Last week Paul stated that God’s wrath – His judging righteousness – is revealed.
- It is revealed against the “unrighteousness of men”.
- We saw that this unrighteousness is their rejection of God’s preeminent status as Creator.
- And in a life lived in rejection of God’s preeminence, the natural outcome is the suppression of God’s truth.
- And for this, men are “without excuse”.
Our text today shows that God’s judging righteousness – His wrath – is not an impersonal theological concept.
- It is in fact a present reality of divine personal activity in the life of the unbeliever.
- Just as God’s saving righteousness is for the believer.
Some think that “the handing over to sin as evidence that God is not personally angry but merely allows sinners to experience the full consequences of sin” – Tom Schreiner.
But in fact, “The consequences that are inflicted because of sin are the result of God’s personal decision. The wrath of God, then, is to be understood in personal terms” – Tom Schreiner.
Romans 1:24–32 (ESV) — 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
The gist of our text today is simple enough.
- “The emphasis of the text has shifted since now Paul details the consequences of failing to worship and honor God” – Tom Schreiner.
- The consequences are seen as both God’s action and the “without excuse” action of men.
Romans 1:24 (ESV) — 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,
- Right away Paul speaks of what God is doing.
- He says, “God gave them up”.
This is a phrase Paul uses three times in our text.
- And it speaks about God’s judging righteousness – His wrath.
- God is personally active in this way toward unrighteousness men.
However, is Paul saying that God is causing them to sin?
- “Clearly he cannot be saying that God impelled people to sin…this would contradict the biblical depiction of God” – Douglas Moo.
So how does it play out?
- “Paul’s purpose in this verse is to highlight the divine side of the cycle of sin; but it must be balanced with the human side, presented in Eph. 4:19, where Paul says that Gentiles ‘gave themselves up’ to licentiousness, leading to all kinds of ‘uncleanness’” – Douglas Moo.
Douglas Moo describes the “divine side of the cycle of sin” this way:
- “Like a judge who hands over a prisoner to the punishment his crime has earned, God hands over the sinner to the terrible cycle of ever-increasing sin” – Douglas Moo.
- God is active – not passive.
In other words:
- God’s side of the equation is far more than just a “withdrawal of divine influence” – Moo and Schreiner.
“The meaning of ‘hand over’ demands that we give God a more active role as the initiator of the process” – Douglas Moo.
- “God does not simply let the boat go—he gives it a push downstream” – Douglas Moo.
The result of the ensuing choices made by men under after God has “pushed the boat” aren’t good.
- “What happens…is that human thinking, not just human behaviour, begin to deconstruct altogether” – N.T. Wright.
Romans 1:25 (ESV) — 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
- Paul repeats why men are under God’s wrath and the reason He “gave them up” (vs. 24).
- They “served the creature rather than the Creator” (vs. 25).
- They made the great exchange – creature above Creator.
- In other words, they became idolaters.
Romans 1:26–27 (ESV) — 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Notice that, once again, Paul first cites God’s activity – the “divine side of the cycle of sin” (Moo).
- “God gave them up to dishonorable passions” (vs. 26)
And right on the heels of one perversion – idolatry – Paul goes right to another – homosexuality.
- “women exchanged natural relations” (vs. 26)
- “men gave up natural relations” (vs. 27)
- They both “turn the created order upside down” – Schreiner.
What does he mean by natural relations?
- It is clear that Paul is making “an argument from the created order” – Tom Schreiner.
- Paul is appealing to God’s “created order” – Douglas Moo.
- In other words, Paul takes his view of “natural relations” from Genesis 1-3.
As Paul speaks on homosexuality, “he has in mind one particular biblical passage, namely Genesis 1–3” – N.T. Wright.
- “He wants to trace the way in which humans have violated, not simply a ‘law’ given at some point in human history, but the very structure of the created order itself” – N.T. Wright.
“Paul’s point, then, is not simply ‘we Jews don’t approve of this’, or, ‘relationships like this are always unequal and exploitative’. His point is, ‘this is not what males and females were made for’” – N.T. Wright.
Schreiner details this even further.
- “First, Paul selected the unusual words θῆλυς (thēlys, female) and ἄρσην (arsēn, male) rather than γύνη (gynē, woman) and ἀνήρ (anēr, man), respectively. In doing so he drew on the creation account of Genesis, which uses the same words (Gen. 1:27 LXX; cf. Matt. 19:4; Mark 10:6). These words emphasize the sexual distinctiveness of male and female (Moo 1991: 109), suggesting that sexual relations with the same sex violate the distinctions that God intended in the creation of man and woman” – Tom Schreiner.
- “Second, the phrase ‘contrary to nature’ (παρὰ φύσιν) is rooted in Stoic and Hellenistic Jewish traditions that saw homosexual relations as violations of the created order. The latter point is borne out by verse 27, which specifies in three ways what constitutes the unnatural activity for men: (1) in forsaking sexual relations with women (ἀφέντες τὴν φυσικὴν χρῆσιν τῆς θηλείας); (2) in burning in desire for other men (ἐξεκαύθησαν ἐν τῇ ὀρέξει αὐτῶν εἰς ἀλλήλους, exekauthēsan en tē orexei autōn eis allēlous); and (3) in doing that which was shameful with other men (ἄρσενες ἐν ἄρσεσιν τὴν ἀσχημοσύνην κατεργαζόμενοι, arsenes en arsesin tēn aschēmosynēn katergazomenoi)” – Tom Schreiner.
Can there be any reason to doubt what Paul means here?
- Current controversy seeks to reinterpret Paul’s words in at least four ways.
- (1) Paul is only referring to the Greek practice of pederasty – homosexual relations with children.
- (2) Paul is condemning “only homosexual acts practiced by people who are ‘naturally’ heterosexual” – Tom Schreiner.
- Homosexuality practiced by heterosexuals.
- (3) Paul is not referring to loving same sex relationships between equal partners, but of coerced or forced same sex relationships.
- (4) Paul is merely a victim of his own cultural hang-ups.
The answer to the question is…
- Among other things, modern reinterpretations read into Paul’s words modern views of psychology, and dismiss Paul’s allusions to Genesis 1-3.
- See Moo, Schreiner and others for an extensive handling of this issue.
Why does Paul bring up homosexuality?
- Schreiner has a good take.
It basically plays out as follows:
- Just as idolatry is an obvious corruption of right worship in the spiritual sphere…
- Homosexuality is an obvious corruption of what is “unnatural in the sexual sphere” – Schreiner.
In other words:
“Just as idolatry is a violation and perversion of what God intended, so too homosexual relations are contrary to what God planned when he created man and woman” – Tom Schreiner.
N.T. Wright sums up Paul’s words on homosexuality this way:
- “He [Paul] sees the practice of same-sex relations as a sign that the human world in general is out of joint” – N.T. Wright.
- Men have “…lost their grip on God’s truth and, like Adam and Eve in the garden, listened to the voice of the creature rather than the voice of God” – N.T. Wright.
Romans 1:28–32 (ESV) — 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
Again Paul starts with “God gave them up”.
- (1) The first time (vs. 24) Paul spoke of the spiritual/worship corruption that occurs with idolatry.
- (2) The second time (vs. 26) Paul spoke of the physical/created order corruption of homosexuality.
- (3) This time (vs. 28) Paul speaks of the relational corruption between image bearers.
BTW – please note that for Paul, as we saw in vss. 21-23, all of the above – worship, homosexuality and broken relationship – are all traced to the “same root sin of idolatry” – Douglas Moo.
Paul shows that because of their debased minds – rejecting what they know to be true about God – we get:
- “All manner of unrighteousness” (vs. 29)
- Evil, Covetousness, Malice, Envy, Murder, Strife, Deceit, Maliciousness, Gossips, Slanderers, Haters of God, Insolent, Haughty, Boastful, Inventors of Evil, Disobedient to Parents, Foolish, Faithless, Heartless, and Ruthless.
And he ends by saying that unrighteous men:
- Know the consequences of these actions – death.
- Yet, they “not only do them” (vs. 32).
- But they also “give approval to those who practice them” (vs. 32).
BTW – Notice that Paul does not say homosexuality is in some way worse than all the other sin he has mentioned.
- In fact, if he were to pick the worst sin, it appears he might pick idolatry.
“The fundamental sin that informs all others is a refusal to delight in or submit to God’s lordship. God’s wrath is rightly inflicted on those who not only practice evil but find their greatest delight in it” – Tom Schreiner.
- Homosexuality is simply one of the many ways that give evidence to God’s judging righteousness and man’s unrighteousness.
If God is real and has revealed His saving righteousness in His divine activity…
- And has shown Himself plainly to all…
- Why do so many act in rebellion to God’s saving righteousness?
- Does God’s divine activity somehow lack the power to persuade?
“Paul stresses that people who have turned from God are fundamentally unable to think and decide correctly about God and his will. This tragic incapacity is the explanation for the apparently inexplicable failure of people to comprehend, let alone practice, biblical ethical principles. Only the work of the Spirit in ‘renewing the mind [nous]’ (Rom. 12:2) can overcome this deep-seated blindness and perversity” – Douglas Moo.
- God gave them up – only God can restore them.
Importantly, this means:
- The unbeliever’s sin is not an indication that God’s saving righteousness is a farce.
- The severity of the condition of the unbeliever, for Paul, actually demonstrates that God is active in their lives.
- The activity is God’s wrath – His judging righteousness.
- This means that even the unbeliever is not outside of God’s divine activity.
N.T. Wright’s words are helpful as we conclude Romans 1.
“What we see in Romans 1 is the chilling sight of future death casting its dark shadow forwards into the present. If we recognize even part of the picture, we ought to be all the more eager to see what kind of a solution Paul is going to propose as the letter moves forwards” – N.T. Wright.
In this context – of God’s holiness and wrath and men’s unrighteousness – God’s unmerited grace truly becomes extravagant.
- God loves all of us.
- But His wrath shows us that His love is holy.
- And so He can’t leave us as we are!
- We are to be conformed to the image of Christ.
- And to do that, we must agree with God about what that conforming looks like.