Romans 13:11-14

Paul begins Romans 13:11 with a pivotal phrase, when he declares, “And do this.” What does Paul want us to do? In the context, it is clear that Paul wants us to love one another. This is the ultimate way each of us can be a light and witness for Christ in this world. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Paul continues to explain why we should love each other. He declares, “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” (Rom. 13:11-14).

What is your ultimate motivation to surrender to Christ and to love others?

Paul ends his encouragement in chapters twelve and thirteen with our greatest motivation, to love and surrender to God, and to love others. He has taught us our greatest responsibility to love, and now gives us our greatest motivation to fulfill this responsibility. What is this ultimate motivation?

1. Knowing the time. The phrase “knowing the time” is clearly the ultimate issue in Paul’s mind. He wanted us to focus on the fact that time is finite, and not to be wasted! The passage of time is something that happens imperceptibly. We don’t even think about the passage of time; it just happens. Most importantly, today you are one day closer to the Lord’s return or your death. “Our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.” This is what Paul means when he says, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” The phrase the day is at hand, literally means the day is approaching or drawing nearer. David prayed in Psalm 39:4-7, “Lord make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am. Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my age is as nothing before you; certainly every man at his best state is but vapor. Surely every man walks about like a shadow; surely they busy themselves in vain; he heaps up riches, and does not know who will gather them. And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You.” A shadow is here and then gone in a moment, as the earth rotates a few short seconds. No one knows how many days that God has appointed to him. Do you recognize that time is ticking off second by second, and hour by hour, until one day you will either die, or see the Lord’s return? Knowing these truths should awaken you to realize what is most important in life. This realization should motivate you to begin to pursue Christ with all of your heart and mind. Remember, all that you have worked for in this world, your wealth, your possessions, someone else will have one day. God is saying, “Wake up to reality, and to what is important!”

Time passes gradually and subtly for all of us, until one day we stop to recognize how far we’ve come. For most, this realization happens when your children graduate from high school or college, or when your child marries, or you become grandparents, or at the death of your parent. These are mile-stones in your life and points of transition. On that day, your life passes in front of you, and you realize that now you are the oldest person in the room. You come to the conclusion that it won’t be long before someone will do your funeral. You realize time is passing. Your death is nearer than it was yesterday, and that the Second Coming is nearer than it was yesterday. This is a good thing to consider, because it helps motivate you to do what is important. This is what Paul is teaching in this passage. You need to know the time, and make every day count!

Some of you reading this right now don’t believe that the Second Coming is really near. Some of you don’t believe that there even is a real Second Coming. Well, I do believe Jesus is coming again, and that His return is very near! Some of you don’t believe in the rapture of the church or that it is actually near either. I also believe that the rapture is very near! I believe that Jesus can come back at any moment that He chooses. This is why Jesus said, “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:42-44). These verses teach what Bible scholars call “imminence,” which means that the Lord can return for His church at any moment. The same thing is true for your death. Your death could also be an imminent thing, and you would never know it. Are you ready? It will come “at an hour you do not expect.” In fact, you could have a heart attack or a brain aneurysm before you even finish reading this article. Now I know you are probably thinking, “Boy, this is really an uplifting Bible study.” But this is reality. No one knows how long they have in this life. You need to live, “knowing the time!” This is Paul’s point.   

Paul also taught this doctrine of imminence when he spoke of the rapture of the church. He said, “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed--in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51-52). To be “changed in a moment,” and in a “twinkling of an eye,” is clearly talking about imminence. Do you realize that in a moment of a split-second you could be standing in the presence of God? I hope that you are ready for this moment in your life, because the rapture or your death will surely come just as God has said. This is why David, prayed in Ps. 90:12, “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Every one of us has a pre-appointed number of days to live, and then we are going to meet Jesus face-to-face, and give account of ourselves to Him.

2. It is time to awake out of sleep

Understanding the doctrine of imminence is why Paul then says, “It is high time to awake out of sleep.” What does Paul mean when he commanded us to awake out of sleep? Now, remember that he is writing to Christians! He does not want believers to go to sleep, and if they are asleep, he wants to awaken them. The word sleep is used in several different ways in the Old and New Testaments. It can be used in a literal way for someone physically sleeping in their bed at night (Ps. 127:2; Acts 16:27). Sleep is also used of those who physically die in Christ (1 Thess. 4:14). Sleep can also be used metaphorically of those who are unaware of their spiritual condition, or who are lazy with respect to their behavior (Prov. 19:15; 1 Thess. 5:6). In addition, some of those who are unaware of their spiritual condition are spiritually dead (1 Thess. 5:7). The context will always determine how the word is to be interpreted. In the context of Romans 13:11, Paul is warning these believers about becoming aware of the shortness of time and how they are living.

Consider now this idea of going to sleep spiritually in your relationship with Christ. When you go to sleep at night laying in your bed, do you instantly go to sleep? No! It is a slow process of yawning a bit and becoming drowsy, and then you slowly drift off to sleep. So, going to sleep is a process, not something that happens instantly. When you go to sleep, are you aware that you are asleep? No! You can be asleep, and someone else could be up all night in your home, and you would be completely unaware of it. This is Paul’s point. He wants you to examine yourself to consider your spiritual condition. Are you aware of how awake you are, or are you yawning and becoming drowsy?

How could being asleep apply to you?

If you are reading this and you are not following Christ as your Savior, I can guarantee that you are asleep. You need to awaken, and Christ will give you light to see as Paul said, “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Eph. 5:14). That is what happened to you and to me. God by His grace opened our eyes to see our spiritual need. Someone then shared the Gospel with us, and we confessed and turned from our sin. It was like waking up from a bad dream. We realized how we had been living and what God wanted us to do. This is what salvation does to the human heart.

However, Paul is speaking to Christians who are asleep in this letter. What does he mean, and how would sleeping apply to you? If you are a professing Christian, and you are living in sin and practicing immorality, then I can assure you that you are asleep. This is why Paul says in the context, “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.” These were the sins in which these believers were involved. They were involved with revelry, which is the Greek word for carousing at raucous parties. At these parties they were getting drunk and committing sexual immorality. Paul wrote the same thing to the Thessalonian church and said, “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” (1 Thess. 5:6-9). If you are involved in immorality as a professed Christian, do you realize that you have gone back to sleep? Do you believe that a professed Christian can go back to sleep? I hope you do, because this is why Paul says, “Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.” Notice that Paul included himself in this warning when he used the word “us.” Why would Paul include himself like this? Because he believed that everyone had the potential of backsliding into their old ways. He wanted these believers to be sober, awake, and repentant. God’s merciful heart toward the backslider is revealed in His message to the Jewish people in Jeremiah 3:12-13 when He said, “‘Return, backsliding Israel,’ says the LORD; ‘I will not cause My anger to fall on you. For I am merciful,’ says the LORD; ‘I will not remain angry forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the LORD your God.’” Always remember just how merciful God is! All He wants is that men will acknowledge their iniquity and ask for His forgiveness, and He will pardon them and awaken them again. But if you do not turn from your immorality, then Jesus will come and you will not be ready to meet Him. Jesus said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has. But if that servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers” (Luke 12:42-46). This is a very clear warning to all of His servants. Jesus wants His servants to be faithful and wise, not foolish and unwise. In Matthew 24:44-51 Jesus said the exact same thing, only there He called this servant a hypocrite. In other words, Jesus is saying that He considers an individual who professes to be His servant, but lives in immorality, to be in reality, a hypocrite and an unbeliever. If you don’t like what I’ve just written, you will have to take that up with Jesus. These are His words, not mine!

If you are a professed believer, and you have become spiritually lazy and you are coasting in your walk with Christ, then you are becoming drowsy and getting very close to going to sleep. Your eyelids are very heavy, and you don’t even know it. It is important to realize that your actions will always reveal the reality of your spiritual condition. When there is not the hunger for the Word of God like you used to have, and when prayer is not important to you anymore, when you rarely attend church, you must acknowledge that something is wrong. You know that you just don’t sense that spiritual life inside like you used to. All this means that you are going to sleep. You are not asleep yet, but you are about to nod off. Please, wake up to your spiritual condition!

My encouragement is simple. Ask God to fully awaken your heart, so you can be ready for your Master when He comes. Ask Him to give you the sense of imminency in your heart that He could come at any moment for you. Ask the Lord to empower you with His Spirit, so you will pursue Him with all your heart, and follow Him daily. One day the cry will go out, “Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him” (Matt. 25:6). Be ready!

If you want to wake up, what should you do?

The second issue I want to address are the practical things you should do if you want God to awaken your heart. Paul gives two very simple commands. He declares in verse 12, that you should cast off some very specific things, and in verse 14, that you should put on other things. What does Paul mean by these commands?

Cast off!

The words cast off means to lay aside or to put off a garment, to get rid of, or to stop doing something. To cast off is a word picture to make you think about getting rid of a stained or dirty garment, and then later, Paul commands you to put on a clean and righteous garment. These two garments are metaphors for sinful-versus-righteous behaviors. Paul is commanding the Romans to cast off, or repent and turn away from, any sinful and immoral behavior they are involved in. The idea of casting off or putting away a stained garment and putting on a clean one, is an encouragement used many times in Scripture. When Jacob sought to get his family to renew their relationship with God, he told them, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments” (Gen. 35:2). When the Ancient of Days is referred to in Scripture, His garments are as “white as snow,” referring to His complete and total righteousness (Dan. 7:9; Rev. 1:13). When the Apostle Jude refers to those who are apart from Christ, their garments are described as defiled (Jude 1:23). This is why Jesus taught in the Parable of the Wedding Feast that a man who did not have a wedding garment on, which represented the righteousness of Christ, was denied entrance into the Marriage Feast of the Lamb (Matt. 22:11-13; Rev. 19:9).

Therefore, what does Paul believe a person needs to cast off if they are to keep themselves from spiritual slumber? The general exhortation given is to cast off the works of darkness. In the very next verse, Paul defines the works of darkness as, revelry and drunkenness, lewdness and lust, and strife and envy. These are the behaviors that will put you to sleep spiritually! But there are many more such behaviors referred to in Scripture.

Paul also declared in Eph. 4:22-25 behaviors that needed to be put off and put away. These two phrases are the same Greek word for cast off in our text here in Romans. He said, 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. Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another” (Underline added). Therefore, lying is also a work of darkness.

The Apostle Peter also added to this list of the works of darkness when he commanded believers, “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking” (1 Peter 2:1). Again, the words laying aside are the same Greek words Paul used here in Romans for cast off. All these behaviors then are clearly ones that will absolutely put you into spiritual slumber. Don’t let this happen to you! Awaken from your slumber and turn from these immoral behaviors!

Let me share one last thought before leaving this topic of casting off immorality. All of the previous verses make it very clear that all immorality must be cast off and laid aside, but there is one more thing that needs to be put off. There are also weights that need to be laid aside that can so easily ensnare you. The apostle to the Hebrews wrote, Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). The Greek word of weight means any hindrance, impediment, or encumbrance that keeps you from running the race that is set before you. The apostle is not speaking of sinful behaviors, but things that you allow into your life, that take up your time and attention, and which don’t edify or build you up. These could be friends that don’t encourage you in your walk with the Lord, or hobbies that use up all of your time and keep you from serving the Lord. Or, a weight could be anything that keeps you from church attendance on a regular basis. Whatever the weight might be, you must lay it aside so you can run your race without any impediment. You need to run like you truly want to win the race that is set before you. When considering weights in your life, always remember what Paul said, All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify” (1 Cor 10:23). Certain things may be lawful for you to be involved in, but they may not build you up. In fact, they may become a hindrance to you. If these behaviors hinder you or stumble you, cast them off!

Put on!

Now, it is not enough to cast off and to put off the old man and his ways, you must take a further step by putting on the new man and his ways. Paul commanded us to cast off the works of darkness, and then “Let us walk properly, as in the day” and “put on the armor of light.” But, what does it mean to put on the armor of light and to walk in the day? The first thing that is essential to understand is that the word armor in Greek means weapon. Paul believed that light is your greatest weapon against the darkness of this world. Light is a weapon that will never fail you, because it overcomes the darkness every time. When you switch on the light in a dark room, the darkness will always flee. Light wins the battle every single time. Darkness can never overcome the light. This is also true in the spiritual realm. All you must do is to put on the armor of light, and you will overcome anything that comes against you.

Why do you need the spiritual weapon of light? Because you are in a battle with the forces of darkness every day. You must battle the darkness that is in your own sin nature, and you must battle the ruler of the darkness of this world (Eph. 6:12). Paul declared in Ephesians 5:8, that the core of man’s nature apart from Christ is darkness when he said, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” But, if you want to be a light for the Lord, then you must first awaken from the sleep of unbelief, and Christ will give you light as He comes to live within you. Paul stated this fact a few verses later in Ephesians. He said, Therefore He says: ‘Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Eph. 5:14). Once Christ, Who is light, comes to live inside you, you become His light in this world. Therefore, the armor of light is Christ living in you.

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ

What does Paul mean then when he commands you in verse 14 to, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ?” How can a believer who has Christ living within, put on the Lord Jesus? Putting on the Lord Jesus is as simple as being filled with the Holy Spirit. How can I be so sure? In Romans 8:9, Paul declared, “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” Notice in this verse that Paul calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Christ. If you want to put on Christ, just open your heart and receive the infilling of the Holy Spirit. As you do, the Spirit will infuse you with the character qualities of Jesus, and enable you to behave like Jesus.

There is a powerful benefit from having the Spirit control you. What is this benefit? You will be able to do what Paul further commands, “make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” Only when the Holy Spirit controls you will you find freedom from your fleshly nature that wants to lull you back into spiritual slumber. The context of this command is vital to see! In so many of Paul’s epistles he repeats this truth over and over again. In Galatians 5:16-17 he taught, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” In other words, if you don’t want to be ruled by the lust of your flesh, ask for and yield to the Holy Spirit. Whenever you sense the works of the flesh reigning within, at that very moment, cry out in prayer for the infilling of the Spirit and you will immediately sense the freedom He brings. “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17).

Here in Romans, Paul taught the same thing. “For if you live according to the flesh [that means you are not casting off the works of darkness] you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” The word if in this verse means it is your choice and your decision. No one can choose for you. So, which do you want? Do you want to experience life or death? If you want His life within, then you, by the Spirit, must make the deeds of the body to die. This is done simply by asking God to fill you with His Spirit, and that lust of your flesh that is in control right now, will die. You will be free from its control and dominion in your life. The Scripture does not promise freedom from the presence of sin, but it does promise that you can be free from the dominion and control of sin!

If you are experiencing death within you today, with little life and joy, then I can guarantee you that the Holy Spirit is not reigning within you. The presence of the Spirit will always produce the fruit of love, joy, and peace within (Gal. 5:22-23). If you are experiencing His life and joy within, but also that daily battle, then you are in a really good place. This means that the Spirit of God is in you and actively at work inside of you. If you have no battle within over your fleshly nature, then you are asleep, or you are not even a Christian! The battle within proves that the Spirit dwells inside you, and is at work fighting against your fleshly nature (Gal. 5:17). But the question is, are you going to win the battle, or are you going to lose the fight? The only way you can win is by being filled with the Holy Spirit. You can’t win in your own strength. Sin is stronger than your will to resist it, but His light, His life, His power always wins! Remember what Jesus promised, If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him” (Luke 11:13)! If you want more of His Spirit, all you have to do is ask! As you do, freedom will result.

The battle for your mind!

Another part of putting on Christ is the battle that is going on in your mind. Notice that Paul commands us to “Make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” The Greek word for provision means forethought, or to think about something before you do it. The verb make is in the present tense which means you are commanded to continually refuse any forethought for the flesh. God is commanding you to not play with sin in your head. Why? Because this is how you get caught in the web of sin. You start thinking and dwelling on some sinful behavior or desire, and the next thing you know, this desire takes hold of your heart, and you end up doing it. Your thinking is an essential aspect to fighting temptation and sin. Don’t play with sinful desires in your head! If you do, you will lose every time! What you do with your thought life will be the difference between victory and defeat. You must control your mind and bring it into submission to Christ. Paul taught this very thing in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 when he said, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” The choices you make in what you allow yourself to think about are powerful weapons in your battle with your fleshly nature.

You have many powerful weapons!

There are many weapons of light that you have at your disposal. These weapons of our warfare are found in Ephesians 6:13-18, where Paul wrote, “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; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.” Notice that the same command is given in Ephesians as found here in Romans. Paul commands you to take up and put on these weapons of light so you can fight and win in your battle with the rulers of the darkness of this world. He declares that you should take up the whole armor of God, but in Romans, Paul commanded you to put on the armor of light. Each of these pieces of armor are weapons that you need in this fight. You need to be girded with truth in the inward parts of your life, or the enemy of your soul will point out your hypocrisy (Ps. 51:6). The breastplate of righteousness is vital when you do fail, especially when you need to stand in God’s forgiveness and His righteousness. He gives this righteousness so you can stand if you will simply believe (Rom. 3:22). As the Roman soldier’s feet were shod with special boots that would give him stability while fighting, so you too must prepare yourself with the full knowledge of the Gospel to give you stability and strength for your battle. The shield protected every soldier from the swords, clubs, and fiery darts of his enemy, so your faith is critical to protect every other part of your armor. But the shield could only protect a soldier when he deployed it! This means that there is action required on your part. You must “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). As the soldier’s helmet protected his head, so your mind must be protected from every lie of the wicked one, because he is a liar and the father of all lies (John 8:44).

The last two weapons of your warfare are in a league of their own, and are absolutely essential for victory in the fight. You must use the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, to fight the offensive battle in your warfare with darkness. The Word of God is a weapon of light that enters your heart when it is read (Ps. 119:130). The Word is also a weapon of light to dispel the darkness in the heart of anyone as you share His Word. Prayer is also a weapon that obtains God’s light for you and those you pray for. Prayer enables you to acquire the power of the Spirit to fight your personal battles, and to obtain the promises of God for your life. Prayer is extremely effective in taking authority over the powers of darkness in the lives of those who do not know Him (Luke 10:19). As you share God’s Word with others and pray for those in need, you can be a weapon of light used in God’s hand. These weapons are essential for the battle in your own life, and in the lives of those you love; don’t neglect them!

Finally, remember the truth Paul has established in these verses of Scripture. We all need to be awake knowing the time that Christ’s return is nearer that when we first believed. If you are involved in immorality, you are very much asleep. May each of us be ready for His coming by fighting the good fight of faith, and be a weapon of light as we take ground for the Kingdom of God!