MESSAGE FOR SEPTEMBER 10, 2000 FROM ROMANS 13:11-14

 

          This week, we move to Romans 13:11-14 in our study of this letter.  You’ll remember that this section of Romans began in 12:1 with the call to be a living sacrifice, totally committed to Christ.  Paul moves out from that call to a life of radical commitment to Christ and speaks of several specific areas where the Gospel calls us to live out that commitment.  In the text for this morning, Paul uses this text to underscore everything he has said up to this point about living as being a sacrifice to God.  We might picture someone looking over Paul’s shoulder as he is writing this section of Romans and at the end of verse 10, the person says, “Paul, WHY should we do all these things you have called us to?  Paul would doubtless have many reasons why we should obey God, but here he treats an important one that is so easy to forget.  The reason Paul gives here is so important for us to have as part of our daily consciousness because this reason, in a unique way, works to curb one of the most subtle and deadly spiritual conditions, spiritual indifference and apathy.  One of the most agonizingly absent qualities in so many North American evangelicals is urgency.  That sense that the Christian life (quoting a definition of urgency) requires “prompt attention, is pressing.”

          It is so easy to wallow in the status quo.  It is so easy to not get all that upset by the sin in our lives.  There is in so many of us, a low wattage intensity when it comes to the condition of their our hearts.  If we take the message of this text to heart, it will, by God’s grace greatly increase our urgency toward personal holiness.  Paul says beginning in 13:11,  And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

          The point Paul is making here is not difficult to discern.  He is saying, we must allow the nearness of Christ’s return to motivate us to a sense of urgency toward personal holiness.  Now, we must reiterate that the return of Christ is not the ONLY motive we have for living totally committed lives for God, but this is the one Paul emphasizes here.  Notice Paul’s clear reference to the believer’s tendency toward apathy and indifference in verse 11.  He says, “And do this, understanding the present time, the hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber.”  The Romans were among the healthiest Christians who received letters from Paul.  This letter, unlike letters like Galatians and Corinthians, is not filled with warnings and rebukes.  This, as we have seen, is a largely informational letter on the glories of the gospel.  But these believers had, to some extent, been stricken with one of the easiest spiritual maladies to contract—what one commentator calls, “moral drowsiness.”  They were basically very nice people, but the urgency was gone.  Their hearts, which once burned white hot with passion, had cooled down.  They were slumbering and comfortable.  Into this slumber, Paul pounds a loud gong with these next verses.  What is his “wake up call” to these slumbering saints like us?  What does Paul say is the reason WHY these people need to wake up?

          He said in the second half of verse 11, “because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”  In order to understand what Paul means here, we must understand how he is using this word, “salvation.”  As we’ve seen before, salvation for Paul is not only a past event as in, “I was saved 25 years ago.”  That is part of it, but here Paul is referring to that aspect of our salvation that is to come.  When we see Jesus and our salvation is brought to completion when we are glorified and are made to look like him as we saw in chapter eight.  Paul is saying, “the reason you need to wake up and rub the sleep out of your eyes is because the time when you meet Jesus is nearer now than when you first believed in Him.”  Notice, Paul uses the relative nearness of Christ’s return and our meeting with Him as the motive for us to wake up to a sense of urgency about the condition of our hearts.

          He stresses this even more powerfully in verse 12.  He says,   The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” Paul sees this period of existence on earth before the return of Christ as “night.”  If you are trying to live for Christ and are sensitive to the evil around you, you will say, “Amen.”  It sure is dark in this world.  The Prince of darkness, though defeated, still wields much influence in this dark world.  The forces of darkness are arrayed against the forces of light—those who love Christ.  And sometimes the conflict seems unbearable.  This is “night.”  Paul says in Galatians 1:4 that Christ has, “rescue[d] us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,”

          But Paul says the “night is nearly over.”  There is light just beneath the horizon—the glorious, radiant light of Christ as He prepares to return.  He says the, “the day is almost here.”   Notice, Paul is using powerful words like “nearly over” and “almost here” to speak of Christ’s return.  The question is, this was written nearly 2000 years ago.  Was Paul wrong—I mean, if you knew you had a 2000 year wait to catch a plane, you certainly wouldn’t classify it as being “almost here.”  What does Paul mean here by these phrases?

          The answer is that even though Paul, as well as James, John and Peter, all make statements about the nearness of the end, we must know how they understand this.  What these New Testament writers intend to do when they speak of the nearness of Christ’s return is stress the imminence of Christ’s return.  That is, it could happen at any time.  No one knows the time of Christ’s return according to Acts 1:7 and we have the certain promise that it will occur.  Although we have some indicators of what must happen first, we must be very humble in our interpretation of those indicators. In Matthew 24, Christ gives a number of signs that will point to the return of Christ.  I counted ten of them he lists in verses six through eleven including earthquakes, false prophets, persecution of the church and the like.  But in that same chapter where He indicates the signs of his coming, he says in verse 44 says, “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”  So, the three-fold witness is: 1. He is coming back, 2. No one knows when he is coming back and 3. Although there will be signs that point to his coming, when he does come back, it will be when we do NOT expect him.  Do you get the picture? That is what the Paul and the other New Testament authors are saying when they say things like, the “night is nearly over” and “the day is almost here.” That second phrase about “the day” is immensely powerful when you understand what Paul means when he uses the word “day.”

When Paul uses this word “day” here, he is not simply contrasting the night of this present evil age with the day that will come when Jesus returns.  For one steeped in the Old Testament as Paul was, the term “day” in this context had a very specific meaning.  When Paul says “day” here, he is talking about “the day of the Lord” and that phrase stirs up powerful images for anyone familiar with the Biblical teaching on the day of the Lord.  Let me give you just a few texts to capture the flavor.  The prophet Joel say in 1:15, “Alas for that day! For the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty.”  In chapter 2:11 he says, “The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful.  Who can endure it? Peter says in 2 Peter 3:10, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.  This will be a cataclysmic day for those who are not right with Jesus.

So, when Paul says to slumbering Christians that the “day is almost here,” he intends that phrase to pierce their ears like a thunderbolt to jolt them out of their drowsy indifference. This cataclysmic, dreadful day is coming—wake up and live out the gospel!  Make no mistake, Paul, without apology uses the fear associated with the day of the Lord as one of the motivations for rousing a sleeping church to its feet.  We must see the shadow of the day of the Lord Paul casts over these following exhortations if we are to understand the urgency  he is calling us to. In light of the coming day of the Lord, DO certain things to express urgency.

Now let’s look at what he tells us to do in light of this. Paul gives us two expressions of this urgency toward personal holiness that should be present in our lives because we understand that Christ’s return is imminent.  He states these two expressions of urgency in very broad terms in the second half of verse 12.  In verse thirteen, he explains more specifically what he means by the first expression of this urgency.  In verse 14, he explains more specifically what he means by the second expression of this urgent about personal holiness.  He says, “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness  and put on the armor of light.” , “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.”  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” 

The first expression of this urgency Paul calls a drowsy church to is:  Lay aside deeds of darkness.  Notice this continuation of the night/day theme. The deeds of darkness are the deeds that people in “the night”—those in the world do.  These deeds are consistent with those in darkness, but not for those in the light of Christ.  Paul gives three pairs of behaviors that he classes as these “deeds of darkness.”  He says we are not to practice, “orgies and drunkenness, …sexual immorality and debauchery, …dissension and jealousy.”  In verse 14, he refers to these as the “desires [or lusts] of the sinful nature/flesh.”  These three pairs of sins represent three different areas of sinfulness.  We could name them parties, perversions and personal pettiness.  That is a close rendering of what they are.

The first is the area we’ll call “parties” which Paul expresses by “orgies and drunkenness.”  “Orgies” might be better translated as “wild parties.”  Although there may be sexual sin connected with this, that area is not Paul’s focus.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with social gatherings some of which we call “parties.” But this pair of sins goes far beyond that.  This is revelry where people lose control and act out inappropriately.  This is not about enjoying people, but about escaping life.  This is about escaping to a fantasy world that does not exist in real life. Drunkenness does that too.  It enables us to escape into a bottle.  Parties that move beyond civil social gatherings at some level satisfy people’s need for adventure and excitement.  You say things and do things in these settings you would never do anywhere else.  You turn into someone very different than who you are normally.  There is enormous lack of control in this area of sin that is actually encouraged. Wild parties and drunkenness is the first area of sin we must avoid out of the urgency we feel at the imminent return of Christ.

Beyond “parties” is “perversion.”  This is the sexual area of sin Paul refers to as “sexual immorality and debauchery.”  Though these are different words, together they cover the gamut of sexual sin.  Everything from adultery to premarital sex to pornography to impurity to fantasy to whatever.  It’s a perversion of God’s intended plan for the expression of sexuality. His design is:  one partner for a lifetime protected within the covenant of marriage.  Everything outside of that is sin and unworthy of a Christian.  This is a huge issue for the church in North America.  Sexual sin is rampant in the church today.  Pornography is the largest and most profitable part of the internet.  Its been called the “dirty little secret” of the net.  And Christians are some of the people who are shelling out money and polluting their minds with the images coming in over our their computer modems.  Of the millions of Christians who go online, only a tiny percentage use filters to block out obscene material to protect themselves and others.

Christian teens are practically as apt to be involved sexually as those who make no claim to know Christ.  Though there is a resurgence in those teens who have formally committed themselves to staying a virgin until they are married, the commitment is only as strong as their love for Christ.  Sex is everywhere, laid out like a smorgasbord by our dark culture and Christians are bellying on up to the buffet line of filth with an incredible lack of shame.  The inner drive behind this is a godLESS desire for pleasure and intimacy.   The pleasure is there, but the cost is enormous, much more than outweighing the temporal benefits.  Out of wedlock pregnancy and its lethal companion abortion, emptiness, self- hatred, the dehumanization of women and worst of all, eternal damnation are among the possible costs of those involved in sexual sin.  Jesus is coming back and he is coming back for a bride that is pure and holy, not tainted with the world’s moral filth.  Examine your sexuality and ask yourself, “If Jesus came back this afternoon, would I be ashamed of anything in my life in this area?”   We must allow the light of Christ’s return to act as a spot light in our hearts to illuminate and draw attention to this area of darkness.

The third expression of this end-time urgency we could call “personal pettiness.”  Paul’s words in the NIV are “dissension and jealousy.”  The words indicate the presence of interpersonal conflict/quarreling rooted in a desire to be better or have more than someone else.  Dissension and jealousy is present in any relationship when one or more of the people in it are competing with others in some way.  There is a prideful desire for superiority over others where a person feels they are less blessed or less happy than others, there is high frustration.  One person’s prideful insecurity rubs up against other people and the results are contentions, quarrels, envy and jealousy.  Its interesting that we tend to place this kind of social sin of personal pettiness on a far different level than the partying and perversion.  Paul does not.  We see this same kind of grouping of the social, interpersonal sins with the sexual and revelry sins in Galatians five.  In verse 19, Paul says, “The acts of the flesh are obvious:  sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the life.  I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Notice that in the same group you have sins like witchcraft and sexual immorality right alongside sins like envy, jealousy and discord.  And if any of them characterize the life of the person, that person’s eternal destination will not be heaven. They don’t belong to Christ.  Paul doesn’t make artificial distinctions between the various sins of the flesh.  He warns against ALL of them in light of the return of Christ.  Paul says we are to lay aside—put away from us all parties, perversions and personal pettiness because Jesus is coming back—the day of the Lord is at hand.

The second expression of heartfelt urgency Paul calls a drowsy church to is  Put on the armor of light.    Notice the strongly militant tone of this verse.  This is a fight—a fight to the death with the darkness.  In verse 14, Paul clarifies with more detail what he means to fight this way.  He says, “…Rather clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.”  I take that to mean “inundate-saturate yourself with Christ.  Make Him first above all else and live in the light of that priority.”  Throw aside the counterfeit offers of this dark world and put on the real thing.  Those who party are seeking to escape life into revelry and craziness and maybe into a bottle.  Paul is saying, “don’t escape reality—that’s a godLESS way to cope.  All it gets you is a hangover and feelings of shame.”  Escape to Christ.  He is your shelter when the storms come.  He is your support when everyone else bails out.  He is your comfort.  And in its excitement and adventure you need, try living by faith—trusting Christ to provide.  He will call you to do things that are filled with excitement and risk and He will always and often dramatically come through for you.  There is no greater adventure than the life of faith.  Our problem as Christians is that we don’t trust Christ very much so instead of satisfying our desire for adventure in the life of faith, we go to this world’s dry cisterns.

For those who practice perversions, they are seeking pleasure and intimacy.  There is a far more profound pleasure in Christ than anything sex offers.  Psalm 16:11 says, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” There is great joy in the Lord and it gives lasting strength, not just a momentary thrill.  For those seeking intimacy, there is no satisfying intimacy in sex outside the marriage covenant—it’s a fraud.  It deceitfully promises that, but it never delivers on the promise.  The intimacy we NEED is communion with Christ.  Augustine’s time tested words are still true as he said to God,  We are restless until we find our rest in thee.  Christ is the only One who can satisfy our deep need for intimacy.  Put aside your foolish pursuit of intimacy in cheap, momentary experiences and put on Christ.  Allow Him to come and bring wholeness and healing to you.

Finally, for those who are caught up in personal pettiness, stop trying to top one another in your competitive games rooted in your insecure desire for personal superiority.  Lose yourself instead in the supremacy of God and you will find your desire for personal superiority over each other will be replaced with a desire for mutual submission to one another.  Stop looking at each other with the intent of being better than the other person and cast your eyes on God.  Why are you arguing and quarreling and becoming jealous over the trinkets and bobbles of this world, when you have the pearl of great price?  Focus on Christ and the eternal riches He offers you and you will stop coveting after the temporal riches other people have.

Paul’s final word here which I take to be part of putting on Christ is, “do not think how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”  I think a better translation is “make no provision for the flesh.”  In other words, you have these desires in your flesh.  But the way to kill them is to make sure you are not doing anything to nourish or feed those desires because the more you feed them, the more ravenous they become.  That’s the way the flesh is.  If you are prone to parties and revelries--trying to idolatrously escape this world, the way to make no provision for those desires is to break or seriously change all the relationships you have with people who encourage you to party.  Don’t go past the liquor store and never go in if you have a problem with alcohol.  Shine light on the sinful area by telling someone about it and asking them to hold you accountable.  They should be given the freedom to ask you whenever they want, “how are you doing in this area?”

If you are a struggler with sexual sin, then violently choke off the lust by removing every possible tantalizing influence.  Cancel your filth-spewing cable television and watch little if any television—be ruthless there.  Buy an internet filter and if you find yourself trying to beat it, don’t go on the internet unless there are people around who can see your computer monitor.  Ask God to put a bridle on your eyes where scantily clad women are concerned. Paul does not expect us to stand and fight sexual lust.  He says in 2 Timothy 2:22, “Flee… youthful lusts.”  Do what Joseph did with Potiphar’s wife and get out of the realm where you are tempted.  If you are tempted to fantasize about adultery, every time your mind runs in that area fantasize about something constructive.  For instance if you are a parent, fantasize about dropping off the kids on a Sunday night to your former residence after your weekend visitation with them.  Fantasize about handing those kids back to the person who used to be your spouse but who is now married to someone else because you were sleeping around on them.  Fantasize about that.  Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”  Get accountability partners who will lovingly hold your feet to the fire on this issue.

If you find yourself easily sinning in the areas of strife and jealousy, then make no provision for the flesh by humbling yourself and giving face to face, humbling apologies to those people you have quarreled with.  Tell them they have permission to rebuke you every time you do it to them.  That kind of self-imposed submission to others has a very chilling effect on our sinful desires.  Now, these things may seem severe, a bit extreme.  Not in light of the motivation—Christ is coming back soon!!  Which is worse, to live a disciplined life where you live with a sense of urgency and end up in heaven?  Or, to live in a state of spiritual slumber where one day you are rudely awakened by the loud trumpet call of Christ’s return and your spiritual dozing lands you in hell?  Christ is coming back.  If he were to come back this afternoon, would you go to him with the anxious open arms of a saint who lived with a sense of urgency?  Or would you be stricken with terror over the unrepentant sin in your life?  May God give us the grace to “put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

 

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