Romans 13:11-14: The Time when Time was Fulfilled

Psychedelic Tie-Dye Art.bmp (610x351)Before the people who became of age in the 1960s got the name “Baby Boomers,” some called them the “Now Generation.”  Back then, that generation was young–but it was more than that.  They also wanted to change the world!  The Who sang “My Generation” and Bob Dylan crooned, “The times they are a changing.”  The “Now Generation” saw itself as one finally free from the Christian veneer of its parents.  Life would be different, free and unfettered from the moral trappings of yesteryear!

But as we know, some 50 years later, the promise of the “Now Generation” just led to the same old, same old.  As Solomon wrote long ago, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).  The utopian Age of Aquarius never came.  The generation that pointed its finger at others for its misery, which said, “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” may have been in a “Purple Haze” and felt “Eight Miles High” but, somehow, they still found themselves empty and unfulfilled.

Yet, the prophets of that era did get something right.  There was a time when the promise of life was fulfilled, but it wasn’t in the Age of Aquarius.  It was in the 1st Century when God fulfilled His promises in Christ Jesus.

And what of us here on Sunday morning, here in Kimberling City?  Well, faith lives on God’s promises.  And so faith lives in that time, the time when God joined Himself with humanity, when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.

Since God became flesh in the Person of Jesus, we have been living in the last times.  The life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus took place 2,000 years ago.  Since Jesus’ first coming, fulfilling the promise God gave through the prophets, the second coming of Jesus has been imminent.  Every moment is pregnant with the possibility of Jesus’ return.  We are living on the edge of eternity, the cusp of forever.

The day of our salvation is just around the corner.  Nothing exists in all creation to delay Christ’s return.  God the Father will choose the time.  And when the time is right, from His place at the right hand of the Father, Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead.  It could be today, tomorrow, or in 1,000 years.  But no matter what, it is as Paul says: “Our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.”

So wake up!  Don’t think that being a Christian will become easier as the end approaches.  Listen to Jesus.  Speaking of the time before His return, Jesus said, “Then, there will be much suffering unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the world until now, or ever will happen” (Matthew 24:21).

Living a Christian life is a battle in which we struggle against the unholy triad: The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.  And today, based on what the Apostle Paul wrote, we ponder the enemy within each of us–our fallen and sinful flesh.

In some way, every human understands the fallen, sinful flesh.  You don’t need to be a Christian to understand that good and evil and vice and virtue exist.  The evil that Scripture warns us against in today’s epistle includes drunkenness, sexual sins, bickering, quarreling, envying, and other such vice.  Those sins all have something in common: They lift one’s own appetites above every other consideration.

Anyone who can recognize true beauty knows what is ugly.  In the same way, anyone who admires selfless generosity, kindness, and compassion can see how the works of our sinful nature defile those who engage in them.

But here’s where the Christian and non-Christian part company, for only the Christian knows the true, eternal cure for the disease of sin.  That cure brings us joy as we remember Christ’s first coming.  That cure also gives us confidence as we face Christ’s second coming.  Indeed, “our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.”

We know the cure for our sinful flesh.  We know what quenches the wants of the flesh.  We know how to wage war against the works of darkness, for God has given us the armor of light.

Only Christians know how to combat the works of the sinful nature, for only Christians know where to find true goodness.  True goodness is not self-discipline–although self-discipline is something that you and I should have!  Self-discipline stops you from drinking before you get drunk.  It stops you from eating before you become a glutton.  It even stops your hands from sexually touching someone who is not your spouse.

But the works of the flesh exist as sin within you before they erupt into outward, sinful acts.  Our sinful deeds first find their birth inside us.   James, the stepbrother of Jesus and the first Bishop of Jerusalem wrote: “Desire becomes pregnant and gives birth to sin” (James 1:15).

It’s true: Self-discipline can suppress the outward expressions of those sinful thoughts for a while.  But the sinful flesh always finds a way to express what it wants.  It’ll connive and push its way out until its appetites are satisfied.  Oh, you need more than self-discipline.  You need more than the strength of your will.

You need Jesus; He is the cure.  The Apostle Paul encourages you to wake up from your spiritual slumber.  Then, he says to put on the armor of light.  Then, he says to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Apostle Paul points you to Jesus as the cure for the sin that ails you.  Yes, putting on the Lord Jesus Christ isn’t only for your salvation; it’s also for living the Christian life.

So, wake up from your slumber.  That involves taking a serious look at who you are, and what you are, in Christ Jesus.  You belong to the One who has bought you by His blood.  The Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father through the Son, lives in you.  And the One who lives in you is greater than the one who rules this world.

Then, put on the armor of light.  That’s why the truth walks in the pure light of day.  He doesn’t sneak around at night, hiding in darkness, cloaking his true aims.  The truth is superior to deception.  And the armor of light has the advantage that honesty and truth have over dishonesty and deceit.

Then, put on and clothe yourself with the One who is Himself the Truth–Jesus!  You put Him on and wear Him.  He covers you.  That’s what makes you a Christian.  But it’s more than that: His obedience and suffering are also your righteousness.

Putting on Jesus is trusting that His work is good enough.  It’s believing that God washes your sins away in Jesus’ blood, which makes you holy and righteous in His sight.  Putting on the Lord Jesus is simply returning to your baptism, where God first brought you into His Covenant and family.

Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ is the same as claiming Him as your Redeemer and Savior.  It’s claiming His righteousness as your own.  That’s how you wage war against the wants and works of the sinful flesh.

You fight the flesh with the Gospel–not the law.  Now, most people have some inkling of the God’s law, of His standards of right and wrong, even if it’s distorted.  In their gut, people somehow know that getting drunk, sleeping around, getting into bitter arguments and fights, overeating, and living a life chasing after your own appetites is a bad and destructive way to live.

Chasing after pleasure doesn’t make you more fulfilled.  It still leaves you empty.  Yet, telling someone to behave doesn’t fix the problem either.  The root of the problem is someone’s sinful desires–and telling him to behave doesn’t remove those desires from him.  For the law, that is, what you are to do and not do, doesn’t defeat the sinful flesh.

But the Gospel, what Jesus did and does for you, is different than the law.  The Gospel tells you that your sinful flesh has no claim on who and what you are.  You belong to Christ.  God has pronounced you innocent.  The Holy Spirit has given you faith.  God has bathed you in the baptismal water through which God has taken away your sins.

The sinful flesh and its yearnings don’t define you.  You belong to Jesus.  You were bought with a price–His blood shed for you on the cross.  So even when the sinful flesh silences the Holy Spirit’s voice, and you do what is wrong, the flesh still hasn’t defined you or destroyed your identity.  Your baptism is God’s washing that continues to cleanse you of your sins.  When the sinful flesh tries to claim you, confess your sins and claim your baptism, putting on Christ, holding on to your status as a child of God.

This fight against the flesh goes on until the day you die.  Even so, “your salvation is nearer than when you first believed.”  That’s your motivation!  Yes, you are saved.  It’s true that Jesus has already rescued you from sin, from the eternal experience of death that is yours because of sin, and from the devil who controlled you.

But you won’t receive the fullness of your salvation until Jesus returns.  That’s why Paul wrote, “Your salvation is nearer than when you first believed.”  In His first coming, Jesus was born to become your Savior from sin.  But in His second coming, He will judge the living and the dead.  That’s when you will receive the fullness of your salvation, when body and soul reunite, and you will reign with God in the new heaven and earth.  Now that’s encouragement to battle all the more against the sinful flesh!

When temptations get the better of you, when your sinful appetites have their way with you, don’t let those failures define you.  Instead, lay your sins on Jesus and claim Him as your righteousness before God.  Rest safely and securely in God’s forgiveness of your sins.  That’s how you battle against sin.  Amen.