"Now's the Time!"
(Delivered Sunday, October 23, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
This morning, I ask you to turn with me to one of the most practical passages in all of the very practical New Testament book of Romans. It's the passage in which so much of what Paul says in that great letter to that small body of Christians in Rome is brought to a head. It's a passage that no one can encounter and then walk away from without making a serious, eternity-effecting choice. It's a passage in which the call is given to us as Christians - in the light of all that the Bible tells us about our faith - to commit and take action.
In fact, I believe that, after looking at this morning's passage, everyone here will leave somehow changed. Each of us will either come away this morning with a renewed sense of duty as a believer, and a renewed enthusiasm for the ministry of our church; or we will walk away with a new hardening of heart toward God. It's a passage that forces us to either do something, . . . or to deliberately choose to do nothing. But whatever it is we do, we can't hear this passage and remain the same.
It comes in Paul's letter after a long discussion of the duties of practical Christian living. Paul then concludes with this powerful call in 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 (Romans 13:11-14).
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I once heard about a man who took to heart what it says in Psalm 90. Perhaps you know that psalm; it says that God gives a man seventy years - or, if by reason of strength, perhaps eighty; and it encourages us to "number our days" so we may gain a heart of wisdom. And so, starting with his current age and computing how many days he had left, this man filled a jar with marbles - one marble for every remaining day of life, according to this Psalm. Every day, he took a marble out of the jar - a marble that represented one day spent; and put it into another jar.
For years, he faithfully transferred marbles from one jar to the other - progressively emptying one jar, and filling the other. And then, one day, he called his wife up and said, "Honey, let's go out to dinner tonight. This is an important day for me. Today, I have taken the last marble out of the jar." Can you imagine what an impact a daily habit like that would have on the way you live each day of your life?
When you put things into perspective, you and I really only have a short time on this earth - even in the case of what we call a 'long life'. Each day is going by for us; and we will not be able to retrieve it. You could say that we are, each one of us, slowly losing our marbles! And these relatively few years are all that's given to us by God to prepare for eternity. These few years - and what we do with them - will determine the character of our eternity.
And yet, we're here right now. This day, God has given us the invaluable grace of "time" - time right now to do the work He has given us to do in His service, and to prepare for eternity. What are you and I doing with the time we have - while we still have a few of our marbles left?
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That we will stand before God and give an account for our use of our short time - that thought alone ought to be enough to motivate us! But there's something more to consider - another fact that, perhaps, ought to be far more stirring than the other. It's the fact of the times in which we live - the times in which the return of the Lord Jesus Christ for His Church draws ever nearer.
We are living in the "last time" - that is, the time when so much of God's work of redemption has been completed. Christ has come; and His sacrifice for the sins of man has been made. His gospel has been taken all over the word. There are still specific places here and there where it hasn't yet reached; but for the most part, it has circled the globe. And now, nothing remains but the soon coming of our Lord. These truly are the last days - the final stages of God's redemption program.1
Every day we live, the coming of Jesus is one day closer than the day before! How motivating this should be! I believe it was what motivated Paul to write the words of this morning's passage.2
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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; as your pastor, I must exercise my God-given position as an "admonisher" and be straight with you. I fear that many of us consider our Christian faith to be nothing more than a mere "part" of our lives - an "important" part, to be sure; but only one part of many, and not the single most important factor in who we are.
Stop and think! If what the Bible teaches us is true - that all people, being the offspring of Adam, are sinners in need of God's saving grace, and are doomed to eternal loss and separation from the One who made them; and that God has sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross and pay the "death penalty" for sins; and that God saves us from judgement through faith in what Jesus did; and that we who have trusted Christ are now living in the prospect of being conformed into into His image, and to share with Him in His eternal glory - then nothing else in life matters by comparison! Yet, I fear that many of us still treat our faith in Jesus Christ with far too casual an attitude than the facts of the Bible require.
I fear that some of us who profess to be Christians treat the Lord of our life as a mere "augment" to the many other things in life that we consider important. And for some of us - when compared to other things - our Lord's call on our life is not really all that important to us at all!
In this passage, God has a message to us through His servant Paul. It's this: Stop being casual about your faith! Stop being lazy about it! Stop playing "church"! This isn't a fire-drill! This isn't a dress-rehearsal! This is the real thing! The past lies behind you; and eternity is set before you! The time is short! The supreme Event of history is around the corner! Jesus is standing at the very threshold of returning again! God has moved heaven and earth, as it were, to bring about your salvation; and now - it's time to get to work while God gives you the chance! Wake up! Get moving! Serve! Give! Sacrifice! Suffer, if need be! Live for Jesus with all your being, while God has given you this tiny window of opportunity!
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I see four calls issued to us by Paul in this passage. First, I see that . . .
1. NOW'S THE TIME TO WAKE UP (v. 11).
Paul says, in verse 11; "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."
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You know; it's easy for us to ignore these words. It's easy to think of this as nothing more than a call to trust Jesus as Savior - and then to dismiss it as having nothing to do with us because we've already trusted Him. "I already believe"; we might be tempted to say.
But notice that Paul's not talking to unbelievers here. He isn't issuing an evangelistic call. That isn't what he means by our "salvation". He says that the salvation he speaks of is "nearer than when we first believed". In other words, Paul is talking to those of us who have already believed and are already Christians.
You see, our salvation has three aspects. First, it has a "past" aspect in that God saves us from the penalty of our sins through the Cross of Jesus. Second, it has a "present" aspect in that God is progressively 'saving' us now - helping us to leave our old sinful life-style habits behind and to live a new lifestyle that's conformed to the image of Jesus. And third, salvation has a "future" aspect in that God will one day glorify us by making us like Jesus Christ as He is in His heavenly glory.
The Apostle John had this future, glorious aspect of "salvation" in mind when he wrote, in 1 John 3:2, "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." Perhaps you know that verse. And if you do, you probably also know how John then states how this hope should motivate us: "And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (v. 3).
That, dear brothers and sisters, is an aspect of our salvation yet to be realized - that is, our full glorification with Christ when He returns. And that's the salvation Paul is speaking of when He says our salvation is "nearer than when we first believed".
Do you remember back when you were little, and how you woke up on Christmas morning? You didn't have any trouble waking up. If anything, you had trouble sleeping! The moment your eyes opened, and you realized what day it was, you were awake immediately. You threw off your covers, and swung out of bed to awaken everyone else in the place! Sleep is over! It's Christmas Day!!
Well; the anticipation of the Lord's soon return is to do the same for us - only more so. We're to live every day of our lives with the very air "electrified", as it where, with anticipation. We are living at the consummation of times! It's the last days! And this is certainly no time to sleep!
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And by the way; have you considered what Paul means here by "sleep"? The Bible uses the word elsewhere to describe Christians who have departed from this life and are presently with the Lord. From our standpoint, their bodies lay in the graves, "sleeping" as it were - awaiting the Resurrection Day in which they'll be "awakened" to rise and meet the Lord in the air at His return (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
But here, in Romans 13:11, Paul is talking to Christians who were, obviously, still alive at the time he wrote. The word Paul uses isn't the usual word for sleep. He uses the Greek word from which we get the English word "hypnosis" - one that means "to be drowsy". Paul is talking about Christians who are in spiritual "La-La Land"; Christians who are in an apathetic spiritual "daze" and who are "nodding off".
What do Christians look like who are "asleep" in this way? I believe such "spiritual slumber" shows itself in a slackening of the intensity of their faith. They may read their Bibles, but not with much excitement or application. They don't "tremble" at God's word (Isaiah 66:2). They may pray, but not with much earnestness, or effectiveness, or expectation (James 5:16). They may go to church, but only as "spectators" and "consumers", and not as a properly working part of the Body that contributes to its growth (Ephesians 4:16). They may be around non-believers, but they're not excited enough about their own faith to present it to others as "ambassadors of Christ"" (2 Cor. 5:20). They're saved; but are just sort of taking a "spiritual siesta" all the time.
"Sleep" is the perfect word to use to describe the state of a passive, uninvolved, indifferent Christian. Great potential is there in them; but there's nothing happening.
Many years ago, I worked in a moving and storage warehouse; and a young guy started working in the warehouse that, for some reason, we just couldn't find. He'd come to work - I mean, we'd see him enter the warehouse - but we just couldn't find him after that.
Well, we finally found him - or, I should say, we heard him snoring. He had pulled a bunch of warehouse crates around himself, made a little hiding place, and was sleeping on the job. The rest of us all gathered around this sleeping beauty, and on the count of three, shouted, "Wake up!!" And that's what Paul is doing here. This is a call to the sleepy Christian to wake up!
Let me make a suggestion. Pray about this before God. It'll take guts; because God will answer your prayer. Ask Him to show you whether or not you are a sleepy Christian. Ask Him to reveal to you where you might be dozing off. And then, ask Him to set you ablaze with the expectation of the Lord's return. He will.
He has work for you to do, and wants to see you rewarded for faithfully doing it. So ask Him!
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So then, now's the time to wake up. And second, we see that:
2. NOW'S THE TIME TO GET DRESSED (v. 12).
You know; some people wake up, but spend half their day running around in their pajamas. And some of us do that spiritually! So Paul issues yet another call: "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" (v. 12).
Paul is using several figures of speech in this verse. First notice his reference to "night" and "day". "Night" is a figure for this present age - the age that's coming to a close prior to the reign of Jesus Christ on earth. The glorious reign of Jesus yet to come is called "day". Paul said, in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11;
But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, "Peace and safety!" then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. 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. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).
Our destiny is to dwell in the "day". We've been "qualified" to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light"; and have been "delivered" from "the power of darkness", and have been "conveyed" into "the kingdom" of the Son of God's love (Col. 1:12-13). It would be utterly inappropriate for us to be running around still in our spiritual pajamas - that is, still practicing the old habits and patterns of the kingdom from which we've been delivered!
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Paul - using more figures of speech - says that we're to lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. "Armor" suggests battle! And isn't it interesting that we're not to put on play clothes? We're to put on working clothes! We're to dress appropriately for the serious work we've been "awakened" to do.
The Bible describes our armor for us. It says, in Ephesians 6:13-17;
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 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 . . . (Ephesians 6:13-17).
These aren't pajamas! These are pieces of serious work clothes for serious work!
And so, may I make another suggestion? Ask God to show you in what respects you still exhibit the old habits, and old values, and old commitments of your condition before you were saved. Ask God to help you look in the mirror and see where you've still got on your slippers, or your hair curlers, or your pajamas of the "night". Ask Him to help you put on the serious, purposeful, work-ready "armor" of the "day". He will help.
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Third, notice that . . .
3. NOW'S THE TIME TO START WALKING (V. 13).
Once you've woken up, and once you've gotten dressed, it's time to get out the door. And so, Paul issues the call in verse 13, "Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy."
Some of you might notice that the translation you're using says, "Let us behave properly", rather than, "Let us walk properly." To "walk" is another figure of speech for someone's "behavior" or "daily life-style practices".
The call to "walk properly", then, is a call to behave - in daily life - in a manner that is consistent with people who have been awakened and have put their work clothes on!
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There are three "categories" of improper "walking" that Paul mentions in this verse. I believe you could consider them examples of the "works of darkness" he spoke of in the previous verse.
A first category is what we might call "the partying spirit". Paul says that behaving as "in the day" means we're not to be walking "in revelry and drunkenness". We're not to be given to "wild" behavior. We're not to allow our behavior to be influenced by drugs or alcohol. We're not to be "party animals" - like the lost people who try to fill the gnawing void in their soul with artificial, sinful "good times".
A second category is "sensuality". Behaving "in the day" means not walking "in lewdness and lust" - that is, in sexual promiscuity and sensual pleasures. We're not to gratify physical lusts. We're not to sleep with people who are not our spouses. We're not to lust after the sensual images that are shown on television, or movies, or in magazines, or over the internet.
Finally, a third category what we might call "selfish hostility". Paul says that behaving as "in the day" means not walking in "strife and envy". We're not to be back-biters. We're not to be gossip-mongers. We're not to hold resentment or unforgiveness toward others. We're not to hold others in contempt.
These, you see, are behavior practices of our "old way of walking"; and we're not to walk that way anymore. Paul says, in Ephesians 5:1-10;
Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. (Eph. 5:1-10).
Again, I urge you; ask God to help you see how you are walking. Ask Him to show you where, in your life, you are still going along the path of "darkness" when you should be walking as "in the day". Ask Him to help you see specific things in your life that need to go; and ask Him to give you the strength to confess those sins to some other brother or sister in Christ, and make yourself accountable to them.
God will help you; but you must commit yourself! You have got to do it!
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Now's the time to "wake up", to "get dressed" and to "start walking". And there's one more thing that it's time for . . .
4. NOW'S THE TIME TO KEEP FOCUSED (v. 14).
Paul says, in verse 14, that we're not to walk in those old behavior patterns any longer, "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill it's lusts."
The great military genius Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying that a man "becomes" his uniform. And here, we're commanded to "put on" the Lord Jesus Christ. Similarly, Paul says, in Galatians 3:26-27, "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." In Christ, you and I have a whole new identity. We have a new direction. We have a new purpose. We're wearing a whole new uniform.
And we are to be sure that we stay focused and behave like men and women of our uniform! We have already been "clothed" in Christ in a positional sense; and now, we are to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" in daily life - in a practical sense. We are to trust that Jesus Himself dwells within us, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit; and then, we are to go forth into this world in His power and under His grace - trusting Him to live His life through us! We're to remember who we are - that we aren't people who must live righteously in order to earn God's favor; but that we are a people who desire to live righteously because we already ARE in God's favor!
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This must necessarily affect the choices we make in every-day life. It must make a change in our priorities. And so, Paul adds, ". . . and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts."
Paul is speaking here of our "flesh" in the sense of that old principle of sin that still abides in us. We will not be completely free of its pull on us until the day that we shed these bodies and are glorified with Christ in that "future" aspect of salvation. We will struggle and fight with this principle of sin so long as we live on this earth. But we need to remember that it has been fundamentally "broken" by Christ. We no longer HAVE to obey it when it cries out to us. We no longer HAVE to "gratify" it. As Paul says, we no longer HAVE to "fulfill" its lusts.
I've talked to some people who were very foolish when it came to this, though. They would deal with sin in their lives by deliberately planning ahead for it - with the "promise", of course, not to "use" the provision. If they had a problem with lust, for example, they boasted that they had pornography around, so they could exercise their strength by resisting the temptation to look. If they had an addiction to alcohol, they'd brag about how they keep a little around so they could show how strong they were by walking around it and not touching it. Of course, it was only a matter of time before they gave in to the temptation.
That's hypocritical! In reality, such people are doing just exactly what Paul says not to do - that is, making provision in advance for the gratification of the lusts of the flesh. Don't do that! Don't even give such sinful lusts an inch in your life! You've got to change your priorities. You've got to make radical new choices. You've got to say a loud and clear "no" to old things - and never even a "maybe".
Again, ask God for help. Ask Him to show you how you might be playing phony games with Him. Ask Him to help you see how you might be leaving the door just the tiniest bit open for some secret sin at some future time. Ask Him to help you to fully cloth yourself in Christ, and to remove all provision for sin in the future. For the sake of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, and for the health of our church family, and for the cause of the edification of your own soul - please do it!!
God will help you if you'll only ask with real, genuine resolve. And do it now, because now's the time!
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Several years ago, I ran across some very bold words from the Puritan preacher Richard Baxter. They were words primarily directed to pastors; but I believe they are applicable to all believers. I try to read these words every once in a while - just to get my priorities back into order. He wrote;
And to that, I can only add the words of Paul:
"And do this, knowing the time!"
1It's through Jesus that, as it says in Hebrews 1:2, God has revealed Himself "in these last days"; or, as it says in Hebrews 9:26, "at the end of the ages". This "end" time is the reason the Apostle Peter gave, in 1 Peter 4:7, for why we're to live lives of practical godliness: "The end of all things is at hand"; or James in James 5:8: "for the coming of the Lord is at hand"; or as John in 1 John 2:18: "it is the last hour". These expressions convey that we are living in the final stages of God's grand plan of redemption; and that the next great event in this redemptive program is the return of the Lord.
2Think about this in terms of the flow of the book of Romans. After Paul gives his strong, practical exhortation to present ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2), he then goes on, for two whole chapters, to detail how someone would live who is presented entirely to God through Jesus, and who is not conformed to the values and behavior of this world system. Such a man or woman would have a sense of commitment to service in the Body of Christ (12:3-8). Such a man or woman would show "real love" in practical ways to fellow believers (12:9-13). Such a man or woman would show "real love" to people outside the community of faith as well - even to enemies (12:14-21). Such a man or woman would display an attitude of submission to governing authorities (13:1-7). Such a man or woman would recognize that an ongoing debt of love is to be filled toward others through the keeping of God's commandments toward them (13:8-10). All of this - really the whole book of Romans - comes to bear in Paul's words; "And do this, knowing the time".
3Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), pp. 199-200.
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