“And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.”—Romans 13:11
HIGH TIME! to awake out of sleep. Literally, “the hour is already for us to awake out of sleep,” which means that we have already overslept.
What time is it? Christ has already come, and yet he is coming again, and that day is near (Rom. 13:12). With him on that day shall come the perfection of our salvation (v. 11). It shall be a day of glory, light, righteousness, and life everlasting. And yet that day, in a way, has already penetrated the here and now. Already God has caused to shine in our hearts the light of the knowledge of him in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6) and has made us partakers of eternal life through faith in the risen and ascended Lord. We are heirs having the earnest and awaiting full possession of the inheritance that Christ shall give us when he comes again (Eph. 1:14).
We are living in, as some have called it, the “overlap of the ages.” The night of this age—characterized by darkness and sin and death—is far spent. The day of the age to come is near. It was nearer to the Romans at the time the inspired apostle penned these words than it had been when the gospel first came to town and they believed. It is nearer now to us, the church of today, than it has ever been, and of this the signs around us do testify. It is the twilight of the dawn. That means it is high time for us to awake out of sleep. Of course! That’s what you do when the day is near: you get out of bed and put your clothes on.
Sleep (Greek: hypnos, whence we get our English word “hypnosis”) here does not mean physical sleep but a spiritual lethargy, torpor, inactivity, doldrums. In the verses that follow Romans 13:11, the contrast between wakefulness and sleep is set in parallel with the contrast between engaging in the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light (v. 12), between walking honestly, as in the day, and walking in the works of the flesh (v. 13). Putting it all together: sleep implies a spiritual lethargy in relation to the activities of the new man and new life in Christ. But it also implies a being active in the wrong moral direction: activity that belongs to the night—this present age in which we live—and not to the day; to darkness and not to light. But the night is far spent, and the day is at hand. So it is high time we awake out of sleep, put off the old man with its nighttime activities, and put on the new.
Importantly, and strikingly, the word of the text is addressed to believers: to the church at Rome, to the church since then—to us. That means believers are not immune from hypnos. In his commentary on the passage, Herman Hoeksema says, “The figure is that…of one who has just awakened from his sleep but who is still drowsy while the night is far spent and the day is at hand.” For, though having been called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9), though having been raised together with Christ (Col. 3:1), though being “the children of light, and the children of the day…not of the night, nor of darkness” (1 Thess. 5:5), yet we are not rid of the old man, of the flesh which to us still cleaves, by reason of which we are not only tempted but are prone to indulge in “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep” (Prov. 6:10)—and more than a little, spiritually speaking.
The result of indulging in sleep is conversation that is woefully incongruous with light and day, such that believers, instead of putting on the armor of light and living antithetically in this age, allow themselves to be put to sleep by the spirit of this age and flirt with or even engage in works of darkness; such that we consume sedative after sedative that this world offers through media, social media, entertainment, etc., benumbing our spiritual sensibilities. Are you sleeping? The text puts this question to us. In what are we walking? The works of darkness of first-century Rome are not unlike the same works that appeal to the flesh of young people and young adults of the twenty-first: drunken partying, sexual immorality, strife, and jealousy.
“WAKE UP, Romans!” says the inspired apostle. Wake up, church of today! The night is far spent, and the day is at hand. Put away and lay aside those old clothes that are proper to the darkness and night; be done with those! We are not of the night, and we have no business having those clothes on. “Let us put on the armour of light” (Rom. 11:12) over against the darkness. “Let us walk honestly, as in the day” (v.13), in a way that is becoming, fitting, meet, for them that are of the day and in whose hearts the light of day has already shined. It is high time to put on the clothes of the day: through faith to put on and manifest the Lord Jesus Christ in our thoughts, desires, words, actions, and conversation. It is a call to be who we are in Christ, a call to true conversion as described in Lord’s Day 33. It ought to move us to sorrow on account of our sleepiness toward our Savior and, through renewed faith in him, for whose sake God accepts us in spite of our torpidity, to renewed activity. And it will, because unlike the word of man, God’s word is effectual.
Mark that the apostle summons so great a reality as the nearness of our salvation as the reason that it is high time so to awake. He does not hang salvation on the doing of the Romans. In the history of the church, there have been attempts to spur Christians on to obedience by making their salvation depend on it. Rather, the apostle appeals to the nearness of our salvation, a salvation certain and secure in Christ, a salvation of which we are heirs by faith, to ground the fact that it is high time to awake out of sleep and to prepare ourselves for his coming, to have on those clothes that are appropriate for the coming day. And the desirableness of the event serves the alacrity of preparing for it. Tell a teenager to get out of bed because it is time to get ready for school; oftentimes he or she is not so eager to the task. But when, say, a father comes into the room at 5:00 a.m. and tells his young boy that it is time to get ready for a long-anticipated fishing trip, you have never seen him move so fast. Now for us, the church of our blessed Lord, to hear the wake-up call: “Get ready, the day of salvation is near!”—does this not excite us? How shall we not forsake the works of darkness and tear off the clothes of night in sorrow and repentance for having slept so long? How shall we not put on, with great eagerness, anticipation, and desire, the new man in Christ Jesus and with love and delight live according to the will of God in all good works, believing in Christ and longing for his coming?
God’s word is effectual, and it must be, because we are so dull and slow that were his word only to bounce off our ears, we would only roll over in bed. Contrast his call with the call of the alarm clock on our bedside table; we know too well the alarm clock’s inefficacy, wont as we are to hitting the snooze button. But when a bell like Romans 13:11 rings, it rings effectually, bringing about that for which it calls. By his Spirit, God causes it to resound powerfully in our hearts and minds, so that we not only hear it with our ears but heed it by his grace.
Originally published January 2021, Vol 80 No 1
 Herman Hoeksema, Righteous by Faith Alone (Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2002), 634.