We’ve been studying how Christians are to live together and in the world in light of offering our entire lives in sacrifice to God (Rom 12:1–2) as is our true and proper worship. We’ve found that if we love others the way Christ loves us, we will forgive them and give others the same undeserved grace we have received. Yesterday we discovered that love is our primary duty. “Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law… Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.” (Rom 13:8-10)
Paul has written from the start of chapter 12 through the previous verse describing what it means to live as a Christian on this side of eternity. Using a series of commands, many of them difficult to follow, Paul has painted a picture of a believer as a person who sets himself aside for the good of others and radically trusts God to provide all that is needed. Now Paul begins to describe why it is so essential for Christians to live this way: time is of the essence.
“Besides this, since you know the time, it is already the hour for you to wake up from sleep, because now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is nearly over, and the day is near; so let us discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk with decency, as in the daytime: not in carousing and drunkenness; not in sexual impurity and promiscuity; not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t make plans to gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Rom 13:11-14)
The schedule of day and night drastically controlled the world of Paul’s day. With no artificial lighting, firelight—feeble by modern standards—was all that stood between people and darkness. Most work stopped as soon as the sun went down and started again when the sun rose. Paul is urging Christians to see, in a spiritual metaphor, that the sun is about to rise. It’s time to get up. “Besides this, since you know the time, it is already the hour for you to wake up from sleep, because now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.” (v 11) Paul is referring to salvation in the sense that all who are in Christ will have reached eternity, that the time of ultimate victory and judgment is fast approaching.
Paul is building a sense of urgency about how Christians should live in this moment because the day of the Lord could come at any time. “The night is nearly over, and the day is near; so let us discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (v 12) Paul describes the moments when the sky turns gray and the birds begin to stir before the sun breaks the horizon. Spiritually, this symbolic moment began when death was defeated at the resurrection of Jesus. The world remains broken by sin, but the clock is ticking. Creation groans along with us as we wait for our adoption to be finalized and the redemption of our bodies (Rom 8:22–23). Because of the nearing daybreak, Paul writes, Christians must throw away any works of darkness, any of the worthless things we have done that belong to the night and not to the day.
Christians must prepare for the day by putting on the armaments of light. Paul introduces the concept of Christians taking a defensive position against the darkness rather than joining with it. Paul communicates this idea of the Christian life as a battle in several letters. He describes in detail the spiritual armor Christians are to take on as we stand against the forces of spiritual darkness (Eph 6:10-17). Those in Christ no longer belong to the night. We are people of light, and that must change how we live in this critical moment.
Now Paul describes the opposite lifestyle: deeds of darkness, in which those who follow Christ should no longer participate. “Let us walk with decency, as in the daytime: not in carousing and drunkenness; not in sexual impurity and promiscuity; not in quarreling and jealousy.” (v 13) These things don’t fit with who we are or the time in which we live. Paul urges us to walk as if it were daytime instead of taking part in the things that people usually do under the cover of darkness. Paul is urging us to notice that the sun is coming up, and Christians need a new way of living.
What does Paul suggest we do instead? “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t make plans to gratify the desires of the flesh.” (v 14) In verse 12, Paul told us to cast off the works of darkness. Instead, we will symbolically wear Jesus. In other words, our goal as Jesus-followers is to live as Jesus would live. That would include all of Paul’s commands and instructions in Romans 12 and 13. The opposite of this happens when we arrange our lives to satisfy our flesh.
When Paul uses the word “flesh,” he means all the human appetites we experience to feel good, to get what we want, and to be treated well. It’s not wrong to want any of those things, per se, but those cravings become sinful when we serve them above all others and are willing to harm others to gratify them. Instead, as Jesus did, we must put others first and trust God to provide for us in all other ways. Today is Good Friday, the day the Lord put His needs aside to make the only way to the Father for us. As we walk through this day, let us remember His great love for us, put Him “on” and truly love one another, and thus fulfill the law.
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