Do You Know What Time It Is? Back to all sermons
Date: November 23, 2012
Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Scripture: Romans 13:8–13:14
When our sons still lived at home, our morning routine followed a very predictable pattern on school mornings. My alarm would go off. I would get up and go to the door of the bedroom of one of our sons and open it. Now I am not very creative or talkative that early in the morning, so I would usually say the same thing. “Dennis, it’s 6:30!” Once I had some acknowledgment that he’d heard me, I would go to the next door and say, “Drew, it’s 6:30!”
Why did I say that? Why did they care what time it was? Later on, as our morning routine progressed, if one or the other had not made an appearance on schedule, I might shout up the stairs: “Drew, Dennis, do you know what time it is?”
Why this preoccupation with time in our home in the morning? Well, time is connected with action, isn’t it? Certain times require certain actions. And in a well-used routine, if we know what time it is, we know what actions are required of us.
In the last half of Romans 13, Paul reminds us as Christians what time it is. Because he makes this same assumption; that if we know what time it is, we will know what actions are required. In Romans 13:11, we read: Besides this you know the time. We could render that phrase this way: “And do this, because you know the time…”
In this passage, Paul is using this reference to time to build in us a sense of urgency. Paul actually uses three different phrases to emphasize the urgency of his instructions.
In verse 11 he says, the hour has come.Actually he uses the word “already”. “The hour is already…” There is something about that word “already” that creates a sense of urgency. In our house in the morning, if we were really running behind, I might call out, “It is already 7:15!” In other words, we should already be out the door and in the car. Things are now urgent. There is no more time for waiting or for procrastination.
The second phrase he uses is the night is far gone, in verse 12.
This is linked with the third phrase: the day is at hand. The day is almost here.
So, what time is it? We know it is urgent: “The hour is already. The night is far gone. The day is at hand.” All of these phrases create a sense of urgency, a sense of hurry; time is passing, time is short, time is almost gone. But what is the hour? What is the day? What time is Paul referring to? He makes it clear in the second half of verse 11: For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.
But wait a minute! I thought we were already saved. I thought that our salvation was a completed transaction when we trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior. Here I think it is helpful to think of salvation as having three tenses; past, present and future. And once again I am going to attach these tenses to three big theological terms.
First of all, our salvation has a past tense. We have been saved. This refers to our justification, when we were declared righteous before God’s court based on our belief (faith) in Christ and his atoning sacrifice for our sins. We might also refer to this as our salvation from the penalty of sin. This is a completed work. This is why Paul could write in Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” The penalty for our sins has been removed.
Secondly, our salvation has a present tense. We are being saved. This refers to our sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which we are made righteous as we are transformed from the inside out by the work of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. We might also refer to this as our salvation from the power of sin. Sin no long reigns over us as we learn to walk in the power of the Spirit.
But there is still a third tense. Our salvation has a future tense. We will be saved. This refers to our glorification, when we receive our glorified bodies and reign forever with Christ. We might also refer to this as our salvation from the presence of sin. All trace of sin and the desires of the flesh will be forever removed when we receive our new bodies which will be like Christ’s own resurrected and glorified body.
It is this final and future tense of our salvation to which Paul refers in this verse; this final tense of our salvation which is the culmination of God’s entire work of salvation in the believer’s life. This is the salvation that is nearer to us than when we first believed. Of course, none of us knows exactly when that moment shall occur. It can come in two ways. It can come at the glorious return of our Savior to the earth. Or it may come individually when a believer dies and goes immediately into the presence of the Lord. Either way, that time is unknown to us. But either way, we do know this: that day, that hour is nearer now than it was when we first believed. Time is passing.
The passing of time becomes a concern only when it is linked to some kind of action. Flash back to our home in the morning. In those days, the day off from school and work used to be Thursday. On a typical Thursday morning, 6:30 came and went, 7:30, 8:30… No alarm, no call at the door, no urgency. It was a day off from school. No action was called for, so the time did not matter.
So having built on Paul’s sense of urgency, let us look at the action that is called for.
Verse 11 opens with the words, Besides this you know the time. This is linked with the previous verses. Translations vary here because the original language in the text literally reads simply “And this because you know the time…” He is referring back to his instructions in verses 8-10 and giving them a sense of urgency by noting the passing of time. We might link it up this way, “If you know what time it is, you know what to do…”
So what do we learn in these preceding verses? What action is called for? What is the “this” we will obey if we know the time? In this passage, Paul is painting in the broadest of possible terms. He is painting with a very broad brush. In light of the urgency of passing time, in verses 8-10, we are called to walk in love.
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
This teaching both simplifies the law and expands it. It simplifies the law, because we have difficulty remembering a whole list of commandments. But we can all remember this single, all-inclusive commandment; to love your neighbor as you love yourself.
But this teaching also expands the law because no list of commandments could ever include every possible human situation or circumstance. It is too easy to say, “There is no commandment against this. I didn’t break any laws or commandments.” Maybe not. But was it a loving thing to do?
This is not new teaching, by the way. The command to love your neighbor as yourself is originally found in Leviticus 19:18. In long rabbinical debates, the Jewish teachers had correctly discerned that this was the most important commandment in the Law. Jesus himself, when asked which was the most important commandment, replied,
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Paul is calling us back here to Jesus’ own teaching. Correctly obey this command, and all other laws become unnecessary. The basic premise is simple, as Paul tells us. Love, in its simplest definition, does no harm or wrong to a neighbor. Look at these commands, taken by the way, from the second table of the Ten Commandments. They are a list of ways to harm people. Adultery, murder, stealing, coveting; all are actions that harm others. True love, genuine love does not engage in actions that harm other people. So these are things we will not do if we love our neighbor. And any other commandment you can think of governing our relationship with other people can be summarized in this one commandment. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Treat him or her the same way you want to be treated yourself. It is a simple but profound moral and ethical principle.
“Do this,” Paul urges us, “because you know the time.” As followers of Christ whose bodies have been placed on the altar as living sacrifices, this is how we are called to live. Walk in love. This is what transformed living looks like. This is what happens when we allow the Spirit of God to transform us from the inside out and make us righteous. Walk in love. This is the command that sums up all the other commands. Walk in love. Do it now. Do it, because you know what time it is.
There is another simple command that Paul uses to summarize the kind of life that we are to live if we understand the time. We are to walk in light. This is the emphasis of the second paragraph in front of us this morning.
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. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
In this case, Paul is using his language and imagery of knowing the time to double effect. There is the sense of urgency: hour, now, already, almost, nearly. But there is also the imagery of night and day, darkness and light and slumber and wakefulness. In this imagery, the darkness is the night of sin from which we are emerging. Light and day represent the righteousness of Jesus Christ and the life style we are now called to live. As those who are emerging from the night into the day, we are called to wake up from slumber. As the day approaches, there are certain things we are to take off; things that belong to the night. And there are certain things we are to put on; things appropriate to the new day that is dawning.
What are the “works of darkness” that we are called to cast off? Paul uses three couplets to describe the kinds of behavior or lifestyle which are no longer appropriate to those of us who belong to the day.
Orgies and drunkenness. These terms together depict a life of over-indulgence and excess; ill discipline, too much food, too much alcohol, party after party with no thought for tomorrow. “Eat, drink and be merry!” is the rallying cry. “Cast that off!” Paul says. “That is behavior that belonged to the night, but we are now children of the day.”
Sexual immorality and sensuality. Included here are all the sins of a sexual nature, both in thought and action. Sex and sexual relations are a precious gift from God which he intends to be exercised within the boundaries of monogamous marriage. God has not changed his mind about that. The “new normal” is not normal to God, no matter how many people are doing it. Whether it is indulging in internet pornography, premarital sex, extramarital sex, homosexual relations or any other departure from God’s revealed will, these are behaviors and patterns of thought and action which we are called to cast off. They belong to the night, but morning has come.
Quarreling and jealousy. The first word in this couplet describes conflict resulting from rivalry or discord. The second one describes an extremely strong feeling of resentment and jealousy. All the common quarrels of life and the seething emotions that cause them can be included here. How many Christians clear the hurdles posed by the first two categories rather smugly, only to find themselves tripping over this one? It is sad to say, but church fights can turn really nasty. When we Christians get embroiled in a conflict, we can be as mean and vindictive as anyone. Just about the time we wrap our superior standards of personal discipline and sexual morality around us like a pharisaical robe, we turn and blast a fellow believer out of the water for some real or imagined slight or difference of opinion. As the Scripture says to us elsewhere, “Brothers and sisters, these things ought not so to be.” Quarreling and jealousy need to go. They belong to the night. “Take them off,” we are told. “It’s time to wake up and put on the attire appropriate to the new day.”
This is what we are to take off. What are we to put on? First we are told to put on the “armor of light.” The word for armor is used to describe all the implements of a soldier, both offensive and defensive. I don’t think we should press the image here or try to be too specific. Paul does that elsewhere, in Ephesians 6, using this same word. Here Paul is speaking in general terms. Take up and put on all that is appropriate to the day; all that is characteristic of light rather than darkness. Another way of saying it is found in the next verse: “walk properly as in the daytime.” Don’t rush out in your pajamas or nighttime attire. Get dressed for the day.
Then Paul summarizes it all in the most powerful and evocative image possible in the final verse. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. I’ve been meditating on this phrase all this week. To me, this is the most beautiful and complete description of sanctification in the whole Bible. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ! All the character qualities that Jesus himself displayed when he walked on earth – put them on! His humility, his love, his compassion, his holiness, his devotion to prayer, his gentleness, his response to evil. As I was wrapping up the sermon two weeks ago on Romans 12:9-21, I challenged you to reread the passage as a description of the character of Jesus himself. Here we are again. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ! He is the ultimate model of walking in the light. A number of years ago, a movement swept across many churches (at least in America). Christians started wearing bracelets or other items with the initials WWJD. What Would Jesus Do? I would affirm that desire. Jesus is indeed our perfect model.
But there is also a risk here. If we simply take this as a list of character qualities that we do our best to imitate, then we are making a big mistake. We are doomed to failure. Jesus is a perfect model, but we are woefully unable to imitate him in our own efforts and our own strength. When Paul tells us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” I believe there is more involved than just imitating his character. He is telling us to actually “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” You see, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, now lives inside us. We are called, by faith, to allow him to live out the life of Christ through us, as we yield daily to him.
Paul describes this in slightly different terms in Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Do you see that? “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” I believe that is what Paul has in mind when he tells us to “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Our outward behavior begins to resemble the life of Christ because we are submitting to his rule in our hearts and allowing him to live his life through us. Galatians, by the way, was written to believers who, having been justified by faith in Christ, now thought they could be sanctified by human effort and by trying to keep the law by their own efforts. It is a mistake. We must never separate our desire to emulate Jesus in character from our passion to walk with him in close relationship.
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what it means to be sanctified, and that is the only way to be sanctified. It is a description of both the goal and the process.
Paul ends with one final caveat or warning: and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Do you ever do that? Do you find yourself planning ahead, in some secret area of your heart and mind, for some forbidden indulgence of the old nature? An obvious example of this is the alcoholic who decides to quit drinking, but before he quits, he hides a bottle of his favorite beverage “just in case.” What is your Achilles heel of weakness, and how do you make allowance for indulging it? I found written in the margin of my study notes these words: “Stop sin in the planning stages.”
Walk in love. Walk in the light. That is our calling. This is the new life we are called to live. This is what sanctification looks like. This is Christian ethics at its most profound and most fundamental. I doubt that I have said anything in my sermon today that you have not heard many times before. But I want to end by coming back to where we began and the sense of urgency the Paul injects into this passage. I believe most of us as Christians have good intentions. We applaud high standards. We say a hearty “Amen!” to these kinds of sermons. But in our hearts, in our secret lives where no one else can see, we are procrastinators. We are often victims of a deep spiritual inertia. We are like a teen ager who doesn’t want to get up for school. We desperately cling to the last vestiges of sleep and slumber; one last dream. To us, Paul is calling. Wake up! Don’t you know what time it is? The night is far gone; the day is at hand…cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
1. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10) In the message, Pastor Cam states that this both simplifies and expands the law. What did he mean by that? In what ways does this simplify the law? In what ways does it expand the law?
2. Share examples of ways that you have (or should have) applied this during the past week? What are some ways you may need to apply this principle in the coming week?
3. Romans 13:11-12 contains a number references to time and the urgency of passing time? What is the time Paul refers to? Why does this lend an urgency to his teaching?
4. In Romans 13:13, Paul lists 3 categories of behavior that he labels “works of darkness”. What are they? Give examples of behavior that fit under each category. What other types of behavior might be listed as works of darkness?
5. What does it mean to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”? What are some ways we can do that?
6. Give some examples of ways we as Christians might “make provision for the flesh”?
7. Think (and share together) some of the challenges you anticipate in the coming week. Spend some time praying for one another and the week ahead as you seek to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”