We’re back into Romans after two weeks looking at how Jesus addresses our greatest need (Mark 2): forgiveness of sin and the call to follow him! What does it mean to follow Jesus? How would you explain to a child what following Jesus means? Perhaps Romans 13:8-14 can help…
Romans 1:16-17 tells us that the power of God is in the gospel – the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ and of God’s great love toward us sinners. From chapter one till chapter twelve, Paul explored the ins and outs of the gospel. He desperately wants us to know it, to believe it and to be knocked over by it!
Romans 12:1-2 transitions to Paul telling us how we should now live. Christians are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The way we think, directs the way we live. The gospel alters our perspective on… everything! Life changes for all who confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
Romans 13:1-7 spoke about our involvement in the affairs of this life. We are to respect and honour our governments and give to them whatever we owe. Their laws are to be obeyed in order to live at peace. The subject of law and debt leads poetically to the next passage.
The passage can easily be seen to break into two major sections: 8-10 and 11-14; Love fulfills the law and Don’t live like people of darkness but of the day. These sections could be broken down smaller like this…
- Verse 8: the command is to love one another
- Verses 9-10: This is not a new commandment but the fulfilment of the whole.
- Verses 11-12a: There’s no time left for sleeping.
- Verses 12b-13: Take off the characteristic of this age – don’t be like those who live in darkness.
- Verse 14: But put on Jesus Christ.
Verse 8. Debt and law casually link this verse to the previous section. It’s a nice play on words. Going from submitting to the authorities and whatever laws they place over us – and from the command to give to everyone what you owe them – he carries those into the theme of the whole scriptures and that is to love one another. The laws tell us to love and the only debt outstanding for us is love. This is the only debt that we will never pay off.
The image compares the many debts that we can tick off our list and be done with – compared to the virtue which we owe to everybody and which can never reach a credit balance. The love tank is never full. There is no clock-off time for love. Love is eternal – the language of God.
Verses 9-10. Each of the commandments listed in these verses tell us what we are not to do in relation to other people and their possessions. These commandments warn us against two things, 1) by breaking these commandments we demonstrate absence of love – that is our brokenness, 2) by breaking these commandments we are hurting others – that is our broken relationship with others. Each of them shows the absence of care for other people.
Love does no harm to a neighbour. This is a true statement but the love that we show to our neighbour will not always be seen as loving. Preaching the gospel – even in the most sensitive and compassionate way – can and is likely to result in brokenness. Jesus said that the world will hate us because it hated him first. Jesus said that when we do good, it will not result in us being praised, but that our Father in heaven will be praised (Matthew 5).
Love is the future. Whether our neighbour wants to follow us into this future is between them and God.
But, the logic of Paul, without bringing in other bible context, is that we know what the law says because the law, no matter what laws you can think of, all point to love as the answer.
Verses 11-12a. The imagery is nice: the day is coming and the night is nearly over, it’s time to stop sleeping. It’s like the alarm has gone off and Paul tells us not to press the snooze button. The work is too important to sleep longer. The image is of the sun barely breaking the horizon. While the rest of the world sleeps, we arise to live.
Jesus’ words resonate here: “Repent and believe the good news for the kingdom of God is at hand.” There is no time to waste. When a great band is coming to town that you desperately want to see, you sit by the phone or computer when the tickets are about to go on sale. There’s an urgency and a desperation to get what you desire. You snooze, you lose. Well, salvation has come and we know that the gospel points forward to our hope which is eternal life with God in peace. This is where our destination lies and it’s time to live like it is started.
The OT speaks of the day of the Lord and the NT reveals that this day comes in two stages: the first and second coming of Jesus. They are both referred to as the day of the LORD. We live in the age after the first coming and waiting for the second. Paul tells us not to wait for the second to get cracking.
When you’re travelling on the train and your destination is Central. You may have slept from Macarthur or Campbelltown stations all the way to Redfern. But when you know that your destination is nearing, you wake up and stand and head toward the door. You begin to walk as though you have reached the destination even though the train is still moving. There are weaknesses in this illustration but I think there is some usefulness in it.
Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Firstly, the gospel saves and those who turn to Christ in faith are already part of his kingdom. Praise God that it’s the work of God that brings salvation. We can be assured of our salvation because God has got it covered in the Lord Jesus. He is a sure bet – to put it crassly. But we live in this darkened age where the number of true believers is few and we go into battle every day against the enemy who loves us to fail in love. Our salvation will be complete when Christ calls us home. Home with him. Home with our Father. Home where there will be no darkness. That day gets closer every day.
That day will come in one of two ways: either Christ will return and this time it will be to judge the earth. Or you will die. We are all closer to the grave today than we were yesterday. We don’t know when either of these events will happen but the progress of time demands that it is always getting closer.
But the image we get in verse 12 is of a sunrise. It’s not midnight according to this metaphor. This verse doesn’t give us any clues about how to determine exactly when Christ will return but it does give us a sense of how we should feel about his return. We need to be ready.
Salvation from wrath is the first step for a Christian. The work of following Christ is the rest of the steps.
Verses 12b-13. Notice how the list of evil things mentioned in these verses echo the list of commandments that Paul listed in verse 9. Notice how the commandments can be listed as law but also be described as characteristics of this sinful age.
“So let us put aside the deeds of darkness”. This is a conscious decision. Justification and the gift of the Holy Spirit set us free from slavery to sin but they do not make us immune to them. Our freedom means that we are free now to choose to live in the light.
“Put on the armour of light”. The passage context tells us that this is about love. Love that is defined and demonstrated by Christ. Ephesians 6 famously refers to the armour of God and Paul describes all of the weaponry in terms of knowledge of God. To know God is to admire him and to be dressed like him – according to his word.
“Let us behave decently”. Christians may be caricatured as nicely dressed, well spoken and people who never curse or swear. This verse is one reason for the stereotype. Behaving decently doesn’t make us Christian but a Christian will take off the things of this world and put on the things of the next.
“Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ”. This is another description of faith. To know God and his message of judgement and therefore jump entirely into the only way of salvation. It’s an interesting description of following Jesus – to wear him like clothing. This is why we cannot be satisfied with a faith that talks about church but a faith that talks about Jesus. I love this image of being fashioned by Jesus.
“Do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh”. Don’t make plans to sin. Instead, make plans to be like Jesus.
Dress yourself for salvation.
The age that God has saved us for begins now – don’t wait for the sun (Son) to rise.
Live like there’s no tomorrow – love like eternity is here.
- We are told to love one another and to put on Jesus Christ – this appears to be the same end. How do we “Follow Jesus?” – we put on love – we do more than know JEsus, more than learn about him, more than sing praises to him – we become like him in the way that he demonstrated love to us. Wake up and put on love – never ceasing.
- Love is the answer but we also need the bible to define and teach us what that love looks like. We are not instructed to love the lovely, or to love when we are in the mood for it, we are instructed by command to love others – full stop. This is a love that you don’t see on television. It is a love that is best seen at the cross. Where the enemies of God hurled insults at the one who came to show them love. The one who never stopped loving even when it hurt.
- Are we sleeping Christians? Is our church asleep? Being awake means that we are putting on love like it’s safety vest. The mark of our salvation is that we love others. We need to be alert and actively seeing ways to love one another. Make plans to love and make no plans to gratify the desires of our sinful heart.
- Examine your heart and ask yourself whether the plans you are making represent a person of this age or of a child of the light.
- We will live on this world for a century only but we will live with God forever. The age to come is not the end but the beginning. It is described as the day and this age as the night. Which age are you preparing yourself for. Some say that there is only one life and so you better make the most of it. I say that there is only one life to prepare for eternity and so we better wake up and be ready.
- There are definitely some sins which you can catch yourself secretly or blatantly making plans to fulfil. Drunkenness and pornography are two classic deeds of darkness that people can find themselves making plans to happen. Another great sin which is described in the NT as idolatry is one that our whole culture talks about and makes plans for and it is greed.This is one of the great areas of our lives that our culture breathes into us and unless we wake up and start clothing ourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will find ourselves surprised that our hearts have been training in wickedness disguised as good planning and investment. How would Jesus have you plan for the future?
**A note on the word “fulfillment” – it is best not to understand this word as a completion of a task but the process of filling something. Like when you pour liquid into a glass – it doesn’t matter whether you fill the glass but the process of pouring is the process of fulfilling it. The glass might take a lifetime or eternity to by full! Pouring the liquid onto the table does not fulfill the glass at all. It is not moving toward the glasses potential.
**A note on commandments and salvation. Paul has told us that we cannot keep the law to attain righteousness. But on the other side of grace we consider what it means to be saved. The lesson is for us to live as children of the light. The laws of the OT did more than tell us how bad we all are, they also told us how loving God is. They described or revealed the character of God to us. We don’t need to follow a list of laws now but we have the law written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31) which tells us to love.