Sunday, November 27, 2016

Time to Awaken

Even though earlier in the Romans passage Paul touches on debt, what we owe isn’t Paul’s main thrust; rather it is love. 
But, coming up on Christmas, most of us could stand to think a little harder about using credit wisely.  Especially if we are like the man who was speaking to his coworker:  I'm proud to say that I have worked for 30 years, saved, scrimped, budgeted, invested - just so I could give my kids what I never had; a father up to his eyeballs in debt.  That guy was probably worth his weight in plastic. 
Well, here we are in Advent, the very beginning of the Christian year.  And the question could be asked:  Well, then, if we’re at the start, why are we thinking about what Paul wrote way after the cross about living like a Christian? 
I’m glad you asked. 
Advent is all about preparation, getting ready for the arrival of our Lord.  This passage is all about getting us ready to live as Jesus people.  This is a decision that you cannot pass off to any other person in the universe.
…you know how late it is; time is running out.  Romans 13:11-14(NLT)
In verse 11 the meaning of the word time is very close to the word crisis.  It is also sometimes translated as decision in the Scriptures.  Why decision?  Why do we invite folks to make a public confession of Christ?  Why public decision?  Because Jesus is coming back!  And as Paul says, the darkness for a believer is passed away.  We should walk in the light.
The Sunshine Law for a believer is that we publicly acknowledge our decision to love Him and follow Him.  Jesus said we are the salt and light this world needs.   
And so, to the main thrust of Paul’s teaching:  How to prepare in Advent to live like a Christian after Pentecost:

1.        Rise

This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out.  Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here.  Romans 13:11-12a(NLT)
Paul had elsewhere[ii] stated that the decision to accept God’s salvation was too important to let the moment slip by.  We cannot afford to sleep through our opportunity to seek God while He may be found.
It is that way also with serving the King.  When you are a believer your whole purpose is to find God’s leading in every day of your life.  The life of a Christian from beginning to the final breath is of alertness to the call of the Spirit.  Awaken now; Arise, says our Lord!

2.        Repent

So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.  Romans 13:12b(NLT)
Repentance is a matter of turning.  Too often there is much made of the emotional moment of decision without an understanding that that moment is just that…a momentary change of heart and mind about the previous life.  Paul points to the shining armor of right living as the other side of this coin of salvation.
To repent means to turn away from sin and selfish decisions.  But it also follows that when you turn from one thing, it is without question you’re facing something else.  You have found a new direction and you’re now headed that way. 
Well, that WAY is THE WAY!  It’s the way of Christ.  You have repented, turned away from the way of self, and are now walking with Jesus in the Christian life of serving and loving others.  Rise, Repent, and…

3.        Repeat

Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see.  Romans 13:13a(NLT)
To repeat means emulate or imitate the life of Christ.  Jesus said that we are children of light.  As such, what place does light have exhibiting darkness?  Paul interprets this for us, saying we must live decent lives for all to see
A decision to follow Jesus Christ means a lifestyle change.  Otherwise the decision is false.  When you become a believer there is a change in your conduct that others can easily see.  The word picture here means to be properly clothed.  It means to present to the world a lifestyle properly dressed in goodness. 
Friends, this includes the way we dress physically, which should be modest and not an attempt to be front page on the tabloids.  But it also includes every other visible and invisible part of our being:  attitude, kindness, compassion; all of this is part of the proper clothing of a Christian.
This is not optional.  It is also not easy. 
Rise and make a decision, Repent and turn away from sin, Repeat the witness of a life dedicated to God, and then…

4.        Reject

Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy.   Romans 13:13b(NLT)
Reject the way the world lives in action, attitude, and thinking.  Choose the opposite of what the world chooses.
You really have to work at putting off the old man, the old habits and ways.  Paul gave as part of his witness that there were two natures warring inside him all the time (Ro 7).  Paul said this old nature was fighting against his mind.  His mind wanted to obey Christ and be an exemplary witness for the Kingdom.  The old Adam-nature gave him fits at every turn.
On the one hand Paul had sinful desires and weaknesses like you and I; on the other hand there was the Spirit of God who had come to reside in Paul, empowering him to fight all the ungodliness that wanted to continually enslave him. 
Beloved, take heart if this describes your daily struggle; Paul knew it was a fight, and so has every Christian who has ever drawn breath. 
But it is a winnable fight.  John Wesley called it going on to perfection in love

And that is the life of Christ:
·       choosing the attitude that lifts over the harshness that destroys
·       choosing giving to bless others over taking that divides
·       choosing to extend the hand of friendship instead of the fear that rots the soul
Rise, Repent, Repeat the witness, Reject the world, and…

5.        Relate

Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires. 
Romans 13:11-14(NLT)
Paul says Put on Christ and the implied word is:  YOU – YOU standing right there…put Him on like a garment.  It is very definitely a personal choice to be in the family of Christ…to be related!
Why is that so?  It is because it goes against our nature to let someone else be in charge of us.  But we need that to change our nature.
For those who choose to put Jesus on the throne, life is different....and that difference is love. 
Billy Graham tells of the mountain folks in our state, and how they would take a slatted crate[iii], place their laundry in it and tie it crossways to the rushing water of the creek.  The agitation of the moving water would clean the clothes.  He told of a bootlegger who got saved.  The difference in the man was startling.  When it came time for his baptism he said:  "Put me under crossways, so's I'll be all the cleaner."
CROSS-ways, There's no other way to be transformed so you can do what Advent calls for – to be ready for the coming of Christ.
Paul says:  HEY...WAKE UP!  Smell the coffee; you've got a decision to make.  This is no time to go to sleep on me. 
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen

[i] Title image:  By Eric Kilby from Somerville, MA, USA (Napping Jaguar), via Wikimedia Commons
[ii] 2 Corinthians 6:2
[iii] Boris Orel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons & By deguonis from Lithuania, via Wikimedia Commons

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