The Laodicean Message
by E.H. ‘Jack’ Sequeira
You say, I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.We have discovered so far, spending the last two studies on verses 15 and 16, the true significance of our lukewarm condition, which we saw is the works of the law, or self-righteousness, or legalism. And once we have discovered this, we have actually laid the foundation for a true and for a meaningful study of the Laodicean message.
This study, I would like us to consider verse 17.&nbs; In verse 17, the True Witness, which is Christ, shows us how our lukewarm works, or our lukewarmness, our works of the law or legalism, has deceived us. When you look at the verse, you will find that we can divide this verse into two parts: the first half of this verse is Laodiceas own self-opinion of her spiritual condition, and the second half is Christs evaluation, or reaction, to our own opinion.
As you see the text, you will discover that the two opinions totally disagree. Theres a contradiction here, of what we think of ourselves, and what Christs evaluation of us is. Besides this, you will discover that there is a subconscious problem; for Jesus says:
But you do not realize....
Lets look at the verse first of all:
You say [i.e., the angel of Laodicea, with her followers, is saying], I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing [that is our self opinion]. But you do not realize [this is Christ now evaluating our opinion] that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.
So you can see clearly that there is a contradiction on what we say about ourselves, or what we think about ourselves, and what Christ says about us. Now, number one, why is there a disagreement? Number two, what did Jesus mean when He said, But you do not realize? Well, He means that we have been deceived, we have been honestly deceived. And the reason we have been deceived is because we have not clearly distinguished works of the law [which are lukewarm] from works of faith, which are hot.
And so I would like to start off, to show you, that there is a subtle difference between works of the law and works of faith. And it is very easy to be confused. In fact, Martin Luther and the Reformers were confused over this so that they condemned anyone who presented works of faith. And Luther defined James epistle (at the end of his life he admitted James was inspired) but he said that James was not an inspired book. He called it a straw epistle, which in German meant it carried no weight. Paul was the correct, inspired man.
Actually, we will discover that Paul and James totally agree. What Paul condemns is not works of faith, what Paul condemned is works of the law. He does uphold, with James, works of faith. Paul believes that genuine justification by faith actually produces works.
Let me start by giving you some texts to show you that Paul condemns works of the law but upholds works of faith. Please turn to Romans, well start with Romans. Romans 3:20:
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
Please notice, Paul is condemning anyone who is trying to go to heaven by the works of the law, no one will make it. Then in verse 28 of the same chapter:
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
In other words, Paul is saying that works of the law contradicts justification by faith, its an enemy. He will bring this out in Galatians, even here he will bring it out in Romans that you cannot have both. So Paul looks at works of the law, as I mentioned before, as what we would call legalism, self-righteousness.
Turn to Galatians 2:16, you will find the same thing. And when you look at this in its context, you will discover that he is making this statement to Peter, who had sidetracked from the gospel when he separated from the Gentiles and began to eat with only the Jews. And Paul is simply quoting to the Galatians what he told Peter:
...Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law...
So please remember to Paul, works of the law is a contradiction to justification by faith. So he ends the verse:
...because by observing the law no one will be justified.
This was part of his public rebuke to Peter.
Turn to one more text, Galatians 5:4, where Paul says that anyone who tries to add works of the law to justification by faith, this is not simply justification by faith against works of the law, this is people trying to add works of the law to justification by faith. He says:
You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
You cant mix the two.
But, in contrast, I would like to show you that Paul upholds works of faith, so that he is in harmony with James, who is trying to defend justification by faith which produces works, i.e., works of faith. In Ephesians 2:10, Paul says that while works do not contribute towards our salvation one bit (thats verse 9) in verse 10 he says:
For we are Gods workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us [we who believe] to do.
So Paul is in harmony with James. Turn to 1 Thessalonians, see what he says to the Thessalonians, for what they were doing to help the Jewish church in Jerusalem with their blessings, with their offerings and their good works. 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 (verse two gives the introduction). He says:
We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love [please notice: works of faith are always a labor of love], and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
One more text, Titus 3, there you will find Paul saying two things. In verse 5 he says:
...He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,...
So please notice, our works do not contribute towards our salvation at all. But in verse 8 it says:
This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
Not to you, but to everyone. In other words, it is a revelation to all that you are a witness to Christ. In fact, I gave you a text last time, Ill repeat it, Titus 2:14, talking about Jesus Christ:
Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
That word eager (zealous in some translations) in the Greek is the same root word as hot in Revelation 3.
So there is a complete harmony. Okay, with this in mind I would like to make a statement, because there is some confusion. You remember that people will say that Abraham obeyed or kept the statutes. All the Old Testament men who were commended for their good works, were commended because of their works of faith.
Ill give you an example. Please turn to Hebrews 11. You can say the same thing about Noah but heres a good example. Hebrews 11. This is the chapter on faith. Look at verse 8:
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.
Please notice, he did not know where he was going, but he obeyed the call of God. It was an obedience of faith. He didnt ask God, like some missionaries will ask the General Conference, Is there electricity where Im going, are there fridges, is there...? If you say, No, then they say, Okay, Im not going.
God did not tell him, there is a house there waiting for you, there is running water. God said, I want you to go to a land which I will give you. That was faith.
Lets look at Noah. God said to Noah, Im going to destroy this world with a flood. I want you to build an ark. Did Noah believe? Yes, what was the evidence of his belief? Works. You see, works of faith are based on the promise of God. Works of the law are based on your promise. God said, Here is My law. And the Jews said, All that you say we will do.
But now the question must come: What really is the difference between works of the law and works of faith? Because remember, its works of the law that have deceived us. Whats the difference? We need to see it, because works of the law and works of faith are very much similar in the outward acts. The difference is not so much in the works themselves, both look similar outwardly.
In other words, you can have two people keeping the Sabbath, one is doing works of faith, and one is doing works of the law. What is the difference? You can have two people going out ingathering, one is works of the law, one is works of faith. They look similar outwardly, so that it is very easy to confuse one for the other. So whats the difference?
There are two major differences. The first difference is the origin, the source. One is mans efforts, by the flesh. The other one is Christ doing it through faith. Let me give you an example. I want you to turn your Bibles to Luke 18. Here is an excellent example of works of the law. And I want you to notice the number of times the word I appears. The works are good, but notice the origin. Who is doing it? Luke 18:10-12. This is Jesus speaking. I want you to notice the introduction to the parable, this is crucial. Jesus is discussing here works of the law. Verse 9 is the introduction:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:
Now here is one difference. Normally, a person who does works of the law always despises others. They look down upon others. Continuing with verse 10:
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
Now who is a Pharisee? What did the word Pharisee mean to the Jew? (Not to us Adventists, because we have given the word Pharisee a negative meaning.) But to the Jew, Pharisee did not have a negative meaning. A Pharisee was looked upon as a very holy person. You know why? Because a Pharisee was zealous about the law. We would call them Holy Joes today. They were the holy people; they were the gurus of Pauls day. Listen to the Pharisee in verse 11:
The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself...
Now by the way, the standing up was common. It was quite common for the Jews to stand up praying. The idea of kneeling was only in times of crises, but the normal attitude for praying was standing up. The fact that this Pharisee prayed standing was only custom. Listen to what he prayed. He prayed thus with whom? With Himself. Hes telling God something. Hes not asking God; hes telling God about himself.
The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: God, I thank you that I am not like other men robbers, evildoers, adulterers or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week...
Is it wrong to fast twice a week? Is it a sin? No. Is it good? Yes, its good; nothing wrong with that.
...and give a tenth of all I get.
Isnt that good? Boy, he would get a star in his crown if he was here. So please notice, the works are not bad, theyre good: I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I possess. Was he doing works of faith, or was he doing works of the law? Works of the law.
What was wrong with his works? Number one, it made him feel good about himself. So who was he living for? For God, or for himself? Himself. Hes telling God, God, please look at me, see how good I am.
Do you know what Christ will say to him in the judgment? Look at Matthew 7:22:
Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?
I have preached in your name, I have cast out devils in your name, I have done many wonderful works in your name. Surely I should have a place in heaven.
And what does Jesus say? Verse 23:
Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!
Please remember, the Hebrew word iniquity (in some translations, which here is evildoers) to the Jew meant living toward self, because the word iniquity means bent towards self.
So the works of the law are always done for our glory, for ourselves. The source is the flesh. Can the flesh actually do good works? No. It cannot do genuine good works. Can it perform good works? Yes. So please remember that the source is wrong.
By the way, you notice the use of the word I as the Pharisee prayed, talking about himself? I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. What does tithe paying really represent? It is a confession that all that I possess doesnt belong to me, but to God. But This is mine, look God, Im helping your church, your church cannot do without me, so I surely deserve some credit.
Okay, now turn in contrast to two other texts, Philippians 3. I want to show you how Paul throws away works of the law, which he was famous for as a Pharisee, in exchange for Christ. I want you to notice the attitude of works of faith. Philippians 3:3, what does it say there, it says that Our confidence is in Christ Jesus and not us. Here is the text:
For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God [not in the letter, but in the Spirit, from the heart], who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh....
[I want to] be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law [i.e., the works of the law], but that which is through faith in Christ the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,....
In other words, I want Christ to live in me now that Ive accepted Him as my Righteousness.
But now I want you to turn to 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul does deal with works of faith, but he doesnt use that expression, but as you see it you will discover what hes talking about. In verse 9 Paul says:
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
Have you got it? Paul is saying, I worked more than all of them. Of course, them refers to the Apostles. I have worked more than the Apostles. But, he says. Theres a but there. But what?
Yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
It was not I who was doing the work, it was God doing it in me. I was just an instrument. So one difference is the origin.
The second difference is the motivation. And Ive already touched on this a little bit. Works of the law is always motivated by self. In other words, we do works of the law for three reasons:
Works of the law is always motivated by self. Either fear of punishment, like the man in Matthew 7:22 says, Lord, I have done all these things; I deserve heaven. So its a desire for reward or for self glory.
Let me give you a couple of texts, one from the New Testament, one from the Old. Matthew 23. By the way, read the whole chapter. There Jesus condemns works of the law as hypocrisy, which is correct, because the flesh when it pretends to be good is hypocrisy. Hypocrisy means pretending to be something you are not. And we are sinners by nature; how can you pretend to be something good? Thats hypocrisy. Okay, Matthew 23:5:
Everything they do...
This is talking about the Scribes and the Pharisees. Remember, the works they do are good works. Am I being clear? In other words, All the good works they do...
Everything they do is done for men to see...
Thats why they prayed in public. They made a big show. It says here:
They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long....
Our dress is going right up to the ankle! Theres nothing wrong with this. The motivation was to see how holy they were. Turn to verses 26-28 of Matthew 23. It says:
Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
You see, they were cleaning only the outside but the inside was dirty. Hes talking about their condition. Verses 27-28:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead mens bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
You know, folks, our problem is that we judge ourselves by our acts. God judges us by our motives. That is why in Matthew 5 Jesus brings this out. The Pharisee would say, I have never committed murder.
Christ says, One moment. If you hate somebody in your heart, even though you dont kill him in the act, if you hate him in the heart without a reason, you have committed murder. If you look at a woman to lust, even if you havent done the act, you have committed adultery.
Folks, God looks at the heart! That is why in the judgment, God will judge every secret motive. Okay, now I want to give you a text from the Old Testament, Proverbs 16:2. When you realize this you will know that all of us are like unclean things. Proverbs 16:2:
All a mans ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.
Not the acts, but the spirit behind the acts. And this is something that we need to know.
Turn to Galatians 4 where Paul gives us an example of works of the law, and works of faith (which is the fruit of the Spirit) in the context of the two covenants. Remember, the Old Covenant is man promising to be good so that he may have a right to heaven. In the New Covenant, man is accepting by faith the promises of God and allowing Him to do the works. Thats the difference between the two covenants. Galatians 4, lets start with verse 21:
Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way...
What did Paul mean by that statement? Hes simply saying that the son born of the slave woman that is Hagar was the product of Abrahams works.
...but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.
Who produced Ishmael? Abraham. Who produced Isaac? God. Could Abraham produce Isaac at the time he was born? Why not? Because Sarah had passed the age of child bearing. It was impossible, and that is why God waited to show Him that works of faith are works produced by God in those who have faith. And he goes on in verse 24:
These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.
Why Mount Sinai? Because when God gave the law at mount Sinai, what did the Jews say? All that You say we will do. That was the old covenant, man promising God to be good. Did they succeed? No. And when they failed, did they acknowledge it? No, instead they made rules, human rules that they could keep, and they said, God, we are keeping your law. And Paul goes on to say in verse 25:
Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.
And so Paul will make the statement in Galatians 5:1:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery [legalism].
But the Jerusalem that is above is free [i.e., without any of our works], and she is our mother.
And, by the way, what does the Bible say? Verse 28:
Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.
But there is something that you need to know about; its painful. Verse 30:
But what does the Scripture say? Get rid of the slave woman and her son,...
Now please look at the application: Get rid of the slave woman and her son..,. Who does the slave woman and her son represent? Works of the flesh.
...for the slave womans son will never share in the inheritance with the free womans son.
Now was Abraham trying to please God when he produced Ishmael? Yes. Was he trying to rebel against God, or was he trying to fulfil Gods promise? So please remember, Hagar with her son represents works of the law produced by the flesh. Isaac represents Gods promise and Gods performance through Sarah.
Okay, I want to conclude, and theres two things I want to do now. First of all, I want to read some statements. This is from Steps to Christ, by Ellen G. White, pages 44-45:
There are those who profess to serve God while they rely upon their own efforts to obey His law, to form a right character and secure salvation.
Please notice, they do it, and their motive is to secure salvation.
Their hearts are not moved by any deep sense of the love of Christ, but they seek to perform the duties of the Christian life as which God requires of them in order to gain heaven.
Please notice, this is works of the law.
Such religion is worth nothing.
Okay, the next statement is something that we need to remind ourselves of constantly:
The birth of a son to Zecharias, like the birth of the child of Abraham, and that of Mary, was to teach a great spiritual truth, a truth that we are slow to learn and ready to forget.
So even after we learn it, we forget it. What is this truth? Here it is:
In ourselves, we are incapable of doing any good thing.
Thats both before conversion and after conversion: In ourselves. (When we deal with Romans 7, it comes out very clear there.)
But that which we cannot do will be wrought by the power of God in every submissive and believing soul. It was through faith that the child of promise was given; it is through faith that spiritual life is begotten and we are able to do the works of righteousness. [DA 98]
Please notice, it is only through faith that we can produce righteousness. In other words, both justification and sanctification are by works of faith. It is by faith alone.
Okay, here are some statements, just simple sentences (all by Mrs. White):
All our good works are dependent on a power outside of ourselves. [COL 159]
Have you got it? All of our good works are dependent on a power outside of ourselves. Not part of our good works but all of our good works.
Of ourselves we can do nothing good. [1SM 101]
And one more:
All that man can do without Christ is polluted with selfishness and sin. But that which is wrought through faith is acceptable to God. [1SM 364]
Now, why am I emphasizing this? Because of this, folks. I dont know how many of you remember, but the first major issue on Righteousness by Faith in our church, that is in modern times, in the 20th century, that we tried to solve.... You see, we were very heavy on legalism; then we sent our scholars to worldly universities, and they came back with an Evangelical gospel of Righteousness by Faith, and it produced a controversy in our church, in the 1960s. And then they tried to solve the problem when they met at Palmdale.
Do you remember Palmdale, where they met some years ago, where the scholars and the administrators met to solve the issue of Righteousness by Faith? One of the biggest issues in that conference was to define Righteousness by Faith. What is the definition? The administrators said, It is both justification and sanctification. If you read the first article in the Review and Herald for the week of prayer by Neil Wilson, thats how he presented it, as both justification and sanctification.
The scholars said, No, only justification is by faith; sanctification is never by faith alone. We have to do something. And this controversy has not yet ended. But please remember, the moment you add I to sanctification, you are still in the Laodicean condition. Whether you talk of our standing before God in terms of justification, or whether you talk about sanctification, Christ living in you, it is not I, but Christ.
Now its true, faith is always a struggle, because what does faith mean? It means two things, not one but two. Faith means:
The not I is the most difficult part, because when we say not I, we are saying something that is contradicting our nature; we are going against our nature when we say, not I. So thats painful, and we want some credit in sanctification so we say, I plus Christ. Only justification is by faith alone. But that is not true, the Bible doesnt teach it. The Bible teaches that the flesh is enmity with God, it is not subject to the law of God, and can never be. Folks, it has to be, not I but Christ in everything. And that is what Christ is saying.
But our works, which look good, works of the law, have deceived us, because it resembles works of faith. And we think we are rich and do not need a thing, but what does Christ say?
You are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.
In concluding this verse, I would like to say this, that the word, wretched, Christs evaluation of us, appears twice in the New Testament, twice! Only twice in the Greek in the whole of the New Testament. The first time, it is found in Romans 7:24, where Paul says:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
The second time is in the Laodicean message where Christ says that we do not know that we are wretched. I believe that only when we can say, What a wretched person I am, then we can say with Paul (verse 25):
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
I can do all things through Jesus Christ, but we can only do that when we say, What a wretched person I am. And the only way we can say, What a wretched person I am when we realize that our works of the law, good as they may seem, are in Gods eyes filthy rags and sin. So may God bless us that we may understand this.