Living in Light of the Lord’s Return (Exposition of Romans 13:11-14)

What time is it? There are many different ways of telling time in our world today. There are the clocks and watches that have the hour, minute and second hands. There are digital clocks. Clocks on computers, cell phones and in handheld personal data devices. You can even purchase a satellite clock that keeps perfect time and can reset itself when there is a power outage. Did you know that your body has an internal clock that helps to regulate your sleep, mood and health? According to Dr. Teodor Postolache (a physician and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore) the human body has many clocks in its structures and cells, but the master clock is in the suprachiasmatic nucleus region of the brain’s hypothalamus. This clock is influenced by exposure to light. Managing exposure to light or certain intensities of light has been shown to help people whose body clocks might get out of whack from jet lag or night-shift work.

Just as our bodies clocks can be corrected by exposure to certain intensities of light, so also our spiritual clocks can be corrected by exposure to the light of God’s Word. This text helps us to reset ourselves to God’s timetable.

This morning’s text functions as an important clock that indicates exactly where we are in redemptive history. We sometimes get out of time and need to be reset. This text is our spiritual alarm clock.

In light of the time, we need to do three things: wake up from our sleep, cast off our sins and put on our Savior.

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. (12) 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. (13) Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. (14) But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. Romans 13:11-14

I. Wake Up! vv. 11-12a
Paul first exhorts us to wake up! Implied in this command is our tendency to be rocked to sleep by the redundancy of our day to day lives in this world. Our lives are so routined that we soon find ourselves in a rut. We get up at the same time. Eat the same food for breakfast. Go through the same morning rituals. Drive the same car, the same route to the same workplace. Do the same job for 8-10 hours. Get back in the same car drive the same route to the same house with the same family. Eat supper, watch tv, go to bed and start the routine all over again. And we’ve allowed the sameness of our lives to lull us to sleep. We’ve forgotten that Jesus is coming!

This is exactly what Peter predicted would be said by scoffers in the last days. He said in 2 Peter 3:4 that these scoffers would come and say:

Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.

It is from this condition of drowsiness that the apostle Paul calls us in this text.

The reason for this call to awake is clearly stated by Paul in these verses. It is the return of Christ! Jesus is coming! “Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep”! Paul states this in two different ways in vv. 11b and 12a. First, Paul says that “our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.”

There are three tenses to our salvation (past, present and future). We have been saved, that’s justification. We are being saved, that’s sanctification. We will be saved, that’s glorification. Here Paul is addressing the future tense of salvation. This is what Peter addressed in 1 Peter 1:3-5,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Likewise, the apostle Paul in Romans 8:23 speaks of this future salvation as that for which we “groan within ourselves”, i.e., “the redemption of the body.” Let me say that this day is closer now than it has ever been! And every second that ticks away takes us closer to the moment of Christ’s return!

In the New Testament, there are no predictions of the time of Christ’s return. There are only references to the certainty of the event and to the uncertainty of the timing. Both of these should be a motivation to being alert and ready!

But Paul states this truth in another way in v. 12a. Here he uses the image of night and day. He says, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” In this imagery “the night” represents the present evil age and “the day” represents the future glorious age. In other words, this present evil age ruled by Satan is almost over and the future glorious age under the reign of Christ is soon to come!

Historians used to speak of the Middle ages of world history as the “Dark Ages”. Here Paul uses that same language to refer to the entirety of the present evil age. We live in the dark ages, the night time, but the day is about to dawn!

On the basis of the twin truths of the day of our salvation being nearer than when we first believed and the image of night fading into day, Paul exhorts us to wake up! Realize that Paul was writing into a society with no artificial lighting therefore their days were governed by the sun. In this setting, people rose at dawn. Only the lazy would remain in bed after the sun was up. This was especially important in the Near East, where most of the work needed to be completed before the heat of the afternoon sun. In other words, this appeal would have been understood by Paul’s Roman audience. They would have understood that Paul meant by this language that they should wake up!

II. Cast Off!, vv. 12b-13
Paul not only says that we should wake up in light of the time, he also says we must cast off our night garments! This night garments are called “the works of darkness” in v. 12b and are described more fully in v. 13.

In verse 13 three pairs of sins are listed. The first pair are sins of drunkenness (revelry and drunkenness). The second pair are sexual sins (lewdness and lust). The third pair are social sins (strife and envy). This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but a representative one. As believers who are living in light of the Lord’s return, this sins should be cast off from us! Paul says of a similar list in Ephesians 5:3 “let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints”!

The second coming is a common motivation to personal holiness in the New Testament. Instead of being an excuse to sat back and take it easy, it is a powerful motivation to holy living! In 1 John 3:2-3 the Bible says,

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (3) And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

It’s interesting that Paul points back to what Christ has done for us in his first coming in Romans 12:1-2 as a motivation to practical Christian living, but in this text he points forward to the return of Christ as a motivation to practical Christian living. The message is that both the first and second comings of Christ should serve as a motivation to holiness in our lives as believers!

Paul is using the metaphor of casting off clothing in Romans 13. There is certain clothing that is appropriate for the night time, but that would not be practical for the activities of the day. I’m not wearing this morning what I slept in last night. You don’t wear your night clothes to work or anywhere else, I hope. Construction workers don’t wear their pajamas to work! But the contrast is even greater than this! Paul says that instead of pajamas, we need to put on armor (see v. 12c)! As believers waiting for the return of Christ, we’re in a war against sin and Satan! We can’t afford to be comfortable in regard to sin!

Jesus is coming! Therefore, we need to wake up from the slumber of sin and cast off the garments of the night!

III. Put On!, vv. 12c, 13a and 14
But Paul doesn’t stop there. We’re not only called to wake up and cast off, we’re also called to put on something! We’ve already seen that we are called to “put on the armor of light” (v. 12c). The Christian religion does not call us merely to “cast off”, but also to “put on”. Some think of Christianity as only a list of “don’ts”. I sometimes feel that way about my relationship to my kids. It seems like the only thing I’m saying to them is “No!” But Christianity says more than “No!” It also says “Yes!” to some things! Here Paul calls us to “put on the armor of light” and to “walk properly, as in the day” (v. 13a). What does this expression mean? Well, Paul has already said in verse 12 that “the day is at hand”. In other words, the eternal day of God’s forever kingdom of righteousness is just about to dawn. Therefore, Paul says that we (who are citizens of that future kingdom) should live now as if we were already in the day! We should seek to live just as holy now as we think we will in that day! Paul spells out the means for living this way in verse 14. This is the parallel expression to Paul’s exhortation in v. 12c to “put on the armor of light”. It is to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”!

But what does this mean? It means that “we are consciously to embrace Christ in such a way that his character is manifested in all that we do and say” (Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, pp. 825-826). In other words we are to act like Jesus! The rest of verse 14 spells out what is involved in “acting like Jesus.”

A few years ago, bracelets with the letters WWJD (standing for “What Would Jesus Do?” became popular). Let me say, that question is not the essence of Christianity. The essence of Christianity is WDJD “What Did Jesus Do?” However, the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” can be a helpful one in determining how we are to live by the ethics of the future age in this present evil age. This is what Paul is calling us to in this passage. Paul spells out the specifics of what Jesus would do or not do in this text (see v. 13). But specifically it is spelled out in the second half of verse 14. Paul there urges us to “make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” One commentator said that this meant “Do not plan for sin; give it no welcome; offer it no opportunity. Kick the sin off your doorstep and you won’t have it in the house” (K.J. Foreman quoted in The Epistle to the Romans by Leon Morris, p. 474).

Don’t play with sin any more than you would play with a poisonous snake! Sin will destroy you! Kill it before it kills you!

So, what time is it? Paul says in this morning’s text that it is time to wake up, cast off and put on!

Now this text was intended for believers to prepare for the return of Christ. However, there are some of you who are not yet believers in Christ and you need to apply this text to yourselves. One of the greatest theologians in the history of the church, St. Augustine, became a believer after an encounter with this very text. Here is Augustine’s own account of his conversion:

I flung myself down beneath a fig tree and gave way to the tears which now streamed from my eyes…In my misery I kept crying, “How long shall I go on saying ‘tomorrow, tomorrow’? Why not now? Why not make an end of my ugly sins at this moment?” …All at once I heard the singsong voice of a child in a nearby house. Whether it was the voice of a boy or a girl I cannot say, but again and again it repeated the refrain “Take it and read, take it and read.” At this I looked up, thinking hard whether there was any kind of game in which children used to chant words like these, but I could not remember ever hearing them before. I stemmed my flood of tears and stood up, telling myself that this could only be a divine command to open my book of Scripture and read the first passage on which my eyes should fall.

So I hurried back …seized [the book of Paul’s epistles] and opened it, and in silence I read the first passage on which my eyes fell: “Not in reveling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrels and rivalries. Rather, arm yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ; spend no more thought on nature and nature’s appetites” (Romans 13:13-14). I had no wish to read more and no need to do so. For in an instant, as I came to the end of the sentence, it was as though the light of confidence flooded into my heart and all the darkness of doubt was dispelled.
From John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, p. 53

What time is it? Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:2,

Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.


  1. Steve,
    Stumbled on to your site while looking for verses relating to “this present time we are in” while waiting for our Lord’s return. Thanks for 2 Corinthians 6:2. I can not wait to come back to your site when I have more time.. I’ll tell other’s to visit . God bless you

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