I grew up in a faith culture that made sure everyone wore suits to church.
I remember pulling at my tie as it choked my small neck during the fourth verse of “In the Garden.” It only lasted for a few years though. It was also during this time that the church movement of “come as you are” blossomed. It was a movement that focused on that famous Bible verse, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). It valued not caring what one looked like on the outside and focused on the inward man. It didn’t take long for that movement to sweep through the nation. I’m not sure if it had the effect that the leaders of that movement hoped, but people mostly lost the ties and suit jackets so everyone was a bit more comfortable.
The national change from suits to T-shirts did little to our spiritual lives. Most people still filed in and sat just as before. Stood and sang a couple songs when told. Nodded along with the sermon, maybe even throwing in an “Amen” or two when the pastor said something challenging. Many people even “shared” their faith outside of church by placing silver fish on their car bumpers or by wearing W.W.J.D. bracelets.
But when it came to the strongholds of pride, lust, gluttony, and comparison that lodged in our chests, they reigned just as strong. Despite our church attendance and playing the Christian game, the church was plastic. They may have come to church in more comfortable clothes, but when it came to living the Word they proclaimed, they fell short. Playing church became a game of looking on the outward appearance, but God still saw the heart.
And not much has changed over church history. Tracing the church of Sardis in Revelation 3 to the church of today, we have a tendency to play the game of church and remain unchanged. We often grip the sins we love and fill the pews with “Amens.” We love the idea of Jesus, but on our terms. We love the idea of unconditional love, while we shrink back from the idea of unconditional surrender.
“I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” (Revelation 3:1).
God reveals that he is not interested in us going through the motions of church; He calls us to be the church.
How much of our church life consists of going through the motions instead of chasing the Living God? Where do we rest content giving God our outward appearances while we clutch our own kingdoms? Jesus’ response is the same to us as to the church of Sardis, “Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent” (Revelation 3:3). He calls to us beyond our motions of faith.
Joel 2:13 says, “Rend your hearts and not your garments.” In Jesus day, it was a common practice when showing grief or repentance to tear your clothing to show sincerity. But the practice had become just another motion for the people to take part in. The prophet here says not to just go through the religious motions of tearing your garments over your sin. But rend your hearts and walk in repentance.
Where do you find yourself today? Are you in the camp who is going through the motions of faith, or are you rending your heart? Are you ready to step past a half-hearted Christianity? A faith that only shows up on Sunday or doesn’t open up to others about what you are wrestling through.
What faith are you going to step into today?