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Dec 28, 2014

Overcoming the Darkness

Passage: Romans 13:8-14

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: The Light In The Darkness

Keywords: darkness, light, louis zamperini, flesh, spirit, putting on christ


This message is in two sections, the first illustrating the power of the light of Christ to rescue even the strongest of people from their own darkness. The second half deals with Romans 13 and how Paul instructs us to overcome the darkness that assails us even as Christians.


Overcoming the Darkness

Message #4 of Advent 2014

December 28, 2014

Welcome to the last Sunday of 2014. I hope you had a wonderfully refreshing Christmas.

            If you’ve been with us anytime over this past month, you’ve heard me talk about the light of Jesus Christ coming into the darkness of our world. We’ve looked at what that darkness is and the various ways it manifests itself. We’ve taken a look at the spiritual darkness that assails our own hearts. And we’ve heard about God’s gift of light and life in Jesus Christ. We’ve pondered a bit the truth that Jesus IS the light of the world that has come into our world to bring light and life to everyone who is willing to embrace Jesus Christ in faith.

            And if you were with us on Christmas Eve, you heard a little bit about the darkness of sin and evil that was both inflicted upon and experienced in his own heart by the WWII airman, Louis Zamperini, that is currently being popularized in the just-released movie Unbroken.

            I want to begin today by illustrating through God’s encounter with Louis some of the very biblical truth we’re going to be looking at today in Romans 13.

It’s one thing to say that Jesus is the light of the world, the light of God sent into our dark world to pull every one of us out of darkness. It’s another to figure out how to let that light truly transform us and truly deal with the darkness of our hearts. That’s what I want us to consider today.

On Christmas day this week, our family went and saw the movie about Louis Zamperini’s life called Unbroken. Having read something of his life before seeing the movie, I must confess that while the movie was well done at powerfully depicting the darkness of WWII and the evil of human hearts that are not surrendered to the light of Jesus Christ, in typical Hollywood fashion, the movie sanitized the best part of the story of its power and miracle. As one writer put it, the movie “did not go low enough, and therefore it could not end high enough.”[Found at http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/unbroken-uncut; Dec. 26, 2014.]

“If the worst things in life were war, torture, and death, then the movie might have done Zamperini justice. Louie himself, though, would testify they are not. There are worse evils and worse fates facing all of us — the darkness within each of us and the darkness we therefore deserve.”

As a recent blog about the movie on a Christian web site says, “Those who don’t read the story will miss the reality that Louie was actually a very broken man — horribly broken by sin and then sweetly broken by God.

“Shortly after his feet landed back on American soil, Louie went back with his family to his childhood home in California. They enjoyed food and conversation, unwrapping several years of unwrapped Christmas gifts — everything seemed peaceful, almost normal.

“Then his sister Sylvia played a recording of Louie’s voice that had been broadcast over public radio during the war. As he listened to his own voice from that dark period of life, he became enraged and fell into a violent, screaming fit shouting, “Take it off! Take it off!” That was a scene that would sadly mark most of his next several years.

“Like the immature, insecure boy before the Olympics, post-war Louie picked fights over nothing, then drowned his emotional scars and nightmares with endless alcohol. He suffered the pervasive curse of POWs: PTSD—post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Louie soon meet a pretty girl on the beach and two weeks later convinced the poor, naïve Cynthia to marry him. They eloped a short time later to the absolute outrage of her parents. It wasn’t long before Cynthia realized the tortured, drunken, unsafe monster she had married….She stopped appearing with him in public, embarrassed by and even afraid of what he might do.

“Spiraling…hopelessly out of control [and] visited every night in his dreams by his Japanese torturer, Mutsuhiro Watanbe, Louie came to the conclusion that the only path to freedom was to kill Watanbe. He began plotting a mission to murder the man who had so brutally tortured his life and now dominated his nightmares. Louis wildly and foolishly invested the family’s money in dead ends, trying to scrape together enough to finance his murderous obsession. Bloody vengeance against Watanbe had become this broken Olympian’s mistaken hope.

His biographer Hillenbrand writes: “No one could reach Louie, because he had never really come home. In prison camp, he’d been beaten into dehumanized obedience to a world order in which the [Watanbe] was absolute sovereign, and it was under this world order that he still lived. The Bird had taken his dignity and left him feeling humiliated, ashamed, and powerless, and Louie believed that only the Bird could restore him, by suffering and dying in the grip of his hands. A once singularly hopeful man now believed that his only hope lay in murder. (Hillenbrand, Unbroken, pp. 365–366)

His nightmares were so intense that Loui’s ugly insanity once found him pinning his wife to the bed, beating and strangling her. Weeks later, Cynthia found him shaking their screaming baby girl. She finally filed for divorce and left for Florida.

“Everything changed in the fall of 1949 when Cynthia was back in LA for until she could finalize the divorce. Billy Graham held his first large evangelistic campaign in Los Angeles. It drew tens of thousands of people — including one hurting and despairing wife and mother. Cynthia heard Graham’s gospel, surrendered her heart to Jesus, and immediately informed Louie that she no longer wanted a divorce.

Louie was relieved she had decided to stay, but skeptical and even offended by her conversion. [It is interesting how darkness, even when it seems justified, never wants to have itself exposed by the light of God!]

Cynthia pled and pled with him to attend one of the meetings, but over and over he angrily refused. Knowing Louis was fascinated with science, she told him that Billy Graham discussed science at length in his sermons, which wasn’t true at all. But it was enough to soften Louis’ stubbornness.

That night, as they sat in the back of the tent filled to overflowing with over 10,000 people, Graham preached these words from a message about the woman caught in adultery (John 8):

“Darkness doesn’t hide the eyes of God. God takes down your life from the time you were born to the time you die. . . . [He will] pull down the screen and shoot the moving picture of your life from the cradle to the grave, and you are going to hear every thought that was going through your mind every minute of the day, every second of the minute, and you’re going to hear the words you said. And your own words, and your own thoughts, and your own deeds, are going to condemn you as you stand before God on that day. And God is going to say, ‘Depart from me.’” (Hillenbrand, p. 373)

Louie was enraged, horrified that this man would dare to accuse him like this, after all he had been through for this country, after all he had endured. “I am a good man,” he shouted to himself, “I am a good man” (373). Then Graham used a word picture that startled Louis:

“Here tonight, there’s a drowning man, a drowning woman, a drowning man [he repeated], a drowning boy, a drowning girl that is out lost in the sea of life.” (373)

Louie stormed out of the meeting before Graham was finished.

The next day, after arguing with his wife all morning about going again, he promised to go if she promised to leave during the alter call. Billy talked about a world at war that night and posed the question of why God is silent while good men suffer. As part of his answer, Graham told people to consider the starry night sky. Louis immediately thought of a dark night in his lifeboat raft when his own despair had turned to gratitude as he considered the stars. God was hounding Louis, right in LA.

As Graham got to the invitation, Louis grabbed his wife’s hand and started out the isle, even as Billy said, “Nobody leaving. You can leave while I’m preaching but not now. Everybody is still and quiet. Every head bowed, every eye closed.”

As Louis pushed past the others in his row, charging for the exit, God met him. There in that sawdust strewn aisle, Louie felt transported back to that life raft, dying of thirst. He heard himself utter that promise to God: If you will save me, I will serve you forever. He even felt as if raindrops were pelting him as in the raft. But he was standing under a circus tent on a clear night in downtown Los Angeles.

Under the powerful preaching of the cross of Christ, Louie Zamperini was born again — rescued again. In the end, Louie was broken, but not by Watenabe, “the Bird.” God has done what the Bird, weakened by the flesh, could not do, by sending his Son, Jesus Christ — and that day in Louie’s life, a tall, blond-haired messenger named Billy Graham.

Louie’s biographer describes his conversion: “When he thought of his history, what resonated with him now was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him. He was not the worthless, broken, forsaken man that the Bird had striven to make of him. In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation and helplessness, had fallen away. That morning, he believed, he was a new creation. (Hillenbrand, p. 376)

Perhaps the greatest climax of Louie Zamperini’s story is what God did IN him to change his heart from bitter, vindictive and murderous to genuinely forgiving and loving. It happened on his second visit to Sugamo Prison where 850 Japanese war criminals, most former POW camp guards, were held in Japan. Rather than returning to Japan to kill a man who had controlled much of his life, Louie went back because of a nagging question. Would he really be able to forgive and love these men from the heart when he actually saw them? Would the peace that he had found prove that resilient?

Standing inside the walls that had watched him suffer so badly, he now looked into the eyes of many of the very men who had inflicted the blows. For the first time since the war, he was seeing the faces of his pain and humiliation. Instead of being overcome by hatred and rage, his biographer wrote “Louie was seized by childlike, giddy exuberance. In bewilderment, the men who had abused him watched him come to them, his hands extended, a radiant smile on his face” (373).

Years later Louie would write a letter to Watenabe. The Bird had escaped detention and prosecution for over a decade. So long after all Japanese war criminals had been pardoned and Watenabe had come out of hiding, Louie wrote these words to Watenabe:

“As a result of my prisoner of war experience under your unwarranted and unreasonable punishment, my post-war life became a nightmare. . . . But thanks to a confrontation with God through the evangelist Billy Graham, I committed my life to Christ. Love replaced the hate I had for you…As you probably know, I returned to Japan in 1952 [sic/1950] and was graciously allowed to address all the Japanese war criminals at Sugamo Prison…I asked then about you, and was told that you probably had [killed yourself], which I was sad to hear. At that moment, like others, I also forgave you and now would hope that you would also become a Christian.” (396–397)

THAT is the best miracle in the whole story of Louie Zamperini. And it illustrates one of the most important tools for escaping the power of the darkness that God has given to everyone who will respond with faith in Jesus Christ as God and Savior. It is the tool of FORGIVENESS.

            If you were to ask me to name what I think are the top three things in life that hold the power of darkness over even those who have put their faith in Jesus, I would have to say bitterness or lack of forgiveness.  

            You probably don’t have to live very long to discover that life will be filled with a string of potential offenses, hurts, abuses and emotionally if not mentally and physically damaging experiences that come to us via other sinful people in this world. While we may not be the one responsible every time for starting the cycle of hurt, bitterness and resulting retribution of some kind, we all find ourselves in that cycle from time to time.

            Additionally, the sad thing is that, unless we come out of that darkness of being wounded by others and carrying the pain, we will inevitably end up wounding ourselves and others we really care about more than we could ever imagine. Just as Louie’s inability and failure to deal with the POW camp abuse led to his own downward spiral, his own abuse of alcohol and his own deeply loved family members, so anyone’s inability or unwillingness to really enter into heart-level forgiveness of others will do the same and more in our lives. When we fail or refuse to enter into the repeated need to forgive, we step back into the darkness that Jesus died to rescue us from.

            In Matthew’s Gospel alone, this is what Jesus said about our need to step out of the darkness of bitterness and anger against others:

Matthew 6:14-- “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Matthew 18:21-22-- Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” 22“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!

And then Jesus went on to tell the parable of the unmerciful servant who was forgiven boatloads of debt by his master but wouldn’t bring himself to forgive pocket change another servant owed him. That parable ends with these words from Jesus own lips:

34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

The prison of hostility and hatred towards those who have wronged us can be far more destructive than the evil other people may actually have inflicted on us. God knows that. And that is why he makes it very clear that one of the ways we actually step out of the darkness in this world is to step into the light of Jesus’ forgiving heart.

APP: So is the Holy Spirit bringing anyone to mind?

What do you need to do to forgive them?

It probably starts with asking God’s help. It probably includes recognizing how damaging our own anger and disdain for our offender is. It probably involves going directly to them at some point to express our own repentance and offering of forgiveness. And it will probably require hundreds if not thousands of additional times of asking God to continue to give us love and to pray for the blessing of the ones who hurt us. It’s not enough to simply ignore those we don’t like or who have hurt us; we must pray for them and for God’s work in their lives just as we would want someone to pray for us if we were in their shoes.



Romans 13:8-10, 11-14 (NLT) I want to focus mostly on vss. 11-14 this morning. But so we have some sort of context for what Paul had said leading up to this, we’ll start in vs. 8.

Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.

11 This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. 13 Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.

Living in… and living out… God’s love is how we walk out of darkness and live in the light.

Paul is holding up the paragon of Christian virtues here again—LOVE…specifically God-like, self-sacrificing, other-caring love. We’re not talking about Hollywood’s definition of “love.” We’re talking God’s. We’re not talking our culture’s definition; we’re talking God’s! To get the right answer to that requires that we know what God defines as truly loving.   That is where His commandments come in.

ILL: When someone who is having an affair looks me in the eye and says, “I’ve never felt so ‘in love’ in all my life,” I never felt this with my wife/husband. And I’ve never felt more right about something in my life,” I look them square in the eye and respond, “Well, whatever it is you are feeling isn’t love. It may be romance. It may be lust. It may be thrilling and intoxicating. But it isn’t love.”

I can tell them that, not because I’m so smart or wise, but because God has said what they are doing is not His kind of love. He’s said sex outside of marriage is not really loving. And He has defined what marriage is no matter how our culture wants to redefine it. Sex outside of marriage is rebellion against God’s love…no matter how amazing it may feel. And because it is sin, it is eventually going to damage them and the people closest to them who they are claiming to love.

Every commandment of scripture that has to do with how we are to relate to people is simply a clarifying for us of what real LOVE actually looks like. Run every situation through that grid of God’s LOVE defined by the truth of God’s commands, and you won’t have to worry about whether or not what you’re doing is pleasing God.

Love has 2 sides according to vss. 8-10:

  • Love does not do things that harm and damage us and others.
  • Love does that which is in the best interests of others.

Now, in vss. 11-14, Paul is going to challenge us to a sense of urgency about living the life of love. And in the process he’s going to give a little more detail about why and how. He’s going to use the darkness and light imagery we’ve been focusing on for the last month in our Advent series.

Look at vss. 11-12: 11 This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here.

[The following is adapted from a message by John Piper, Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, Part 2, Aug. 8, 2005, found at http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/put-on-the-lord-jesus-christ-part-2]

This is all the more urgent, Paul says, because you know how late it is (v. 11)—you know the time you’re living in. Knowing the time well helps you love people the way you should.

What is this time? In brief, it’s the time between Christ’s first coming and his second coming. We live in overlapping times. The age of forgiveness and righteousness and life and peace and purity and health and light and joy has come with the arrival of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago. But the old age of guilt and sin and death and strife and sickness and darkness and misery still remains. We live in the overlap of these two ages. In Christ we are forgiven and accepted and empowered for holiness and love, but nothing is perfect yet on this earth. We still struggle with sin; we still get sick; we still die.

But Paul’s emphasis in this text is not on the darkness that is passing away but on the light that is already dawning. The emphasis is that if the dawn of the age to come has arrived, then the sun of righteousness and joy and perfect peace will surely rise on the horizon in due time.

What then does Paul say about this time in which we live?

He says in verse 12a: Look, “the night is far gone; the day is at hand.” Don’t set your mind on the darkness and how long it has lasted. Set your mind on the truth that the day of Christ’s second appearing—the sunrise—is at hand because the dawn of Christ’s first appearing has arrived. The powers of darkness are broken. It is only a matter of time till they give way entirely to the sun of righteousness.

And he says in verse 11b: “Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” Your freedom from sinning, your perfect health, your perfect ability to enjoy Christ is getting closer every day. Every groan in this mortal body brings you closer to glory. Salvation isn’t just the assurance of your future in eternity with God; it is the making and setting right of all that is wrong. It is the full redemption of us—body, soul and spirit.

And Paul says in verse 11a: “Wake up! This is not a time for mindless sleepwalking. Be careful.

  • Everything in the world that does not waken more faith in Christ puts us to sleep. Most of the world thinks it is wide awake when it is actually sound asleep. It is unconscious to life that is truly life.
  • Entertainment-saturated people who do not treasure Christ above all are like skydivers who think that the wind passing through their fingers at 120 miles an hour is the ultimate thrill of being alive when in fact they have no parachutes and the gravity that pulls them inexorably to the ground is the righteous judgment of God against their sin. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).

This is not a time for sleepwalking—or sleep skydiving. This is a time to wake up and get dressed and love our neighbor as we love ourselves—in Spokane and everywhere else.

Now look at the last part of this paragraph where Paul tells us what to wear and how to live when we wake up from the sleepwalk of unbelief into the light of his presence and power. Start with me at verse 12:

12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.

That little word “So…” points to the result that should happened because of what time it is in God’s history clock. Paul says, take off your pajamas—take off your deadly sleepwalking clothes—and put on . . . Put on what?

Paul chooses here a word that implies that the Christian life…life lived in the light of God… is not just a wakeful life, but a wakeful battle. He says, “So then remove your dark deeds…and put on the shining armor….”

While we were sleepwalking in unbelief—oblivious to the reality of Christ—we walked in darkness and the clothing we wore was “works of darkness.” Now God awakens us from the stupor of unbelief, we embrace Christ as Savior and Lord and Treasure of our lives and put on . . . armor—weaponry. Because the Christian life is a battle. To be “awake” spiritually is to be at war.

Paul uses the “put on” language again in verse 14: “14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Q: What is the connection between “putting on the armor of light” and putting on the “presence of the Lord Jesus Christ?”

The clothes and the fight do not make you a child of the light. They show that you are a child of the light. First we get right with God by faith in what Christ has done. Then we dress and live and fight right like the people of the day we are.

So keep in mind as we move forward now that putting on the armor of light or putting on Christ in verses 12 and 14 are not instructions to become a Christian all over again. Paul is calling us to BE what we are in Christ. We are children of the light, children of the day. So let’s dress like it, live like it, and fight like it!

But How Do We “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ?”

There is a signal 14: Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires..

And we all know how this works—male and female, young and old. We know that by thinking certain thoughts we can awaken certain sinful desires. In vs. 13, Paul gave us three categories of sinful desires and what they produce. They are just samples, not the full list.

Verse 13: Don’t participate in 1.) the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or 2.) in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or 3.) in quarreling and jealousy.

1) Inordinate desires for drink—or we might say, “substance abuse” (alcohol, drugs, nicotine, caffeine, marijuana, etc.).

2) Inordinate desires for sex—whether fornication or adultery or pornography or other kinds of sexual activity outside of marriage.

3) Desires for attention, preeminence and control that produces quarreling and jealousy.

Paul is saying, “Don’t let any thought in your head that gives rise to these dark desires.”

  • If you are bored, or lonely, or tired, or discouraged, or feeling hopeless, don’t ponder the relief of alcohol or drugs. They simply put you to sleep; they stir up the sleepwalking that Paul calls the works of darkness. It’s like going to work in your pajamas. Don’t let those thoughts in your head. Instead we must walk to the closet of Christ, open up the conversation with Him and ask for help in filling our mind with truth about who we are and what we should be doing.
  • Frustrated housewife or working mom, married to a man who never learned affection, never learned tenderness, never learned how to simply talk about what matters to you? Don’t daydream about romantic Mister Perfect. Don’t let those thoughts into your head. Run to Christ and ask Him to clothe you with His love that can transform your man.

Frustrated husband or single man, who wonders why there is no one to embrace or why the woman you have doesn’t want to embrace, do not let illicit thoughts run around in the playground of your mind. Don’t put them there with your entertainment or your computer. Instead, fill your thoughts and desires with God, with conversation with Him, with truth from Him and godly friends.

  • Or what about quarreling and jealousy? If you have been wronged—maybe 30 years ago or 3 days ago—or your have been overlooked, or belittled, or misunderstood, or abandoned, don’t let these thoughts settle in your head. They awaken resentment and anger and envy and covetousness and jealousy. Instead, call out to Christ for His thoughts about those people and situations and what He wants you to do in praying for and loving them.

Sometimes just trying to resist them reminds us of them. While it is true that we may need to start by simply saying “NO” to a rising thought that would lead to sinful desire, the answer is mainly in putting on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is mainly in calling to mind the words of God that awaken more faith in Jesus, and calling to mind the promises of God that awaken more hope in Jesus, and calling to mind the beauty of the life and character of Christ that awakens more love to Jesus.

Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ is not just an alternative to making provision for the flesh. It is the way we keep from making provision for the flesh.. It’s the way we kill these sinful thoughts. It’s the way we keep them from even arising. We do so by putting on the love of God in every situation.

When we drink or do drugs so that our mind ceases to be a faithful guide for the behavior of your body, we tear apart mind and body which God has joined together for our good. That is not what love does for oneself or others.

When we cultivate sexual stimulation—whether in your mind or in our body—with a person with whom we have no marriage covenant, we tear apart what God has designed to be joined together for our good. That is not what love does.

When we savor thoughts of one-upmanship or of our own preeminence or control, or when we brood over wrongs done to us, we are preparing for quarrels and jealousy and discord, and we tear communities and fellowship apart. That is not what love does.

Rather love does the opposite.

  • It keeps the mind clear by putting on Christ’s mind and thoughts to rule the body.
  • Love keeps the covenant of marriage clear as a picture of Christ and his church and thus rules the body.
  • Love keeps the community of Christ clear as a blood-bought blessing and subdues jealousy and quarreling by putting on Christ.


  • Has the Holy Spirit touched on something of the darkness that you’re involved in or wrestling with, something that is more akin to the darkness of sin than the light of righteousness?   How about just admitting that to God?
  • What is God asking you to DO to move into the light of Christ more? Is the Holy Spirit prodding you to put on some activity that will help you live in the light more? Is there a particular scripture you know would help to memorize? Are there particular action steps you need to take when tempted…people you need to call, fellowship you need to have, counsel you need to get?
  • Do you just need to surrender the darkness of your life to the Light of the World, Jesus Christ?