11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.Romans 13:11-12In the passage above from Romans 13, the context finds us in the middle of the practical outworking of the gospel that was outlined in chapters 1-11. In this section, the immediate context is love, for God and others, as a fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:8-10). Out of that, we arrive at verse 11 and chronological imagery used by the apostle to paint a picture of the salvation that has occurred and will occur for believers in Christ.
In opening up the passage we find it relates to the previous section, love as a fulfillment of the law, by reminding us that there is an expected action or duty that flows out of it, besides this (see KJV – and that). Besides or in addition to love, believers should be aware of the time, especially as it relates to Christ. This knowing the time is not simply a reminder for believers to keep an eye on their watches, instead it unfolds with a call to note that our ‘spiritual’ alarm clocks have gone off calling us to wake from sleep. This is supported by the next phrase which gives the reason believers are to recognize the time and wake up, namely because they (we) are closer to salvation today than the day that they first believed. Logically, this makes sense that the day of our final salvation draws closer with each day that passes.
The implication here is that believers were saved at the moment of belief and that there is a future salvation which is drawing near. It isn’t proper to think of two salvations, rather one salvation with varying aspects. In one respect, believers were saved before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). This salvation was paid for at the cross of Jesus Christ. So there is a past salvation. Then there is the moment of our belief, mentioned here, that is in the past but is also working itself out (with fear and trembling) in the present. Finally, there is a future salvation, also referred to here, that culminates with our glorification and being fully restored to the image of Christ. So far then, the call is to know the time – that it’s time to wake up from our sleep because the finality of our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. There is an additional implication here, wrapped up in final salvation, that we are brought closer to this by either the death of our own mortal flesh or the Return of Christ.
Verse 12 builds upon the chronological imagery by referencing the night, which has passed, and the dawning of a new day. Though it is not explicitly spoken of here, we might easily infer that the night refers to sin and specifically the imprisonment of creation under the domain of darkness (Col 1:13). Now the light has appeared with the arrival of Christ and more specifically His death and resurrection in defeating sin, releasing the captives, and crushing the head of the serpent. Jesus came into darkness as the Light of the World:
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone. Isaiah 9:2; cf. Matt. 4:16
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.John 1:1-13
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” John 3:16-21
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12Again, while not specifically stated in our passage, it is clear from the totality of Scripture that there is much more being communicated here than a simple reference to night and day. This metaphorical language of night referring to the darkness of sin is confirmed for us in the next phrase commanding believers to throw off the works of darkness, literally to take them from yourselves and set them aside like we might do with clothing. So, there are works, deeds, actions (all of which spring forth from the heart) that are associated with the darkness. While yes, generally speaking more sin does occur at night (1 Thess. 5:7)- likely due to the subconscious hope that less will be seen, this again is symbolically referring to a spiritual darkness represented in terms for us to easily understand, such as the night.
9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” John 11:9-10Concluding the passage before us in this post, we read that casting off the works of darkness are contrasted, not with putting on a different set of clothes such as works of light or works of righteousness. Instead, the contrast with works of darkness is armor of light. Putting on conveys the idea of sliding into or clothing oneself. It is a familiar concept in Scripture, particularly in the letters of Paul.
It refers to putting on our glorified bodies:
53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality… 1 Corinthians 15:53-54Putting on Christ:
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Galatians 3:27; cf Romans 13:14 (which we will discuss later)Putting on the new self:
and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Eph. 4:24; cf Col. 3:10And finally as putting on the armor of God:
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, Ephesians 6:11; 14; cf 1 Thess. 5:8While the casting off is associated with works of darkness, putting on the armor of light clearly indicates the war that the believer is engaged in. It is a shift from engaging in the works of evil to preparing for war in the army of Christ. Furthermore, it is an enlisting; a call from the civilian ranks of sin to a soldier in the army of Christ. The contrast could not be more striking.
Next time we will look at what this armor is and how one puts it on. For now, let’s conclude with a brief summary on what we have learned so far. First, out of love for God and love for others – perhaps we might even say gospel obedience, there is a call for believers to recognize what time it is; their spiritual alarm clocks have alerted them (us) that the night is over, dawn has arrived, and the time for sleeping has passed. This dawning of a new day signals that the Son is rising and is nearly here. Given this, second, it is a call for believers to throw off their night clothes – those called works of darkness; deeds and actions of sin. Contrasted with the casting off is the putting on of the armor of light. This is instructive for us today not only because we are most definitely engaged in a spiritual war, but because salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. How many of us realize that as believers we are called, drafted as it were, into a war? Not a physical war, mind you, but a spiritual one. Do you have a wartime mindset? Or is it one of comfort and complacency?
4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thess. 5:4-11