Our Relationship to Christ’s Return: An Incentive for Holy Living – Romans 13:11-14
Pastor Mark Hardy December 15, 2013
Augustine, the bishop of Hippo, which is present day Annaba, Algeria, was a great theologian and one of the most important Church Fathers (354-430). But before his salvation, Augustine was controlled by lust and was very immoral. In his book Confessions, he speaks of this and explains the story of his salvation. He says that one day while he was walking in the garden his heart was overwhelmed with guilt and distress over his failure to live a holy life. He knew he needed to turn to Jesus Christ to save and deliver him from his sin. Then suddenly he heard in his mind what seemed like a child’s voice saying, “Take and read.” So he hurried back to the seat where his friend “Alypius was sitting, for he had left there a volume of Paul’s writings.”
Augustine says, “I snatched it up and read silently the first passage my eyes fell upon, which was Romans 13:13-14. I neither wished nor needed to read further. With the end of that sentence, as though the light of assurance had poured into my heart, all the shades of doubt were scattered. I put my finger in the page and closed the book: I turned to Alypius with a calm countenance and told him.”
What a good example of the power of the Word of God as used by the Spirit of God to convict a person of his sin and to bring him to saving faith in Jesus Christ. These two verses in Romans 13 that God powerfully used in Augustine’s salvation, as well as, experiencing victory over his sin are part of the passage that we will be looking at this morning. Turn with me in your Bible to Romans 13. As we come to the last paragraph of Romans 13 this is a veritable gold mine of biblical theology and ethics.
In Romans 13:11-14 we see three exhortations to believers concerning the urgent need to live a holy life, in light of the nearness of Christ’s return.
The first exhortation is:
I. The Call to Wake Up!
A. Look at v. 11: Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.
1. When Paul says “Do this” (kai touto) he is giving the ultimate reason why we are to obey all of the exhortations in chapters 12:1-13:10. This is why we are to be totally committed to Christ (12:1-2); have a humble attitude toward ourselves, Christ’s church, and our spiritual gifts (12:3-8); show a sincere love to fellow believers and even to our enemies (12:9-16); submit to civil authorities (13:1-7); and reflect Christ’s agape-love to all people (13:8-10).
2. It is because of “knowing the time.” As believers we are to be “knowing” (eidotes) or understanding the “time” in which we live. The word “time” (kairon) here is key to understanding this passage, for it doesn’t mean chronological time (chromos) but refers to time as an era, epoch, or age.
3. Paul then adds three statements to further explain what he means by time. His first statement is, “…that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep.”
4. Now physically, mentally, and emotionally sleep is a good and necessary part of having a healthy life. Sleep is a state in which we are not conscious and inactive, so that our body has to opportunity to be restored.
5. But the word “sleep” (hupnou) here Paul uses metaphorically to speak of a slumbering state of soul. He is talking about Christians who are spiritually asleep in that they are lazy, apathetic, and indifferent to the things of God.
6. These believers have been squeezed into the mold of the world and are living their lives according to worldly values and priorities not God’s values and priorities. And here God through Paul tells them that it is the hour to wake up!
7. R.C.H. Lenski said it well, “The moment has arrived. The alarm clock is ringing.” If this admonition was urgent during Paul’s day, how much more urgent is it today!
B. Paul’s second statement to explain what he means by time, and which shows why believers need to wake up is seen next in v. 11, “…for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.”
1. Our salvation as believers can be spoken of in three tenses: It was in the past—“we have been saved,” which refers to initial salvation or justification (Eph. 2:8); it is in the present—“we are being saved,” which refers to the lifelong process of sanctification (1 Cor. 1:18; 15:2; 1 Pet. 1:9); and it is in the future—“we will be saved,” which refers to final salvation or glorification when we will be made perfect, free from sin, and receive our glorified bodies (Rom. 5:9-10; 8:23; Phil. 3:21; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 1:5).
2. Paul is referring here to our final salvation which occurs at Christ’s return. Now Christ’s return is understood in two phases to: the first phase is the Rapture when believers meet the Lord in the air and receive their glorified bodies, and the second phase is the Revelation, which is when Christ comes to earth at His Second Coming in judgment.
3. Now notice that Paul says our final salvation is “…nearer to us than when we believed.” Every day we live we come one day closer to Christ’s coming than when we first believed in Him as Savior and Lord.
4. Christ’s return is rapidly approaching. It is imminent, in that, He could come at any moment (Phil. 4:5; Jam. 5:8; 1 Pet. 4:7; Rev. 1:3; 2:25; 3:11; 22:7, 10, 12, 20).
5. This is the basis of Paul’s urgent call to wake up! He had a strong expectancy for the imminent return of Christ (Phil. 4:5; 1 Thess. 4:15) and we are to have that same expectancy.
6. Although every generation has had its skeptics who say that the Lord isn’t coming (2 Pet. 3:4), He could come today or in 1,000 years. No one knows when Christ will come again (Matt. 24:36-37, 42-44; Mk. 13:32, 35; Lk. 21:8-9; Acts 1:6-7; 1 Thess. 5:1-8).
7. But this is God’s business not ours! Because of the certainty of Christ’s return our focus is to expectantly “love His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8) and be ready when He comes (Heb. 10:35-37).
8. For this is the next event on God’s redemptive calendar. John Murray accurately states, “In the unfolding of God’s redemptive purpose the next great epochal event, correlative with the death of Christ, his resurrection and ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, is Jesus’ advent in glory. This is the event that looms on the horizon of faith. There is nothing of similar character between the present and this epochal redemptive event. In this sense it is nigh. And this was as true when the apostle wrote as it is today.” (pg. 168)
C. Paul’s third statement to explain what he means by time is seen in the first part of v. 12: The night is almost gone, and the day is near.
1. Here Paul uses the metaphor of night giving way to day. Right now while Christ is in heaven (Jn. 14:2-3; Acts 1:11) this time is described as the “night” (nux) because sin is rampant and Satan is at work (2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2). The imagery of night or darkness refers to this present evil age (Gal. 1:4).
2. Presently, we live in what is called the “last days” (Acts 2:17; 2 Tim. 3:1; Heb. 1:2; Jam. 5:3; 1 Pet. 1:20; 2 Pet. 3:3; 1 Jn. 2:18), which began with Christ’s first coming and will be consummated at His Second Coming.
3. But Paul says, “The night is almost gone.” This means that man’s time of rebellious unbelief, sin, and sorrow, which began with Adam’s sin and has continued throughout history to today, is rapidly coming to an end.
4. Praise God that the nighttime of world history will soon give way to the daylight of Christ’s glorious kingdom. The word “day” (hemera) here refers to Christ’s return, which “is near.”
5. What a day that will be! This is God’s time of judgment, glory, and righteousness (Isa. 13:6, 9; Ez. 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14; Amos 5:18, 20; Obad. 15; Zeph. 1:7, 14; Zech. 14:1; Mal. 4:5; Matt. 24:42-44; Acts 2:20; 1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14; 1 Thess. 5:2, 8; 2 Thess. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:10).
6. And in that day we read in Revelation 11:15 that, “…loud voices in heaven, (are) saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.’”
7. No wonder that Paul urgently calls us as believers to wake up! Since there is coming a future day of final salvation when all opportunities for earthly faithfulness, obedience, and evangelism will end and judgment will fall, right now we must be awake, alert, and obedient to all that God has commanded us to do and be by His grace in chapters 12-13.
8. The second exhortation to believers concerning the urgent need to live a holy life is:
II. The Responsibility to Clean Up!
A. Look at the second part of v. 12: Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
1. Since our final salvation, the day of Christ’s return, is near, we are responsible to live pure and holy lives. And Paul tells us what this looks like by using the imagery of changing clothing.
2. In vv. 12-13 Paul gives two commands to all believers, including himself, in the form of a negative and positive contrast. In the negative part of the first command Paul says, “…let us lay aside the deeds of darkness.”
3. The one Greek word translated “lay aside” (apothometha) means to cast off, forsake or renounce. In this context, it refers to repentance from the “deeds of darkness,” which is a general term for all sins in a believer’s life.
4. Sin, and the one who commits it, loves the darkness (Job 24:13-17). Jesus said in John 3:19-21, “This is the judgment, that the Light (i.e. Himself) has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
5. So our first responsibility as believers is to strip off all sinful deeds that are associated with this present evil age like we do dirty clothes. Notice the present tense in Ephesians 4:22-24, “…in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”
6. Also in Colossians in 3:8-9, “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another…” (Heb. 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:1; Jam. 1:21)
B. Now in stark contrast to the filthy deeds of darkness we are to lay aside, Paul states the positive part of the first command to “…put on the armor of light.”
1. The one Greek word translated “put on” (endusometha) means to clothe ourselves. And we are to be clothed with “the armor of light.”
2. The word “light” (photos) here refers to Christ Himself and His righteousness. The apostle John says about Jesus in John 1:9, “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.”
3. And in 1 John 1:5 he says, “…God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” He then goes on to say in vv. 6-7 that those who truly belong to Him are also characterized by the light of divine righteousness.
4. Now the word “armor” (hopla) refers to both offensive and defensive weapons. Paul uses the imagery of a soldier who has dressed himself for battle.
5. The Christian life is not a leisurely walk in the park; it is a spiritual battle against the for-mi-dable enemies of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Therefore, we desperately need the “armor of light,” which is the “full armor of God” described in Ephesians 6:11-17.
6. Since the indwelling Holy Spirit empowers us to forsake the deeds of darkness and has given us every resource to put on the armor of light, we must continually depend on Him and allow Him to control us to live pure and holy lives. This is what God demands of us!
7. For 1 Peter 1:14-16 says: As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior, because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”
C. Paul’s second command is also in the form of a contrast but this time he states the positive before the negative. Look at v. 13: Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.
1. This is where Augustine open God’s word and began reading. The positive part of this command is, “Let us behave properly as in the day…”
2. Now to “behave properly” (euschemonos peripatesomen) essentially means to live in a way that pleases God. It is to make sure that your lifestyle is decent, honorable, appropriate, and becoming.
3. And notice that we are to live this way “…as in the day.” This means that we are to live pure and holy lives as if the day of Christ’s return has already come. (1 Thess. 5:8)
4. By His grace and power, God want us to live transformed lives to the glory of God before a lost and dying world. Not lives that are conformed to the world and don’t look any different from unbelievers.
D. Paul then lists just six examples of some deeds of darkness in three pairs of two. This is the negative part of this second command. Paul says, “…not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.
1. Carousing (komois) refers to wild parties, excessive feasting, and engaging in sexual orgies, especially when associated with drunkenness. (Gal. 5:21; 1 Pet. 4:3)
2. Drunkenness (methais) is being in a drunken stupor from intentionally drinking too much. (Gal. 5:21; 1 Pet. 4:3)
3. Sexual promiscuity (koitais) literally means beds, and here refers to illicit sexual relations outside of marriage.
4. Sensuality (aselgeiais) refers to shameless excess and the absence of restraint. It is used almost exclusively for unbridled lust, lewd sexual immorality, licentiousness, and sexual debauchery, which is rampant in our society today. (Mk. 7:22; 2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 4:19; 1 Pet. 4:3; 2 Pet. 2:2, 7, 18; Jude 4)
5. Strife (eridi) refers to bickering, petty disagreements, contention, and dissension. (Rom. 1:29; 1 Cor. 1:11; 3:3; 2 Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:20; Phil. 1:15; 1 Tim. 6:4; Tit. 3:9)
6. Jealousy (zelo). Depending on the context, this can be positive and refer to zeal or enthusiasm (Jn. 2:17; Rom. 10:2; 2 Cor. 7:7, 11; 9:2; 11:2; Phil. 3:6; Heb. 10:27). But here it is negative and means jealousy, envy, or contentious rivalry. (Acts 5:17; 13:45; 1 Cor. 3:3; 2 Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:20; Phil. 3:6; Col. 4:13; Jam. 3:14, 16; Heb. 10:27)
7. All of these examples of “deeds of darkness” are merely the outgrowth of indwelling sin and selfishness that seeks one’s own will and pleasure and above others. And all are a violation of the Christlike love that God calls us to show others.
8. Therefore, the absolute certainty of Christ’s return is one of the most important incentives for holy living. For in 1 John 2:28-3:3 we read, “Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
9. Here we see that living pure and holy lives is the real purpose of end-time prophecy, not merely filling our heads with the latest world events. Does the truth of Christ’s imminent return motivate us to clean up our lives, because one day we are going to give an account to God (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10)? If not, it should!
10. The third exhortation to believers concerning the urgent need to live a holy life is:
III. The Necessity to Grow Up!
A. Look at v. 14: But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.
1. This is a third command also given in the form of a contrast that states the positive before the negative. The positive part of this command is: But put on the Lord Jesus Christ…
2. As we saw in v. 12, the one Greek word translated “put on” (endusasthe) means to clothe ourselves. This time it is not with the “armor of light” but with the Person of the “Lord Jesus Christ.”
3. Notice that Paul uses His full title: “Lord” means that He is the sovereign ruler of the universe; “Jesus” is His personal, human name; and “Christ” shows that He is the anointed One, the Messiah. We are intended to be clothed with all of who God is!
4. Now positionally, we as believers have already “put on Christ,” in that, we are no longer in Adam but in Christ, sharing in His death, burial, and resurrection (6:3-6; Col. 3:9-10). Galatians 3:27 says, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have (i.e. past tense) clothed yourselves with Christ.”
5. However, according to 1 Corinthians 1:30, Christ is not only our righteousness (i.e. justification), He is also our sanctification, which Paul is referring to here in Romans 13:14.
6. Sanctification is the aspect of salvation that the Holy Spirit continues to achieve in our lives until glorification when our time on earth is ended, either by death or by rapture. It is the continuing lifelong process of growing in practical righteousness. (Col. 3:12-13)
7. John MacArthur said it well, “…to put on the Lord Jesus Christ represents the continuing spiritual growth of those who have become children of God through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. . . As we grow in Christ, the old clothing of sinful thoughts and habits is continually being discarded, and his divine clothing of righteousness, truth, holiness, and love is being put on. As the process of sanctification progresses, the Lord’s character becomes more and more our own character.” (pg. 268)
8. Beloved, no matter how long we have known the Lord, God wants all of us to grow up to increasingly become more and more like Jesus Christ, so that His holy and loving character is reflected in all that we say and do. But because we have enemies this is a battle and we will never simply drift into spiritual maturity.
B. Therefore, Paul tells us what to do in the negative part of this command at the end of v. 14, “…and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”
1. The word “provision” (pronoian) here means forethought, to plan ahead. And C.E.B. Cranfield defines “flesh” (sarkos) well when he says, “It signifies the whole of our human nature in its fallenness, organized as it is in rebellion against God.” (pg. 689)
2. Our indwelling self-obsessed nature will always be an enemy because it will not be eradicated until heaven. Since to one degree or another, most sin in our lives is planned as sinful thoughts and desires are allowed to linger in our minds (Ps. 36:1, 4; Prov. 24:8; Jam. 1:14-15), we are told here to not think about or plan for sin.
3. Whereas we cannot keep a bird from flying over our heads, we can stop it from making a nest in our hair. Someone once said, “Kick the sin off your doorstep and you won’t have it in the house.”
4. And Galatians 5:16 tells us how, “…walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”
5. Augustine learned this, for one day when he unexpectedly saw one of the immoral women he had been with from his former days, empowered by the Spirit he turned and ran. She followed, crying, “Austin, Austin, why do you run? It is only I.” He replied to her, “Yes I know. I run, because it is not I!” Augustine recognized that he was a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and that his former unregenerate self was no longer what was most true about him.
6. Likewise, God wants all of us to grow up in Christ and continually allow His Spirit to control our lives, so that we can live victorious Christian lives to the glory of God.
In closing, we have seen clearly in this passage that we as believers are exhorted to wake up, clean up, and grow up, in light of the nearness of Christ’s return. This is an all-important incentive for holy living, for our time on earth is limited and our opportunity to live for Christ and serve Him is brief. May we always remember that this life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.