(39 of 44 in a series through Romans)
It’s an astounding statement that Paul can say in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Before we contemplate how astounding of a statement this is, let’s make sure we understand what Paul is saying. The Christian hope is that one day we will all be resurrected to eternal life. We live our lives now, watching our bodies waste away with cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and general corruption, year after year. But we believe that because of our faith in Jesus Christ—who lived, died, and was raised—that we will one day have resurrected, perfect, glorified bodies and live with our Lord forever, without a trace of sin or corruption or death. That is the Christian hope.
But Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 15:19 that if that were not true (if there is no resurrection coming and the grave is simply the last word), then we Christians are to be of all people who have ever lived on this planet the most pitied. People should actually feel sorry for us, pitying us. And the reason why, of course, is because we live our lives different than most, pursuing costly obedience, because we believe the grave will most certainly not be the last word in our lives.
We work hard to earn money, only to give sizable portions of it away. We deny ourselves certain fleshly pleasures, however fleeting they may be. We choose to make decisions to care for the poor, needy, widows, and orphans, which can invite all kinds of difficulty and struggle into your life. We choose to pick up and leave family and friends sometimes, so that we might relocate ourselves to a place where we can share the gospel with others. We even put ourselves in situations of likely suffering simply in obedience to Christ’s command to make disciples of the nations. And Paul is saying that if we’re wrong about the resurrection, then all of those costly decisions will seem so foolish in the end.
But, as we know, the coming resurrection is coming, and it is sure and certain. The grave will not be the last word. And this is what makes that statement in 1 Corinthians 15:19 so astounding. Because if you take the converse of this statement—which is equally true—then Paul is saying that the resurrection makes every costly decision we’ve made in obedience to Christ so utterly worth it. Paul, in fact, said this explicitly earlier in this letter to the Roman Christians when he writes in 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” And similarly he says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Which is to say that the resurrection will not only make every costly decision seem worth it, we will say that the glory on that side of the resurrection is so utterly beyond comparing to anything we’ve known or suffered in this life.
And if that’s true—and we believe it is—then the reality of the coming resurrection has to impact how you and I live, doesn’t it? The fact that you and I can set our eyes on a glorious reality that is yet unseen but is eternal and sure has to affect how we live in the midst of what we can see in this transient world (2 Cor. 4:18).
I think it’s easy for us to see this if we could imagine the resurrection were right around the corner. If we were told that the return of Christ was set for next week, it would cause us to stop and sober up a bit, wouldn’t it? I’m not suggesting, even by noting this, that we should quit our jobs and go look up at the sky. Paul actually rebuked the Thessalonians for not working, and Jesus warned us to be ready for the long haul as he told the parable of the virgins who didn’t have enough oil in their lamps when the bridegroom’s coming was delayed. What I am saying is that it would cause us to live more soberly, more intentionally. I don’t think we’d just drift or sleepwalk through life, going in the direction that culture sways us, would we? We would live very intentionally. And this is the point that Paul makes in our text this morning, Romans 13:11-14.
After noting in the previous section that we should love one another because by loving we fulfill the law, Paul now notes in our text that there is another reason why we should love and live lives of obedience to Christ in this life, and that is because the coming resurrection is nearer than it ever has been. That is to say, the reality that the resurrection (and eternity) is coming absolutely must impact how we live.
So, this morning, I want to lay out Paul’s argument, which can basically be summed up like this: because eternity is imminent, we should make no provision for sinful living but live out faith, hope, and love in Christ. Let me then show it to you a step at a time. Paul begins with his basis for his exhortations, nothing that:
The imminent nature of eternity should empower us to radical loving obedience
Paul begins with an additional note (to what he has just argued in 13:8-10) as to why we need to love and thus obey Christ commands. He writes, “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand” (vv. 11-12a).
What Paul is doing here is using the imagery of night and day to represent the two ages that we first discussed back in Romans 12:1-2. If you remember when we looked at that text, I noted that the Bible thinks of this time until the return of Christ as one age and then eternity as another age. We might call them “this age” and “the age to come.”
And you may also remember that I noted that this present age is thought of as a time of sin, death, and the rule of Satan, so that Paul will refer to Satan as the “god of this age” (2 Cor 4:4) or can speak of Jesus giving himself for our sins “to deliver us from the present evil age” (Gal 1:4).
The age to come, on the other hand, is a time when we will know the full blessings of eternal life (Mark 10:30), no longer wrestle with sin or death, and will be glorified. We will have bodies that are no longer subject to corruption and death, sin or disease. And with absolute freedom from all sinful temptations, we will perfectly love our God and one another.
What Paul does in our text, then, is uses the metaphors of night and darkness and day and light to denote this present age (darkness, night) and the age to come (light, day). Thus, when he says in verse 12 that “the night is far gone; the day is at hand,” he is saying that the reign of this present evil age—manifested in the rule of Satan, sin, and death—is almost over, and the age to come that will be fully known at the return of Christ is getting closer. In fact, he notes in verse 11 that “salvation” (by which he means our full and final salvation; e.g., resurrection and glorification) is now closer than it’s ever been. In other words, he’s saying that since we know that everything necessary for Christ’s return is behind us, he could come at any minute, and the age to come has already invaded this present age as the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts, we need to wake up and live in light of that.
That is to say, the way the rest of the world is living is as if this age is all there is. So, they’re just following the course of this world, walking in darkness, and pursuing the passions of their flesh. It’s as if they’re asleep, or we might say sleep-walking through this life. But in light of the fact that we know the return of Christ is certain and imminent, we need to wake up.
So, I think how Paul is using his metaphors (of darkness and light and night and day) is hopefully clear, but what does he mean by saying that we need to “wake from sleep”? Any time we encounter a metaphor like this it can be a bit challenging to say precisely what he means. But we are helped by a parallel text. In 1 Thessalonians 5:2-8 Paul uses almost the same imagery. Here’s what he writes: “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”
You can clearly see all the parallels. Since we belong to the day (the age to come) and aren’t of the darkness (this present evil age), then we should keep awake, Paul says. But he adds a description of what he means by “keep awake” when he says twice, “be sober.” And Aaron helpfully noted for us two weeks ago while looking at 1 Peter that the exhortation to “be sober” in the Scripture is an exhortation to be “intentionally focused in your thinking.”
In other words, Paul is saying that since we know the end of this age is drawing near and eternity is on the horizon, don’t live your lives simply drifting along with the culture (this present evil age). Rather, shake off your drowsiness and daze and think and live intentionally. Live proactively as a believer, intent on living a life of loving obedience to Christ so that when the Lord returns—and his return is imminent—you might be found living in a way of seeking to intentionally honor your Lord. His imminent return should empower us to living radically obedient lives, for we know he is coming and perhaps very soon.
Specifically Paul lays out two things we need to do in our pursuit of intentional living. First, he says:
Cast off and make no provision for sinful living
Paul actually states what we need to do positively and negatively. And he goes back and forth with these positive and negative exhortations. So, let’s take the exhortations dealing with sin first. He says, “So then let us cast off the works of darkness. . . . Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy . . . and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (vv. 12-14).
His first exhortation is that we must not live as those who belong to this age live. We must cast off works of darkness. We can’t be involved in sexual immorality, sensuality, drunkenness, quarrels, and jealousy. In fact, Paul says that we need to make no provision for them.
Now, it’s fitting that this text comes up on the day when many college students are with us for the last time before the summer because a number of you have structures of accountability in place now that you’re walking away from over the summer. So, let me speak clearly to all of us. These things that Paul is listing as acts done by those in darkness must be seen as unacceptable to us. We must make no provisions for them. It’s not okay for us as Christians to get drunk, or commit sexual immorality, or be involved in sensuality by looking at pornography in any form. It’s not okay for us to constantly find ourselves jealous or quarreling. We must make no provision for these things. When the thought of these things comes into our minds, we must see it as unacceptable as running out in front of a car in the street would be.
And, as I’ve heard one of our pastors note in a counseling session before, sometimes we like to tackle our sins by leaving only a little provision for it in our lives. In other words, we may think of some avenues where we pursue sin and eliminate those from our lives, while leaving a few other avenues that often are the paths for sin perfectly in place. This then has the effect of planning to succeed about eighty percent of the time temptation comes. And though that’s better than a lower percent, that’s not the command of the Bible. The Bible tells us not to make any provision for the flesh. Pluck out your eye and cut off your hand if you have to. That is to say, take radical measures to make sure these sins do not have a place in your life.
Nor is it enough to take our cues on what is acceptable to do, have, watch, or involve ourselves in from the world around us. Paul has already said that they’re walking in darkness, while we are in the light. So, do not take your cues from what the world says is okay or how we should think about the acceptability of things. Take your cues from the Scripture. Ask, “What does the Scripture say about this practice or that?” And one good place to start in right here in Romans 13:11-14.
Whenever I’m asked about fighting sin, I always mention a two-step approach. And this negative exhortation is step one. Cut off all provision for the flesh. This isn’t the only answer, but it’s where to start. If, for example, pornography is a struggle, then cut off every avenue for temptation. Put filters in place, get rid of your smart phone, only use computers in a public place, have someone put a passcode on your Netflix account, and on and on. I don’t know what all needs to be done, but you do. So, take these steps. Cast off the works of darkness and make no provision for the flesh.
This first step is what I’ve referred to as “fasting.” Starve out the sin, cutting off all avenues for it in your life. And starve yourself from feeding on the sin. Again, that’s step one in my own thinking, but more importantly, that’s where Paul starts in our text as well. But there’s a second part, which brings us to Paul’s last exhortation:
Set your mind on and live out faith in Christ, hope in Christ, and love for Christ and others
Let me see if I can explain why I’m saying this as I am. Paul has littered these verses with negative exhortations that I’ve already noted. Cast off this, make no provision for that, etc. But he also lists positive things that must be done. He writes, “Put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime . . . put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 12-14).
There’s not only a putting off but a putting on. There’s not only a command not to walk in sexual immorality and drunkenness but to walk properly. But what does Paul mean by saying, “put on the armor of light” and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”? How do you do these things?
In one sense, I think we can say that Paul is saying nothing different than he did at the beginning of this section in Romans. In Romans 12:1-2 Paul had warned us not to be conformed to this age—the very thing he warns against in this text. By contrast, then, he tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. That is, meditate on and think about what is true, and good, and glorious. Or, we can say explicitly, meditate on the truth of Scripture. Be someone that is immersed in Scripture, sober-mindedly submitting yourself to what God’s Word says and thinking and living accordingly. Clearly, that would be included in this exhortation to put on. But that earlier text in Romans is not the only help we have.
Paul’s parallel exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-8 is also helpful here. There, instead of saying “put on the armor of light” or “put on . . . Christ,” he says, “Put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thess. 5:8). In other words, Paul is using the imagery of arming ourselves with faith, hope, and love (as he orders this triad in 1 Cor. 13).
Thus, Paul is telling set our faith, hope, and love on Christ and then live out the obedience he commands. This is the second half of how I think we approach fighting sin. It isn’t only about fasting from sin, it’s about feasting on Christ. We turn our hearts to look to Christ in faith and remember what is ours in him and his redeeming work. We set our hope on what he has promised and what is sure. We remember his love for us, allowing it to produce love in us and overflowing in obedience. We remember who we are and what we have in Christ, meditate on those glorious truths, and live them out.
We feast on the glories and pleasures that are ours at God’s right hand. Remember how the Lord said through the prophet Jeremiah that his people had sinned by forsaking the fountain of living water and drinking out of broken cisterns? Tackling sin involves a reverse of that. We stop drinking out of broken cisterns and put obstacles in our way to those very cisterns. Then, we drink deeply of the fountain of living water. We sit with our Lord, cry out to him, lament to him, rejoice in him, feel his love and comfort, and drink deeply of who he is for us and what we have in him.
And I do want to stress that we feast on and drink deeply of Christ both in joy and sorrow. Sometimes we pursue works of darkness because we are seeking a joy that is only found in Christ and instead pursue the fleeting pleasures of sin that are cheap imitations of joy at best. But other times, it is sorrow that forms the base from which we dive off into sin. So, drink deeply of Christ with your sorrows as well.
Just this week I had a moment where I sat before the Lord with deep pain, expressing my hurt and anger over sin and death, wondering how long until he would come and make death an enemy for his feet. And just this week I sat with the Lord, rejoicing in tears at his kindness. Let that be our walk. Fast and feast. Put off—making no provision for sin—and put on—setting your faith, hope, and love on Christ, remember who he is and what he has for you. And then, after tasting of the fellowship that we have in Christ—even the fellowship of suffering—walk in faith, hope, and love, obeying his commands as we wait for his imminent return. And that return is certain because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. He came and brought salvation so that we might taste the fullness of that salvation at his second coming. And that day is closer than it’s ever been before. Let us then eat and drink now as we anticipate that wedding feast to come. Amen.