The Bible encourages Christians to live daily with an awareness of God’s presence and readiness for Jesus Christ’s return. As kingdom servants, we want to be found faithful. In Romans 13:11–12, the apostle Paul urges believers to live in the light of that future day when God’s glorious kingdom is fully revealed: “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (NKJV).
Paul tells believers that the time for sleeping is over. Now is the moment of opportunity and decision (2 Corinthians 6:2). It is high time to “awake out of sleep,” which literally means “to get up out of bed” in the original language. In a similar admonition to the Thessalonians, Paul says, “For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded. Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk. But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:5–8, NLT).
What does Paul mean by “our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” in Romans 13:11? Christian salvation exists in three tenses. In the past tense, we were saved and delivered from the penalty of sin. This happened at the moment we believed (Ephesians 1:7; Romans 5:10; 3:21–26; Acts 13:38; Romans 8:15). In the present tense, we experience continuous, progressive sanctification, being conformed to the image of Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 1:18; Romans 8:13, 29; Galatians 5:19–23). In the future tense, we will experience the consummation of our salvation, the glorious resurrection and transformation of our bodies and our eternal inheritance in heaven (1 Corinthians 15; Romans 5:9; 8:30; Revelation 21—22). This future salvation is what Paul refers to as being “nearer than when we first believed.”
Knowing that the Lord’s return is imminent motivates us to live with sober, clearheaded awareness of our present salvation and the culmination of our salvation when Christ appears again. The apostle Peter persuades us to keep our minds alert, ready for action, and sober as we set our sights on the grace we will receive “when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming” (Peter 1:13). John exhorts believers to “remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame” (1 John 2:28). John goes on to explain that all those who are God’s children live with an eager expectation of Christ’s appearing and “keep themselves pure, just as he is pure” (see 1 John 2:29—3:3, NLT).
In the Bible, sleep is often used as an image of spiritual laziness (Isaiah 56:10; Matthew 24:43–44; Acts 28:25–27) and waking from sleep as alertness to God and His concerns (Isaiah 51:17; 60:1; Ephesians 5:14). To the backslidden believers in Corinth, Paul says, “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 15:34, ESV). The apostle Peter prompts, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, NLT).
Speaking about the day of His return, Jesus says to His followers, “Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42, ESV). To illustrate His command, Jesus presents the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1–13). The story compares the kingdom of heaven to ten virgins, five foolish and five wise, who are preparing to meet the bridegroom and celebrate the wedding. The wise young women bring enough oil to keep their lamps lit, but the foolish ones do not. The bridegroom delays, and all the bridesmaids become drowsy and fall asleep. At midnight they are summoned for the groom’s arrival. The foolish virgins who are not prepared must leave to buy oil for their lamps. While they are gone, the groom and the wise virgins enter the marriage feast, and the door is closed and locked. Later, the foolish virgins try to enter, but the bridegroom says he does not know them. Jesus ends the parable, advising His disciples to “be alert” (CSB) or “keep watch” (NIV, NLT) because they do not know the day or hour when Christ will return (verse 13).
It is high time to awake out of sleep means there’s no place for spiritual lethargy in the Christian life. Believers must live in urgent expectation and wide-awake preparedness for what is coming because “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).