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June 25th, 2013

                Verse of the day:  “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”  (Romans 13:14)

                Key thought:  Never underestimate the power of God’s Word to change lives.  St. Augustine, perhaps the most influential thinker in Christian history, gave his life to Christ after reading Romans 13:13-14.  Paul says because time is so fleeting, we must abandon the desires of the flesh in pursuit of the Lord Jesus Christ.

                Prayer:  Father in heaven, thank you for the people, the Scriptures, and the experiences that brought me into the light.  I could never have orchestrated them.  To live in freedom, forgiveness, joy, and purpose is an astonishing gift of grace.  May gratitude continue to change me  Amen.

I want to finish Romans 13 before we move on to chapter 14 tomorrow.  Take a moment and read Romans 13:11-14 in one or more versions.    These verses (not Psalm 23:1 or John 3:16 or Romans 5:8) changed the life of a man who may have been the most influential Christian after the Apostle Paul.  Christian History magazine ranked the conversion of St. Augustine in A. D. 386 in the top 25 most important events in church history.  Augustine gave his life to Christ after reading Romans 13:13-14.  More on him in a moment.

Paul is finishing up his discussion of what it looks like when you offer your body as a “living sacrifice.”  It looks like living in community as members of one body, it looks like humble service, it looks like self-sacrifice (agape) and warm friendship (philos) in the church, it looks like living at peace with everyone, it looks like submission to the governing authorities, it looks like a life of love as we fulfill God’s laws.

Before he completes this section, Paul wants his readers to have a sense of urgency.  “Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11).  Christians throughout the ages have learned to live with a strong sense of how little time we have.  We are living in the last age.  The fact that Paul could write that two thousand years ago and we still say it today doesn’t make it less true.  Time evaporates like morning mist.  Your life and mine will be over before we know it, and so will this age.

So let’s not wait to “put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (v. 12).  Tomorrow is not the day to place my whole self including all my resources, relationships, time, and money at the Lord’s disposal.  Today is the day to “behave decently” (v. 13) and live like it’s the daytime – not seeking “to gratify the desires of the flesh” (v. 14) in indulgence, sleeping around, bickering, and coveting.  Today’s the day to put on the character of Jesus Christ (v. 14).

(The following paragraphs are borrowed and paraphrased from Christian History, Issue 28.)

“Lord, make me chaste, but not yet,” was the prayer of a young man born in what is now Algeria in 354.  His father was a pagan Roman official, but his mother, Monica, was a devout Christian.  Because he was brilliant, Augustine’s parents sent him to Carthage (in modern day Tunisia) to study rhetoric.  He had little regard for Christianity, because he saw it as simple-minded.  As a teen in Carthage, he encountered “a cauldron of unholy loves…sizzling and crackling around me,” and soon had a mistress.

Flirting with various philosophies, Augustine eventually moved to Milan (Italy) to teach rhetoric.  There he met a Christian bishop, Ambrose, whose intellect and arguments for Christianity impressed Augustine.  He also learned about saints who conquered sexual temptation by giving themselves to God.

In late 386, Augustine sat in a Milan garden and heard a child’s voice singing, “Take it and read it; take it and read it.”  He picked up a nearby copy of Paul’s letter to the Romans and read Romans 13:13-14, “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality….Rather, clothe yourselves with Jesus Christ.”

Augustine would later write in his Confessions, “No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” (Confessions, 8.12.29)

Oh, the power of God’s Word to change a life!  Ambrose baptized Augustine on Easter Sunday, 387.  He returned home to his joyful mother and spent time in retreat and study.  In four years he was ordained, and in four more years he became a bishop.  He battled false teaching and wrote hundreds of works, including what still ranks as one of the best explanations of the Trinity.  His Confessions is considered the first true autobiography.  Its opening paragraph includes the well-known phrase, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”  He wrote in Latin, which was an advance over the practice of writing only in Greek.  Latin was the language of the people.  Unfortunately, for a thousand years after Augustine, the church would decide to keep writing and even worshiping ONLY in Latin!

Augustine’s influence cannot be overstated.  Catholics and Protestants (of every variety, including Luther and Calvin) look to the writings of Augustine for a basic understanding of the most critical Christian doctrines.  And it all started with meditating on Romans 13:13-14.

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