11 Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armour of light. 13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts . (Romans 13:11-14)
There are two familiar themes in these last few verses of Romans 13. The first is Paul’s exaltation concerning the Christian’s need for self-discipline. With him it is never a case of “Let go and let God” but a conscious and enduring effort of self-denial, particularly in terms of “making no provision for the flesh” (last verse). That pertains to the ongoing struggle that even those born again of the Spirit have to pursue as they “eagerly await the adoption, being the redemption of our body”(Rom8:23). That in turn explains Paul’s opening comments in this passage about our salvation being closer now than when we first believed. To Paul, salvation will not have been fully accomplished until “our lowly body has been transfigured to be like Christ’s glorious body” (Phil3:21). Then “making provision for the flesh” will not be an issue: the resurrection body and the laws that govern it will be in tune with our spirit – pursing a path of righteousness and peace. That will be very different from the “tent” the soul currently inhabits, concerning which Paul had written: “whilst I am gratified by the law of God in my inner man I perceive a different law in my bodily members warring with the law in my mind and bringing me into captivity to the sinful law that is in my bodily members. Even being “born again” of itself does not essentially change that dichotomy – what it does or should change is one’s ability to keep such lustful instincts in check (1Cor9:27).
Many commentators agree that it is evident from Paul’s overall rhetoric that for much of his Christian life he expected the Parousia to arrive soon, probably within his own lifetime. Even here: “The night is far spent: the day is at hand” (v12). Not in the mid-50s CE it wasn’t – it was barely eventide. But then Paul was an Apostle, not a prophet. So why the delay? In part it is as Paul taught earlier in Romans in the context of Jewish unbelief. It was to await the full complement of the Gentiles from every nation and each generation to come to salvation (Rom11:25). But why so many generations? Clearly, the current age does not exist merely to recruit Gentiles to the Kingdom. It has been the age of discovery for the whole human race – a gradual process and the reason for this epoch’s longevity. It has been the time when the whole world has engaged in the pursuit of knowledge, gained an understanding of science and the universe, discovered new medicines and developed ever more sophisticated means of transport and communication; knowledge and innovation that has progressed exponentially in the last century. This has all been working towards an end, which is not to prepare for global annihilation and a spiritualized eternity but for renaissance and resurrection. And that surely accords with Paul’s teaching earlier in Romans concerning the restoration and deliverance of the world and its inhabitants: “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only they, but we who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons and daughters, being the redemption of our body” (Rom8:22-23).
Are we beginning to get Paul’s drift? Salvation’s apotheosis is not the soul resting in heaven but resurrection in a glorified body within a restored heaven and earth. Well worth waiting for.