Living in the Light
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, May 6, 2012
Copyright © 2012, P. G. Mathew
Romans 13:11–14 was instrumental in the salvation of one of the church’s most well-known theologians. Aurelius Augustinus (St. Augustine) was a great sinner until he was thirty-two years of age. Born in Thagaste, North Africa, in 354 AD to a Christian mother and pagan father, he was appointed professor of rhetoric at the University of Milan at age thirty. It was a very good job with a high salary, and he came in touch with high society in Milan.
In the summer of 386 AD, as he was reading the Bible with his friend Alypius at the house of a friend, Augustine began to weep. But he got up and went into the garden because he was not yet ready to turn from sin. There in the garden he heard a child singing, "Tolle lege! Tolle lege!” ("Take up and read! Take up and read!”). The Holy Spirit was speaking to him to go back into the house, open the Bible, and read it. He did so, opening to our text, where he read, "Not in orgies and drunkennesses, not in sexual immoralities and debaucheries, not in dissension and envy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:13–14, author’s version).
Augustine read no more. Heavenly light flooded his soul, and all doubt and indecision were driven out. All gloom vanished; great joy filled his heart. He was converted and became a true saint of the church. John Calvin depended much on Augustine’s spiritual learning, as revealed in Calvin’s Institutes. From that point on, Augustine labored much for the church until he died in 430 AD at age seventy-six.
This passage speaks about living a holy life. Who lives a sanctified life? Only Christians who are justified. Christians who are light and sons of the day will walk in the light of the word of God. For us, the night is gone and the day has come. The hour has come for us to awake from sleep "because our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:11). We have woken up, we are dressed, and now we are working for the Lord in his vineyard. Now we redeem the time by doing God’s work with speed and from our heart, in a way pleasing the Lord. We are "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that [we] may declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet. 2:9). Paul uses five action verbs in this text, two negative and three positive, to teach us how to live in the light.
The first duty Paul speaks of is negative. What is it? Put off! It is time we put off "the deeds of darkness.” Because we are justified believers in Christ, because we are children of God, let us throw out the works of darkness. The Greek verb says we must do this once for all, not gradually. So let us throw evil habits far away from us! Throw them away as garbage! Elsewhere Paul says, "He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need” (Eph. 4:28). If we only stop stealing, we are still thieves. When we stop stealing, work with our hands, and give to the needy, then we are no longer thieves.
Paul is speaking of a once for all life change. So when the old John Drunkard becomes the new John Christian, he is no longer a drunkard.1 Instead, he brings home his wages, and his family is no longer destitute, but well-taken care of. The liar becomes a truth-teller. The thief who is converted stops stealing, not only for a short time, but once for all. The drug addict is set free, by the power of the Holy Spirit. He no longer takes drugs, but enjoys the liberty of the children of God. The lazy, rebellious student is now disciplined and works hard.
Therefore, throw off the deeds of darkness at once, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Where the Holy Spirit is, there is freedom from all bondage. Before conversion, we suffered from moral inability to keep God’s law. Now that we are born of God, we have a new heart, a new mind, and a new divine nature. We know the will of God, and the Holy Spirit dwells in us always. So now we can do all things through him who gives us strength (Phil. 4:13).
Throw off and throw out all evil night activities. No more orgies, drunkennesses, sexual immoralities, debaucheries, fighting, envy, and the like. No more abuse of alcohol and drugs in wild partying. No more sexual immoralities of every kind. No more self-willed existence in which we assert, "I am! Who is the Lord that I should obey him?” Now the prodigal who wasted all things in wild living has come home to serve his father and live in his presence.
So Paul tells us, "If you live according to the [flesh], you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are [being] led by the Spirit [of God, they and they alone] are sons of God” (Rom. 8:14–15). He also exhorts, "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5). We must put them to death by the Holy Spirit.
Make No Provision for the Flesh
The second negative duty that God demands that we do is: "Make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:14, author’s version). This is a present imperative, which we must obey daily. We must not plan to sin, as the unbeliever does, waking up each morning and thinking about how to engage in sin throughout that day and night.
Potiphar’s wife continually plotted to seduce Joseph, but he refused all her advances. He bore witness to the true and living God, saying, "How can I do this wicked thing and sin against God?” and running away from her (Gen. 39:6–15). Paul tells us, "Flee youthful lusts” (2 Tim. 2:22).
King David worked hard planning to sin against Bathsheba. His plan succeeded, and he suffered greatly for it. And he had to pay for his sins. Every sinning person must pay for his sins. It is true that we cannot atone for our sins. Only Jesus Christ can do that. But we must suffer for our sins in this life. So we are told the sword would not depart from David’s house (2 Sam. 12:10). The child born to David and Bathsheba died, and several of David’s other children were later killed. David’s son Amnon planned carefully to make provision for the flesh. He sinned and was killed by God (2 Sam. 13). Absalom, Amnon’s brother, also made provision for the flesh. He sinned greatly, and was also killed by God himself, as also was another brother, Adonijah (2 Sam. 18; 1 Kings 2).
Christians do not achieve sinless perfection in this life. Christians alone experience war within. There is continual war between the flesh and the Spirit. Sin is still within us. But God the Holy Spirit is also within us. Be obedient to the Spirit, and he will win the victory.
As Christians, we are given moral ability and freedom not to sin (posse non peccare). Therefore, we can do as Paul says and work out our salvation with fear and trembling because God is working in us both to will and to do his good pleasure (Phil. 2:12–13). Our God is infinitely greater than sin, the devil, and the world. Obey God, therefore, and enjoy great victory. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing. But since we are united with Christ, we can do all things by his abounding grace that is ever flowing to his obedient children.
Before God justified us, sin was our king, and we could only sin. Now Jesus Christ is our King. He rules us. He is almighty. And we who have received his abundant grace also reign with him. So enabled by God, we can say "No” to sin and "Yes” to the will of God (Tit. 2:11–12).
Christians, therefore, can live a righteous, victorious, overcoming life in this present evil age. Jesus leads us in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. So we walk in the light. We are new creations of God, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. Christ who dwells in us is greater than the devil who is in the world. He is greater than death. He destroyed death to give us eternal life. Jesus defeated all his enemies by his death on the cross. He delivered us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of light. Now we are seated with him in the heavenly places. Therefore, saints of God, oppose sin in the power of the Holy Spirit. Do not co-exist with sin. Give no place for the devil by sinning. Do not be ignorant of the devil’s strategies. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, and let the word of Christ direct your steps. Obey God’s word, and you will live an overcomer’s life. In Romans 8:37, Paul tells us that we are super-conquering people (hupernikaô).
Be aware that we have enemies within us as well as without. But we can daily win this war through Christ who gives us strength. Christ’s grace is sufficient and his power is made perfect in our weakness. When we are weak, then we are strong (2 Cor. 12:9–10). So we resist the mighty devil, and he will flee from us. John writes, "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12:11). So we kill sin by the Spirit.
As Christians, we do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Holy Spirit’s prompting and power. We are not planning about how to sin. We agree with the psalmist: "I will sing of your love and justice; to you, O LORD, I will sing praise. I will be careful to lead a blameless life—when will you come to me? I will walk in my house with blameless heart. I will set before my eyes no vile thing. The deeds of faithless men I hate; they will not cling to me. Men of perverse heart shall be far from me; I will have nothing to do with evil” (Ps. 101:1–4).
We should not place evil things before our eyes. We are what we think, we speak what we think, and we do what we think. Think, therefore, on spiritual things. Paul writes, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). Elsewhere he says, "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:1–2). The Hebrews writer says, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2).
What are you thinking? What are you watching on your computer? What are you doing with your time? God sees all of it. Paul admonishes, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:16–17). We must think about the word of God. Paul also tells us, "Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:17–20).
Consider how Jesus dealt with temptation. He was baptized in the Holy Spirit, and full of the Holy Spirit and the holy Scripture. So he told the devil, "It is written.” In other words, "The will of my Father is written down, and I will obey it in the power of the Spirit.” The psalmist says of the blessed man, "His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night… . Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper” (Ps. 1:1, 2). We are destined to succeed, not fail. Jesus said, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that [you] may have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
It is true that, in this life, there will always be a war within us. Peter writes, "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Pet. 2:11). Paul says, "For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature” (Gal. 5:17). But if we walk in God’s ways, we will succeed. Paul says, "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not [fulfill] the desires of the [flesh]” (Gal. 5:16). It is a divine guarantee. Meet the conditions, and you will experience this wonderful result.
Finally, have fellowship with the true people of God. Have nothing to do with wicked, ungodly, sinful people. The psalmist says, "As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight” (Ps. 16:3). Elsewhere we read, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25). Fellowship helps prevent us from making provision for the flesh.
Put on the Armor of Light
The first positive command is, "Put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:12). This is not a suggestion; it is a command from the holy God, and all true people of God will obey it. It is not enough to put off the works of darkness and make no provision for the flesh. That is just negative. We have to move on to positive things. We must put something on. We must clothe ourselves, just as God clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins in place of their dried-up fig-leaf contraptions that failed to cover their utter nakedness. Paul declares, "Put on the armor of light.” It is a divine exhortation. Thank God, in our justification, we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ himself. But the doctrine taught here is not justification, but sanctification. It is speaking about our being clothed in practical righteousness, in holy living (Deut. 6:25).
When Phinehas killed the wicked couple who were sinning, the psalmist says it was credited to him for righteousness (Num. 25; Ps. 106:30–31). This is speaking about the righteousness of sanctification. Our obedience is credited to us as righteousness. (PGM) Yet all our righteousness of obedience comes from Christ alone because we are told he is our justification, our sanctification, and our glorification (1 Cor. 1:30). Our entire salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. So God alone receives all glory.
God has a plan for our life, but it is not to live in the filthy clothes of sin. What is his plan? Paul instructs, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:25–27). That is sanctification. Elsewhere he exhorts, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom. 12:1). He also says, "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).
It is God’s plan that we become like Jesus Christ his Son: "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29). We are to put on the armor of light. We are engaged in a war against all evil forces, and we will fight this good fight until we die. The victory that overcomes the world is our faith, not in ourselves, but in Christ our captain. He has already defeated the devil. So he encourages us, saying, "In this world, you will have trouble. But rejoice, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Put on the armor of the Spirit and the Scripture. Ephesians 6 tells us to put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and, finally, the gear for communication, which is prayer.
Gideon was fearful and hiding. But God equipped him for war with his word and the Holy Spirit, who clothed him (Judges 6:34, Hebrew text). We are also clothed by the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49). And we are told to be daily filled with the Holy Spirit so that we can resist evil and live a holy life. Filled with the Spirit and filled with Scripture, we will be competent to walk in the narrow way of righteousness. Don’t sleepwalk. Be sober and fight with the armor of light. Peter warns, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Pet. 5:8–9).
Clothe Yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ
The second positive command is, "Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14). We are to put on, not just the armor of light, but the Lord Jesus Christ himself. He is the best armor. The emphasis in the Greek text is on the word Kurion (Lord, King, Mighty Potentate). Jesus is Lord, and we are his obedient slaves. He owns us. He redeemed us by his precious blood. We are not our own, so we are to obey him exactly, immediately, and gladly.
We find this emphasis on the lordship of Christ elsewhere. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:3 that by the Holy Spirit we are enabled to confess, "Kurios Iêsous” (Jesus is Lord). In Romans 10:9 he writes, "If you confess with your mouth, ‘Kurion Iêsoun’” (Jesus is Lord). In Acts 16:31 the Philippian jailer was told, "Pisteuson epi ton Kurion Iêsoun” (Believe on the Lord Jesus) and you will be saved.” Here in our text we are told, "Endusasthe ton Kurion Iesoun Christon” (Put on the Lord Jesus Christ).
Jesus is our Lord, King, and Master, and we are to obey him. He is our Prophet, Priest, and King. We cannot divide him into "Savior” and "Lord,” and choose "Savior” only. Away with such antinomianism, for it sends foolish Christians to hell itself!
Saints of God, listen to the Holy Spirit who says, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” No one can be saved without confessing, "Lord Jesus.” Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. This means we are to think his thoughts, speak his truth, and do his will, even in the face of death itself. We already put on the Lord Jesus Christ in our baptism. Paul writes, "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:27). This is indicative, but in Romans he puts it in the imperative. It simply means, "Be what you are.”
We are united with Christ. We died with him, were buried with him, and are raised with him to live for him by his resurrection life. All our capacities—our minds and our money—are to serve him. So Paul says, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). He also declares, "To me, to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). In other words, Christ lives in and through us as we do his will in the world. We are in the Lord Jesus Christ, and he is in us.
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ so that the world will see Christ in our life. Believers in Christ were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26) by pagans who heard them speaking about Christ. These believers worshiped Christ and lived for his glory. And on seeing this, the pagans said, "These people are Christians.”
So we proclaim Christ and do his will, that the world may see him in us. Our mission in the world is that people see Christ in us and come to trust in him. Our mission is not to make money so that our bellies can be full and so that we can buy new cars and move into bigger houses every two years and pretend that we are successful in the world. No, we are to be the light of the world. So we hate evil and we love righteousness. Our obedient lives prove that we have been justified forever. It is God’s will that we live holy lives because God is holy. He is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. We must put on the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our righteousness, holiness, and glory.
Once we were dead in sin, suffering from total moral inability. Now in Christ we are dead to sin. Now we have the moral ability to please God by the obedience of faith. We are new creations in Christ, with new hearts, minds, wills, and feelings. The Holy Spirit dwells in us, teaching and empowering us to love God by doing his will. To put on the Lord Jesus Christ means to live like him in this present evil age.
John tells us, "Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6). Peter says, "To this you were called because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps” (1 Pet. 2:21). Paul instructs, "Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13b).
When we put on the Lord Jesus Christ, the world sees us as Christians, as bearers of Christ. The name Christopher means "one who bears Christ.” In a sense, then, all believers are Christophers, bearers of Christ. We must live out that name. The purpose of our lives is to know him and make him known.
This Lord Jesus Christ is our shepherd. He provides for all our needs and leads us always in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. He will never lead us to sin. Happiness is to know Jesus and to follow him. He goes conquering and to conquer. He always wins. He goes before us, he is behind us, and he is all around us. Thus, no enemy can ever destroy us. In fact, Jesus said, not even one hair of our head will be lost (Luke 21:18). So we boldly confess Christ before men, for we know that the gospel "is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). People will hear and believe in Christ through us because we are the light of the world. And when we clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, we are putting on his protection, power, confidence, courage, life, victory, beauty of holiness, joy, salvation, Holy-Ghost anointing, glory, dominion, grace, peace, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and the like.
How can we be clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ and be afraid of the devil and the world? It is an impossibility! The Lord himself says to each one of us, "Fear not. I am your shield and your very great reward.”
By his atoning death on the cross, Jesus destroyed all our evil fear. We are saved from fear of death and the devil and the world. We are saved from the fear of God’s wrath. To put on the Lord Jesus Christ is to obey him implicitly. He is Lord of all. He reigns, and we reign with him. So let there be a deliberate, conscious, whole-souled embrace of the lordship of Christ by all of us who already put on the Lord Jesus Christ at our baptism. Live out the implications of your baptismal confession. And for those who are still outside of Christ, I beseech you to confess him as Lord and Savior right now. Do not delay. He will save you now, and in him, you too can live a joyful, victorious life.
Let Us Walk Decently as in the Day
The third and last positive command is, "Let us walk as in the day decently” (Rom. 13:13, author’s version). This exhortation speaks of our daily life. We are to walk in the way of holiness, led by the Lord and his word, one step at a time, one decision at a time, ever making progress as pilgrims in our journey toward Zion, the city of the living God.
Many saints have walked before us. Enoch walked with God, as did Noah, Abraham, Paul, Peter, St. Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and believers in every generation, including my own parents. They all walked with God.
Even now, we are not walking alone. Many are walking with us: "As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight” (Ps. 16:3). Isaiah says, "And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isa. 35:8–10).
We shall surely arrive and enter Zion with singing. No one shall be lost or destroyed. Our good shepherd will see to that. We will walk each step as Jesus walked, by faith in Christ, in the newness of life, in love, in wisdom, in light, in the Holy Spirit, and in the narrow highway of holiness, which is Jesus Christ himself.
The Bible says that grace "teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives” (Titus 2:12). The dynamic for such a life is the Holy Spirit. Above all, we are to keep our eyes on Jesus. The Hebrews writer says, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are —yet was without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Jesus will help us.
The way to glory for Christ was through the cross of Calvary. It was the Father’s will that he die our death that we may live his life. So he said, "Not my will but thine be done.” Similarly, on our way to glory we are to take up our own crosses and follow him. Yet he alone went through the valley of death; he leads us only through the valley of the shadow of death. So Paul invites us to suffer with him. He told to Timothy, "So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God” (2 Tim. 1:8). He also said, "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
As believers in Christ, we will not be spared from certain sufferings. But such suffering will be for our good, for our sanctification. And what happened to Christ will never happen to us. On the cross, Jesus was forsaken by his Father; that will never happen to us. David says, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4, KJV). He who laid down his life for us lives for us and he is our good shepherd.
Therefore, I say to you, put off all evil and live by faith and not by sight. Make no provision for the flesh. Put on the armor of light and the Lord Jesus Christ. Walk with Christ and all his saints to the city of the living God. We will all arrive with singing to the very presence of God to dwell with him forever.
1 P. G. Mathew, "Steps to Holiness, Part 4,” http://www.gracevalley.org/sermon_trans/2009/Steps_to_Holiness_4.html
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Copyright © 2012, P. G. Mathew
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