If Christians are worn out, it is for one of two reasons: (1) they don’t know how much their Father loves them and (2) they have an unbiblical definition of work. Hey, I’m not judging anyone here. When it comes to overwork, I’m guilty as sin. I’m a workaholic who regularly pushes himself past breaking point. I’ve learned a lot through my mistakes, but sometimes I wonder whether I have learned anything at all.
So put this one in the “Do as I say, not as I do basket.”
On the subject of rest vs work, I have much to learn, but one thing I know for certain is this: Jesus does not want you to work yourself to exhaustion. Rather, he wants you to rest from your labors, and trust in his finished work.
I encourage you to check out the 30+ articles I have written on these and other deeds-scriptures. (You can find them in the Archives>Subject Index under “works”.) Today I want to look at a scripture that I unpack in my new book, Letters from Jesus.
I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. (Rev. 3:2b)
This sounds like a serious warning, and it is. But the warning may not be what you think it is. Jesus is not saying, “You need to pray more, study more, do more to maintain your fellowship with the Holy Spirit.”
Yet sadly, this is the message many Christians hear. They read these words and feel like Jesus is giving them a performance appraisal. “You’re not doing enough! Your deeds are incomplete.” What is the remedy? Sign up for more busyness. Make more promises to God. And what is the result? Burn out and condemnation.
Perhaps you have been burdened with unholy demands for more, but this burden is not from the Lord. So what is Jesus saying in this passage? Short answer: He’s talking to unsaved people who had heard the gospel but not believed it.
The incomplete deeds passage comes from Jesus’ letter to the church at Sardis. This church had made a name for themselves – they had a reputation – but Jesus wasn’t impressed. They were known as a busy church, but the majority of people in it were unsaved. They were self-righteous do-gooders who remained dead in their sin and unacquainted with the Holy Spirit.
In the first verse of his letter, Jesus draws attention to the Sardians’ deficiency—they lacked the Holy Spirit. The fellowship of the Spirit is not something we earn through good works. The indwelling Holy Spirit is the gift of God given to all who ask (Luke 11:13). The self-righteous Sardians had done many things for God, but they had not asked for anything from God. They were more interested in what they could give to the Lord, than what he could give to them.
By all accounts the Sardians were plenty busy. They had acquired a reputation for their good deeds. But those who are trying to earn God’s favor can never succeed. They may be slaving for the Lord, but their best will never be enough. Their deeds will always be incomplete.
What is the remedy for incomplete deeds? Jesus tells us in the next verse.
Remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent (Rev. 3:3a)
Since Sardis had a substantial Jewish population, we can assume that the gospel came to this town via the synagogue. The Sardian Jews heard the good news first, and some of them repented and were clothed with the spotless raiments of Christ’s righteousness (see Rev. 3:4). But many who heard the gospel did not repent. Hence the Lord exhorts them to “remember what you heard (the gospel) and repent (change your unbelieving minds).” He also exhorts them to keep it, which means heed it and hold fast to it.
The gospel reveals the free gift of God’s righteousness—“a righteousness that is by faith from first to last” (Rom. 1:17). One sign that a person hasn’t received the gospel is they haven’t received the righteousness that comes from God. They are still trying to establish their own. This is what was happening in Sardis. The Jews had heard about Jesus, but they had not grasped what Christ had done. They were boasting in their reputation when they could have been boasting in the Lord.
If you believe in Jesus, rest assured the incomplete deeds warning is not for you. However, if you think your hard work is earning you favor with God, then maybe it is. I don’t say that to condemn you, but to liberate you from the tyranny of dead works.
In my next article, I will ask an important question: Are you working too hard for Jesus? If your gut reaction is, “It’s not possible to work too hard for the Lord,” then allow me to introduce you to a some Christians who were working far too hard and suffering as a result. Stay tuned.
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