Undeterred and Undiscerning

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Revelation 2:12-17 | September 25 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
September 25
Undeterred and Undiscerning | Revelation 2:12-17
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Our Father in heaven, the words we have just sung, may they be our prayer, that You would show us Christ. Keep us pure. Help us to love and to practice what is true. Preserve us; cause us to persevere, that we might not forfeit our right to eat from the tree of life, and to go through those gates into the eternal city, where there is joy and blessedness forevermore. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I invite you to turn in your Bibles to the last book in the Bible, the very back, Revelation. Revelation, chapter 2. Revelation 2 and 3 is comprised of these letters from Jesus Himself to the angels of the seven churches, whether spiritual beings, angels, or many people think the angel is here a representative of the church, perhaps the pastor is the messenger here, receiving this letter.

We come to the third of these churches, all in Asia Minor, today Turkey, to the church in Pergamum. We read, beginning at Revelation 2, verse 12:

““And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.

“‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast My name, and you did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you: You have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and wage war against them with the sword of My mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’”

Pergamum was a thoroughly pagan city. Satan, you may remember from last week, was at work in Smyrna. We read about a synagogue of Satan. But Pergamum even more so is where Satan has his throne. Of course, this doesn’t mean that literally the devil had a P.O. box, received his mail in Pergamum. But the reference to Satan’s throne is to the strong pagan presence in the city.

Pergamum, we know, had major temples and cults devoted to Athena, Dionysius, to Asclepius, Asclepius in particular was famous. He was sometimes called, in the ancient world, the Pergamene god. Asclepius was the God of healing. You’ve seen his symbol before, because his symbol was a staff with a serpent wrapped around it, even today in the medical profession you will see that and you may think, well, that’s strange, to have a staff with a serpent wrapped around. It goes back to the ancient world and to the god Asclepius, who was thought to be a god of healing.

Satan’s throne could be a reference to temples in that city to any of those gods, Athena, Dionysius, Asclepius. Or it could have been a reference to a large hill behind Pergamum, where many of the temples stood, where there was actually a large hill, maybe even a throne, a temple. There was a prominent, throne-like altar of Zeus. Any of those things could be the reference here.

Or it could be simply Pergamum’s status as the official center for the imperial cult in Asia. There is no way of knowing for sure what was the reference there to Satan’s throne, where Satan dwells in Pergamum. And it could be all of these things.

It means that in general this was a city that was dominated by false gods. It was hostile to Christianity. That when you said Pergamum, you thought gods, goddesses, temples, pagan worship. Just like, and I know there are many cities in this, there are many churches in this city, but today anywhere in the country if you say “Vegas” you think, ah, casinos, shows, probably some manner of debauchery, though there are Christians doing faithful witness there. That was the reputation of Pergamum.

This church has one main strength. You see it there, verse 13, “Yet even though you dwell where Satan’s throne is, you hold fast to My name.” Now we’ll see in just a moment that some of them were in danger of not holding fast, but in general, this church has been a faithful witness, we read, even in the days of the martyr Antipas. We don’t know anything about this martyr, but he obviously was one of the Christians there and he died for his faith, and yet in the midst of this persecution, they were faithful. They maintained their allegiance to Jesus in an environment that wasn’t interested in a God like Jesus. So they faced persecution.

One of the ironies of the ancient world, which was so pluralistic, they had all sorts of gods and goddesses, one of the ironies in a very permissive religious society like the Roman world is that they could be very hard and restrictive on those who were not as permissive. It was always fine to add new gods and goddesses. No problem whatever if your Christian faith is a kind of syncretism. You got Jesus? Fine. You got a throne to Jesus, you want to worship some Jesus? No problem. Just keep worshiping our gods and our goddesses. Keep worshiping the Emperor. If you want to add Jesus into the mix, that’s fine. But as soon as you do away with the ancient cults among us, you may call down upon our empire the wrath of these gods. Aren’t you patriotic? Don’t you care about your fellow citizens? Aren’t you a good member of the Roman Empire? By all means do whatever you want to do with your Jesus character, just as long as you continue to worship our gods.

Addition, no problem. Subtraction, big problem.

Remember, Roman religion was not doctrinal. Roman religion was ritual. That is, they did not care what you professed to believe. Nobody was asking if you had invited Zeus into your heart. They did not care if you had a personal relationship with Asclepius. These were categories that would have been strange to them. Why would you want a personal relationship with these gods and goddesses anyway? They’re sort of nasty creatures often. What you want to do is simply to feed them, to sacrifice to them, to stay on their good side. Give them what they want so they will give us what we want. It was not a doctrinal religion.

This is one of the things that made Christianity, and the Judaism from it sprang, so unique in the ancient world. They had nothing like a creed. Well, do you believe this ancient creed in order to be a part of our Roman religion? They did not care what sort of mental cognition you had about your faith as long as you did the rituals. Offer gods sacrifices and honor the Emperor. As long as you do that, things will go well. If you go about your business, believe whatever you want in your head. Profess whatever sort of doctrines you want. It’s a simple, easy act. Offer sacrifice.

And though it’s easy for us to, from the safe vantage point of history, to look back and think, well, we would have been courageous and we would have never capitulated. Can you believe such rank idolatry, worshiping gods, worshiping the Emperor, these silly gods and goddesses, and yet put yourself in their mindset for just a moment. You can imagine rationalizing to yourself, and even family members, saying, really, it’s just a silly sacrifice. You don’t have to mean it in your heart. Just say the words. Just a pinch of incense. Just one sacrifice. It takes a minute or two. What’s the big deal? You don’t want to get our whole family in danger. You don’t want to get our church community in danger. Just do the sacrifice.

And Jesus says, for the most part, you have been faithful witnesses, facing possible persecution.

Some of you have been in the church Sunday School class that I’ve been doing. We’ve been talking about persecution in the early Church for these last two weeks. Persecution was not a constant threat for 300 years in the Church. In fact, at this time, the end of the first century, it was rather local and sporadic. Soon there would be an Empire-wide policy that basically said you can’t be a Christian and if you’re found to be a Christian, it’s a capital offense, but we’re not going to spend our time and money to go hunt you out. And that’s likely something that was happening in Pergamum already. It’s not good to be a Christian. The Romans aren’t going to try to spend all their time and money to find you, but if someone informs you, someone from your local guild, someone from your family, someone from a rival religion, puts you forward as a Christian, then the question is put to you, are you a Christian? Simple as that. Will you confess Christ and will you offer sacrifice?

And the policy that would be across the Empire, from the second and into the third century, was simply that. Curse Christ, sacrifice to the Emperor, go about your business.

The church in Pergamum was likely facing something like this, and Jesus says, “You have been faithful witnesses. You have stood up for Jesus. You have not capitulated your faith, even when it cost Antipas his life. Well done, faithful witnesses.”

However, we read that Jesus has something against them. Verse 14: “You have some there,” so overall you’re faithful, but “you have some there who are undiscerning.” They did not have, it seems, the same keen eye for orthodoxy, moral uprightness, that the Ephesian church had. In some ways, the strength and weaknesses of Pergamum and Thyatira are the opposite of the strength and weakness of the church at Ephesus.

Remember, in Ephesus, look at verse 6 of chapter 2, “Yet this you have, you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” We can’t be sure what this false teaching of the Nicolaitans was, but it had some similarity to the false teaching of Balaam, which we will see in a moment. The church at Ephesus, Jesus says, good, you hate what I hate. Notice Jesus hates something here. He hates this false teaching. He hates this false immorality and He says, “Good for you, church at Ephesus, you hate it, too.”

Now the church of Pergamum, however. You have some there who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans, and, verse 14, to the teaching of Balaam.

Do you remember who Balaam was? Maybe some of you have heard of him before. Balaam comes on the scene in Numbers chapter 22, 23, and 24. Balaam is hired by the king of Moab to curse Israel. The king of Moab is Balak and he wants this prophet to come and curse. He thinks if you just throw a curse on my enemies, then all will go well with me. And Balaam comes and time after time, Balaam gives a blessing instead of a curse. There’s a famous scene where Balaam’s donkey sees an angel in the road and he is the one that speaks to him there, God gives voice to the donkey, so yes, it happens, that even from the mouths of donkeys sometimes God speaks and says something, that’s true.

So we, if you remember something about Balaam, we think of him in those chapters as not a really good guy, but sort of a neutral, maybe. He was coopted and God still used him and he spoke what was a blessing, even though Balak kept saying, “I’m paying you money. I want you to give a curse,” and yet he said, “I can only do what gives me,” and he doesn’t curse, he blesses.

But if you just remember that about Balaam, you don’t remember him as the Jews would have remembered him here in the first century. In Number 25, so the main story about Balaam is Numbers 22, 23, and 24. We don’t have time to go there, but just let me read you the first two verses in Numbers 25:

“While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people bowed down to their gods.”

Two sins there. Two sins. Idolatry and sexual immorality. That some of the people were whoring after, they were having sex with the women of the Moabites, which they weren’t allowed to do, and if that weren’t bad enough, to be mingling with these pagan people in sexual intercourse, they were then leading them to sacrifice and commit idolatry with their gods. Sexual immorality and idolatry. That was the sin there in Numbers 25.

Now who instigated this sin? Well, we read in Numbers 31, verse 16: “Behold, these,” the Midianite and the Moabite women, “these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord and the incident of Peor, and so a plague came upon the people of the Lord.” That’s Numbers 31:16. Ah, so that connects the dots.

Balaam more or less drifts off the scene in Numbers 24, but we read in Numbers 31 that his work was not done, and eventually he was the one who enticed the people into this sin of sexual immorality and idolatry, which led to this outbreak of a great plague and destruction upon the people of Israel.

Ever since that incident, Balaam became the prototype for false teaching. He was the name that was associated with teachers who would lead God’s people astray into compromise with the world, and as is so often the case, the two things went hand in hand in the ancient world. Sexual immorality and idolatry. They would lead to each other because idolatry often had as a part of the ritual some sort of sexual activity, orgies and the like, because it was thought if you have that sort of revelry in front of the gods, then it will cause the gods to have sex with each other, and when the gods have sex with each other, it brings rain and fertility and harvest. So idolatry often led to sexual immorality, and the compromise of sexual immorality, like the Moabites, often led the people into compromise with the world, overly associated with the world, and led them into idolatry.

So this was Balaam. He led people into sexual immorality and to sacrifice to other gods.

Look back at verse 15: “So also you have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” As best as we can put it together, the Nicolaitans, this contemporary group, was something like the Balaam-ites, they were doing something similar to Balaam. They were teaching that compromise with the world was okay. In particular, sexual immorality was no big deal. Participating in pagan sacrifices was no big deal.

Later in the history of the Church, Nicolaitans will be associated with a heresy called gnosticism. It’s probably not full-blown gnosticism here, but it’s the beginning of it, and one of the hallmarks of that “ism,” gnosticism, was a strict dualism between body and spirit, dual meaning two.

So in dualist thinking, the body is bad, the spirit is good. The immaterial world is good, the physical world is bad. When you think that physical matter is bad, wicked, you need to be set free from it, one of two things can happen. Either you become an ascetic, meaning someone who says, well, the body’s so bad, I’m going to starve myself, I’m not going to eat but the bare minimum of food and I’m not going to drink, food is bad, I’m not going to get married, I’m not going to have sex, and you see some of that.

You can read about that danger in 1 Timothy 4, that danger of asceticism, the body’s so bad I cannot enjoy any bodily pleasures.

The other danger with dualistic thinking is to go in the opposite direction. Well, the body is corrupt, the body is dirty, the body doesn’t even matter. What matters is that I escape this body and I go to the spiritual world. So since my body doesn’t matter, let ‘er rip. Eat, drink, and be merry. Let’s eat and drink for tomorrow we die. This is just, this is not the real me. This is just flesh and bones and dirty matter.

You understand that Christianity is completely different. Christianity says God made matter. God made human beings in His image. In fact, He so dignified human bodies that God took on a human body. And we believe in the resurrection of the body. One of the unique things that the Christians did in the ancient world was to bury their dead. The Jews did the same. But to bury their dead because they believed the body is not just to be dissipated, the body is to be resurrected.

So with likely this dualistic thinking, these followers of Balaam, these Nicolaitans, were saying it doesn’t really matter. What does is matter if we eat the food sacrificed to idols? What does it matter if we have sex with whomever we want to have sex? It’s not a big deal.

If Ephesus might have been under-engaged with the culture, Pergamum was over-identified with the culture. They bore witness to Jesus, “Yes, I’m a Christian”, they said, but they were compromised in what it meant to follow Him. We don’t know how Pergamum was deceived. We don’t know why they tolerated the Nicolaitans. Perhaps they were untaught. Maybe they were ignorant of some key aspect of discipleship.

Maybe Pergamum was filled with the kinds of Christians that we see in our own day. The sort of Christians who are always against rules. Man, Christianity’s not about rules, it’s about the relationship.

Try to say that to your wife, when you cheat on her: “Honey, it’s not about rules, man. It’s about the relationship.” You would say, “Yeah, what kind of relationship do we have if you don’t care to obey some of the rules?”

Maybe they had Christians there, young, earnest, vibrant, I love Jesus, but they lacked grounding. It happens sometimes with young people. They get converted, sometimes dramatically, they have a contagious evangelistic Christian life, but they’re confused. They’re undiscerning. Perhaps antinomian, that is, against the law.

Maybe there were Christians at Pergamum saying, “Hey, look, the important thing is that we all love Jesus. Let’s not get hung up on secondary matters.” Maybe they said, “Let’s just enter into dialogue with the Nicolaitans. Let’s have some very good meetings and let’s just try to understand each other’s differing perspectives.”

Most likely it was simply the cultural pressure was too much. Idolatry and sexual immorality were rampant. They seemed obvious. They didn’t see the danger around them. They were overly accommodating. They were undiscerning.

I have to draw some of the connections here because it’s not unlike many of the LGBTQ issues in our wider culture today. I wrote an article this week just talking about how many Christian leaders, Christian schools, churches, organizations, institutions, follow a familiar trajectory on these issues. You start out with a defense of the truth, a celebration of what the Church has believed for 2000 years and you say this biblical view of sexuality, of marriage, of sex within marriage, between one man and one woman, this is good, this is true, this is beautiful, this is the best for human flourishing and it’s God’s way.

And then you start to move in another direction. At first, there’s silence. Just don’t want to talk about it. Then there’s complexification. Well, this is really, really a complicated issue and who can really know what to think, even though for 2000 years the Church was absolutely clear what it thought.

Then there’s a pivot. Well, aren’t there more important issues? Shouldn’t we be talking about missions? Shouldn’t we be talking about poverty? Shouldn’t we be talking about something else? We’re distracted from evangelizing and church planting, or justice.

Then you find yourselves frustrated and your more frustrated, not with the people who might be embracing this lifestyle, you’re frustrated with the people who are against this lifestyle. Your church, your parents, your Christian leaders, that annoying person who’s on your dorm floor.

Then you move to establish a canon within a canon, the canon of Scripture. That means you find just parts of Scripture that you want. So you say, “Well, did Jesus say anything about homosexuality?” And you pit Jesus against Paul, as if the Bible isn’t from start to finish inspired by the same Holy Spirit, and as if Jesus didn’t say anything about sexual immorality, as if Jesus didn’t reconstitute marriage according to Genesis 2. He did all of those things. But you say maybe it’s just Jesus good, Paul bad. Jesus good, Old Testament bad. Then you continue and eventually all your arguments are away from Scripture and they’re personal arguments.

Understandably, you may come by those very honestly, but they’re private arguments, they’re personal arguments. “Well, the God I worship wouldn’t do this,” or “How could God have the, what about my friend? What about my own desires? What about… ” Everyone in this room, you know someone. You have a child, a grandchild, a roommate, a very good friend, a coworker, an aunt, an uncle, somebody who has embraced LGBTQ. So you come out on the other side and you’re embarrassed by the things that you used to believe, that you used to hold to, and you think that was just because I was a part of a fundamentalist church, I guess, or I was from the South, or I had beknighted parents or family.

The Bible never, ever treats sexual immorality as a minor issue.

You see here, in our text, you see that word at the end of verse 15, 14, “Balaam taught them to eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality,” and we’ll see this again next week with Thyatira. Sexual immorality.

See, here’s what happened. People may think I’m just giving in on a small ethical matter, I’m just kind of fudging, I’m not quite sure what to think about all this. But look at this concept – sexual immorality. It almost always happens that when you start vacating that term from certain sins that our culture does not want to call sins, you start vacating it from everything else. It’s not that Christians who fly the rainbow flag then maintain very strict boundaries on every other part of sexual immorality, the whole concept begins to be frayed, and people start to think, “Well, is it really possible to be chaste? Is it really possible for Christians to not have sex before marriage? Or if you have and you repent and you’re forgiven of that sin, to then be chaste until you’re married? Is that even really possible?”

One scholar defined this word, porneia, you can hear our word pornography, the noun is porneia, here is the verb from, to practice sexual immorality. New Testament scholar James Edwards states that porneia, that word can be found in Greek literature with reference to a variety of illicit sexual practices, including adultery, fornication, prostitution, and homosexuality. In the Old Testament it occurs for any sexual practice outside marriage between a man and woman that is prohibited by the Torah. Jesus spoke about porneia. It’s not true to say Jesus never said anything about these sexual sins. He didn’t have to enumerate them because every Jew understood that in porneia are all of these sins forbidden by the Torah. You can look at seven or eight different vice lists in the New Testament, where they list different sins and examples of worldliness, in every one of those lists is sexual immorality. At the top of almost every one of those lists is sexual immorality. It is never considered a small issue. It is never put in the category of agree to disagree.

Let’s be careful here, lest we say yeah, go, Pastor, that’s right. These LGBTQ issues, there are people who are compromising on these issues. Well, let’s realize that it’s not those sorts of sins, it’s the sorts of sins that in a church like this we might become more comfortable with. Churches are timid, not just on that issue, but they’re timid to confront Christian couples living together. Or to talk about what the proper and mostly improper grounds are for divorce that are brought before a church. Let alone to talk about the movies that we see, that we allow our kids to see, that we gather together to see. And think nothing of watching, even if it doesn’t have some bad rating, to watch before our eyes, half-naked, naked people, having sex, pretend sex, and think, with popcorn in our mouth, “Wasn’t that a fun outing? What a good use of $15.”

There’s a reason, there’s a reason that we are so compromised on these other big picture, LGBTQ issues. It’s is because so many Christians are compromised in their own lives. I can’t prove it. I think it’s one of the reasons you see pastors capitulate on these issues because so many pastors are likely themselves ensnared in the sin of pornography, and if they know that that’s going on, and the man knows that’s going on his life, he’s going to be much more tempted to allow the boundaries of acceptable behavior to grow and grow and grow.

There are even so-called conservatives. They may be politically conservative. They may be traditional in many ways in wanting to promote the values of Western civilization, but they give a free pass to these sorts of issues. You may have told yourself that you are not really caving on these issues. You just want to be an ally.

Friends, there is a way to say “I love you, I care for you, and I want to be your friend.” Waving the rainbow flag is not the way to do that. Our culture will not allow the middle ground that many people want to find. If you’re older than me, you probably hear this little part of the sermon and you think, “Yes, it’s so crazy what’s happened in our world.” And if you’re younger than me, a generation younger than me, you say, “What you’re saying is not going to fly. You don’t know what it’s like on college campuses.”

That may be true, but it’s not that different from the first century. It’s not that different from the same temptations that these Christians were facing. The Lord Jesus, remember, this is the Lord Jesus writing a letter to the church of Pergamum, He says in some ways you’re on fire for Jesus, you stand up for Christ, yay, I’m Christian. You chalk the sidewalk for Jesus, great. But you’ve got some people there and they’re ready to compromise. And they’ve convinced themselves this is not a big deal and that you can have it both ways.

Jesus Himself threatens, for all of their vibrancy, He says if you do not repent of this permissive attitude, if you will not exercise Church discipline, He says I will come to you soon, I will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. You see that in verse 16? That matches the description of Jesus in verse 12 – The words of Him who has the sharp two-edged sword. Verse 16 – If you don’t repent, I will come to you and you will feel the sharp two-edged sword of the Word of Truth.

On the one hand this was meant to encourage the Church because some of them were facing the literal sword of the state. He’s saying I have a sharper sword. The Word of God is sharper than any earthly sword the government can wield. But the encouragement also has a warning. This same Jesus who comes with the sword to judge his enemies outside the Church will also come to judge the false teachers in the Church.

Thankfully, the letter to Pergamum does not end with a threat, but with a promise. Actually two promises. Verse 17 – He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches, to the one who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna. That’s the first promise.

Manna was that miraculous bread that Jesus provided for His people in the wilderness, the bread from heaven. It was a symbol of God’s sustaining and life-giving power. Jesus called Himself the true manna comes down from heaven. The idea here is listen, if you fight the temptation to compromise with the world, I will give you the bread of life and you will be satisfied, and I will give it to you if you overcome. The world may starve you, I’ll feed you. And you’ll be satisfied. I will give you the hidden manna that the world knows nothing about.

Promise number 2 is a little more esoteric – I will give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.

This is a bit harder to decipher. There are several documented uses of white stones in the ancient world. Our best guess from scholars is that they were tokens signifying a jurors vote. When a juror would vote, or a judge would hand down a verdict, a black stone meant you were guilty and a white stone meant you were acquitted. White stones, there’s some record, were also used as admission tickets to special events, or as a token of honorable discharge from a gladiatorial combat, or as a sign of initiation into worship. They could be used as magic amulets. We can’t be positive of the symbolism here, but it seems that a white stone is in some measure a sign of acquittal, a sign of entrance, a sign of innocence.

So for these Christians it means whatever the world’s verdict is on you, whatever all your friends on Instagram want to say about you, whatever your boss may do to you, just know that Jesus is watching and Jesus knows and Jesus will give you the only acquittal that really matters. Because at the end of the age, the only judgment of guilty or righteous that matters is the one that the Lord Jesus is going to give you.

This was a symbol of token into the wedding feast of the Lamb. Jesus was saying if you refuse to join with the world in its wickedness, you will join with me in my everlasting joy and righteousness, and on this white stone, this symbol of acquittal, of innocence, is a new name, known only to the one who receives it.

Well, what was the name? If connect the dots with what comes at the end of Revelation, it seems very likely that it was the name of Christ, the name above all names, the name that should mean more than any other identity. Revelation 22:4 – They will see His face and His name will be on their foreheads.

It’s a hidden name like the hidden manna, not because it’s some secret code, but because it signifies the final unveiling. Jesus’ final verdict. The world may tell you one thing, Jesus has another verdict coming. We are never going to live as faithful Christians unless we live with the end in view. You don’t live for the verdict now, for the world to tell you, “Good job, you’re on the right side of history.” You live for the verdict later, knowing that if everyone loves you now, and Jesus judges you guilty later, it’s not worth it. And just the opposite – if everyone thinks you’re beknighted, you’re a bigot, you’re hateful now, but Jesus acquits you later, so be it.

Revelation 19:12 – The rider on the white horse has a name written on him that no one knows but himself.

Revelation 19:6 tells us on his robe and on his thigh he has the name written King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

This white stone, with a name known only to the one who received it, is that eschatological, that end times acquittal, that whatever the world has done to you, whatever the world has said about you, you stand before Jesus and if He gives you the white stone and you look at that, and it says “Christian,” I’m a Christian.

In the Church history study we’ve been seeing that when the martyrs and when the Christians had to come before the magistrates, they were not given an elaborate test, they were not hooked up to a polygraph, they were not made to run some physical gauntlet, they were not given an elaborate doctrinal test. They were usually asked a single question – Are you a Christian?

Will you claim the name of Christ? Still in our culture today it may or may not cost you to go by the name of Christian. But increasingly it will, as nominal Christianity fades away and all that’s left is the real thing. Are you a Christian?

You cannot overstate the importance of names in the Bible. We’re taught to pray “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” The psalmist says that the Lord has exalted above all things His Word and His name. So often in the Old Testament we read that God will come to vindicate and defend and change His people for the sake of His name.

When you’re a Christian, you go by the name of Christ. You have Him not just in your heart, but you have Him written upon you. When you’re baptized, you receive the triune name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to mark you out as belonging to the one true God. It is no small thing, friends, that you would call yourself a Christian.

You see, ultimately, to withstand compromise with the world, it’s not about being loyal to your parents, not even being loyal to your church or your tradition, it’s not about wanting to wear the label “conservative” or standing up in defense of Western civilization, it is ultimately an obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ that you not commit adultery, that you not commit idolatry, that you not give yourselves over to sexual immorality.

Jesus is saying, “Be loyal to My name and you will inherit My kingly, lordly name as a mark of your genuine membership in the community of the redeemed. How can you go by the name of Christ and not be willing to take up your cross and follow Me?”

This is what we need to know if we are to withstand compromise with the world.

Many voices outside the church and many voices inside some churches will tell you, “Look at Jesus. He loved everyone unconditionally, indiscriminately. He did not get hung up on do’s and don’ts. He did not care what you did, what you do, with your body. He was inclusive. He was tolerant. Love is love.”

It’s attractive, and the letter to Pergamum, and next week’s letter to Thyatira, will tell us it’s attractive and it’s not Christian. Only when the Church of Jesus Christ is vibrant in witness and vigilant in maintaining sexual purity, diligent in maintaining its own standards, and to combine this with the lesson from Ephesus, full of love. You see how it’s so easy to gravitate towards, “Yes, that’s the problem.” Jesus is speaking to all of these churches, because He knows that these are still the temptations today. For some it’s lovelessness, for some it’s compromise. That was the issue with Pergamum.

Now thanks be to God compromise is not the end of the story. It doesn’t have to be. You notice this word, this challenge, but it’s good news right in the middle there, verse 16 – therefore repent. Repentance is often the missing element in our gospel presentation. Come to Jesus, better life. Come to Jesus, you don’t have to feel bad. Come to Jesus, you can be forgiven. Come to Jesus, you can live forever. Come to Jesus, get purpose for your life. Come to Jesus… But what about this? Repent.

Living in compromise with the world does not have to be the end of your story. There’s grace, there’s hope, if you would but turn and believe. The letter to Pergamum is telling us that only when the Church repents, only when the Church walks in steadfastness to its King, whatever the world will press in upon us, only then will King Jesus wave His banner over the Church and say, “Those are My people, and they’re living My way, because they’re living with My name. Come. Enter the joy of your Master.”

Let’s pray. Father in heaven, give us courage for these days to be faithful. Help each person here to hear just what the Spirit is saying to the churches, that we may know the Word for us and for our times. We pray that we would follow Jesus and walk in His ways. In His name we pray. Amen.