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Theoretical holiness means that you can teach a class on what it is to be holy while the inward testimony of your soul affirms a different kind of life that is not in-line with God’s Word or your teaching. It happens through years of spiritual training and equipping laid over years of deep, sinful compulsions.
Theoretical holiness does not cleanse these dysfunctional problems from the soul, though you can present yourself as outwardly holy to others. The disconnect in this person’s thinking should be apparent because “holiness and wholeness” go together. To be genuinely spiritual is to experience internal and external transformation, not just behavioral holiness.
This dualistic life can become excruciating for the Christian who is in bondage and wants to change but realizes that decades of sound, Bible training has not changed these sinful, internal compulsions. To his friends, they only know him as “externally holy,” though they would not describe it as theoretically piety. Sadly, the misjudgment of this believer happened due to decades of unintentionally ignoring the internal problems while keeping a disciplined pace with their Christianity 101, 201, 301, and 401 ongoing education.
But now, decades later, the accumulative effect of the personal, familial, and relational dysfunction has brought the dualistic believer to the place where they have to decide if they are going to try to live on their “reputation of holiness” or if they will admit that their righteousness is not much deeper than that of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20. And though this person has experienced God’s regeneration, they have not worked out a more in-depth level of righteousness that removes these internal, heart idolatries.
One of the dangers with this kind of person is that he can compartmentalize his life into external holiness and inward dysfunction. The temptation will be to ignore the inner truth of the soul while riding the wave of his outward reputation. The repercussions of his conscience will create a hardening effect that will lessen the “internal noise” as it ceases to scream at him to change. If he continues to ignore his internal moral thermostat, there will come a time when the desensitization will no longer alert him to his soul cancer (1 Timothy 4:2).
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:1-2
And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: “The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.’” – Revelation 3:1
Recognize who Jesus is rather than listening to the voices that make you feel good about yourself. In verse one, John talks about the one with seven spirits of God and seven stars. In verse three, he talks about what Jesus knows.
Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. – Revelation 3:3
Meaning, Jesus knows more than you know and can do more for you. You need to listen to Him while submitting to Him. Rather than listening to others who pump you up, you need to pay attention to Him who can transform you.
Be honest about who you are rather than building an image—in your mind—about who you want to be. When pride and insecurity mix together, you resist humility, which keeps you from knowing the pure truth about yourself. Meaning, you will not hear from the all-knowing one.
Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. – Revelation 3:2
John is saying in verse one that such a person is dead, which is how Jesus thinks about them. Pride is a kind of death that resists the truth. Verse 2 says that this type of person is asleep. There is contamination of the soul that should be a call to wake up and listen to Jesus. Will you be honest with yourself? If this is you, Jesus says you’re dead and asleep, which is a stacking of terms to speak to the dire situation of such a person hyperbolically.
If you are paying attention to this powerful warning, it’s time to take steps toward repentance. In verses two and three, there are five imperatives to change. Here they are:
Wake Up – Regain your watchfulness like a driver falling asleep while going down the road. Come to our senses; your life is in peril.
Strengthen – Follow through because what remains of your life is about to die. The car is on blocks, and you need to do what you must to make it alive again.
Remember – Look back and recall what you heard and received from Jesus. Think about the good Lord’s work in your life. You have a history with the Lord, and you want to bring it back to your mind.
Keep It – This is a present, active, ongoing idea. You keep it, and you keep on keeping it. You cannot live the Christian life passively. You have a responsibility toward God and others to pay attention while actively and practically responding to God.
Repent – When you do wake up, follow through, look back, and keep on keeping on. You will be in a retentive state (always remembering the good works of Jesus in your life), which will motivate you to press on in practical holiness.
Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. – Revelation 3:4
Look to the few who have the compassion, courage, and competence to help you. Don’t live your holy life the way you’ve lived your unholy life. Before, you were isolated from the community of faith and living secretly (on the inside). You were hiding in plain sight. But now, you must find those who are not like you; they are genuinely and practically holy. Find them and do life with them because they will help you.
The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. – Revelation 3:5
Keep your eye on the excellent and biblical vision. In verse one, John uses the word “reputation,” which is the same word as “name” in verse five. The difference is that his first usage of that Greek word is about who the individual is according to his hypocritical life and the second usage is about Jesus confessing his “name” to the Father and His angels. It’s these two options that bring you back to the title of this piece: “Whose Reputation Is Most Important to You?”
You can continue to build your reputation, which requires the soul-altering effects from hiding your inner, evil compulsions or you can follow the prescription laid out here, which will bring your inward and outward identities into a wholeness that resembles Christ.
If you choose “reputation management” over a Christlike identity, you will be able to impress all the 5th graders in your life while exacerbating your most important relationships. Garnering the applause of those who don’t know you well while sacrificing your closest relationships is a steep price to pay.
But a reputation where Christ confesses your name to the Father and His angels is in another world—a better world that is antithetical to the sublunary life of reputation management and image manipulation.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. – Revelation 3:1-6