Christ’s Speaking to the Local Churches in Revelation
The salient characteristic of the local church in Sardis, as Witness Lee notes, is its lifeless condition and its need of the Lord's enlivening. The Lord's assessment of this local church is that it has a name that it is living, and yet it is dead (Rev. 3:1). In Rev. 3:2-6 the Lord exposes the deadened condition of the local church in Sardis, issues her a warning, and finally, extends a promise to the overcomers there:
And to the messenger 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 living, and yet you are dead. 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. Remember therefore how you have received and heard, and keep it and repent. If therefore you will not watch, I will come as a thief, and you shall by no means know at what hour I will come upon you. But you have a few names in Sardis who have not defiled their garments, and they will walk with Me in white because they are worthy. He who overcomes will be clothed thus, in white garments, and I shall by no means erase his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Concerning this section of the Word, Witness Lee comments on the Lord's estimation of this local church's actual condition of spiritual death and primary need of spiritual enlivening:
In the fifth epistle, the one to Sardis, the Lord did not rebuke the church for anything wrong. There was nothing wrong, but she was dead! To be dead is more serious than to be wrong.
Allow me to illustrate in this way. Suppose there is a little boy in this hall who is very naughty and wrong in every aspect. But there is also another boy in the hall who is dead. There is nothing wrong with him, for he is adjusted and fully corrected. Which one would you prefer? Would you like to contact the naughty boy or the dead one? Of course, we all would prefer the living one, even though he is wrong.
The Lord hates dead things….If we only have a moral mentality to know what is right and what is wrong, this proves that we do not have the sense of life. God is not a God of the dead. He is a God of the living! A local church must be living, even if it is wrong. Of course, I do not encourage anyone to be wrong, but we must be living!
(Witness Lee, Stream, 705-706)
Witness Lee interprets below the Lord’s promise of white garments to the overcomers in the local church in Sardis:
Being clothed in white garments, as promised here, will be a prize to the overcomers in the millennial kingdom. What they have been walking in in this age will be a prize to them in the coming age. Every Christian needs two garments. The first is the garment of justification for our salvation, signifying Christ, the Christ whom we received, as our objective righteousness (Luke 15:22; 1·Cor. 1:30). The second is the garment of approvedness for our acceptance, signifying Christ, the Christ whom we live out, as our subjective righteousness (Phil. 1:21; 3:9). The white garments mentioned here refer to the second garment, which is needed for us to receive the reward and enter into the kingdom to walk with the Lord, that is, to reign with Him (2·Tim. 2:11-12).
(Witness Lee, Footnotes, 1254)