The Character of a Transformed Community (Romans 13:8-14)
Introduction: Christians and a Transformed Character
When the world looks at Christians, what does it see? Do they look at a bunch of hypocrites that are just like them? Or is there something different about us that they are attracted to and want to be around?
An unknown author writes:
There is a story told of an American who went over to Paris, and, wishing to buy his wife a little gift, purchased a phosphorescent, mother-of-pearl match-box container; and the beauty of it was that in the dark it was said to radiate a wonderful light. He packed it in his trunk, took it home to the U.S.A., and after the family welcome dinner, he asked for the lights to be put out. In the dark he took the match-box container from his pocket to present it to his wife, but, when he looked at it, it was as black as the darkness around. Then he said, 'That is just what they palm off on foreigners. I've been swindled.' Next day his wife, a bit curious, discovered on the box a few words in French. She took it down to some friends who had a French maid and had it translated. That night, in the darkness, it was all aglow, for she had followed the instructions written on the box, which said:
'If you keep me all day long in the sunlight,
I will shine for you all night long in the darkness.'
The Christian, like that matchbox, does not shine on his own but he is simply a reflection of the holiness and goodness of his Savior whose Holy Spirit lives in him. Just like we can't be saved on our own merits, we also cannot live the Christian life alone. And we need to be exposed to the light of Christ in order to shine in the darkness of this world in which we live.
In Romans 13:8-14 the Apostle Paul continues his look at what it means to live a life that is not conformed to the pattern of this world but is transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:1,2). Transformation is the practical outcome that comes to a person who has been saved by the grace of God, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ which Paul had spoken of in the first 11 chapters of the book.
The word for transformed, found in Romans 12:2, is the Greek word from which we get the English word metamorphosis. We talked in an earlier message about the caterpillar that wraps itself into a cocoon, only to emerge later as a butterfly. In the case of the butterfly, it is the process of the creature transforming from an immature to an adult form. With humans, when they become Christians, they are transformed as well. However, the dictionary has another definition that fits better what happens to the believer. It tells us that metamorphosis can also be:
"A change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means."
In those who know Christ, transformation or metamorphosis is a supernatural act of God that we allow to happen in our lives, through the work of the Holy Spirit who will transform us ultimately into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). It comes through a growing knowledge of God by prayer and by studying, as well as memorizing and meditating upon His Word, the Bible.
In Romans 13, Paul begins the chapter that speaks on what it looks like to live a transformed life by showing that Christ's followers are to be model citizens. They do this through submission to the government which has been ordained by God for good, as His instrument to punish evil. It is a restraining force on sin as it carries out God's vengeance upon those who practice evil deeds.
Of course, we see in other Scriptures that the one time we can practice civil disobedience is when the government goes against the will of God. And we mentioned in the last installment on Romans that there are several times that God's people did this and obeyed God rather than man. Otherwise, we are to be the best citizens that any government has in the society in which we are placed.
However, we are to be more than just good citizens. God is building a new community in which there is righteousness. Lawrence Richards has called it a "colony of righteousness settled in a dark and twisted world of lost men."
In our passage here today, Paul tells us that this new community is characterized by two major qualities. They are love and holiness. Let us look at these qualities as explained by the Apostle Paul and see if we can increase these two traits in our own lives.
1. The Quality of Love (8-10)
Firstly, Paul sees this new community as one that is characterized by love. The word here is agape. Agape is the type of selfless, sacrificial and unconditional love that God demonstrated when he sent Jesus Christ into the world to die for our sins (John 3:16). We didn't deserve it and we were His enemies. But God loved us anyway and sent His Son to die that we might not end up eternally separated from Him in Hell.
This kind of love shows compassion, not only for those who love us but, just as God did, we care for enemies as well. Jesus had this to say concerning the agape love that we are to show:
"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love them which love you, what reward have you? Do not even the publicans the same? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:45-48).
Getting back to our passage, Paul gives this advice on love:
"Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law."
The Apostle is not giving us a command that we must never go into debt here, although excessive debt is not a good thing and Scripture says that the borrower is the slave to the lender. (Proverbs 22:7). And interestingly the Lord actually allowed for debts. God even told Israel once that if they obey Him that they would be the lender nation and not the borrower (Deuteronomy 28:12,13). And Yahweh gave to the people of Israel the Year of Jubilee in which debts are forgiven and every slave was to be set free. The year of Jubilee occurred after seven sets of yearly intervals (49 total) were completed. The fiftieth or "liberty" year was proclaimed on one of God's annual feast days known as the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 25:10; 39-40).
What Paul is saying in this passage is that we should be characterized as people who pay our debts. The lender should not have to come after us to make sure that we fulfill our obligations. Rather, we should be ones who pay them off as soon as we possibly can do it.
The one debt that never gets paid off is love. It continues into eternity. We owed a debt to God that we could never pay. And Jesus paid a debt that he never owed. And the way that we demonstrate our love and appreciation to God for what He has done is to love those creatures that He loves. Further, the Apostle John would go so far as to say that anyone who says that He loves God and hates his brother or sister is a liar. Here, in I John 4:20, are his exact words:
"Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen."
To make his point about love, Paul quotes 4 of the 10 commandments:
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not covet.
And then he says:
"And if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (9-10).
The Apostle is just following Jesus' lead here. Jesus was once asked what was the greatest commandment in the Law. He responded by saying:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40).
In the summary that Paul is giving he is naturally assuming that the Christian loves God. This command to love your neighbor is a quote from Leviticus 19:18. It encompasses all God's laws concerning human relationships. The truth is that if we do what this says and truly love our neighbor, (i.e anyone with whom we come in contact who has a need), we will always do what we believe to be in their best interest and so fulfill the Law.
So one way of testing ourselves for the development of a transformed character in our lives is to ask whether or not we have a growing love for people and care about their needs. That is especially true of their eternal need to come into a relationship with Jesus Christ. How can we say that we love Christ if we don't care about whether or not our neighbor will be lost for eternity or saved from God's wrath and on their way to heaven? The answer is that we can't say it.
But, beyond love, there is one more quality that Paul tells us about in this passage on the transformed life. That quality is holiness.
II. The Quality of Holiness (11-14)
By holiness, the Bible means that we are to be set apart from sin and set apart for God and His use. Paul makes the transition from love to holiness by reminding the believers of the time. This particular Greek word for time is not chronos from which we get the word chronology. Chronos views time as linear, like looking at a watch or calendar and seeing time pass. What Paul is talking about is kairos time which is the era or age in which we live. It is an evil age with evil people and we need to awaken from sleep for our salvation is nearer to us than when we first believed (11). When talking about sleep, the Apostle means spiritual apathy. We need to care about the world and those lost in it. We have to awaken to God and His calling on our life.
There used to be a song that talked about enjoying yourself because it's later than you think. Well, Paul is telling us to straighten up ourselves because it's later than we think. Jesus could return at any moment. It's certainly closer now than it was 5 years ago. And it's closer than when we were first saved and came to know and love Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We will be glorified when Christ returns. This should be a reason for Holy living and not for living as we please. We rather need to be ready to meet Jesus when He comes. What a shame if we waste our lives and are unprepared when He returns to get us.
According to Paul in I Corinthians 3, every believer will stand before Christ. This is not for salvation, for that has already been determined at the cross. But they will be judged for the works that they've done after salvation. And those things done for Christ are like gold, silver and precious stones which are refined by fire. They will last and be rewarded. Those things not done for Christ are like wood, hay, and stubble. These works will burn up and there will be a loss of reward.
How sad it would be for the believer to stand before Christ in judgment and have their entire life's work burned before their faces at the Bema Seat of Christ and be saved only as by fire. In I Corinthians 3:10-15 the Apostle talks about that possibility. What a horrible time to see that your whole life amounted to nothing of eternal value. The apathy for spiritual things that some believers seem to have is not good. Paul invites you to get up and get excited about the possibilities that God has in store for your life now and in the future.
So what are we waiting for? The night of man's depravity and Satan's dominion is almost over. The day of Christ's return and reign is near!! Our response should be to "lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Like an article of clothing, we need to take off off that which is filthy in our lives. We have to lay aside all sin, repent of it and forsake those things which aren't pleasing to God. And, in their place, we put on the armor of light. This is the protection that practical righteousness provides. Paul expounds upon this in Ephesians 6:13-17 where he tells us:
Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day., and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore having your loins girded with truth and having the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace. In addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God."
And in verse 18 of that same chapter, the Apostle reminds us that we have to do this with all prayer and petition. None of this can be done apart from God's help in every area of our lives.
Paul goes on to tell us in verse 13 of Romans 13 that we must behave properly as in the day, and then gives some examples of the sins that we should lay aside. They include such things as carousing and drunkenness. This consists of things like wild parties, sexual orgies, brawls, and riots.
Also included in this list is sexual promiscuity and sensuality. Basically, this encompasses any form of sex outside of the marriage relationship of a man and a woman. God designed sex as a beautiful expression of love to be enjoyed within the bonds of married life. It was created by Him for pleasure, procreation and to bring the couple closer together.
Sex in marriage is a holy and good thing. Like a fire in a fireplace, it gives warmth and light. However, a fire outside of those boundaries will destroy and kill. Just ask anyone who has a sexually transmitted disease, or unwanted pregnancy and they can give you an idea of what this is all about. And these are only two of many problems which can come from an abuse of this good gift that God has given to a married couple.
Paul ends his catalog of sins by saying that we should not have strife and jealousy. By this, he may be showing some more consequences of sexual promiscuity and sensuality. For these two things often lead to strife and jealousy.
At the end of this passage, the Apostle Paul once again uses the analogy of clothing. He tells us:
"But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh." (14).
Putting on Christ is a phrase which summarizes the sanctification process in which we are made holy like the Lord. It includes the whole means by which those who have been saved by faith are transformed into Christ's image.
By not making provision for the flesh, Paul is talking about planning ahead or forethought. In other words, don't deliberately go into situations in which you will be tempted by your flesh to sin. An example may be viewing the internet alone if you are tempted by pornography. Or it may be deliberately hanging out with unsaved friends that you know will get drunk. Whatever the temptation might be, making provision for the flesh is premeditatedly doing something that you know can lead to sinful behavior.
There is a story that may summarize all that we are saying here. It comes from Our Daily Bread Magazine. The author tells us this:
"In Discipleship Journal, Carole Mayhall tells of a woman who went to a diet center to lose weight. The director took her to a full-length mirror. On it, he outlined a figure and told her, "This is what I want you to be like at the end of the program." Days of intense dieting and exercise followed, and every week the woman would stand in front of the mirror, discouraged because her bulging outline didn't fit the director's ideal. But she kept at it, and finally one day she conformed to the longed-for image."
In the same way, God is transforming us to the image of His Son. As we look to Jesus on a daily basis, we may struggle at times because we don't meet the Lord's ideal for the Christian life. But with the help of the Holy Spirit and God's Word, we one day will be conformed to that wonderful and longed-for image of our Savior.
Thankfully, God has promised us that we can be confident that:
"He who has begun a good work in us will carry it to completion until the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6).
In the meantime, let us learn to love as God loves and let us strive to be holy as He is holy. May we be so different from the world around us that people look at us and see Christ being formed in us. And if they ask why we act the way we do we can tell them that it's all because of the one who died for us an rose again. Let them see us and truly glorify our Father in Heaven. Then we will have fulfilled our reason for existence. Let's all pray that the Lord makes it so in each of our lives.
© 2019 Jeff Shirley