Fight sin with a clear vision of the future

July 23, 2020

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In Romans 13, the Apostle Paul exhorts the disciples in Rome to "cast off the works of darkness" and to live "as in the daytime", because "the night is far gone" and "the day is at hand". Paul understands that what motivates discipleship - right belief and right living in light of that belief - is a clear vision of the future as defined by the Law, the Prophets, and the words of Jesus.


Hey everyone, Josh here again. As a pastor that works with a lot of young people and university students, I have a lot of conversations with young believers who are fighting sin and warring against impatience or pride or immorality or dishonesty, for example, and are battling day after day with those things. And I’ve noticed that their only weapon is the knowledge that “sin wrong and it displeases God”. And so when they sin and feel conviction and repent, they end up opening their Bibles looking for that perfect verse to remind them that God loves them and died for them and they don’t have to feel shame because they’re forgiven by Jesus’ death on the cross. And this is good and right and necessary not just for young people, but all of us when we sin - we repent and cling to the cross and run to the Word of God to remind ourselves of the truth.

But when we look to the Bible and see how Jesus or John the Baptist or Paul, for instance, would speak into this kind of a situation, we see them exhorting people to bring something much bigger to mind than simply the fact that what they are doing is bad and being like Jesus is good, and God loves them and has a great plan for their life if they would just stop cheating or lying or getting angry or watching porn. The New Testament authors use the future as the primary mechanism of discipleship. The future is the main reason why we ought to be conformed to the likeness and character of Jesus, and that’s what I want to talk about today. To say it differently, the apostles believed that what God had promised for the future was the most powerful thing that drives how one lives and behaves in the present. I’ve talked about this idea that eschatology drives discipleship in several other recent videos, and today I want to look at another passage from the book of Romans where Paul makes this super super clear. This is Romans 13, starting at verse 11:

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.

So as Paul is writing to the disciples in Rome here, he’s telling them that it’s time for them to wake up from their sleep. This is common language in second temple literature from the time, even language that Jesus himself used in Matthew chapter 13 and chapter 24, for example, when he tells his disciples to stay awake. In both those passages just like here in Romans 13, being awake implies one not being unfocused or intoxicated or distracted, but being sober and alert and ready. Sober and ready for what? Well this is where Jesus and Paul would have the view of the future from the Law and the Prophets in mind. Jews in the first century understood that history was moving toward a climactic day called the day of the Lord, and that this day would divide history into two distinct ages - this age, the one we live in currently that’s full of sin, death, brokenness, wars, pestilence, etc. and the age to come, the time period following the return of Jesus when he judges the living and the dead, in which there would be no more sin or sickness or death or evil. In our modern western culture, we look at history and divide it into a bunch of ages, right? We had the dark ages, then we had the enlightenment, then we moved into postmodern age, etc. But the Jews picked out one big event and relegated history into two big parts. And this is why Paul in the very next part of the verse in Romans 13 says “the night is far gone, the day is at hand”. Again, this is language used throughout the rest of the scriptures to describe this two-age framework that the Jews held. The night being this age, and it being “far gone” meaning it’s almost over, and the day being the age to come, and it being “at hand” meaning it’s temporally close, it’s coming really soon.

Now from this place of understanding that the day of judgment, or the day of wrath, or the day of recompense, or the day of the Lord as the scriptures say it in various ways, is coming really soon, Paul says “So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Do you see how the immediate application point Paul makes after talking about eschatology is to make a point about discipleship? That one should stop walking in the ways of this age, the sin and wickedness and the immorality and jealousy that exists in this age, and they should put on the armor of light, in other words to guard themselves against temptation to do those things by looking toward the age to come, when Jesus does away with those who practice them and those things won’t exist anymore. Friends, this exact pattern is throughout the New Testament letters. There’s never any reference to discipleship or conformity to Jesus just being based on our relationship between us and God like “God is holy and we’re not so let’s just be like him because it’s cool or something”. That literally never happens in the New Testament. There’s always a connection to eschatology, because discipleship is contingent on where things are headed. Like if you were a part of an organization or a company, you have a vision statement, and then you and your coworkers work toward that vision or that goal. Now that goal for Paul and for those he teaches, as he says in Philippians 3 verse 11, is to actually attain to the resurrection of the dead. And as a first century Jew would have understood it, this is to actually get eternal life in a resurrected body in the age to come when Jesus returns and reigns from Jerusalem forever.

So Paul continues in Romans 13,

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.

Paul says that in light of the day of the Lord, the day of judgment, the age to come being at hand, that it’s coming really soon, that disciples should live their lives in this age as it will be in the age to come. The resurrection and eternal life in the age to come is Paul’s vision statement, and by “walking properly as in the daytime”, this is how disciples of Jesus will actually attain the goal. The rest of the world who’s ignorant or hostile toward the coming day of the Lord, they seek to get as much pleasure and comfort out of this age as possible. But the ways that they walk in - drunkenness, all forms of sexual immorality, quarreling, jealousy, pride, anger, bitterness, all those acts and deeds of the flesh - those things will all be done away with on the day of the Lord. So since a disciple of Jesus has certainty about the future, that God is going to do away with those things, then it makes no logical sense and it’s even hypocritical to walk in them now. Paul says to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, to live with the assurance that he really is the Jewish messiah and that God will be faithful to everything he said he would do in the scriptures, and that we really will stand before the judgment seat to give an account for our actions. And he says “don’t make provision for the flesh”- don’t set a table for it with a full course meal and candles and jazz music playing the background. War against it, because the future is certain, and the day of the Lord is really coming.

So when it comes to discipleship, when it comes to fighting sin, we have to remember that our view of the future determines how we live in the present. When the future that the Bible holds out, when that’s unclear and undefined, when the day of judgment and the age to come is just fuzzy or it’s just about going to heaven and playing a harp on a cloud or it’s just generically “oh God loves you and will really bless you if you stop living that way”, no wonder why it’s so hard for someone to continually find motivation to war against sin. The scriptures make it simple - get clarity about the future, specifically the future that Jesus and the apostles held to, so that fighting against sin in the present makes far more sense. If there’s no immorality in the age to come and God will throw those who practice it into a lake of fire on the day of judgment, that’s far more concrete and motivating to stop living immorally today than just saying “he really loves you and just doesn’t like it when you live in immorality”.

Yes, Jesus loves us. Yes, Jesus died for us, and Jesus forgives us when we repent. But there’s more to it - a side that makes you tremble, and a side that makes you rejoice, as I mentioned in my last video on John 3:16. For the apostles, eschatology was not optional or fringe when it came to making disciples. And so for us, discipleship should involve something so much more than meeting up once a week to get some coffee and talking about how your quiet times have been and if you looked at porn last week, and hearing from your friend that Jesus still loves you and forgives you if you sinned. That’s not a bad thing to do, but if that’s all that’s being done, then from what we’ve seen in Romans 13, it’s incomplete and utterly insufficient. I’ve seen this over and over again as I’ve pastored young people. What it’s going to be like in the age to come has to be the standard that we call one another to in terms of our behavior, our thoughts, and our lifestyle, and in terms of our joyful expectation and hope. The critical question we should be asking each other is this: how is our life today lining up with how we were created to live in the beginning and how we are destined to live when Jesus returns? Because a real day of judgment and reckoning is coming and because unrighteousness won’t exist in the age to come, we exhort and encourage one another in our fight against sin all the more as we see that great day approaching. In doing so, we find courage to work out our salvation from the wrath to come with fear and trembling, knowing that God will be faithful and just to punish the wicked and reward the righteous with eternal life on that soon and coming day.

Amen. I hope this was encouraging and I hope it provokes you to get a clearer vision of the future as a first century Jew would have understood it, and as we eagerly anticipate that together. Hit that thumbs up button, subscribe to my channel so you don’t miss any future videos, leave a comment or question below, and share this video with your friends if it was helpful. God bless, and Maranatha.

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