Romans 13:11&12 “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.”
I’ve always felt that the supreme mark of a person who had learned Welsh and become proficient in it was not only his extensive vocabulary but his mastery of the tenses of the Welsh verb. Have you noticed that someone who is learning a language, and become confident enough to converse with other people, at first tends to put everything in the present tense – like Manuel the Spanish waiter in Fawlty Towers. He is a learner; it’s as if his forehead is emblazoned with an L sign. We stayed with an English couple in Switzerland this summer and I think Mercy said that that was how she was speaking French. Everything was in the present tense. I will put the Welsh word wedi in front of the verb to signify the past tense of doing something, but there are exact words for the past tense more suitable and accurate than my longer inelegant constructions. Immediately I talk in Welsh my tenses give me away and people know that I am still a learner.
I want to look at our text in the light of the way the Bible looks at “our salvation”. You notice that it says, “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (v.11). Paul is speaking here of salvation as an impending future event, and yet there are other places in the Bible which consider our salvation to be a past accomplished event, and you find even passages which describe it as a present activity. There is a story which I suspect, in the form I’m going to tell it, is apocryphal though some kind of incident like this might have occurred. It relates how a new recruit in the Salvation Army got into a train compartment, and there opposite this lassie was sitting a bishop. She could tell he was a clergyman of high office by his purple shirt and clerical collar. So she prayed and plucked up courage and after a while she asked the bishop, “Are you saved?” You are supposed to smile condescendingly to yourself and patronize her, thinking, “What audacity . . . what tactlessness . . . a typical fundamentalist Christian . . .” Then the bishop, wise, urbane, compassionate and amusing, the archetype of all that she was not, is said to have replied to her, “Are you asking whether I have been saved, or if I am being saved, or whether I shall be saved.” In some versions of the story he quotes the three tenses of the verb ‘save’ in the original New Testament Greek. So the result of this encounter is a draw; the score is the bishop, ‘one’ for theology, and the salvation army lass, ‘one’ for courage.
I think I can remember a stranger asking me once if I were saved. It was probably in the 1950s. Once in 70 years is not at all frequent. It is not that everyone in Wales is constantly being badgered by wild-eyed fundamentalists asking whether they are saved. Would to God that it were true of every single Christian that he or she was not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that we were all always ready to give a reason of the hope that we have to anyone who asked us. I wouldn’t mind someone asking me if I were saved, or if I were Welsh, or if I were married, or if I had children. Some of my friends pretend that they are not Christians when asked, “Are you saved?” and in turn ask the witnessing Christian an awkward question or two before acknowledging that they are also disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, but I can’t tease like that. I’m like the apocryphal bishop . . . wise, urbane and compassionate! Would that I were!
I can understand a stiffening of hostility when one is suddenly asked the question, out of the blue, “Are you saved?” because it suggests that Christianity is all about a single decision that you take, rather than a whole life and a walk with God today, rather than knowing some date years ago. The suggestion is being made that unless you can pinpoint the date then you are not Christians at all. Let me affirm this very clearly. None of us who are members of this church believes that at all. Some of us had our own Damascus Road conversions. We know a day and a place when we trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ and began to follow him, but many of us do not know even the year, let alone the month or day, in which we became Christians. For many of us we went to church all our lives; then there were times when we were young when we were troubled about our relationship with God. We prayed and gave our lives to him, and then later on when we were teenagers we were again aroused spiritually and became earnest about the Christian faith. Camps and conferences helped us at that time. Then later again we had some strong assurance given to us that Jesus Christ was our own Lord and Saviour, but we would find it hard to be sure over those long years at what specific time we actually became true Christians. We do know this, that we are saved today, and that we have been disciples of Jesus Christ for many years. Most of all we know that Jesus Christ is very great, but exactly and precisely what hour we began to be his disciples numbers of us don’t have the slightest idea. So, I say, I can understand your hackles rising at the thought of being buttonholed and asked if you’ve been saved.
So let me approach this text in the broader framework of the three tenses of salvation, past, present and future. This is a very familiar approach, but by grace I can find some freshness in what I say about it.
- A CHRISTIAN IS SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN SAVED.
This is the past tense of salvation. Let me draw your attention to a v
erse that emphasizes that fact in the letter to the Ephesians and the second chapter. It is so important that it is repeated. It is found first in the fifth verse and then again in verse eight. Paul writes, “It is by grace you have been saved.” Salvation, he says, is something that has happened to us because of the undeserved mercy and kindness of God. Instead of dealing with us in strict justice and condemning us for our sins God showed his grace to us and saved us. He planned to do this before the foundation of the world when he loved us then and gave us to his Son Jesus Christ to become our Saviour, his Son loving us as much as the Father did. The Son of God came into this world, taking frail flesh and blood, adding human nature to his divine nation without laying aside any of his divinity. He came, born of the virgin Mary, born under the law of God, fulfilling all its righteous demands, enduring daily temptations and testings but always doing the will of his Father. He fulfilled all human righteousness on our behalf, but it was a righteousness which was also infinite and eternal and unchangeable because of who he is. Then he laid down his life as the Lamb of God, the great sacrifice, shedding his own blood that we might be forgiven for our rebellion against God. Without that sacrifice, a life cruelly taken from God the Son, there could be no remission for our sins. The Prince of life tasted death for us. His sacrifice was accepted by our Creator. We know that because on the third day he rose from the dead. He was seen by his disciples for almost six weeks. Many people spent hours with him. His resurrection changed them. They no longer were cowards but could face death joyfully, praying for their persecutors to be forgiven.
So when a Christian is asked the question, “Are you saved?” then he can say, “Yes, I have been saved by the life and death of Jesus Christ.” “When were you saved?” “About 2,000 years ago,” he can say. “Where were you saved?” “In Israel, and by the sea of Galilee, and particularly on a green hill far away outside a city wall, and in a garden three days later in a tomb where the dying Lamb rose from the dead. I was saved there and then by Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He loved me and gave himself for me. He died for my sins, according to the Scripture, and he was buried and he rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures.” That is the answer we give, that we were once and for all saved by the Lord. He, all by himself, dealt with the guilt of our sin, and its penalty because he loved us. He has obtained eternal forgiveness for our blame and shame by his life and death. God laid on him all our sins, past sins, present sins and future sins. The wages of sin is death but Christ died in our place, as our substitute. He has done it all by himself. He has left nothing whatsoever undone. One of his last words from the cross was “It is finished.” All the cost of our eternal redemption, and our full acceptance by a holy God was paid for by his Son. He completed the work perfectly that he was sent into the world to do. It was finished.
Do you understand the implications of this? That entrusting yourself to anything else except Jesus Christ is a lost cause. Its end will be death. You trust in religion – then you are a lost man. You trust in morality – then you are a lost man. You trust in baptism and the Table – and you are a lost man. You trust in church membership and church attendance – and you are a lost man. You trust in experience – then you are a lost man. It is never faith in any of those things. Never one of them, and never all of them. They are all done in part by you, and so necessarily they are all tainted by sin and pride and can never pass the muster of Heaven. Only he has done nothing amiss to that Jehovah smiled on him. Only of Jesus did God say, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Then I’d better stand as close to him as I can. I’d better get real close. I’d better hold on to him. I’d better get joined to him. I’d better get married to him. We two had better become one. Will he want me, will he take me, will he have me as his own, will he become my Shepherd, my Protector, my Advocate, my Spokesman in heaven, my High Priest, my Saviour, my All in all? He is the only Saviour, but will he save me? I’m not much . . . I’m a bit pathetic really, a bit of a failure.” But that is the one great qualification of being saved by him, that you have to see that you are lost, that your life is without God and without hope. So you need to go to him as a sinner, and ask for his mercy, and that then he will become all you are not and that you never can be. No one and nothing in all the world can take the place that he has as the Ruler of the universe and the Judge and Saviour of mankind. He is God. God alone can save. It is an incommunicable attribute of God. That is his grand prerogative, and in that honour of saving sinners none may share. Your question now is this, ‘Will he take a wretch like you and save your stinking life?’ I answer with these words:
Not till earth, and not till heaven pass away” (John M. Neale, 1818-1866).
Jesus says, “He that comes unto me I will in no wise cast out.” There is no way that he will say no to you if you long to receive him. If you are unsaved today there is only one reason, you have never longed for the Lord Jesus to save you. But if you should ask him, and ask earnestly with all your heart until you know he has heard you, then know this, that salvation is not by degrees. It is not like examinations which first have to be passed in infants’ school, but lying before you there are more exams to be tried in junior school, and then more still in secondary school, and then at university more exams, and so on. No. God’s salvation is not an examination. This accomplished work of Jesus Christ is to be received as a gift of God and it is given to you who cast yourself on him alone. It is absolutely perfect and complete because it is his salvation, but now that salvation is God’s gift to you. No one in all the world possesses a better salvation than you do. No one at all. There is not one. The salvation received by the apostle Paul is not superior in any way to yours. It is identical. He is not more saved than you. No one in the world is more saved than you are nor ever will be. When God saves someone through Jesus Christ then it is total and comprehensive and perfect. It cannot be bettered. It does not need to be bettered. There is simply one salvation only, so that you are not more or less saved than any other Christian in the history of the universe.
In what does this salvation consist, which every single Christian who entrusts himself to Jesus Christ receives? Forgiveness of all our sins. The imputation of the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ – he, of God has been made your righteousness. A new heart that longs to serve and obey and love God. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God energizing and strengthening you for the Christian race. Jesus Christ as your Lord and Master, directing, and keeping you, working all things together for your good. Adoption into the family of God; you are henceforth a child of God, an heir of God’s riches along with Jesus Christ. Henceforth he will provide for all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus, just like every loving father provides for his children. You will be united to Jesus Christ like a branch is in a vine and the life of that vine reaches all the parts of that vine. So you will be in Christ for ever, and in him you are seated in the midst of God’s glory on high. That is the salvation which God gives to the newest Christian, to the weakest lamb in the flock of Christ, to the backslider, to the lu
kewarm Christian passing through rebellion. That is the status enjoyed by every single person who has been saved by grace. That is the salvation accomplished by Christ and applied by the Holy Spirit to all who know they are sinners who ask God to save them. To many people who believed in him Jesus said, “You faith has saved you; go in peace.” He said to the dying thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” His salvation was assured because it all depended on the extraordinary grace of God. That is the past tense of salvation.
- A CHRISTIAN IS SOMEONE WHO WILL BE SAVED.
We have looked back, and now we are looking forward, to a future salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last day, a complete and perfected salvation which as yet we have not experienced. Paul writes of this here in our text as a future event; “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” Our present salvation, great and perfect as it is for what it has done for us, is not yet complete. We usually make this simple and basic distinction; we say that we have been saved from the penalty of sin and the power of sin, but in that great future day we will be saved from the very presence of sin, something which no Christian living in this world has yet experienced.
Let’s make sure we understand what we are saying when we claim to be saved from the power of sin. We mean this; once sin had the mastery over us – I am thinking particularly of the sin of unbelief, of the rejection of Jesus Christ the Son of God as our Lord and Master. Once you were controlled by that sin weren’t you? It told you not to think anything at all about the Lord Jesus and you did what you were told. You never spared him a thought. You never consulted his word. You never worshipped with his people. You never kept his day. You never prayed. You never thanked God for the mercies he had given you. You never thought of death and what lies beyond it. You never asked ‘What must I do to be saved?’ because sin was your master and it told you never to bother your pretty head about those things because they were ‘religion.’ You did exactly what sin said because you were under its power. You weren’t a particularly wicked person, no more than all the rest of the unbelieving world, better than many I’m sure, but still under the subtle mastery of sin. You walked according to the way of the world. The spirit that is in 21st century unbelieving men and women was also in you. But grace from heaven perforated your life and you were made alive and woken up and you began to think straight. You stopped listening to the voice of your master, Sin, and a new Lord came into your life. Jesus saved you from that agnostic and despairing life whose end – all you could hope – for ultimately was to be snuffed out like a candle.
Yet there is much more than delivery from the penalty and power of sin, isn’t there? More remains to be done. I think there are two or three great problems facing the whole people of God.
i] There is the presence of remaining sin, what the Bible sometimes calls the ‘flesh’ in the lives of each Christian, even the holiest saint. It is in all of us. So the good that we would do we don’t do – even to the standard that we set for ourselves, let alone God’s standard. While sins like pride and selfishness and sharp words of criticism and self-pity and lust are all too familiar to us, though we’ve been cross with ourselves because of such actions for years. We wouldn’t behave like that, and yet when we’re gently provoked then down we fall repeatedly. Three years Peter had lived in the presence of Christ and yet he could still break into swearing, and say that he had had nothing to do with Jesus. Years later he could be intimidated by the pressures of Jewish Christians and break fellowship with Gentile Christians though he knew that was wrong. The flesh!
On our deathbeds we will be battling with doubt and irritation and vain regrets though knowing that soon we will be in heaven. The Spirit fights against the flesh and the flesh fights against the Spirit and we will not be free from this battle until we get to glory. Not one Christian will be saved from this strife until after he dies. That is one thing that Paul is talking about in our text when he talks of future salvation drawing nearer to us since we first believed; he is referring to salvation from the flesh, ultimate deliverance the presence of remaining sin in our lives. That is a future, divine, saving event .
ii] There is our coming decease, the great appointment that we all have to keep; “It is appointed unto men once to die.” We are all going to die – we who have been given eternal life by Jesus Christ. Now there are physical factors that mark our death, the termination of any electrical activity in the brain, ceasing breathing, the heart stopping its beating, followed by rigor mortis. This Christian, joined to Jesus Christ and given the life of God, has died. The Biblical definition of death is the rending apart of the union of body and soul. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory, and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection. So here is a curious state; our souls have been taken from our bodies and are now in the presence of the Lord, all sin removed from them, while our bodies are decomposing in the grave. We are experiencing the consequences of the fall, for as by one man sin entered the world and death by sin, so death has passed on all men for all have sinned. Our souls after death will need to be delivered from their ‘unclothed’ state, to be united once again with our bodies. Can it be? “Yes,” says the resurrected Jesus Christ; “because I live you shall live also.” “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 15:51-57). Saved from the last enemy death by the power of the Saviour who is bigger than death. Our dust is precious to him. At death he takes our souls into his presence and holds them in his omnipotent grip. With his other hand he holds onto our dust, and then in the day of our salvation, he will come, leading all of us, and he will raise our bodies and transfigure them into the likeness of his own glorious body and join our spirits to our bodies never to be parted from one another again. That is the day of complete salvation, and it is nearer for all of us today than when we first believed.
iii] There is the groaning creation, a world of tempests and deserts and ecological disasters, labouring under the curse. There is the savagery of the animal world, the horrible end of every single creature. There is the presence of disease and sickness and virus. When will all this end? There is the activity of Satan, the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is working in the children of disobedience, blinding the minds of men and
women lest they see the beauties of the Son of God.
We shall be saved from none of the repercussions of that until the great day of Christ, but then what deliverance will be known by the whole cosmos. There will be the glorious regeneration of all things, and the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the seas, and the lamb and the lion will lie down together; the child will put his hand in the scorpion’s den and none shall harm, and death shall have no dominion. And I am longing for that complete salvation of a universe now suffering under the curse, but which is to be brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:3&4). That is what lies before us, that is nearer than it was last Sunday, our completed salvation, and he that has that hope in him purifies himself as God is pure.
- A CHRISTIAN IS SOMEONE WHO IS BEING SAVED.
This is the present tense of salvation. We live between what the Lord Jesus Christ has already accomplished for us, and the hope of what yet lies before us. In the lives of every true Christian there is a work of salvation in progress. Let me give you a couple of verses that underline this truth. I Corinthians chapter one and verse 18; “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” How does Paul describe a Christian? As someone who is being saved. Then again he writes to the Philippians and he says to them, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” ( Phils 2:12). God has justified you and given you a new heart; he has adopted you into his family and put you in Christ and now day after day you are to appropriate all these privileges and to manifest your new status as true children of God by living new lives. Not perfect lives, though you would strive for that, but the downward pull of remaining sin and the pressures of the world prevents us. Yet we are empowered by God’s grace to live new lives, elevated and noble lives, of self sacrifice and love for others, of turning the other cheek, and going the second mile. We are able to live lives in which we present out bodies as living sacrifices to God day by day, and in which we deem other people so much better and worthier people than ourselves. We are to grow in grace and maturity, grow in usefulness, grow in wisdom, grow in victory over our selfishness and vain desires, and grow in conscientiousness.
We are motivated to live like that by the highest possible influences. There is the Lord Jesus Christ who loved us and gave himself for us. He shed his blood to deliver us from sin. He knew all about us and still he laid down his life for us. Love so amazing so divine demands my soul my life my all, and so I work out my salvation day by day. What sort of mother ought I to be? What sort of husband? What sort of neighbour? What sort of friend? What sort of preacher? If I have been saved from the fearful consequences of sin, and if I am going to be soon with God in heaven then my life is bound to be different.
So do not sleep. Be alert and be open to every leading and guiding of God’s providence. Be ready to serve him and do his will. Attempt great things for God; expect great things from God. “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light” (v.12). The day is almost here, the great day, the day of judgment, the day of the Lord, the day of God, the day when the Son of man is revealed, the day of Christ. This is the next great event on the timetable of God – this day! There was creation; there was fall; there was the incarnation of God the Son; there was the day of Calvary – the day of atonement; there was the day of resurrection; there was the day of ascension; there was the day of Pentecost – all great days, unrepeatable in their unique glory. Now the next day before the whole world and the church in particular is this coming day of the consummation of our salvation. Nearer and nearer draws that time. Our night is nearly over, that night in which we have sighed and groaned that the good we would have done we failed to do, and we did the evil over which we grieve. That night is going to end, and so let us live God-honouring lives. Let us live as Paul has been exhorting us in these two chapters. Let us live credible God-pleasing and Godlike lives, and all the more so as we see the day approaching.
The three tenses of salvation are clearly present in the scripture. Should they not all be present in our lives? There is the faith that looks back to the finished work of Christ. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. My faith didn’t die for me; my repentance didn’t lie in the grave; my decision didn’t rise the third day. That was Christ. He did it, and he did it all by himself. I have been saved through his obedience to death, even the death of the cross. God showed his grace to me before I was born in loving me and putting me in the safe keeping of his Son – he who accomplished my redemption. That is the past tense and it is always the foundation for my hope of glory.
Then there is the faith that applies that salvation of Christ to my daily life. Watts says . . .
When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died
My richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.
If Jesus Christ is the Son of God and died for me then nothing I do in his name can be too great a sacrifice. I live for the one who loved me and gave himself for me. Watts says . . .
Were the whole realm of nature mine that were an offering far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life my all.
I work out my salvation with fear and trembling. I present my body as a living sacrifice to him day by day and so I am being saved. That is the present tense of salvation.
Then there is the great future hope of every Christian, that when we die we shall go to be with Christ. “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (I Jn. 3:2&3). Let’s see the pains and sorrows of this fleeing world in the light of eternity and the glorious world to come. The consummation of our salvation in that tremendous day, and let us be sure that through Christ that redemption is ours now.