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. 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. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. – Romans 13:11-14 ESV
Earlier in his letter, Paul quoted from Deuteronomy 29:4, which talked about that nation of Israel’s spiritual stupor or slumber. Now, he issues a wake-up call to the believers in Rome, urging them to rub the sleep from their own eyes and recognize the urgency of the moment. This was not the first time Paul had used this kind of language when talking with believers. He had written to the Corinthians, “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 15:34 ESV). He was telling them that they should know better. Their relationship with God through Jesus Christ had provided them with a knowledge of God that should have dramatically altered their behavior. Paul had a similar thing to say to the believers in Ephesus: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you’” (Ephesians 5:11-14 ESV).
There is a sense in which all of us who are believers can be lulled into a state of spiritual stupor or slumber and find ourselves wandering around half-asleep and unaware of what is really happening around us. As believers we have been called to live in alertness and awareness, with a keen eye on the times in which we live. The apostle Peter wrote, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:89 NLT). Paul challenged the Colossian believers, “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart” (Colossians 4:2 NLT). Even Jesus Himself said, “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42 NLT).
When Paul had written to the church in Thessalonica, he used very similar terminology. “For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 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” (1 Thessalonians 5:5-8 ESV). There is to be a radical difference to the way in which we conduct our lives on this planet. We are no longer to live as if we are half asleep and incapable of recognizing the dangers around us. We have had our eyes opened wide by the gospel and we know the truth. We have no excuse for living as if we are still in the dark about the seriousness of sin or the expectations of God. He has called us to live holy lives and He has given us His Holy Spirit to make it possible. We are to “walk properly as in the daylight” (Romans 13:13 ESV). Those who live in the dark do so to hide their sins. Thieves operate in darkness, not daylight. They use the dark to cover their actions. But we have been exposed to the Light. In fact, we have the light of Christ shining in us and through us. “For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NLT).
Paul would have us “cast of the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12 ESV). There is something protective about living in the light. It enlightens our path and reveals our way. It exposes dangers along the way. Darkness cannot exist in the presence of light. As believers, we know that our salvation, made possible by the death of Christ, includes our ultimate glorification. We are to live with that end in mind. That is why Paul said, “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11 ESV). Our hope is to be in our ultimate glorification when Christ returns for us. We should be living in anticipation for that day. Those who don’t know Christ don’t know any better than to live their lives as if this world is all there is. They are in darkness when it comes to the reality of eternity. They are asleep and unaware of the danger lurking ahead when they wake up and realize that it is too late to respond to the gospel. But we know better. We are to live differently. We have been issued our wake-up call. Now let us live fully awake and alert to the dangers around us and the hope that lies ahead of us.