Embrace the Tension Romans 13:11-14 

Embrace the Tension

Romans 13:11-14

In the spring of 1519, the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez, set sail with 600 men on a fleet of eleven ships for the new world. There were stories of a city of gold, a fountain of youth, and other priceless treasures that would dazzle the eye and make them rich beyond their wildest imaginations. So they got on a boat and with little more than the possessions they could carry on their back and sailed away from their old lives. There were friends and family that they would never see again. Their homes, their country, their comfort all were sacrificed as they stepped aboard a ship that took them to the new world. Strangers in this new land, they would need to learn new customs, new languages, and live as aliens.

Their hopes were soon dashed as they began to hit unforeseen obstacles. The brochure said nothing about the overtly hostile indigenous people who would try to kill them. There was no mention of the new and scary animals or of the tropical diseases that ravaged their ranks. I wonder how long it took before they wanted to go back? “This is too hard. I don’t want to suffer. I didn’t ask for this pain. I am not ready for this kind of sacrifice. I want to go back to the way things were.”

As Christians, we can relate. We too have left behind our old life. Our testimonies contain a section on “what my life was like before Christ”. We set out with promises of love, joy, peace, hope, and an eternal reward. But too often, like those men, this new life is not what we expected. It is harder, it has unexpected challenges, and we find ourselves standing on the shore dreaming about our old lives. The Christian life is too hard, too restrictive, too much work. “I want to enjoy the world, I want to be free like my friends.” We have all had these thoughts–wishing, wanting, even fantasizing about it.

The Christian lives between two worlds. On the one hand, I am a child of God, I belong to Him, and I want to live for Him–to say yes to Jesus and no to self every time. On the other hand, I want to fulfill the desires of my flesh, to look at impure images, to binge watch my shows, to be lazy and live for my selfish creature comforts. This is the battle against the flesh.

Paul says in Galatians 5:17, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” This is the Christian life. We are always under tension–have you noticed? We are a new creation and yet we battle our old self. We are free from sin and yet we continue to yield to it.

This morning, we are going to look at this tension that exists in the Christian life. In fact, our message this morning is titled, “Embracing the Tension”. I want to take you to a passage of Scripture that gives us very clear helps on how to embrace the tension. Open your Bibles to Romans 13. The first 11 chapters of this letter are Paul’s treatise on God’s plan for salvation. Then in 12:1, Paul with the word “therefore” serving as a hinge, moves his focus from doctrinal truth to the practical outworking of that truth. In light of all that God has done, how are we to respond? We present our bodies to Him as a living sacrifice. Chapters 12 and 13 provide detailed instruction on this, and where we find ourselves today, 13:11 is something of a summary statement of the previous two chapters.

Let’s read verses 11 to 14 together. “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. 12The 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. 13Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”

This is an amazing text. It is a wakeup call. It is a battle cry and it goes to every Christian in the war against sin. The Christian life is not comfortable, and it is not easy–and when we live for Christ, we live in tension. If we could bring the message down to one phrase, it is embrace the tension. Let me show you how. First in our outline, remember that . . .

1.  You are not HOME yet  Verses 11 to 12a

Look back at verse 11, “Do this, knowing the time.” Do what? Live out all that I have shared in chapters 12 and 13 about offering yourself as a holy sacrifice. You are to “do this,” he says, “knowing the time.” What exactly is he referring to? This is not a reference to the minute hand on a clock, but the time in the realm of human history. So, what time is it?

We live in an age of unprecedented technological, scientific and medical advances. Our world continues to shrink as the internet has connected even the remotest parts of the globe. We carry computers in our pockets. People are living longer and healthier. We are sending people into space as tourists. There are self-driving cars. The economy is cruising along. We live in the greatest country on earth. We have air conditioning, money in the bank, family vacations, opportunities abound in school, career, and life. We are farm to table, organic loving, locally sourced fanatics. We have our daily routines, our specialty coffee, our creature comforts. The kids are excelling in school, in sports, with friends.

The time seems to be good and the future is looking bright. But this is not what Scripture says. Galatians 1:4 says that “this present age is evil.” Ephesians 5:16 adds specifically that “the days are evil.” It is so bad that 1 Corinthians 7:29 says “the time has been shortened.” First Timothy 3:1 says that “difficult times will come.”

And so these times are here–this world is under the control of the evil one. Jesus calls him the ruler of this world in John 12:29. And the world system he has set up is just as anti-God as he is–naturalistic evolution, abortion, and the sexual revolution are all evidences of his involvement. So what time is it? Look at verse 11 again. “It is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep.” It’s time to wake up. Stop covering your head with a pillow and hitting the snooze bar and wake up.

Who is he saying this to? Look back at the text. Is it believers or unbelievers? Does the Bible say that unbelievers are asleep? No–Ephesians 2:1 says that unbelievers are dead in their sins. So who is he talking to? In the opening of this letter, just six verses into his initial greeting Paul writes, “You also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints.” Romans was written to believers. And if we look at our passage, Paul uses the word “us” three times—once each in verse 11, verse 12, and in verse 13.

So who had fallen asleep? The church at Rome. The simple reality learned from these verses is that Christians can fall asleep. Are you asleep? Let’s take a quick test. Do you notice the evil in the world around you? Are you broken over it or do you feel that the sin in your life is not that big a deal–that it is not really that bad? Are you concerned over the lostness of friends, family, coworkers?

Jonah fell asleep on a boat when he should have been preaching. Peter, James, and John fell asleep in the garden while the Lord, in agony, sweat great drops of blood. Many Christians are asleep–they are inactive and idle and are doing very little for Christ. This is characterized by a lethargic, apathetic, indifferent and careless attitude. There is no urgency. There is no fire. But Paul comes into our bedroom and he is calling us to wake up, to get out of bed and realize what time it is. Why? Look at how verse 11 ends.

For now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.” He says that our salvation is coming nearer. But aren’t we already saved? Well, yes. Ephesians 2:8, speaking in the past tense, says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith,” while 1 Corinthians 1:18 says that we are currently, present tense “being saved”. And 1 Peter 1:5 looks to the future saying, it is “a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

There is a progressive aspect of salvation here. There was a distinct moment you were saved–the Bible calls this justification. You live in the present blessings of that salvation. And one day you will be fully glorified. And Paul’s point is that you are “nearer [verse 11] than when you believed.” We are marching toward that day. Whether you have been saved for 30 days or 30 years, we are looking to that moment when faith turns to sight and prayer turns to praise.

But here we are in this middle ground between the two advents of Christ. Before His first coming, the world lay in darkness and sin. Beyond His second coming, there is fullness of glory and the realization of our hope. We live between two worlds. We exist in a period that theologians call the already not yet. We have been saved from the power and the penalty of sin, but we have not been delivered from its presence. God didn’t save us, and like Elijah, take us immediately to Heaven on a fiery chariot. No–He has us here to fulfill His will, to accomplish His purposes, to be salt and light in a dark world. In Philippians 1:23 Paul says, “To depart and be with Christ is very much better.” Heaven is better, but we are here and we have work to do.

And to give us a little bit of motivation, Paul says in verse 12, “The night is almost gone and the day is near.” He calls it “the day”–definite article. This refers to a specific day. Acts 17:31 says that this day is fixed by God Himself. Matthew 24:36 says, “But of that day and hour no one knows.” What is this day? James 5:8 says it is “the coming of the Lord”. In Hebrews 10:37 it says He “will not delay.” Philippians 4:5 says, “The Lord is near.” Jesus said, “Be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42).

The trumpet will sound” (1 Corinthians 15:52), the dead will be raised, Jesus will be revealed in glory (2 Thessalonians 1:10), and Psalm 98:9 says “He is coming to judge the earth.” We are in the dawning of the day. On that day, He will put an end to sin. On that day, He will abolish death. On that day, every tear will be wiped away. On that day, all suffering and pain and struggle will be finished. On that day, He will bring us home.

The nighttime of sickness will soon be over. The lonely pain of sorrow will be gone. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” Psalm 30:5. This is the day for which also “we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” {Philippians 3:20). First John 3:2, “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”

Paul’s point is that we must wake up–we are five days closer. We are five years closer. Our time is not unlimited. When will you live for Jesus, if not today? Young person with vigor, energy, and physical strength–set patterns in your life now. Be the man of God, be the woman of God. Fight to know Him. Run hard for Christ. Godliness is not a title bestowed on you, it is the work of a lifetime. “For you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 6so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:5 to 6).

Older saint, the days are shorter–time is moving faster and faster, but the opportunity to be used is now. There is no time to wait–if you are here, God has a purpose for your life. Amy Carmichael, pioneer missionary in India, continued her missionary work even though she was confined to her bed for the final 20 years of her life. She said, “I would rather burn out than rust out.” We are not home yet. We live between two worlds, and we must embrace the tension.

2.  Your war is WITHIN  Verses 12b to 13

Look at the second half of verse 12. “Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Having gotten out of bed, Paul now instructs us to remove our nighttime clothing. He says, “Take off the deeds of darkness, and put on the armor of light.” There are two, and only two, worldviews. There is a kingdom of light and a kingdom of darkness. There is a narrow path and a broad road. There are deeds of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit. There is the domain of Satan, the prince of the power of the air, and there is the dominion of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace.

You do not exist partially in one and partially in the other. You are either in the light or you are in the darkness. You are in the battle fighting against sin, or you are fighting on behalf of your sin. Every Christian stands in the light, and yet every Christian still struggles with sin–why? Because as verse 14 says, we are still in our flesh. And while the power of sin has been broken, it is still very present in our lives. And those same desires that existed in us before we were saved still exist in us today. This is the tension that we face–this is the tension that we must embrace. Our war is within.

And so Paul gives us these two opposing verbs in verse 12—“lay aside” and “put on”. To lay aside was used to describe removing a piece of clothing, discarding it, and throwing it away. The deeds of darkness from our sinful hearts are to be removed, discarded, and eliminated. In verse 13, Paul lists six, all in the negative–he puts them in pairs. Let’s examine each pair briefly.

FIRST  Excessive indulgence  Verse 13

not in carousing and drunkenness

Carousing was a word used to describe a village festival where drinking parties, orgies, and excessive indulgence occurred. Drunkenness is exactly what it sounds like–it is to be inebriated following the consumption of alcohol. To be controlled by wine or strong drink, using a substance to heighten the senses or numb the pain, giving control of your mind to alcohol, recreational drugs, prescription drugs, caffeine or other. “Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine and valiant men in mixing strong drink” (Isaiah 5:22).

Taken together, these words picture a lifestyle of partying where caution is thrown to the wind and control is handed over to something other than the Spirit of God. it is excessive indulgence and Paul says to lay it aside.

SECOND  Unrestrained desire  Verse 13

not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality

Taken together, these mean to engage in immoral sexual excess, debauchery, lewdness, and sexual immorality. It is behavior completely lacking in moral restraint. To ignore your convictions and cross lines with your boyfriend or girlfriend, to sleep around, to flirt at work, to cheat on your spouse. To fantasize about a husband who will love you, romance you, and be anyone different from the man currently sitting next to you. To use your phone, iPad, computer, TV as a portal into the world of porn and sexually explicit material.

35% of all internet searches are related to pornography–1/3 of these searches are made by women. Almost 90% are made from a smart phone, which means for those who have given an iPhone to their child as a birthday present, you have just opened Pandora’s box. Porn is the great exchange–it trades the worship of God for the worship of sexual fulfillment. Instead of worshipping in the house of God, you worship in front of your iPhone.

Instead of presenting your body on the altar “as a living and holy sacrifice”, in the language of Romans 12:1, you have presented your body at the altar of the false god of sex. And like the people in Ezekiel 14:3, you have set up an idol in your heart–and every time you give yourself to that idol, it strengthens its hold over you. And the object that originally promised freedom has now bound you under the yoke of slavery. But the desire is so strong that in that moment of sin, you would trade your eternal soul for temporary sexual satisfaction. Like Esau who traded his birthright for a bowl of soup, so many have traded their undying souls for a fleeting moment of pleasure. This is madness. It is utter folly. But does it not speak to the tyranny and power of this sin?

Second Peter 2:19 says, “For by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.” Some take fire into their bosom and hold sin closely, toying with it, enjoying it, but soon realize that it has ensnared them. Its power dominates you, and its fire seeks to consume you. There is a war raging for your soul. The stakes are high. And like Cain, “Sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7).

Do not be like the man in Proverbs 7:22 and 23, “All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter . . . he does not know that it will cost him his life.” Do not give your soul away for such a small price. Romans 13:13 instructs us to lay aside unrestrained desire. Next . . .

THIRD  Selfish ambition  Verse 13

strife and jealousy

This is a desire to prevail over others, to gain the highest prestige, prominence, and recognition possible. And when it doesn’t achieve this, it resents and has intense negative feelings over the achievements or successes of others. “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing” (James 3:16). This jealousy and strife takes place in our minds every day–he got promoted, she has a nicer car, better house, more friends, a better Instagram life. It is not always that you want what they have, you just don’t want them to have it.

Instead of viewing others as fellow members of the body of Christ, they become rivals. We compare ourselves to them, compete against them–and when we don’t stack up, we wish harm on them. This happens at work when the guy next to you gets promoted. Or at co-op, “My Johnny, he just hit for the cycle, got straight A’s…again, and recently translated Ephesians into Greek. Sadly, he didn’t make it this week to feed the homeless, they only let him come twice a month.” It happens in ministry when someone else gets the role you desire, or they get accolades and you are not being noticed.

In each of these situations, God is no longer at the center, you are. Life is no longer about Christ, it is about you. It indicates a heart that is full of pride and is focused on selfish ambition. The instruction in verse 12 is very simple. “Lay aside the deeds of darkness.” Be done with them. This is a drum that the New Testament beats over and over again. Ephesians 5:11 says, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness.” In Ephesians 4:22, “Lay aside the old self.” In Colossians 3:8, “Put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.” James 1:21, “Putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness.” And 1 Peter 2:1 says, “Put aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” This is the focus, aim, and objective of the New Testament. “Beware of anything that competes with your loyalty to Jesus Christ” (Oswald Chambers).

We recently returned from a houseboat trip to Lake Powell. As the sun set, the wind would calm, and the bugs came out–a lot of bugs. One evening, I walked out on the rear deck, and the gnats were all over me–on my arms, in my ears, up my nose, in my mouth. But the bugs were not really looking for me, they wanted the light. There were two floodlights that face out to the lake and swarming around those lights were thousands upon thousands of gnats. A little irritated, I picked up the hose and began to spray them, knocking them down into the water. But they kept coming–and I kept spraying. They had no regard for the danger. No regard for the consequences of their actions. No regard for anything but to get to that light.

We are too often like those moths. We know there is danger, we know there are consequences–yet we find ourselves drawn, magnetized, even pulled toward sin. The battle rages in our heart–the rebel force of lust. The overwhelming power of depression. The intense feelings of worry. Put them away. Be done with the deeds of darkness. As John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” You are not home yet, and the war is within you. And so you must embrace the tension. Let’s look at our final point . . .

3.  You serve a new Master  Verse 14

This brings us to the heart of this passage–such beautiful words. The very center of the Christian life. Verse 14, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” So simple. So modest. So unassuming. Right here in verse 14 is the precious remedy for all of Satan’s devices. The repellent to sin. The chain breaker. The death blow to sin. In this command, we find the answer to our problem with sin–to put on Jesus Christ happens at the moment of salvation. From that place of desperation, you cried out to Jesus as Savior to wash away your sin, to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. He took out the heart of stone and gave you a heart of flesh. He made you alive in Christ. He seated you with Him in the heavenly places.

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27)–past tense. We have been clothed with Christ, covered by His perfect righteousness. But there is more to putting on Christ than just the moment of salvation. Because notice in verse 14, Paul does not refer to Him as “Jesus our Savior”, as he did in 2 Timothy 1:10, or “Jesus our High Priest”, as in Hebrews 3:1, or “Jesus the Lamb of God”, as in John 1:29. Look back at verse 14, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ”–he uses a different title. What is it? Lord. There is a new Master. He is the One to whom all authority has been given—(Matthew 28:20). He is the One who sits at the right hand of the majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3). He is the One who holds the keys of death and of Hell itself (Revelation 1:18). He has a name written on His robe and on His thigh, the King of kings and the Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16).

“He is Lord, and those who refuse Him as Lord cannot use Him as Savior. It is a futile attempt to hold onto sin with one hand and take Jesus with the other.” (MacArthur) And so we come to Him as Savior and we submit to Him as Lord. To put on Jesus Christ practically speaking is the deliberate, conscious acceptance of the lordship of the Master, the placing of all things under His control–thoughts, desires, and deeds.

But there is more than just lordship. In describing this idea of putting on Christ, Charles Wesley said, “It is a strong and beautiful expression for the most intimate union with Him.” John Calvin said, “To put on Christ, means here to be on every side fortified by the power of His Spirit.” Another said, “This is the habitual association and identification with Christ.”

Do you remember back up in verse 13 where he said,  “Behave properly as in the day”? Or back up in verse 12? “Put on the armor of light.” Let’s say it this way–let Christ Jesus Himself be the armor that you wear. He is the embodiment of our weapons. He is the source of motivation and power for our ongoing battle with sin. We are putting on a Person. His humility, His compassion, His righteousness, His gentleness, His love,. His patience, His peace.

Galatians 2:20 says it a little differently. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Galatians 5:24 and 25 says it even differently from that. “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”

To “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” is to walk by His Spirit, to be controlled by Him. And so we come to Him, because He dispenses grace and help in time of need. Because He promises never to leave us or forsake us. Because in Him we have all that we need for life and godliness. Because He is our hope. Because He is the only remedy for sin. And so the Lord Jesus comes to you, young man, and He holds out His nail pierced hands and He tells you to “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him” (Luke 9:23). He comes to you, young woman, and He tells you to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). He comes to you, older woman, and He asks you to “dwell on those things that are true, honorable, right, and pure” (Philippians 4:8). He comes to you, older man, and he says, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13).

When you are tempted to look at porn, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” When you are tempted to drown your sorrows in a bottle, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”. When you are tempted to compare yourself to that other mom who was back at the gym with a 6-pack four weeks after delivery, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

John Piper said, “We must fight fire with fire. The fire of lust’s pleasures must be fought with the fire of God’s pleasures. If we try to fight the fire of lust with prohibitions and threats alone, we will fail. We must fight it with the massive promise of superior happiness. We must swallow up the little flicker of lust’s pleasure in the happiness of knowing Jesus Christ.” But this is not where he ends. He gives one final command to end this section. Look at the end of verse 14—”make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”

Lust is that strong desire of your flesh that wants what it wants. It is that craving that will only be satisfied when its need has been met. And we know what baits us, what tempts us, we know what we are drawn to. It is that same sin you confess first each time you take communion. Get it in in your mind–lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, boastful pride of life. Pleasure, possessions, power–whatever it is, the instruction here in verse 14, make no provision for it.

To make provision is to think about something ahead of time, to have plans to satisfy, or to allow the thought to linger in the mind. Do not allow the lust of your heart to linger in your mind. Give it no ground, no quarter, not an inch. When your flesh asks what is for me? You say nothing.

So what is that situation in which you are tempted? Is it at night after everyone has gone to sleep and you are alone in your room? Is it in the car with your girlfriend? Is it that social media platform, the cell phone? What is it that adds fuel to the fire of your sin? What is it that provides opportunity? Alcohol in the fridge, pills in the medicine cabinet, being alone with her at work, bad friend group? Lay siege to your sins and starve them out by keeping away the food and fuel which is their life.

Richard Baxter–make no provision for the flesh. Jesus said if the right hand causes you to stumble, then cut it off. If the right eye causes you to stumble then pluck it out. It is better to enter heaven with one less body part than it is for your whole body to go to Hell–take radical action. Sin is not to eb trifled with. It is not to be toyed with. It is not to be ignored or downplayed. So instead, cut it off. Get the TV out of your bedroom. Break up with him. Stop hanging out with those friends. Get rid of those clothes. Smash your smart phone with a hammer. And when someone asks you why you have a flip phone, tell them it is because you love Jesus more than your sin.

Matthew Holst said, “You cannot look at Jesus and look at porn at the same time. You have to stop doing one to do the other. A living, breathing relationship with the Savior of the world will drive porn out of your life quicker than anything else. When you turn your eyes to Jesus, there isn’t room for anything else in your heart because he fills it up.” Psalm 16:11, “In Your presence is fullness of joy, in your right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” This is a promise–there are pleasures, there is satisfaction and joy in Christ. He is the pearl of great price, and you were created to treasure Him more than you treasure sex or pleasure. We need to wrap up. We have seen that in our Christian lives, we are to embrace the tension—1) We are not home yet, verses 11 to 12a, 2) Our war is within, and 3) We serve a new Master. For some, you need to put on the Lord Jesus for the first time. Come to Him this morning–He will clothe your nakedness, take away your sin, and give you Himself. For others, we put on the Lord Jesus knowing that all sin–past, present and future has been paid for at Calvary, that we are no longer under sin, but under grace.

Back to our opening illustration of Cortez. Standing on the eastern shore of Mexico, Cortez contemplated the problem. His men were dreaming of home. They wanted their old life back. He sensed that they would soon abandon their mission. Fearing mutiny, he acted in an unbelievable way. In an act of total commitment to his cause, he sounded the order—”Burn the ships.”

Under penalty of death, his men lit fire to their only escape. They watched as their ticket back to their past was destroyed. And there they stood on the shore of the new world–with no chance of going back to their old life, they were forced to press on and complete their mission.

Christian, your old life is gone. In this new world, there are struggles, trials, and difficulties that make us want to give up–but there is nothing to go back to. Our old life is dead. God has saved us by His mercies and set us apart for His mission. We must embrace the tension and live for Christ all the more as the day draws near. Let’s pray.

About Shawn Farrell

Shawn leads the college ministry and serves as an elder at Faith Bible Church

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