Sincere faith in Jesus Christ provides immediate forgiveness from God and the promise of future glory in heaven. But the period in between the two is often ignored. Christians are to daily follow their Lord and Savior in doing the will of our heavenly Father. In fact, that is the reason we are temporarily left in this world. We are set apart from sin to serve as God’s representatives, and He urges us to face the challenge with our eyes wide open.
Since God graciously justifies us through faith in Jesus (Rom. 1-11), it is our duty to serve Him (Rom. 12:1-2; cf. 6:15-23). We are to minister in the Church (Rom. 12:3-8) and exhibit Christian character before the unbelieving world (Rom. 12:9-21). This involves responding to our enemies with good (Rom. 12:17-21), as well as submitting to human authority (Rom. 13:1-7). Our standard for accomplishing all of this is love (Rom. 13:8-10).
With this in mind, Paul issues an urgent call to Christian service. In Romans 13:11-14, he uses the analogy of a person waking up in the morning, changing clothes, and being ready to face a new day. In other words, there is no time to waste — we need to get busy doing what God saved us to do. Believers are to be sanctified and ready to serve the Lord. In this passage, the apostle urges us to awaken to reality, alter our lifestyle, and adorn ourselves with holiness.
Ready to Serve (13:11-14)
Awaken to Reality (vv. 11-12a)
Paul’s previous command to fulfill God’s law with love is time-sensitive. That is to say, we cannot simply pursue it when the mood strikes us. On the contrary, in light of the Lord’s gracious salvation, we should be instantly motivated to serve (12:1-2)! And we should have an extreme sense of urgency about it.
Paul says, “And do this [i.e. fulfill God’s law by loving our neighbor], knowing the time…” (v. 11a). He is not referring to chronological time but to a period of time. More specifically, it is a definitive window of time which presents and opportunity. He means that we need to be realistic about why the Lord has saved us and left us here. He has reconciled believers to Himself to serve in His kingdom — to be busy representing Him with the Gospel, supported by godly living, until Christ returns.
And His kingdom is at hand (Matt. 4:17), accomplishing His redemptive purpose in the world despite the opposition (Matt. 11:12; Lk. 16:16; 2 Pet. 3:1-14). As those whom He has redeemed, we are to demonstrate outwardly what God has accomplished inwardly (Eph. 2:8-10). Therefore, we do not have the option of causally living in this world with no thought of eternal things. No, we have been called to bear witness to His salvation until we leave this world by death or by rapture.
The apostle explains: “that now it is high time to awake out of sleep” (v. 11b). Here he uses a different word for “time” to further emphasize that the opportunity to serve is now! This means that allowing our thoughts to remain only on earthly things (i.e. satisfying our flesh) renders us unproductive. Just as we are not productive while we are asleep, so we cannot accomplish God’s will unless we set our mind to it. If we are spiritually sluggish, we are not spiritually productive (Jn. 15:1-8). And the only way to wake up spiritually is to focus on reality now.
It is like listening to an alarm clock but never actually responding to it. You need to wake up and get busy with your day, but you choose to sleep it away instead. While you may have satisfied your inclination for laziness, you will never be able to gain back that time for productive use. Spiritual slumber likewise renders us useless.
Our spiritual alarm, as it were, is the reality of Christ’s imminent return. The latter part of verse 11 emphasizes that we must quickly rise from any spiritual drowsiness, since “…now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.” This refers to the completion of our salvation — our glorification. While we have already been justified, our salvation is not complete until we are glorified in resurrection. This wonderful time draws near with each passing moment, but that does not mean we are to merely sit and wait for it to happen. No, our obligation to serve God begins the moment we are born again and it continues into eternity.
When the Lord Jesus returns in His glory, He will reward and glorify believers according to their faithfulness in this present age. Therefore, there is literally no time to waste. The work of the kingdom is currently to call sinners to repentance. The Church is the embassy of heaven on earth, and Christians are individual ambassadors appealing to the world in word and deed to be reconciled to God before it is too late (2 Cor. 5:18-21). This is a call to report for duty and know that our King is evaluating our work!
Our faithfulness as a representative of Christ’s kingdom determines our eternal reward. That reward is to both receive His commendation and gain greater opportunity to glorify Him (Matt. 25:20-23). As Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 5:9-11: “…we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.”
The Scripture repeatedly uses the Lord’s return to motivate us for faithful service (cf. Titus 2:11-13; Heb. 10:23-25; Jas. 5:7-8; 1 Pet. 4:7-11; 2 Pet. 3:10-14). Just knowing that we may see Him at any moment should keep us prayerful, patient, focused and busy on the things that are of eternal value (Matt. 6:33).
That His return could be at any moment is expressed in the first part of verse 12: “The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” That is, human history (which has served to display man’s spiritual darkness) is coming to a close, and the “day” of the Lord’s glory is on the horizon. He will evaluate our service in that day and reward us accordingly, and He will also judge the unbelieving world. We must live soberly in light of this reality.
Alter Your Lifestyle (vv. 12b-13)
So what should we do once we are focused on this reality? Well, Paul commands us to “…cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (v. 12b). This means that we must stop living as the world does with no thought of God or His kingdom. As God’s servants, we must demonstrate who we are in Christ. Like putting on a fresh change of clothing, we must change the way we conduct ourselves in the world.
Christians are already set apart from sin, in that we are no longer condemned for it nor enslaved to it (Rom. 8:1-4). But that is something only God can do for us (Mk. 10:26-27). It is positional sanctification which results from God justifying us through Christ’s sacrifice. However, Paul is talking about practical sanctification here. In response to God declaring us not guilty and delivering us from the power of sin, we must now alter our lifestyle to reflect His saving grace. Our new spiritual man must control this earthly body in order to best represent the Lord (cf. Rom. 12:1-2; Phil. 2:12-13).
But what does Paul mean by “the armor of light?” He is noting the spiritual protection provided by practical sanctification. In what way are we protected? It shields us from the weakness of the flesh, the allure of the world, and the assaults of the devil, all of which tempt us to sin (Matt. 26:41; cf. Jas. 1:12-18; Eph. 6:10-18; 1 Jn. 2:15-17). Obedience to God’s will (i.e. the “light” of His truth) keeps us from “the works of darkness” (a term describing all sins in general).
Knowing God’s truth and striving to obey it keeps us away from the sin that once covered us. After all, who wants old clothes when you can have armor to fight a battle? Having now clothed ourselves for service, so to speak, Paul says, “Let us walk properly, as in the day” (v. 13a). We are to conduct ourselves as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to behave as those whose way is illuminated by the Lord’s truth (Eph. 5:8-14; 1 Jn. 1:5-7). Just as people can see clearly to walk a path in the daytime, so we are to take advantage of the light God’s Word sheds on our way and walk in it for His glory (Ps. 119:105; “Your Word is a lamp to my feet…”).
Living obediently is now contrasted with disobedience in the remainder of this verse. Paul mentions three pairs of closely associated sins that characterize ungodly people. Each couples a sinful action with the evil desire that motivates it. Collectively they represent the scope of sinful behavior prevalent in the world, but they primarily emphasize that we once served ourselves and not God.
The sins of “revelry and drunkenness” certainly identify the sinner’s lack of self-control. The first describes immoral, disorderly festivities that often involve illicit sex, physical violence, and displays of rebellion. The second is the precursor to the first. Deliberate and frequent intoxication by any means (e.g. alcohol, etc.) never produces anything good. But it is the desire to be unrestrained which lies beneath the act of drunkenness, and that is why Paul refers to it here. Those who do not care to live a moderate lifestyle willingly indulge their desires without restraint (cf. Gal. 5:21; 1 Pet. 4:3). The apostle is simply saying, “Don’t be like the world — unrestrained and over-indulgent.
Note: This does not prohibit the moderate, responsible consumption of alcoholic beverages. That is not even remotely the issue here. Intoxication is the sin Paul addresses because it reflects a lack of self-control and the underlying desire to indulge the flesh without restraint. This inevitably leads to other ungodly behaviors. Alcohol is simply more readily available and readily abused mostly because it is commonly enjoyed with food.
Similarly, the second pair of sins, “lewdness and lust,” identify all sexual immorality and the unrestrained sexual desire behind it. More specifically, the first speaks of casual sex (Gr. – koite; “the bed”) with no marriage commitment (cf. Heb. 13:4). The word translated as “lust” means shameless and uninhibited sensuality, which obviously drives lewd behavior.
The third, “strife and envy,” are also aptly paired together. For one who constantly argues with others to get his own way (“strife”) does so out of nothing less the selfish ambition (“envy” i.e. jealousy).
These characterize the ungodly person but “not” the Christian, says Paul. And as the apostle Peter said, believers “…no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lust of men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the [godless world] — when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries” (1 Peter 4:2-3). We must alter our lifestyle to appropriately represent God.
Adorn Yourself with Holiness (v. 14)
With this, Paul urges us to follow Christ in sanctification — to be set apart for service. In verse 14 he tells us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” This concludes the analogy of changing clothes to start the new day. The command to love others (and thus fulfill God’s law) demands that we clothe ourselves with Christ-likeness.
If we will follow Him in doing God’s will (Jn. 4:34; cf. Lk. 9:23), then we will “make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” That is to say, the flesh will be subdued as we present our bodies a living sacrifice to God (12:1). When we are transformed by the renewing of our mind in the ways of Christ (12:2), then we accurately display His good, perfect and acceptable will.
This is how you ensure that you are living as God desires. Paul is talking about the daily, transforming work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. As he says in Philippians, as we reverently pursue obedience to God’s will, “…it is God who works in us to will and to do for His good pleasure.” He makes us more like Christ as He appeals to our redeemed nature with the truth of Scripture, which reveals His will for us (Jn. 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:13-15; 17:17-19). Our part is to obey!
As Christians, we need to awaken to the reality of God’s kingdom, alter our lifestyle accordingly, and adorn ourselves in holiness like Christ.
Are you awake or asleep in regard to spiritual things? Are you living like the ungodly world or like one who is redeemed and looking forward to the glory of heaven? Does your lifestyle reflect the holiness of the Lord Jesus Christ whose image you bear? Are you making the most of your opportunity to glorify God before Christ returns?
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