In previous articles we looked at St Paul’s description of how God as Creator had revealed Himself in His creation. His creatures were meant to willingly submit to Him. However they incurred His wrath by rejecting Him. Their rebellion had consequences. We saw that they were affected adversely. They became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools. In their foolishness they pushed God off the throne of their lives and exchanged Him for idols. They exchanged His values for values repugnant to Him as Paul showed in discussing the 3 exchanges. We saw these as:-
i). The First Exchange. IDOLATRY. (Replacing God by idols.) Rom 1:23 they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. God was not pleased! His response? Rom 1:24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves
ii). The Second Exchange. FALSE RELIGION. (Worshipping the God-given creation instead of the Creator Himself.) Rom 1:25 they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator. God’s response? Rom 1:26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions.
iii). The Third Exchange. HOMOSEXUALITY. (Humans rejecting the God-created order for human relationships and substituting their own.) Rom 1:26 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 … . God’s response? (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.
As we follow Paul in chapter 1, it appears that when “God gave them up” as a result of these 3 exchanges, He was handing them over to be under their own control, not His. The Greek word used for “gave up” or “hand over” describes the handing over of someone to the power of another. It is used for example in Mat 20:18 for the handing of Jesus over to the power of the chief priest and scribes. God handed humans who rejected Him over to the power of their own lusts and passions so they could do what they wanted to do. In that sense it was His judgment on the people who had rejected His authority over them. They were in conflict with His purpose for human relationships. He allowed them to “do their own thing”.
That is brought out in the terms used in verses 26 and 27. The contrast is made at the end of verse 26 between “natural relations” and those “contrary to nature.” The word for “natural” is (phusikos) meaning “according to nature”, the natural world God created. “Relations” is the word (chrēsis) used only in these 2 verses, meaning “uses” or “functions”. So the women exchanged the “natural use” of their body for a use or function that was contrary to God’s design. The men did likewise in exchanging the “natural use” of women, and had sex with those of the same sex. It was as though they were setting up a “sexual universe” on earth that was parallel but contrary to the one God had made. In this universe, humans called the shots regarding sexual activity, not God. In this universe, what God had called an “abomination” in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, now became acceptable.
What St Paul wrote may seem to some to be out of step with the way many people think today. But he was explaining why the world is as it is. It is in rebellion against its Creator. Was it the only time he wrote against human rebellion and against same-sex relationships? No, he also wrote about them in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. In this passage he listed a number of attitudes, and activities stemming from those attitudes, that showed that those who were guilty of them would not inherit God’s kingdom, Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: no sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, 10 thieves, greedy people, drunkards, revilers, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. (ESV). The words, “male prostitutes” do not mean men who offer themselves as prostitutes to women. Rather it means men who have sex with men. A couple of modern translations bring this out. For example the Lexham English Bible translates the phrases as “passive homosexual partners” and “dominant homosexual partners”. The NET Bible has, “passive homosexual partners” and practicing homosexuals. These translations bring more clarity than the “effeminate” used in the AV and NASB and other translations. The NIV2011 combines the two terms, “men who have sex with men.” The ESV also combines the two terms as, “men who practice homosexuality”.
We need to note that it is not only sexual sins that prevent people from inheriting the kingdom. The list in 1 Corinthians 6 also included “thieves, greedy people, drunkards, revilers, or swindlers.” In that case, it might be argued, none of us would inherit the kingdom of God! Everyone has been guilty of greed! What Paul is saying is that to be among the righteous or just, in the sight of God, people need to repent of such behaviour, ask for God’s forgiveness, get right with Him through faith in Christ and seek His strength to be different. Only in that way will they be freed of habitual sin and guilt in those areas. Paul reminded his readers that many of them had been guilty of such things. But they had been changed, 1Co 6:11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. Such change was available to all those who turned to God in repentance and who asked God for help to be different. If they didn’t do that then there would be no forgiveness. If there was no forgiveness sought and received from God, His kingdom would be closed to them.
So sexual immorality including homosexuality is part of the wide range of human sin committed in rebellion against God. But as Paul reminds us, forgiveness is available and so is the possibility of being changed by God to be able to live different lives.
No judgment! We all need Gods’ grace in forgiveness and strength to live as He wants. Paul went on in the remaining verses in Romans 1, to talk about a wide gambit of human sin resulting from human rebellion against God. We looked briefly at this in the last article. But perhaps a bit more detail might be helpful. Paul wrote of the power of sin in human lives as he wrote in verse 29, They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. The tense of the verb “were filled” denotes a fullness already reached, perhaps “full to the brim”. Not only that but they were “full of” envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. These characteristics are all based on hateful attitudes to other people, and the desire to do them harm.
The list continues with other sinful attitudes. They involve unloving speech towards or about others, such as gossip, slanderers, insolence. It includes proud attitudes such as haughtiness and boasting. It involves being haters of God, and being disobedient to parents, instead of being those who love God with all their being and who honour their parents as commanded in the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments.
The list of sins concludes with four words beginning with the letter “a” in the Greek. The “a” or “an” is similar to our English prefix “un”. It is a means of changing a word to its opposite meaning. So in verse 31, rebellious humans are a/sunetos= foolish, a/sunthetos=faithless, a/storgos = heartless, and an/eleēmōn = ruthless, instead of being wise, faithful, loving and merciful. The latter are the qualities God requires of His creatures. Rebellious attitudes in rebellious people reverse what God wants.
The final verse is applicable to every person in every age. Rom 1:32, Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. There is in every sane person a sense that they are not perfect. They certainly see that no one else is perfect! Our consciences may be a guide to us but are not totally reliable. In the New Testament consciences are described as “good”, “clear”, but also as “weak”, “defiled”, able to be “wounded”, “evil”, and consciences can be “seared with an iron”. The Message version translated the last phrase as “they’ve lost their capacity for truth”. This is so true. People begin to do the wrong thing and as they continue to do it, their consciences become seared. The writer to the Hebrews put it, Heb 3:13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Sin hardens consciences. It deceives. That’s why people think they can get away with the wrong things they are doing. They are hardened. So as our verse 32 says, “they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them”.
It is an upside down world! People of all cultures around the globe are saying it. That happens when you replace God with idols. When you do that you begin to live in deception. Everything is reversed. What God called “good” is now seen to be “bad”. What He called “evil” is now seen to be “good” or “desirable”. And as verse 32 reminded us, people not only do the wrong things in life, but approve (“applaud” in HCSB version) others when they do the same things. In the very descriptive words of The Message translation, And it’s not as if they don’t know better. They know perfectly well they’re spitting in God’s face. And they don’t care–worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best! (MSG).
Perhaps what the world needs to do (and to do soon before our western civilization slides over the edge into oblivion and a God-hating and God-forsaken world takes its place) is to follow the lead of the people in Corinth in New Testament times. As we saw in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, many of Paul’s readers were part of the moral degradation of the day. But they learned that life could be different! They changed from being sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who practiced homosexuality, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers and swindlers. They heard the gospel message about new life in Christ. They responded to the message. They were changed as Paul reminded them, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Or in the words of The Message, 1Co 6:11 … for not so long ago you were on that list. Since then, you’ve been cleaned up and given a fresh start by Jesus, our Master, our Messiah, and by our God present in us, the Spirit. He can do so in today’s world in the life of any person who wants to be different. But they need to recognise that they have been in rebellion against their Creator. They must repent of living life apart from Christ and invite Him to be their Saviour from sin and the Lord and Master of every part of their lives. (As He was always meant to be!)
Blog No.125. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Wednesday 26th June 2013