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Counting the Marbles Left in Life

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 13:11–14

Our time on this earth is short—shorter than we may think. God wants us to live in light of the full salvation that soon will be ours. Let us put on Christ and put away all works of darkness!


Here at Wisdom International, our theme verse is Psalm 90:12, where the psalmist asked God for a wise heart. But he knew that having a wise heart comes from having a perspective on the shortness of life. So, the psalmist made this specific request of the Lord: “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”


Now I suggested this exercise during our Wisdom Journey through Psalms, but let me get even more specific. Suppose you lived to the average age today of 75. Have you ever counted up how many months you might have left?


Well, I did the math for many of you. If you are 30 years old, you have 540 months left; if you are 50, you have 300 months left; if you are 70, you have just 60 months left in life. And if you are older than 75, well, you can just sit there and smile as big as you can.


Now you might be saying, “Stephen, that’s a depressing way to live.” But according to God’s Word, it is an insightful way to live, a wise way to live. It reminds me of the poem my missionary parents taught us as we I grew up, “Only one life, will soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”


I have told you before that I keep a jar of marbles in my home study. The number of marbles in that jar matches the number of months I have left, if I live to be 75. I must tell you, that jar does not seem to have very many marbles at all. It is a daily reminder to me to press on for the Lord.


Now as we sail back into Romans 13, here is what Paul has to say about that kind of perspective:


Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. (verse 11)


Salvation is nearer than when we first got saved. In the New Testament, salvation is in three tenses:


  • It is in the past tense, in that we have been saved from the penalty of sin.
  • It is in the present tense, as we are being saved from the power of sin.
  • And it is in the future tense, when we will be saved from the very presence of sin.


It is the latter Paul is referring to here. Today, we are one day closer to that future and final salvation. So, Paul is saying, “Wake up! Do not be caught sleeping at your post. Do not waste your life. Wake up to your spiritual opportunities. Jesus is almost here—the journey is almost over.”


Paul continues this thought in verse 12: “The night is far gone; the day is at hand.” The night of man’s spiritual darkness is almost over, and daytime—the imminent return of Christ and the rapture of the church—is just about to dawn.[1]


Beloved, this is the wisest way to live—this is the perspective we ought to have in life. It will change the way we live. In fact, that is what Paul now speaks of here in verse 12: “So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”


With these words, Paul tells us there is something to put away and something to put on. We are to put away the works of darkness. We will get to those works of darkness in a moment. But having put them off, we are not to stand there shivering in the cold; we are to put on the armor of light.


The armor of light is the full armor of God, which Paul describes in Ephesians 6. This is a reminder that we are at war with the spiritual forces of evil that come against us. Paul uses the phrase “armor of light” to describe the believer’s position. We are in a world that is characterized by darkness, but Jesus said that we are the children of the light (Luke 16:8).


So, is it any wonder, then, that the believer should not act like the world of darkness around him? How does darkness act? What are the deeds of darkness? Paul brings up six of them, arranged in three pairs, in verse 13:


Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.


Orgies and drunkenness were a big part of Roman society, even a part of religious festivals. The wild parties and drunkenness are just as rampant today as people head into the weekend.


Paul refers to another pair of dark deeds when he tells us not to walk “in sexual immorality and sensuality.” The term here for “sexual immorality” refers specifically to sexual intimacy outside the covenant of marriage. The word for “sensuality” can be translated “shamelessness.” It refers to a person, not only captivated by lust and sexual immorality, but also without any feelings of shame about it.


The prophet Jeremiah described his immoral generation when he said, “Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush” (Jeremiah 6:15).


That was the apostle Paul’s generation. In the Roman Empire, people flaunted their sexual sin. They were proud of their immoral lifestyles. That sounds much like our generation today.


Now the last pair of dark sins Paul refers to here are “quarreling and jealousy.” Quarreling characterizes those who do not want to be ignored or passed over. Their only concern is about their own advancement. Jealousy is a twin sister of quarreling. In their selfish ambition, those who are jealous even want what you have—and you had better be careful not to get in their way.


So, what is our strategy to resist being governed by these pairs of dark sins? Paul gives us the answer in verse 14: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”


When you were saved, you were clothed with the righteousness of Christ. But there is a daily application here that Paul is emphasizing. When you get up in the morning and get dressed, put on the character of Christ; put on the armor of light, like you’re putting on your clothes.


For decades now, every Sunday morning, before the sun comes up, I stand in front of my closet and pick out a suit coat to wear. I make my decision and then put it on. But I am also deciding what I am not going to wear. I am not going to suddenly decide to put on another suit coat over the one I am already wearing because I think that color makes me look younger. It might, but I can only wear one jacket at a time.


You cannot wear the righteous character of Christ and the deeds of darkness at the same time. You choose which one you will wear each day.


Paul then gives us this helpful advice as we battle sinful temptation: “Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (verse 14).


The Puritan preacher Thomas Manton wrote, “Every corruption has a voice.” What he meant was that every temptation finds a way to bring itself to our minds and hearts.[2]


Sin rings the doorbell—temptation knocks on the door of your heart. Do not unlock the door. Do not crack it open. If you do, you are making provision for sin.


Beloved, you might not have many months left to live for Christ. In light of numbering our days, Paul gives us three truths to remember.


First, remember, you are in a war with sin. Make sure you have your armor on. Second, remember that you do not belong in the dark. Believers are children of the light. Third, remember Christ is coming back. And He might return before you run out of marbles—it could be today.


[1] John MacArthur, Romans: Volume 2 (Moody Press, 1994), 261.

[2] Ibid., 269.

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