The Gospel in Action: “Sunrise of the New Day” – Romans 13

Ask any nurse or care giver, and they will tell you: “Pain increases at night, but it seems to slowly relinquish some of its hold as the sun rises.” It seems that as a new day comes, the throbbing that came in with the darkness recedes back into the body, only to be prompted to strike out again when the sun goes down.

Sunrise helps ease pain. It is a well-documented notion.

I must admit that I love to watch the sunrise in the morning out back of my house! As the morning dawns the birds awaken, and the animals stir all around my house (and there are plenty of them!). The once formless dark forest beside our house begins to come into clear view. Shapes are defined because sunrise brings light, and light brings clarity.

This isn’t poetry; it’s a Scripture idea. Paul made note that the sunrise is coming soon, and that should change our sense of urgency about what we DO and our desire to be transformed to be more like Jesus. Think about it:

• In Romans 12, Paul made clear believers should act in a certain pattern within the church by using their gifts and appreciating others in the inter-connected nature of the church body.

• In Romans 13, Paul appealed to the believers to allow God to change them in relation to the way they handle people OUTSIDE THE CHURCH in their local community – especially in relation to those who were in charge of the society.

Yet, what sticks out to me is not simply the commands (though we will look at each) but the reason for commitment to the call to change. It is found near the end of the chapter…

Romans 13:11 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Do you see it? Paul shared the central reason for following some of the instruction he gave in verses 1-10 of the passage. He said it was simply because the alarm clock was about to go off. A new day was about to dawn.

If you listen closely, you can hear the optimism in his words. He called the time believers live in the present age the word “dark,” but he also promised a soon coming light.

Did you happen to notice how he characterized believers in the darkness of this world? He noted it was a time when believers seem to be “dozing” a bit. Is that a fair characterization?

Actually, I think it is.

In some ways, even the most disciplined and mature believers among us spend far more time providing for the flesh in daily life than for the real world – the spiritual one. The effect of that fact is we tend to see the physical life as more important, and dare I say it, more real.

It isn’t more real; it is fleeting. It isn’t more important; it is temporary.

Yet things aren’t as they seem. Life in the here and now SEEMS more real and more permanent than any misty thoughts of Heaven and eternity. Talk to anyone who doesn’t believe in life beyond this one, and you will hear clearly that denial of self in this life is loss – even if it is because we know we have been called to do so with a greater life after in mind.

Listen again to what Paul said (in my own paraphrase):

Romans 13:11 “We obey these things, we make these changes, because the alarm clock is about to snap us awake from this sleepy existence (with its unreal and dreamy qualities). We are about to wake up to reality. That reality is our rescue from the world we have come to think is: “Oh so important.” The practices that go with the sleepy, dark and temporal world are about to be over. That fact presses us to unhand deeds that go with the darkness of this world and cover ourselves with the armor of light.

Our time on earth has temporary demand and temporary rewards. Someday, most of the things of this world will be as useless to you as a hair brush to a bald man. Because of that, Paul said it was time for the Roman believers to wake up to reality.

Stop and look for a moment, before reading the list of things Paul commanded them to DO in the chapter, at the final command found in the last line of Romans 13, at verse 14:

Romans 13:14“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to [its] lusts.

Now ask, “What does that truly mean?”

The command has two parts:

• Put on Jesus Christ.
• Make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.

Are you hungry right now? If I hunger and get into my car to drive to a restaurant and order a meal, am I being disobedient to this passage? Am I letting my hunger determine my eating? Isn’t that why God gave me the impulse to eat anyway? What does Paul mean by “make no provision for the flesh” then?

Am I about to listen to a message that encourages me to look at a model Christian as the one who leaves church on Sunday in their car without using the air conditioner? Will they refuse a good restaurant for lunch and go home to eat bread, drink water and send the money they would have spent to missionaries? Will they avoid comforts through the week, and sleep on a hard floor rather than a soft mattress?

“You’re being silly!” some will protest. Maybe I am. Now, let me ask you, how does one make NO PROVISION for the flesh in regard to its lusts and walk through a buffet line?

There must be more to this! The passage appears to tell us what God expects from us, but not HOW God expects us to do what He told us to do.

I think, when it is all said and done, you will see the “how” more clearly. Let’s back out of the passage, set it in context, and then try to understand the truth. The big idea of the text is this…

Key Principle: I can’t put on Jesus until I actively seek to peel off self.

Now let’s unpack that.

First, let’s set this truth in the context of the letter Paul was writing, so we are sure that what we take away is consistent with its original message to its original audience. As you may recall, the letter was designed to answer five big questions:

What happened to mankind? Why is sin rampant and why is the world full of troubles. Paul answered with essentially one word: mutiny. Man’s rebellion caused his troubles (cp. Romans 1-3).

What did God do about man’s rebellious and languishing state? The second question was answered by a single word as well: gift. God gave His Son to remedy sin’s hold on man (cp. Romans 4-5).

How can I cast off sin’s hold on my life as a follower of Jesus? Through Paul’s quill, God instructed Jesus followers that the prison doors of sinful behavior have been unlocked by God, and we can be free to walk in God’s Spirit (cp. Romans 6-8).

Is God really trustworthy in keeping His promises? A large part of the Epistle deals specifically with the history of God and His promises to Israel, as a case study in Hi trustworthiness (cp. Romans 9-11).

What should a healthy walk with Jesus look like in practical and daily lifestyle? This is the section we again study today – the section that explains how a mature and healthy believer should appear, or how they should demonstrate Jesus in daily life (cp. Romans 12-16).

Next, look at the grammar of what Paul said God expected to fulfill the commands of the first part of the Romans 13.

Romans 13:14“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to [its] lusts.”

Notice three things:

• In this metaphor, Jesus is One you can “put on” like you would put on new clothing. If you think of trying on new clothes, you can easily understand you cannot put on the new until you remove the old.

• Second, the term “flesh” is modified by the term “lusts” – making them one and the same. He isn’t talking badly about our physical bodies (nor our God-given nees like food, etc.) , but rather making the point that we cannot and must not pander to the fallen urges that he summarized by the word “lusts.” Lust, in this context, is a strong desire once imbedded into us by God, but torqued through the Fall. Most often in the New Testament, lust of the flesh is a description of an implanted hunger the enemy uses to draw us into fulfilling our felt needs without God.

A believer is not to make provision for the desire that leads us to fulfill a hunger without God and His provided plan as shared in His Word.

Four Instructions for Believers from Romans 13

Set in this context are the four instructions of the chapter. Go back to the beginning of the text and review quickly…

Instruction One: Believers are to learn to let God put people over us we wouldn’t always choose.

As a follower of Jesus, we accept that what is happening in the physical world is but a symptom of the spiritual world. We believe that behind the scenes are two competing agendas – that of a loving God and another of a deceiving enemy. Though God’s enemy has great power on our planet, he is limited to the realm God has set for him until the time that evil is brought to an end. Ultimately, all things happen under the authority of our Heavenly Father – even the things He is not pleased by. Yet, the underlying system, though at times suffering from later corruptions, is still a reflection of His original establishment. Paul put it this way…

Romans 13:1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.

Romans 13:3b “…Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.

If you follow the logic of his argument, you will see:

Paul told them the deliberately place themselves in subjection to authorities in light of the Author of their place of authority (13:1). In order to drive home Divine reasons, Paul had to press the case as to why subjection was so important. He enumerates several reasons:

God designed authority and placed people into it. (Romans 13:1) From the original call of man in the Garden, ruling and ordering were part of what God wanted man to accomplish.

Resisting the structures God put in place was often a proxy battle for resisting God Himself (Romans 13:2). We need signs and symbols of authority to remind us to obey – because we can get feisty or thoughtless and do what we want, even if it isn’t right. Authorities were designed, in some ways, to help deter wrong action.

Think of the police car you see when traveling down the road. What is the first thing you do? You look down at the speed limit. Why? Because if you are going the right speed, you anticipate he won’t stop you. He isn’t looking for more paperwork to do if he doesn’t need to do it. His presence slows people down and gets them thinking about obeying the signs.

Subjecting ourselves will most often put us in a place of peace and not fear. When the one in authority sees a clear demonstration that we understand their importance and function, they are far more likely to have a positive exchange with us (Romans 13:3b).

Resisting authority and violating law, even in an imperfect and fallen world, should make us afraid. Deterrence is a God thing. God has put within man a sense of the society in which they live. He has made us nervous when doing wrong from our earliest “cookie heist” as a child. That built in anxiety is called “guilt” and is part of our “conscience.”

We are, when all is said and done, to be in subjection because it can save us pain and trouble, but also because it helps us keep peace inside. When we do nothing to violate law, we move through life without hiding the guilt of our transgressions (Romans 13:4-5).

The battle with submission is a battle of the ego.

Let’s say it this way: We actively seek to “peel off self” when we set aside ego and learn humility and respect. It is an act of worship, especially when it is consciously done to obey the teachings of Jesus.

Do not be drawn into the trap of only respecting an authority after you make them prove they deserve it. That is another form of deep rebellion and arrogance. It is a popular notion, but one that assumes God is not behind authority structures.

But there is more…

Instruction Two: Believers are to learn to practice submission in demonstrable and practical ways.

God doesn’t want us to subscribe to a theory of obedience; He wants us to practice truth in life. This became very pointed when Paul connected the truth of submission to our use of money to demonstrate submission and honor. He noted:

Romans 13:6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for [rulers] are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax [is due]; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

Here is the truth: Believers must not embrace civil authority and then feel justified starving its ability to collect revenue necessary to perform its vital civil tasks. The passage requires that we openly agree to pay, honor and show respect to those in authority without compromise. Bear in mind Paul was a Roman, writing during the early years of Emperor Nero. Though he was not yet acting out, there were ample illustrations of inequitable rulers readily available at the time.

Don’t cynically read this as some kind of patronizing passage to keep the authorities off the back of the early church leaders – it is both their record and the breathed Word of God!

The instruction was clearly to respect, fear and honor civil authority based on their placement by God. This included paying taxes into a system that used the money for purposes we wouldn’t individually agree to as believers.

We actively seek to “peel off self” when we practice the theory of submission in something as physical as money. Even mature believers may find themselves negotiating terms of obedience when they don’t like the way the taxes are used. That is a distraction from the call to give to temporal rulers the temporary (but prized) bank balance.

There is yet a third instruction…

Instruction Three: Believers need to learn to see others through eyes of love and act in ways respecting them and their things.

It is important for us to note that when God calls for us to give honor, fear and treasure to civil authority, He has the right to direct my finances. All that I have has come into my life because of My Heavenly Father. Listen to what God directed:

Romans 13:8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled [the] law. 9 For this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of [the] law.

Obviously, Paul argues that believers are to keep a ledger clear of debt as much as is possible, but recognize there is one part of the ledger that can never be clear: the part concerning our love. We OWE it to people to love them.

• If we violate the sacredness of another’s marriage – we steal from someone. We steal their special bond, violate the sacredness of their promises and covenant to each other, and potentially wound their children and family.

• When we murder another human being, we steal their right to more opportunities for forgiveness, more chances to find love and experience grace – we take from them what is not ours to take.

• When we take from another the things that are justly theirs, we remove from them the fruit of their labors, and we show ourselves discontented with what God has placed rightfully in our hands.

All these are sins: adultery, murder, theft. We must not take, but we are equally commanded not to withhold – or we also sin.

• We are not to withhold our deliberate action to meet the needs of those around us, without the expectation of any specific return on our action.

• We are to love, because we were commanded to by God. That alone is reason enough.

Love is about the other person, not about you. The battle inside is about placing other people first, when our default is about making ourselves first. We deliberately “peel off self” when we think of the needs of others over our own needs.

There is one final command…

Instruction Four: Believers are to learn to put on Jesus’ character and choices.

In putting others before me, I must also put Jesus before me. I put on Jesus when I deliberately take off my right to choose and put on His choices. The end of the text calls for us to deliberately change our appearance…

Romans 13:11 [Do] this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.

Paul warned the hour was later than they thought. We don’t have time to put this off. We have to get busy.

Paul also warned that we can be sleepy when we should be vigilant. We can easily get the idea that important things are not that important.

Paul anticipated that our rescue from this life was about to happen, any day. He wasn’t depressed. He wasn’t disgusted with this life. He was acknowledging a truth we must ponder to stay on track: We don’t belong here. We aren’t designed to live with the pain of death, the struggle with sin and the power of the enemy forever. We will be set free.

The night will pass. The pain will go away. The fog of putting hope in my body and its pleasures will be lifted. I will see the Savior. I will know peace. I will experience the delight of one-ness with God. I will have the eternal life Jesus promised…and it is coming SOON!

Paul continued:

Romans 13:12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day…

Paul told them to act NOW as we will act THEN. Believers are to bring Heaven into the room, not try to sneak darkness into Heaven when they go. Our values are to be transformed to eternal ones.

What does that look like? It includes separating ourselves from pandering to our physical wants and desires apart from an intimate walk with Jesus. He wrote:

Romans 13:13b “…not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.

Note the areas: Partying to release us from responsible action, sexual indulgence to release us from the tensions of desire, sensual feeding to grow the fallen nature’s hold within us, fostering anger and division to feed our ego and the stirred broken spirit within us.

Each of these exalts OUR NEEDS over others. Each removes our conscious choice to follow Jesus and not make a god out of our belly – our hungers, our desires. Paul ended with clear words…

Romans 13:14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to [its] lusts.

Instead of indulging self I am to put on the actions and attitudes of Jesus in my daily choices. That is the Christian life. Some things are to be increasingly evident: My Christ-like thinking will cause me to focus on fulfilling the desires of my Father and enable me to put my hungers behind His desires.

If we took the time to read Paul description in detail of the works of the flesh that he wrote not long after, it would sound like this:

Galatians 5:19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Look at the WAR WITHIN YOU as a believer for a minute. In Galatians 5, God made clear the works of the flesh are all ABOUT ME taking care of ME (at least my perceived needs). Here we have a list of fifteen deeds we can be drawn into – all of which displease God and enslave us: (Note: The Greek words are defined below).

• Immorality: porneia; illicit sexual activity to use my body for self-pleasure without regard to the proper bonding use of the gift of sexuality.

• Impurity: a-katharsia; uncleansed living, living with unbridled desires that are not corrected. This is literally about living in a withdrawn state from God, because you refuse to yield to His cleansing and have the relationship restored. It is hiding in guilt and isolation from God, because you don’t want to stop doing what you are doing.

There is an old story about how a mountain lion felt so good after eating an entire bull, he started roaring. He kept it up until a hunter tracked the sound and shot him… The moral of that story: When you’re full of bull, keep your mouth shut.

• Sensuality: aselgia; shameless hungers for self-fulfillment.

• Idolatry: idolateria; shaping an ideal of value and bowing in allegiance to it.

• Sorcery: farmakia; using anesthetizing drugs for release from reality.

• Enmities: echthros; someone who harbors irreconcilable hostility, with actions prompted by envy or hatred.

• Strife: eris; someone who brings wrangling and dissention with gossip and trouble making.

• Jealousy: zélos; someone who burns for things that belong to others.

• Outbursts of anger: thoomus; someone who boils over and lashes out verbally or physically.

• Disputes: erithia; someone who manipulates for personal gain.

• Dissensions: dikhosetia; someone who forces a wedge between people to divide them.

• Factions: ha heresis; someone who labels people to keep them apart.

• Envying: fthonos; someone who plots another’s downfall out of jealousy.

• Drunkenness: methay; someone who refuses to take their pain to their Savior.

• Carousing: komos; someone who celebrates feeling in the here and now more than a sense of pleasing God.

All of these items are about ME. MY PLEASURE. MY HAPPINESS. MY STATISFACTION. MY NEEDS. MY WANTS… and they stand in direct contrast to the “other person centered” lifestyle taught in the Scriptures. They are the things we are to peel off to put on Jesus.

Paul claimed that ACTIONS AND BEHAVIORS could show the reality of a person’s true walk with God.

That is either true, or its not. If it IS, we may need a time of examination.

In a world centered on individual rights and liberties almost to the exclusion of community responsibility, this thinking challenges us to be transformed. The shocking claim is this: There is, in fact, a connection between how I live and whether or not I truly belong to Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. Let that soak in for a moment. Paul actually claims that people who truly have Jesus as their Savior make choices to walk a different path than they had when they came to Christ.

We deliberately “peel off self” when we recognize the lateness of the hour and snap out of the delusion of night. The battle with procrastination is fueled by the belief the hour is not as late as it truly is.

A recent article by two CNN reporters (Rachel Held Evans & Laura Sessions Stepp). Attempted to explain why many are leaving the American church. CNN decided to counsel churches on what congregations needed to do to start appealing to the upcoming generation. What was their conclusion? People were leaving congregations because the church wasn’t meeting their WANTS.

Throughout their descriptions of Americans they repeatedly shared what they “want.” CNN was saying: unless the church accommodated these WANTS they’d lose people.

Paul would completely understand that thinking. Jesus isn’t asking to join YOUR WAY, He is calling us to abandon our way for HIS.

The simple call of the believer is to put on Jesus and peel off self. I can’t put on Jesus until I peel off self.

We must be careful that you and I aren’t living two different sets of values – one for Sunday (a “quick slip on” version of a Jesus costume) and another for Monday (the self beneath). Let me offer a story about someone who tried it…

I heard about a farmer who was 2 hours late getting home. His wife questioned him about it and he explained that on his way home he saw his preacher on the road and picked him up. “What does that have to do with being late? The man replied, “Once that preacher got in the wagon those mules couldn’t understand a word I said!”