a way that is below this standard. This is a lesson to us all. Have we demonstrated righteousness and holiness before the Lord? The One who justifies us is God. The One who expects us to be righteous practically is also God. The One who separated us is the Lord, and the One who expects us to be practically sanctified is also the Lord. There are, of course, those who confess Christ, but how few there are who would live out Christ! What the Lord is reproaching now has nothing to do with Balaam or Jezebel. What He is requiring now is completion. The extent that He has entrusted Himself to the church is the extent that He expects His church to fulfill its works. The question here is not whether or not one has borne fruit, but whether or not one has borne fruit that is meet for the Lord’s use and satisfying to the Lord’s heart. The question here is whether or not our fruit is up to the standard that will match the price that He has paid, so that He may feel His former labor to have been worthwhile. This is, of course, not a question of salvation. It is about a saved person’s judgment which he will receive from the Lord.
Of course, we know that when Christ receives the authority and when eternity is about to begin, God will cause His grace to be fully manifested in the saints. However, before this time God entrusts this responsibility to man. Although in the future God will write the law upon the hearts of the Israelites, at Sinai He had already given the law to them. We can see this not only with Israel, but also with the Gentiles. God entrusted the world government to the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, but Babylon and all the nations which were raised up after Babylon failed. However, when the nations of the world become the nations of the Lord Christ, world government will become perfect. The same is true with the church. God has perfected the church in Christ and has granted it power to express the glory of the heavenly Head on earth. However, the church has also failed. Although it has received grace, it has not borne the fruit of grace as a proof of its receiving grace. But in the future God will have "the glory in the church...unto all the generations forever and ever" (Eph. 3:21). However, now is the time of responsibility. If the whole church has failed, then individual saints must bear the responsibility. Of course, in the future the same will be true, because at that time the nominal church will be spewed out of the mouth of the Lord. This is not a question of salvation but a matter of responsibility.
At the time of Pentecost, God gave the Holy Spirit so that His church would bear fruit, and indeed there was the fruit. But today the situation is greatly different. Corporately speaking, the church has not borne the fruit it is responsible to bear. As a result, the responsibility now falls on the individuals. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." This word causes us to ask ourselves what we have done individually as a witness to God’s grace. Of course, our testimony before the world can never match the power manifested by the first church, but we should fulfill the measure that we have received individually. We should walk worthily of our calling according to the power that Christ has now given us. If we consider this matter before God, we will see that we have not attained individually to the measure of grace that we have obtained. What we are struggling for, striving towards, and longing after is a "name." However, the question here is how much fruit we have borne according to the grace that we have received. If a believer has not reached this state, his work is not complete before God. In this case, an outward spiritual name will only serve as the cradle for his shortcomings. May the Lord preserve us from being satisfied with a mere spiritual name. It is most dangerous for believers to trust in a spiritual name. Those who are preaching for the Lord should be all the more careful about this matter!
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 05: The Christian (3), Chapter 2, by Watchman Nee)