Lesson 52: Romans 13:11-14
by Bob Burridge ©2012
Long ago, in 386 AD, in Milan, Northern Italy, a 32 year old man sat in tears in a garden. He had been well educated, but much of it was forced upon him by beatings. When he left home to study Rhetoric in Carthage, he lived the way many do once they are out of the house and on their own. He lived for his own good pleasures for the moment. His mother Monica, was a Christian and deeply grieved over her son’s disregard for God’s ways.
In trying to find satisfaction he dug into the philosophers to satisfy his mind. He lived with a woman and had a son with her, though they were not married. His sinful ways, far from satisfying him, came to deeply convict him of his lostness though still mixed with a bit of insincerity. He remembered praying, “Give me chastity and self-restraint — only not yet.”
In time his way of life tore at his heart. He found it hard to go on any longer that way. But he was filled with questions — how could he really change? How long would this go on? “How long? How long?”, he repeated.
Broken and devastated by his life he wept in that garden, knowing his life was an offense to God. With bitter tears overtaking him he threw himself to the ground under a fig tree.
He became aware of a sound coming from a neighboring house. It was a child’s voice repeating the Latin words, “Tolle, lege, tolle, lege,” which means “take up, read, take up, read.” He didn’t know if it was some child’s poem or a game they were playing, but it turned his mind to a book he had been reading. He put it down back in the garden where earlier he had been talking with a friend. His tears let up for the moment. With anticipation he ran back to that bench and opened the book. He had been reading the Book of Romans.
It opened to Romans 13 and his eyes focused first on verses 13 and 14 where he read, “Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”
When he later wrote about this moment he said, “No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.”
He ran to find his friend and told him of this calm God had put into his heart. He found a new trust in God who Sovereignly had redeemed him by Christ alone.
He then ran to tell his mother Monica who had been praying earnestly for him every day. In his record of this he said that she “leaped for joy” at the conversion of her son. Then he told his girlfriend he could no longer live with her unmarried. He determined to live as becomes one redeemed by so great a love. His mother did not live long after his conversion, but she died at peace.
His life was only beginning. He became the Bishop of Hippo, the greatest of the Church Fathers. We know him today as St. Augustine.
He struggled hard to build his life and faith upon the teachings of Scripture alone. He prayerfully interpreted and applied the texts of the Bible by comparing Scripture with Scripture, not by combining it with the questionable logic and observations of man, church, or philosophy. He laid the foundation for the Reformation that took place over a thousand years after his death.
Augustine understood that all humans fell into sin by representation in the fall of Adam, that they all are therefore totally depraved, that salvation was an act of grace alone extended to the undeserving elect of God, and that the grace of God was irresistible.
He understood that the only reliable foundation for truth and belief was the Bible applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit, and that man’s reason alone could only lead to probabilities, not to reliable truth.
Augustine was the first to articulate what today we call Calvinism, Reformed Theology, and Presuppositional Apologetics. It was his writings which alerted Martin Luther to the errors of Rome, and led John Calvin to see an clarify what God had revealed to us in his word. His life turned upon these words from our text today, powerful words of God.
Paul had just made the point in the last section that love is the fulfilling of God’s law. The next few verses continue that thought.
Romans 13:11-14, “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. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
Paul uses the imagery of night and day.
He tells us that the night is over, and the daytime has started, so it’s time to wake up from our sleep. To understand Paul’s point we need to know what the night is in this context. We need to know what day is at hand? We need to understand how our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.
Night is often used in the Bible to describe the darkness of sin that encloses us. Day is often used for the relief from that night, our victory over sin and its darkness.
The word “salvation” means deliverance from some kind of danger. It may be either salvation from physical harm, or of the soul from condemnation. The Bible uses the same word to refer to many types of deliverance. The outward delivering of people or nations from physical harm takes place by God’s providence and sovereign care. The deliverance of the soul comes in several stages.
First, we see the beginning of our salvation in the ancient and eternal decree of God who knew his own before creation itself. Then in the unfolding of history, the salvation of God’s people from sin’s guilt was secured by Jesus in his earthly work which was completed on the cross. Individuals are delivered applicationally by the work of the Holy Spirit at the moment of their regeneration.
However, though they are delivered at that moment from the dominion of sin, from it’s guilt and penalty, they are not yet fully delivered from sin’s influence in their lives. There is a daily deliverance as individuals overcome sin and grow in holiness to become more and more like Christ. This continuing salvation from the presence of sin will one day be completed in the presence of Jesus when this life is over.
So which salvation is Paul talking about here? Which is “nearer than when we first believed,” and corresponds to the night becoming day?
It cannot be the dawn of the era of salvation coming to the Gentiles as some suggest. That idea does not fit Paul’s theme here as he talks about putting off the works of darkness in our lives. It is also strained to fit that in with this deliverance being nearer than when an individual was regenerated and first believed.
It cannot be a reference to the individual salvation of Christians when they become born again. Paul and his readers had experienced that already. The salvation of regeneration was not just closer than when they first believed. It was completed when they first believed.
The promise of our continuing victory over sin is the deliverance that seems to fit best here. We should be growing spiritually and becoming more and more conformed to the ways that honor our Creator and Savior. The fulness of our deliverance when this life is over is secured by his promise. The darkness of our past sinful ways must be set aside. We need to dress in our work clothes and get busy with the spiritual work given to us by our Redeemer. An analogy is being drawn with our common experience of getting up to get ready for the work we must do each day to provide and maintain the things we need to stay alive.
Paul wrote of being saved more and more from sin’s effects in Ephesians 5:8-10, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.”
He calls his readers to wake up out of their moral laziness. It’s time for work. Others are up and about all around us, and we have a job to do for Christ. It is not right for us to keep sleeping on, and living in our dream world of false pleasures.
When we neglect our duty of growing in Christ we are ineffective in our work of advancing God’s Kingdom. If we have no interest in loving the principles he calls upon us to respect and obey, it shows that we have no real love for Christ as he really is. This was Paul’s point in the previous section of this chapter.
Peter warned about this duty in 2 Peter 3. In verse 11 he wrote, “… what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness.” Then in verse 14 he said, “… be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.”
He tells us to take off the clothing of our former ways.
Romans 13:12-13, “… Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.”
But wait! Is there something wrong with the text here? Put off revelry? drunkenness? lewdness? lust? strife? envy? Isn’t he writing to Christian believers in the church at Rome? Yes — he certainly is.
Make no mistake. The church is not made up of people perfected in holiness. Though they are redeemed by grace, and declared holy in Christ, there is still a lot of growing to do to conform personally to his perfect holiness.
The Christian life is a process, not just a one-time event. Salvation from hell happens all at once when we come to Christ, but salvation from the effects of sin is a daily battle here in this life. As we put on the right clothing, we are told to take off the inappropriate outfit.
Paul gives a list summarizing some of the clothes appropriate for the night, the darkness of sin, clothes that ought to be removed as we wake up to get busy with the day work of the believer.
1. Do not be engaged in revelry.
In our lost condition, the soul enjoys careless and wild living. The believer should put off those things which cater to impure and unbridled passions.
Our parties, get-togethers and evening outings should honor Christ, and remain within the bounds of moral behavior and honorable conduct. We must never put ourselves into places where we will confuse our love for God’s law, or become tempted to indulge in conversation, humor, or immoralities that grieve our Lord.
2. Do not be involved in drunkenness.
Abuse of alcohol and drugs darkens the mind. It dulls the wits and judgment. Its results have destroyed individuals and families. To become intoxicated or “high” is inappropriate for those claiming to live for Christ’s glory.
Proverbs 23:30 warns us not to be among “… those who linger long at the wine.” When that which we take in begins to cloud our thinking, its final effects can be deadly. In verses 32-33 it says, “At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, And your heart will utter perverse things.”
3. Don’t be taken in by lewdness and lust.
Sexual sins strike at the heart of what God establishes as the family. The 7th commandment does not only warn spouses against sexual infidelity. Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount that God’s word forbids even sexual fantasies and impure thoughts. All sexual pleasures outside of marriage are dishonorable to Christ and defy God’s law.
Today, sexual activity is no longer seen by many as a moral issue. The believer should not let this cultural attitude effect his life. The temptations of pornography in its many forms, sensual humor, open sex, and homosexuality, are destroying lives and weakening communities.
The person who engages in sex in any way outside of a biblical marriage is a danger to the church. Proverbs 23:27-28 warns, “For a harlot is a deep pit, And a seductress is a narrow well. She also lies in wait as for a victim, And increases the unfaithful among men.”
Like a deep pit, such sexual addictions are hard escape. The believer must do the hard thing and change out of those garments. Otherwise the person will suffer deep pain in the soul, and undermine the foundation of society. Such things offend the eyes of God, the One whom we say we love.
4. Do not be identified with strife and envy.
We live in a world of tension. Law suits, arguments, hatred, jealousy, coveting, and envy are found everywhere. The Christian has no justification for giving in to such things.
Proverbs 23:29 continues the discussion about the dangers of sexual immorality and overindulgence in wine. It points out the tragedy it brings into the lives of all those effected by moral rebellion, “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes?”
These are not the ways of the child of the living God. However, Scripture shows that believers are not immune to these kinds of activities.
Today, society calls these victimless crimes. They say it is no one else’s business how we party, drink , use drugs, or have sex. We are taught that jealousy and envy are the secrets of getting ahead, that man was made to party and indulge his urges. They tell us that these are personal and private matters. They condemn us as unworthy of respect, if we question what they call alternate life styles. Real moral conviction has become like leprosy to many in today’s society. However, God in his Bible does not call them alternate ways of life. God calls them sin. They are the deeds of darkness.
They may be the trendy and seasonal fashions of the world, but they are not to be clothing for the children of God to be wearing around. Real joy and satisfaction are not found in sinful behaviors.
Paul tells us to replace those old outfits
with ones that please God.
Romans 13:12, “… let us put on the armor of light.”
The Lord does not just tell us what we should not wear. We are not to be just nothing, to do nothing, and to desire nothing. Once we put off the evil, we are to put on the wardrobe that pleases God. We should be clothed in Christ which should show in our attitudes and attributes. We put on our work clothes and get busy living for our Redeemer’s glory.
Of course he is not talking about fashion and fabrics here. He means we are to conduct ourselves in a modest, decent, and becoming manner. As we go out to do the work of the day, we ought to be clothed in the good moral attire that humbly demonstrates Christ at work in us to do what we freely admit we cannot do, and would not do on our own.
The Bible often represents the attributes of godliness in terms of clothing we put on.
Isaiah 61:10, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
1 Thessalonians 5:8, “But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.”
Ephesians 6:14-18 describes the armor of God we wear in battle with evil. It says, “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints”
The items of clothing are sometimes different in each account. Each biblical writer uses them to illustrate different things. What we are to put on are these: salvation, the righteousness of Christ, faith, hope, love, God’s word, the truth, the Gospel, and prayer. This is the uniform of those who live in the daytime when we go out to work for the Lord. This is the armor of light. We need to put on the whole wardrobe, the things of Christ. We have no need to dig out the old costumes of foolish and hurtful living.
Since Jesus was perfect God as well as perfect man, and since he is our perfect example, we are told to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. We must read about Him, learn about Him. We must set our goal to be like Him, but not by imagining that the ability and power to do so comes from ourselves. We draw upon his promises that when we truly long to be like Jesus, he shows his love at work in our hearts, and moves us to strongly desire to overcome our sinful ways.
Paul says about the same thing in Ephesians 4:22-24, “that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”
These characteristics are the only proper clothing for God’s children. All other outfits are but filthy rags, mere fig leaves needing to be replaced by God’s provision.
We should not make any provision for the flesh regarding its lusts. Do not keep the old outfit hanging in the back of the closet. Don’t set up occasions where you are likely to lapse into problems you have struggled with before. Don’t go to the parties and places where there will be immoral themes that will entice you. Don’t put yourself in sexually tempting situations or indulge them in your mind as if just imagining them was exempted. Jesus made it clear that the sins of the heart are contrary to the moral principles God built into his universe.
When you get out of those old patterns of life and thought, don’t be like Lot’s wife. Don’t look back. Make sure you are not leaving that foot in the door to keep it from closing all the way. Don’t leave open any provision for breaking God’s law.
Don’t involve yourself in the envy and contentious ways of the world. If success requires you to be rude, covetous, and ruthless, then what good it is? The world has its own rewards, but they are like cancer in the soul.
Instead, make provisions for righteous living. Make a plan in advance for when you are lonely, depressed, or driven by impure urges. Know what you will try to do and where you will go to avoid being taken in by temptations. Go to those you know are redeemed by God’s grace and who can pray with you and encourage you to honor what is good and right.
In Galatians 5:16 Paul wrote, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” This is the positive remedy God gives us in his word. When we put on the clothes of christian virtue, and become engaged in them, there is no nakedness of the soul needing the other filthy garments that insult God.
If Christ is loved and his ways known and practiced, as Archbishop Leighton once said, “What need you go a-begging elsewhere?”
This text in Romans is the one that changed the licentious Augustine. One of his most famous prayers to God is, “Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.”
This is one of those duties for the believer. God says “take off” the evil, and “put on” Christ. It is not to be a passive change where we excuse our sins and lazy attitudes because we are unable to do that which is good on our own. We are told in these places to get busy and do what God tells us to do. These are among those “ought statements” in the Bible.
This is an area which often confuses believers. How can we strive to be obedient to God when we are told that we can do nothing good. Are we to wait to see Christ force us to do good things? That would be contrary to the facts of Scripture. We are told to do things for God’s glory. The Bible speaks of good actions of the Apostles and disciples, that they are really the doers of what they do. When we dismiss our lack of effort on the grounds that we are unable, we neglect the command and promise of God that by the power of the Risen Redeemer his rescued children are brought back into fellowship with God and made able to glorify him.
Yes, Jesus is the cause within us for our good desires, words and deeds. But we are not like an avatar in a computer game, or a robot programmed and controlled to do things it has no real desire to do. We are real persons who are made to love God and to desire his glory. Though it is always imperfect, it is that life put into us by grace that makes us able to live again spiritually. These are liberating “oughts”. God gets all the glory but we rejoice that we are made to be willing tools in his loving hands.
Christ-likeness cannot be put on until Christ is in the heart. “Clothes don’t make the man” as they say. But for the person to say Christ is inside, and for it not to show, is inconsistent with the promises God makes to us who are redeemed by his grace.
Do as did that future great Christian, while he fell wailing with tears in the garden. Stop the deeds that destroy. Put on Christ. Make no provisions for lusts. God’s promises have changed many before. He can change you and your loved ones too.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)