Knowing the Time

Sermon preached on Romans 13:11-14 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 4/21/2013 in Novato, CA.

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Romans 13:11-14

“Knowing the Time”

In our message two weeks ago we said it was important to understand the times. That we are living in the last days, but the final day has not yet arrived. We talked about that with regard to the civil government, and understanding how Christ had not yet ushered in his kingdom in glory. We said he would do that when he returns. But since we live in these last days, the church needs to announce this coming of the kingdom and preach the gospel.

Well, this passage now explicitly calls us to consider the times. It calls us to live in a certain way because we know the times. The basic point of this passage is simple. We live in the last days. Christ’s return is almost here. Because of this we need all the more to be alert and on the lookout for his return. This means we will all the more look to cast off our old ways of living before becoming a Christian. And instead we look to live for Christ and like Christ, and all the more as we see the Day approaching. This is a summary of this passage. That the nearness of Christ’s return needs to spark spiritual vigilance in our Christian walk. Knowing the times we live in, should cause us to be on guard all the more in terms of how we live as Christians.

And so that’s the summary. Let’s dig into the details now. Let’s begin first by considering the times that we live in. Verse 11 says that this is something we as Christians are supposedly well aware of already. Let’s make sure we know then what it assumes we know. Let me read verses 11 and 12 again:

And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer 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 let us put on the armor of light.

The thing it says we are supposed to know is the time. This is referring to the time in human history that we live in. That time is defined here in relationship to another time. To the time of our salvation. This passage is saying that this time of our salvation is nearer to us now that when we first believed. This is
basically saying what we see elsewhere in the New Testament — that we are living in the last days. Christ return is coming. Each day it gets closer. Every moment it gets closer. The day of Christ’s return is closer now than when we even started our worship service a few minutes ago.

For some, the language of our salvation might seem a bit confusing. It talks about our salvation here as in the future. It has in mind Christ’s return as I mentioned. But you might ask, isn’t the Christian already saved, at the very point of faith? How then can it talk about our salvation as something in the future, and different from our point of initial faith? Well, the answer is simple. When we think of our salvation, there are several aspects of our salvation. Several benefits you might say. Let me mention three. Our justification, our sanctification, and our glorification. All of these are part of our salvation. But they each happen at different points. Our justification is something that happens right when we become a believer. At that point we are set in a right standing with God. This part of our salvation has already occurred then. Our sanctification, on the other hand, is how God is growing us and changing us right here and now. We are growing to cast off our old sinful ways and replace them with new godly ways. This sanctification is God’s work of grace to grow us. This part of our salvation is going on right now. It began when we first believed, and will continue until Christ’s return. The third aspect I mentioned, the glorification, is what happens at the end. When Christ comes back we’ll be raised in glory. In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, Christ will come back in the clouds and the trumpet will sound. And we’ll be changed. The corruptible will put on incorruption. The mortal will put on immortality. Our bodies and souls will be renewed in some amazing glorified way. The result will be that our bodies will no longer get sick and die or subject to pains and defects. And our souls will no longer crave any more manner of sin, but we’ll truly love and live out only righteousness. Won’t that be great? This too is an aspect of our salvation. It’s a major aspect of our salvation! It’s so major that if it never happened, we’d really wonder if we were saved at all! This is the culmination of our salvation. This is what it’s all looking forward to. It’s what it’s all about! This then is what Paul is talking about here when he says our salvation now is nearer than when we first believed. Our final victory is ever closer. The day of consummated glory is closer every minute! We need to know the times we live in.

Some might ask, or even scoff, at this point, saying, “How near can Christ’s return really be, if this was written almost 2000 years ago?” That’s a fair question. But let’s think biblically about the answer. Let me mention what we find in the New Testament. We see in the New Testament that they saw themselves living in the last days. The idea is that the many promises of a coming Messiah had finally come in Jesus. He died and rose again and ascended into heaven. The church received the Holy Spirit and was sent out to witness. The only thing left in Biblical prophecy to happen now are all the things covered in the category of the last days. That includes things like the final appearing of the antichrist, who is then stopped by the return of the Christ. And it includes the resurrection and the judgment and for us in Christ life forevermore in the new heavens and the new earth. It is in this sense that we live in the last days. But Scripture never told us how long these last days would be. Christ’s return could come at any point now. But we don’t know exactly when that will be. In fact, that’s exactly what Scripture does say. Jesus told us that no one will know the day or the hour of that return. Surely that would include the apostle Paul as well. That means that when he writes here in Romans 13 that the day is nearer, he could not know exactly how near that really was.

Instead the point made by Jesus and the apostles is that it’s getting closer, so we need to be prepared at any moment. It’s the very fact that we don’t know when he’s coming, that we’re told it will be like a thief coming in the night. So we need to then do what it says here. We need to be knowing that the time is near in one way or another. That might mean Jesus comes back when you are alive. It might not. But even if Jesus doesn’t come back when you are still alive, the obvious extended application is that none of us know how long we will live. Any of us might die today. Not only is Christ’s return one day closer each day, our deaths are one day closer each day. The end of all things is coming, we don’t know when, and surely the end of our earthly live is coming, we also don’t know when. Let us then by extension remember that one way or another, the end is at hand for each of us. This passage calls us to be prepared for that end.

This passage describes that preparation via some related imagery. Imagery of sleeping versus awake. Imagery of darkness versus light. Imagery of night versus the day. The imagery develops itself a bit. The sleeping and awake imagery in verse 11 makes you think of the fact that Christ is coming back soon, that we need to no longer be asleep in ignorance, but be awake and on the lookout. Just like if you knew that a thief was coming at night to break in, you’d not got to sleep but wait up to catch him. Verse 12 says that the night is far spent, and the day is at hand. There you get the sense that the light is when Christ is coming back, and it’s almost here. So again, it’s time to get up! Verses 12 and 13 then apply this imagery of light and dark and day and night in the moral realm. The night and the dark is related to evil actions. The light and day is related to righteous actions; the things of Christ! We are to no longer live in the sinful ways of night and spiritual darkness. We are to live in the uprightness of the day and in
the spiritual light God brings to our life.

So then, that is what I’d like to turn now to consider in the second half of our sermon for today. This passage says that we are to live a certain way in light of the times we live in. I’d like to delve into that more now and consider some of the specific exhortations. What we see in general is what is sometimes called the put off / put on dynamic of our sanctification. It’s the idea that there are certain sinful things we are to put out of our life, and we replace them by putting on the godly alternative. Paul seems to love to talk about this dynamic in his letters. This is the spot in Romans where he particularly brings this out. And what is especially great about his treatment here in Romans is that he connects it with the last days. Roman’s description of the put off / put on approach is connected with the end times. Because we live in such last days, we need to especially look to turn from the old and live in the new.

This is similar to Jesus’ teaching in places like Matthew 24 where he says we need to be alert and watching out for his return, lest we be caught off guard like as a thief coming in the night when we are asleep. This also matches up well with the description of the antichrist in 1 Thessalonians. There he is described as the man of lawlessness. In other words, this antichrist will come in the last days and promote lawlessness in those final days. We on the other hand, are to be on the watch for such promotion of lawlessness. Instead we all the more look to promote lawfulness in these final days.

And so look at some of the specifics mentioned here of what we are to put off and put on. In verse 12 we are given a list of works of darkness we are to cast off. Just pause and think about what kinds of things might be done in the dark. Those are the things you don’t want people to know about. Thieves break in and steal at night so they won’t be seen, for example. Or what are those sins you do in secret because you don’t want other to know about them? Those we must put off as part of our former life? Instead we are to put on the armor of light. I don’t love the translation here of “armor,” by the way. This not the normal word for armor in the Greek. It’s actually the normal word for tools or instruments. Often it’s a word used to refer to weapons, which are of course tools for war. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, it actually translated the Hebrew word for shield frequently. So, armor here is not a horrible translation, but I guess the nuance is instruments and weapons of war. Things like shields and swords would especially stand out to me. Armor in general could certainly come in by extension. But let’s just use the idea of weapons then. What are those weapons a Christian has that he should put on? Well, I think of the Word of God. I think of truth. Righteousness. Peace-making. Faith, hope, and love. Prayer. These sorts of things are our instruments for battle. As we live in these last days, we especially need to have these in hand!

Looking now at verse 13, we see some of these deeds of darkness further explained. Things to cast off. These are put in three groups of two things each that we are to cast off. The first pair is revelry and drunkenness. Revelry here is basically referring to wild parties where sin and sinful excesses reign. Drunkenness is of course the excessive intake of alcohol and the mental loss of control that comes along with it. Both of these two items to cast off address forms of lacking self-control.

The next pair mentioned in verse 13 is lewdness and lust. Neither are very literal translations here. The word for lewdness in the Greek is literally the word for marriage bed, but it’s not in the singular but in the plural. Think about it for a moment, and you hopefully will get the picture. We are not to be promiscuous; this is literally saying we should not be sleeping around from one bed to the next. The word for lust here is not the general word for lust in the Greek. It’s often translated as licentiousness. It seems the idea of this word is the idea of not having moral boundaries. Well, we need to cast off the lack of moral boundaries, for sure! And so this group probably has in mind various sexual sins.

The last pair mentioned in verse 13 of things to cast off is strife and envy. I like how one commentator put it — the things already mentioned to cast off probably will result in strife and envy if you don’t cast them off. Of course, we can think about these things in general too. Strife refers to those quarrels and contentions you have with people. Envy is the sinful jealousy, coveting things which are not for you to have. This last group gets at the conflicts we can have with people, whether actually experienced outwardly, or even just ones you setup inside yourself.

And so these are various examples of things we are to put off from our Christian life. The final verse in our passage then comes as a sort of summary. And it really emphasizes what we are to truly put in place of all these evil things. Verse 14, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is what it’s all really about. The answer to all the sins that we are to put off comes in that we put on Christ in return. Now yes, we could go into the details of what this might look like worked out. Like we put off strife and put on peacemaking. Or we put off revelry and drunkenness and put on self-control and moderation and sobriety. We could say that, and indeed Paul gives examples like that elsewhere. But what an even more grand picture here to say to put on Christ. Because to say this, emphasizes grace. It reinforces how wonderfully God is at work even in our Christian growth; from start to finish. Put on Christ and his work and his grace. That will also have a transformative effect in your life.

Interestingly, Paul said in Galatians 3:27 that Christians have already put on Christ. Here, however, he commands Christians to put on Christ. The harmony is in what we said at the start. We said our salvation is something that’s happened in the past in our justification. It’s happening now in our sanctification. And it happens in the future in our glorification. And so we have put on Christ in the past when we first believed and were justified. And we now put on Christ in our sanctification. And we will put on Christ in our glorification when he returns, in the sense that then we will be fully conformed to his image and will be like him (1 John 3:2).

This is our wonderful, amazing, salvation, brothers and sisters. As much as we have a passage here that calls us to action in our Christian growth, yet it’s also a renewed call back to Christ. To faith and trust in him. Yes, we strive to put off our former sins and put on godly living. But we do it in Christ. In his strength. With those tools and weapons and armaments that he gives us. That we would see Christ formed within us. And so this message of godly living is a call to live for Christ. But it’s a call situated in the context of grace. Be clothed in Christ and his work. His work in the past on the cross to secure your atonement. His work in the current to sanctify you like himself. His work in the future to finish his work and bring us to glory. Be encouraged today as you seek to put on Christ.

And so put him on. Put him on in faith. Trust that he is there. Put him on by taking steps of faith — by trying to actually live godly, and trust he’ll equip you. Put him on in prayer. Put him on through worship and attending to the ordinances of the church. Put him on by reading and meditating on and talking about his Word all day long.

Let us close today with a final thought. The passage ends with a reference to make no provisions for the flesh to satisfy its lusts. The idea of the word provisions here is about planning ahead. Good planning in life is a good thing, except when your planning ahead for evil! And yet how thematic that is. This passage told us to know the time. What’s coming ahead is Christ’s return. Let us not plan ahead for evil. Let’s plan ahead for Christ’s return. Christ says that he’s planning ahead for that day by getting us the church ready as his bride. That he would present us to himself holy and blameless. Let us then put on Christ to that end. Let’s plan ahead with him. Like you are planning a wedding or a honeymoon, so to speak, because that is essentially the biblical imagery. And so let’s plan ahead for that great day by a grace-fueled pursuit of holiness. Let us be alert and awake and on the ready for that wonderful day. Plan ahead. Make provisions for that day. That day is approaching. It’s closer now than even at the start of the sermon! Praise the Lord! Amen.

Copyright © 2013 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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