Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal human beings and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God handed them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
I believe the first thing that stands out to most people who read Romans 1:23-27 is the part in the beginning where Paul mentions the idols, icons and “images made to look like mortal human beings, birds, animals and reptiles,” and compare it to the practices of the Catholic Church. And though that may be comparable to this text, I believe Paul’s going deeper. Instead, I believe Paul’s talking about some of the steps or slopes of ones who put their faith into something, anything, other than God.
Notice, they claim to be wise, yet become fools instead. Then they exchange their worship of the One and Only God for images of creatures that God created. And as they continue to slip away from the True Lord, they begin to get more and more into sinful behaviors based on their sinful desires, even unnatural sexual sins and claim them on desires of the heart. Well, their hearts crave sinful matters because they’ve moved so far away from the Holy One that they no longer know right from wrong in God’s eyes (or no longer care). I’ve actually blogged on this several times: notice how many times and how many people make decisions based on their feelings? They’ll say such things as “My heart told me…” or “it just feels right” or “I went with my heart.” But if their hearts are not in sync with the desires and will of God, then they’re basing their decisions on a sinful heart, and so the results are matters of sin, not God.
So with this, Paul goes into the unnaturalness of such sinners’ sexual desires. They followed their hearts into sin, not because they didn’t know it was wrong, but because they didn’t care that it was wrong, because they made their sinful decisions based on what their sinful hearts told them to do.
The next part that everybody no doubt notices is the fact that Paul does use 2 paragraphs to complain about homosexuals. It’s a touchy passage, actually, for many use it to attack gays, while others look at it and explain it away as nothing. Understand, Paul is not sugar-coating homosexuality. It is a sinful behavior, it’s not accepted by God, it’s not something that is to be accepted or justified by the Church, nor is it natural. Like I said, it’s a touchy passage. In fact, in the past, many gays understood and accepted their sexuality as a choice. It was their choice to be gay, so others should mind their own business’ (or something). But lately, possibly within the past 10-15 years, its explanation has transformed into something recognized as “natural”. What we often hear today is, ‘I was born this way’ or ‘God made a mistake’ (often said by people who have or who want to change their genders). Celebrities and people of influence jumped on this bandwagon, even attacking Christians and anybody who thinks otherwise, accusing us of being intolerant, bigots, prejudiced, homophobic and more. Such an obviously unnatural sexuality, which has gone from a choice to natural creation, has also gone from keeping it to themselves to vocal proclamation; from rare to common; from culturally unacceptable to almost a cultural norm. Teens are now “experimenting” same sex relationships and considering it as an option. It’s even rare to find a Prime-time TV show these days that doesn’t have at least one (very) openly-gay character or gay couple. Homosexuality has become so widely-accepted by today’s culture that it’s often added even on forms for one’s marital/social status’.
The problem that so many have pushed aside though is that homosexuality, even though it’s accepted as such in today’s culture, is still not natural. In fact, now, I’m sure I’ll get some flack for this, but here goes: “gay people are not born gay”. There is no gay gene. Sure there was a scientist once who said there is, but he was disproven (he couldn’t back up his claims). Now I’ve heard people say that they (or somebody they know) knew they were gay by age 5. Well, early childhood is when our gender identities are developed (or begin to develop), and if the male figure (or father) is not present in the family or household (as many today increasingly are not present), then the child may have a distorted view on their social (or sexual) identity (“may”. May not, but may, and for those who do, this is backed up by scientific research, something that so many seem to put their trust in today for answers). I believe I can also say that every gay/lesbian that I know or have known personally, has or had little or no healthy relationship with their fathers, which would be in sync with this research. There are also others who recognize themselves as gay who were sexually molested or abused by a trusted person early on in their lives, thus also taking part in distorting their personal sexual identifications.
Now understand, my point here is not to prove homosexuality as a social distortion or emotional disruption, but to show that, just as Paul said, it’s neither natural nor accepted by God (don’t you think that if it was a natural-born thing that they couldn’t help, that God would accept it?) But as ones who continue to disobey God’s Word and decrees, although they know them, and since they didn’t see it fit to acknowledge God and His decrees, God “gave them over (or gave them up) to the sinful desires of their hearts…”, or their perverted and disobedient minds.
See, God didn’t allow them to sin, but because they insisted on sinning, because their hearts so strongly desired it (and they chose it over God), God sort of kicked their dust off His feet. They’re not going to listen to Him, so He let them go to continue in their ways. Again, He neither accepts nor allows their sin and sinful ways, but since they’re already running in that direction, they can’t be turned back (as said in Hebrews 6:7-10). God does not give up on them completely though, and He is always around should they turn and repent, but He does sort of back away, as He did with the Israelites. And in the same way, they too “received the due penalty for their errors” (AIDS, depression, brokenness, broken relationships, wickedness (etc.), ultimately hell, exile, illness, slavery to sin…).
It’s interesting, you know? From the beginning, people have continued to reject God and His decrees, though they knew or were aware of them. One excuse we all hear today as a reason people think it’s OK to sin is, “My heart tells me to do it” or “I’m trusting my heart.” (And in this passage, Paul tells us that this is exactly what the gays in his context said). Jesus said, “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out, for it’s better to enter Heaven blind than hell with two eyes. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off, for it’s better to enter Heaven with 1 arm than Hell with 2.” So if your heart causes you to sin…gouge it out? Break it? What are you to do? Jesus also made it a point when He made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle, scattered all the coins of the money changers, and overturned their tables saying, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” I mean, you have to figure, our bodies are the Temple of God’s Holy Spirit. If Jesus made a huge deal about the sin occurring in the stone temple, imagine how upset He gets from the sin that occurs in our bodily temples.
Another excuse that we continue to hear is that it’s “basic human instinct”. Sure, this makes some sense, for we’re born into sin, as naturally-born sinners (original sin). This is why we need a Savior, for we can neither save nor cleanse ourselves from our sin. So if your instincts cause you to sin…hence now we return to what it means to fully deny yourself. Jesus also said in John 3 that we must be born again if we are even to see the Kingdom of God.
Sin is not natural (we’re born with it, but that’s not how we were originally created). Nor are the desires that cause sin, natural. But if one continues to reject God and His decrees, then God will let them continue with their owner, which is sin.
Now, please understand, I’m not gay-bashing, nor am I suggesting that Paul is, either. In fact, even though Paul does seem to single them out in this chapter, I believe that he’s actually pointing to such behaviors as symptoms, not the source, of sin by those who willingly and knowingly disobey God’s Word. I say this because in the next chapter, Paul looks at the Jews who are disobeying the Law, even putting them right up there in the same category as those in this chapter. He’s not suggesting that they’re gay, but that they’re no better than the Gentiles who don’t have the Law, yet know God’s decrees and willingly choose not to obey them.
Also on that note, I find it interesting that the sin of homosexuality and their sin of rejecting the Word of God, which they’re well aware with, are mentioned in the beginning of Paul’s letter. Why did he mention them now, first?
All I can figure is that these were some of the major issue that he continued to endure among the Gentiles to whom he was writing. I can see it as someone who’s frustrated about it because he sees the people, he knows the issue, and though he teaches the Gospel of repentance, they want no part of it. Instead, they choose to “follow their hearts” into sin, boast about the sin they’re committing, and take on the characteristics that come with it:
- They’re gossips
- They invent ways of doing evil
- They disobey their parents
- They have no understanding
- No fidelity
- No love
- No mercy
Now I don’t like to give Satan much credit for anything, but spiritually-speaking, if you’re not close to God, you’re close to Satan. If your heart isn’t in sync with the will and desires of God, then it’s in sync with those of Satan. So your decisions, behaviors, opinions, arguments, etc. now take on his deception…it’s like gathering your facts from Wikipedia, versus reliable sources, or trying to learn the Truth about God on NPR versus Moody Radio. Your whole mindset changes, your desires change and your opinions about sin go from “avoid it like the plague” to being indifferent to it, or even supporting it.
And notice today that such people have gone the extra distance of their sin, for in Paul’s day, they acknowledged it as sin and rejected salvation. Today, such people want salvation, yet reject their sin as sin. Before, they knew it was sin and didn’t care. Today, they don’t accept it as sin and try to argue it away. So repentance is often not a part of conversion (so there is never really a conversion, nor do they allow the Holy Spirit of God to transform them). And to make matters worse, liberal denominations have also accepted people’s sin, even ordaining unrepentant sinners (openly gay people, for instance; adulterers; pedophiles; people who don’t believe the Gospel; and people with many of the symptoms above).
I’ve often said that many churches these days have become more like social clubs than churches because they no longer promote and encourage holiness, nor discipleship, but instead rejoice solely in fellowship and their wrong understandings of grace. Don’t get me wrong, fellowship is good, and needed, but if Christ isn’t the reason for your gathering, then how is it any different from just hanging out? And if holiness isn’t being taught, if (correct) discipleship isn’t a verb in the church, then members are neither growing in Christ, nor their walks with Him (actions, behaviors, relationship with, etc.) and the above sinful symptoms have an open door among them (as I’ve also noticed in many churches, including many that I’d served in the past).