Q. In Rev. 3:5 it says that if people overcome God will not blot them out of the book of life. Can you comment on this verse and who are the overcomers this passage is talking about?
A. There’s an idea floating around the Church that the “overcomers” are some elite class of Christian for whom the rewards promised in the Bible are reserved exclusively. The rest of us will escape punishment but won’t receive any rewards.
But the term is used in each of the 7 letters of Rev. 2-3 to identify those who resist the criticism being emphasized in the letter. At Ephesus they overcome the temptation toward religious work. At Smyrna it’s the fear of persecution they overcome. At Pergamum and Thyatira it’s idolatry, At Sardis it’s dead orthodoxy, at Philadelphia it’s drifting from the truth, and at Laodicea it’s apathetic worldliness. All these are over come by remaining true to the simplicity of the Gospel by neither adding anything to it nor taking anything away. As with everything else in the Bible, it’s a matter of keeping the faith.
It was John who used this word and it was he who gave us the meaning He intended. In 1 John 5:4-5 he wrote, “for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”
As for Rev. 3:5 the Lord was simply exhorting those from the Church at Sardis to wake up from their dead religion, be born again in their faith and energized by His Spirit. He said that once they did this they would be saved forever because He would never blot their names out of the Book of Life. You can’t use this verse to say that He will blot some names out, because those who don’t have the Spirit of God in them were never in the Book in the first place. There’s no indication that those He’s warning had ever received the Spirit even though they had heard the Gospel.
The Church of Sardis represents the mainline denominations of today. There are many there who hear the gospel and agree with it intellectually, but they’ve never obeyed the Lord’s commandment to be born again. (John 3:3) Others, a much smaller group have done so, are saved, and will never be rejected. The letter to Sardis presents one of the clearest arguments in Scripture that we must choose to be saved and once we do nothing can reverse it.