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Living in Light of the Day

(Romans 13:11-14)

by Leee Irons



Sermon Scripture Reference

(Romans 13:11-14)

And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour to awake from sleep; for now the [eschatological] salvation is nearer to us than when we first believed.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand.  Therefore, let us cast off the works of darkness, and put on the weapons of light.  Let us walk as is fitting for the daytime not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
The Context and Structure of the Text

In our study of the final major section of Paul's epistle to the Romans, we come this morning to a pause in the flow of thought.  This final section comprises 12:1-15:13.  I have entitled it, "The Gospel as the Transformation of Social Relationships."  It begins with the theme of spiritual transformation in 12:1-2.  Since we no longer belong to this present evil age, on account of the mercies of God which Paul has so carefully explored in chs. 1-11, we must not be conformed to this world's pattern of thinking and behavior.  Rather, we must be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  In so doing we are offering ourselves up to God in accordance with the New Israel's spiritual worship.

From this point, Paul pastorally instructs the church in a number of specific ways.  First, he addresses the all-important issue of the communion of the saints (12:3-16).  How is the mind renewal to which we are called by the mercies of God to be effected and implemented?  In the communal context of the body of Christ. Through the spiritual gifts distributed to the church -- and especially through the church's teaching ministry (v. 7) -- we are to be renewed in our thinking and behavior.

But this process of spiritual growth through the means of grace is not an end in itself.  So Paul next addresses our social relationships outside of the body.  In 12:17-21 he reminds us of the teaching of Christ to love our enemies.  We are to give place to God's wrath, rather than taking vengeance into our own hands.  If we succumb to the desire for revenge, we will have been defeated by evil; but if we do good to those who hate us, we will overcome evil with good.

Then, in 13:1-7, Paul further expands upon our duties to the outside world by exhorting us to be in submission to the powers that be.  There is no place for revolt against the civil authorities, for they are the ministers of God for our good.  One important way we must demonstrate this respectful attitude to the government is by paying our taxes.  In so doing, we bear witness to the ultimate rule and sovereignty of God, which will be brought to visible expression only at the Second Coming of Christ. Because of our eschatological hope, we can render to each earthly authority his due.

But the one debt we can never repay is the debt of love. "Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the Law" (13:8). With this elegant transition, Paul now summarizes what he has said thus far by gathering all of our social duties under the umbrella of the Law of Love.  He appeals to the Old Testament, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18).  And he appeals to the teaching of Jesus, who took that same command and made it the center of the Christian ethic.  To his disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus said, "As I have loved you, you also love one another" (John 13:34). This Law of Love applies both to our relationships within the community of faith, and to our relationships with outsiders who do not profess Christ.  It is the sum and substance of the Law:  for love is the fulfillment of the Law.

Thus we may truly say that 13:8-10 is the climax of this section of the epistle.  It not only summarizes all the exhortations with regard to the transformation of our social relationships up to this point, but it summarizes the redemptive-historical grid through which Paul now construes the Law (as defined in the three preceding sections, especially the first two sections chs. 1-8).

In light of this context, we come this morning to 13:11-14. The text clearly has all the preceding exhortations from 12:1 to13:10 in view:  "And this do, knowing the time ...."  All of these commands and imperatives -- to love one another, to submit to the government and pay one's taxes, to overcome evil with good, etc. -- all are to be heeded in light of the eschatological perspective defined here in this text, that is, in light of the imminence of the day of Christ.

Context:

12:1-2 - Spiritual transformation

12:3-16 - The communion of saints
12:17-21 - Overcoming evil
13:1-7 - The powers that be
13:8-10 - The Law of love
13:11-14 - "And this do, knowing the time"

In fact, it appears that this section (13:11-14) forms an inclusio with the introductory paragraph (12:1-2).  Both paragraphs use eschatological language.  "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed" (12:2).  "The night is far spent, the day is at hand" (13:12).  This world is a dark but nearly-spent night. But the world to come is a glorious day about to dawn for the redeemed people of God. How, then, can we be conformed to the life-style of this passing night -- engaged in the night-time activities of sin, lewdness, and revelry?  God forbid!  We are not sons of the night but of the day.  Let us therefore walk in a manner that is fitting for the daytime, putting on the Lord Jesus Christ and making no provisions for the flesh.

So, then, all of the specific commandments sandwiched between 12:1-2 and 13:11-14 must be viewed in terms of the eschatological orientation defined in the opening and closing paragraphs.  These concrete imperatives must be enveloped in the eschatological indicative.  To go forth with the list of commands in 12:3-13:10 in hand, and to seek to implement these commands apart from their eschatological context, is to erect a new legalism -- and that after Paul had already thoroughly demolished all attempts at being justified or sanctified by Law-keeping in chs. 1-11.  The imperatives are therefore not only enveloped by the eschatological indicative at 12:1-2 and 13:11-14, but they are grounded upon the redemptive-historical foundations laid down in chs. 1-11.

Our text itself is structured in such a way that its imperative is not an independent, disconnected command, as if it were just one among many, but a comprehensive, life-transforming Christocentric demand that inheres within the very nature of the eschatological indicative itself.  There is no indicative that does not intrinsically, by its very nature as an indicative, immediately express itself as a total life-embracing imperative.  The imperative is not a separate step or an additional implication of the indicative. It is merely the indicative written with an exclamation point!

This is brought out with the utmost clarity in the structure of our text:
 

  • Indicative:  the nearness of the eschatological salvation (vv. 11-12a)
  • Imperative:  walk as is fitting for the day! (vv. 12b-14)
    • Negative:  put off the works of darkness (v. 13)
    • Positive:  put on the weapons of light, that is, Christ (v. 14)
Observe that the indicative section (A) contains within it an implied imperative.  "And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour to awake from sleep!"  The indicative says, "It is already the hour to awake from sleep."  The imperative says, "It is already the hour to awake from sleep!"

And the imperative section (B) contains within it an implied indicative. "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts."  The imperative says, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ!" The indicative says, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ." The implication is that we can do so, because we are already clothed with Christ.

I. Time to Wake Up!

The first thing that confronts us in this text is Paul's admonition to "awake from sleep" because our salvation is nearer than when we first believed (v. 11). In light of the eschatological reality that stands before us (in the day of Christ's appearing) and above us (in the heavenlies places in Christ), we must wake up!

Are you spiritually alert and awake?  Or are you lethargic, snoozing through life.  It happens to each of us.  When the daily cares of life begin to crowd out time alone with God in prayer and reading his Word; when pursuing our careers, or our marriages and families, or our purchasing a house, become more important than Christ.  Can you remember the last time you sat down in private to commune with your heavenly Father through the crucified and risen Mediator -- to enjoy Christ's presence for more than five minutes as you hurried off to your busy week?  Where have your thoughts been lately?  Are you more preoccupied with yourself -- your hurts from the painful past, your anxieties in the present moment, or your plans for the hopeful future -- than with God's eternal purpose in Christ Jesus?  Just like physical sleepiness, spiritual sleepiness does not befall us suddenly.  It creeps up on us quietly, one thought, one hour, one day at a time.  Before you know it, you have fallen asleep.  Let us awake, brothers and sisters!  "Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light" (Eph. 5:14).
 

II. The Nearness of the Day

And now is the time to awake from our slumber, Paul says.  Why?  Because "the [eschatological] salvation is nearer to us than when we first believed." The word "salvation" here is not a reference to our regeneration in the past, nor is it even an individual concept in the first place.  It is the Parousia, the day of Christ.  When Christ returns, we will be saved, that is, delivered from this present evil age and from God's wrath and judgment.  In 1 Thess. 5:9, Paul uses the term salvation in this way, "For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (cp. Rom. 5:9-10; Heb. 9:28 for this use of salvation in an eschatological sense).  Salvation is equivalent to grace, in Peter's reminder of "the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation [or appearing] of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 1:13).

So why must we awaken spiritually?  Because of the nearness of Christ's return.  The nearness of the Second Coming is not a chronological but a spiritual nearness.  Even in Paul's day, it could be said that the night is far spent and the day is at hand, even though from a strictly chronological point of view, the day of the Lord was at least two millennia in the future.  There are many references in the New Testament to the imminence of Christ's return.

  • "Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I say, rejoice!  Let your gentleness be known to all men.  The Lord is at hand" (Phil. 4:4-5)
  • "Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord ... Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand ... Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!" (James 5:7-9)
  • "The end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers" (1 Pet. 4:7)
  • "Little children, it is the last hour" (1 John 2:18)
  • "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near ... And behold, I am coming quickly, and my reward is with me, to give to every one according to his work ... He who testifies to these things says, 'Surely I am coming quickly.'  Amen.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus!" (Rev. 1:3; 22:12, 20)
Many critical scholars have had a field day with these statements affirming the nearness of Christ's return.  According to them, the apostles and the whole early church thought that the Parousia would happen literally within their lifetime, only to die bitterly disappointed.  But is this really a responsible interpretation of these verses?  Are not these critical scholars guilty of a wooden literalism when they read these passages in strictly chronological terms, rather than seeing the fundamentally spiritual nature of this imminence?

The imminence of Christ's return is a spiritual reality grasped by faith, not a purely physical fact measured by the calendar.  For the past 2000 years it has been true that Christ is coming quickly, that the day of the Lord is at hand!  If the early church really had pinned her hope on a literal interpretation of the nearness of Christ's return, why did the church continue to grow and thrive in subsequent generations? Wouldn't the church have simply withered away after a generation if that was really what they thought Christ had promised?

Our passage explains the way the early church viewed the matter:  "The eschatological salvation is nearer to us today than it was when we first believed." In other words, "if the Parousia is really going to happen at a particular time, each hour that we live must bring us an hour nearer to it, however far off it may be" (Cranfield).  The Second Coming is a certainty, guaranteed to us by Christ's own promise.

But that is not all.  Forty days after his resurrection Christ ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Through his sacrificial death the Lion of the tribe of Judah has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals (Rev. 5:5).  As the Father's vice-regent he is presently reigning as the Messianic King on God's holy hill of Zion (Ps. 2:6).  Thus, ever since the ascension, the Parousia has been a present reality -- in heaven.  The second coming is not when Jesus will begin to reign. The slain Lamb has already taken his great power and begun to reign.  The Second Coming will only be a mop-up operation.  Ever since the exaltation of Christ our Lord, this world has been passing away (1 Cor. 7:31), the night of this present evil age was far spent, and the dawn of a new and eternal day was at hand.

This is the two-fold basis of the church's affirmation throughout the centuries and the millennia of her existence as the church militant, that her Lord's return is not far off, but very near, even at the doors:  first, the promise of Christ; second, the exaltation of Christ.  And because of this hope, you and I enjoy even now the first installment of that promise and that exaltation.  Therefore our hope is not a conjectural hope but an assured hope -- not an "I hope so" attitude, but an "I know so" attitude.

"The church by virtue of her Savior belongs to the eschatological day.  The new creation has dawned and we belong to it.  The church is like the birds.  When we sit and sip our coffee at five o'clock in the morning and it is still dark outside, the birds are singing away.  Why?  While it is still dark outside, the birds from their position in the tops of the trees already see the dawn.  They already see the light of the sun and feel its warm rays.  They are already in the light.  In the Savior, the church has been brought into the light.  Even while we continue in this dark world, we sing, for we already see the eschatological light, we feel its rays and know of a certainty that we belong to that light" (Lawrence Semel, "Geerhardus Vos and Eschatology," Kerux 10.2 [Sept. 1995] 40).
 

III. Living in Light of the Day

Since these things are true, beloved, how can we walk in the sins that characterize the children of darkness as they sleep themselves to death?  We belong to the day, not to the night!  The indicative says, "The night is far spent, the day is at hand." The indicative's imperative says, "Therefore, let us cast off the works of darkness, and put on the weapons of light."  Some translations have "armor of light," but it literally says "weapons of light."  We are not only called, negatively, to avoid the evil behavior (cast off the works of darkness), but, positively, to gear up for the battle of the Lord.

"For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:4-5).  Notice that it is a spiritual warfare, not a carnal conflict with "flesh and blood" (Eph. 6:12).  Our battle is in the sphere of our "thoughts."  It is a constant battle to be "renewed in the spirit of your mind" (Eph. 4:23; Rom. 12:2).

Paul goes on:  "Let us walk as is fitting for the daytime not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts."

The phrase "let us walk as is fitting for the daytime" is my translation, but I think it accurately captures the essence of Paul's argument.  Since we belong to the day, we must walk in a manner characterized by daytime behavior. Notice that the first four sins Paul lists are all characteristic night sins:  revelry, drunkenness, lewdness, and lust.  These are the shameful sins that the pagans run after in the cover of darkness.

But since we belong to the day, we must put off these deeds of darkness and "put on the Lord Jesus Christ."  This is a most encouraging command. Technically, it is an imperative.  But its indicative nature stands out, even dominates. Although you are being commanded to do something, that isn't how it feels.  You hear these words not as another commandment being placed upon your shoulders, but as sweet gospel comfort.   This exhortation is so full of the assurance of the gospel, that you cannot go away feeling condemned but rather further drawn by the constraining power of Christ.

You are urged to put on Christ, not as if you were putting him on for the very first time, or as if you had lost Christ after having once put him on, but because you are already clothed in him.  You have been buried with him in baptism and raised with him in his resurrection life (Rom. 6:3-5).  Therefore, you are obligated to consider yourselves to be clothed with Christ, to be dead in his death and raised in his resurrection (Rom. 6:11).  The Christ-garment has clothed you and enfolded you already in his power.  Therefore, let the Christ-garment be your power.

You know how important clothing is psychologically.  Women will spend thousands of dollars every year and buy a whole new wardrobe, in order to get that good feeling.  A man walks with a greater sense of self confidence in that dapper new suit he just bought at the Men's Wearhouse.  So it is with the Christ-garment.  He is the new you, the eschatological you.  He is your source of identity and confidence.  You are clothed with Christ.  Therefore, reckon it so.  Arm yourself with the mentality that you are walking down the street with the righteousness, obedience, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus on. This is what it means to put on Christ.

"And make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts."  Simply put, do not give the flesh a foothold.  Your old man has been crucified with Christ.  Reckon it to be dead indeed.  Don't give any thought to how you may fulfill the lusts of the flesh, for Christ is your life.

In conclusion, the nearness of Christ's return ought to spur us on to good works.  Are you spiritually lethargic these days?  The sobering and joyful reality of Christ's soon return, ought to wake you up.  Are you being defeated by temptation?  The fact that your eschatological deliverance is nearer than when you first believed ought to give you encouragement to put on Christ and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its desires.  Are you tired and weary?  The knowledge that the night of this dreary world is far spent and virtually over, ought to kindle afresh in your heart the assurance of the dawn of new and better day.

But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.  You are all sons of light and sons of the day.  We are not of the night or of the darkness.  Therefore, let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.  For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night.  But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation (1 Thess. 5:4-8).


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