Every Christian understands that Jesus came to earth to die for our sins; but perhaps not every Christian understands that He also came to teach us how to live. When we study the Gospels carefully, the most important lessons come into focus very clearly: love God (Matthew 22: 34-38); love our fellow man (v. 39); and obey His commandments (John 14:15). We cannot earn our salvation by our works, but that is a very different thing than saying that our works don’t matter. Jesus tells us that our works do indeed matter. Our works are the manifestation of our faith, whether they are works of obedience or works of indifference (Matthew 7:15-23). In fact, Jesus flat out tells us that we cannot call Him our Lord and Savior if we do not obey His commandments (Luke 6:43-49); and Jesus authored seven epistles which drive home this very important and often neglected, or even rejected, point. These epistles can be found in chapters 2 and 3 of the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation was written by John, but the seven letters (called “epistles” in the Greek language) to the seven churches are dictated directly by Jesus. Hence, Jesus is the author of the letters or epistles.

Jesus is very succinct and to the point. He needs no more than fifty-one total verses of Scripture to dictate all seven epistles, which, if they were counted as separate books of the Bible, would easily qualify as the seven shortest books of the Bible! Every word, every concept is important. There is a theme common to each of the seven epistles – Jesus tells each church individually, “I know your works.”  He then proceeds to evaluate those works. Five of the seven churches receive a failing grade! Please let this sink in. Jesus finds it important to let five post-resurrection Christian churches know that they face consequences unless they amend their ways, unless they change their works.

The first letter is for the church at Ephesus. After telling the church, “I know your works,” Jesus begins by noting the positives: “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; and you have persevered, and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake, and have not become weary…” (Rev 2: 2-3). So far, so good, right? I don’t know about you, but if our Lord said to me that I have persevered, have patience, and have labored for His name’s sake, I would be feeling pretty good about myself. But Jesus was not finished: “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (v. 4). Uh-oh. I would not like to hear that He has anything against me, and I would especially not enjoy hearing that there would be consequences. Next, Jesus delivers the consequence: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent” (v. 5). How many Christians today believe that having been baptized; having “accepted Jesus in their hearts as Lord and savior,” they have no need of repentance, and have a salvation they cannot lose no matter what they do? Yet here Jesus is telling a Christian church that even though they are doing some things very well, He will remove their lampstand unless they repent!

This template is repeated with the other six churches. Only two churches receive no rebuke – the church at Smyrna and the church at Philadelphia. Ephesus and the remaining four churches do not get off as easily. Jesus sees some good works in only two of those four. He tells the church at Pergamos, “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…” (2:13b); and He really has some good things to say to the church at Thyatira: “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first” (2:19). But the only good thing He can say to the church at Sardis is, “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy” (3:5). But sadly, the best He has for the church at Laodicea is, “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten. Therefore, be zealous and repent” (3:19b). Do not miss the ominous message to Sardis. As things stand, only a few will walk with Him. Indeed, Pergamos, Thyatira, and Laodicea, along with Sardis, and Ephesus are all warned that there will be consequences for their works. Those consequences range from Jesus telling them that they make Him puke (Laodicea), that he will fight against them (Thyatira), that He will cast them into great tribulation (Pergamos), and that they are dead (Sardis).

Our works do indeed matter. Jesus could not make this point any clearer. He also makes it clear that we will be held accountable for the works we choose to engage in. Indeed, He flat out tells the church at Pergamos, “I will give to each one of you according to your works.” Fortunately, there is another side to the coin. He also tells the church at Pergamos, “He who…keeps My works until the end, to him, I will give power over the nations.” So, the next time someone calling themselves a Christian proclaims that our works don’t matter, gently refer them to what Jesus says about our works in His seven letters to the churches!


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