For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 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. – Romans 1:26-27 ESV
What happens when man abandon the truth of God for “the lie?” The lie is, in essence, that God does not exist at all or that He exists according to man’s invention. And if the one true God does not exist at all or exist as He truly is, then man is left to create his own order of things and his own laws for life. Three times in this section of Romans 1, Paul uses the phrase, “God gave them up.” Paul is attempting to demonstrate what life looks like when God releases men to pursue and believe “the lie.” Thinking themselves to be wise, their foolish hearts become darkened, and they lose any ability to make decisions based on the wisdom and righteousness of God. In this condition, they find themselves believing and practicing practically anything. “Those who turned against God turned everything on its head. For those who forsook the author of nature could not keep to the order of nature” (Pelagius, Commentary on Romans). Paul refers to women who “exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature” and he mentions men who “gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another” (Romans 1:26-27 ESV). There are those today who would like to write this off as simply the opinion of Paul. There are others who attempt to explain away what Paul says by insinuating that he is only speaking against “improper” homosexual acts, not the act itself. Still others want to believe that Paul is only referring to homosexual acts that were taking place in the context of pagan worship. But these are not the words of Paul. They are the words of God. They are part of the powerful explanation Paul has provided in this letter regarding the gospel of God. Men are without excuse. They have abandoned the truth about God and His will for mankind. They have ignored God’s clear revelation of His invisible attributes and divine nature in His creation. Rather than worship God, they have ended up worshiping anything and everything but God. And Paul makes it painfully clear that what sinful man always ends up doing is distorting the truth of God. They exchange the natural for the unnatural, what is right for what is wrong, the holy for the unholy, the will of God for the will of self. They become consumed with passions – all kinds of passions, both good and bad. But the time comes when they can no longer tell the difference. The lines become blurred. Their consciences become seared. They lose the ability to discern right from wrong, and even become rabid defenders of their actions and attitudes.
It doesn’t take a biblical scholar to read the words of God recorded in Genesis 1 and to reach a conclusion. “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it’” (Genesis 1:27-28 NLT). They were to bear fruit, to multiply their kind. That is why God created them as a male and female. It was together, as man and woman, that they were to fulfill the command of God. Adam could not do it alone. Eve was incapable of multiplying by herself. God built into nature and into their physiology, the ability to live within His will. But man, in his sin, has determined a “better way,” a preferred way. Natural passions end up being replaced by unnatural, ungodly passions. Paul calls them “dishonorable passions.” The Greek word he uses is atimia and it is very graphic in nature. It was “used of the unseemliness and offensiveness of a dead body” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). It was also used to refer to the dishonorable use of a vessel or container. Bodies are meant to have life. A dead body is unnatural and offensive to our senses. It is lifeless and no longer operating as it was intended to. The same thing is true of those who are consumed with passion for those of the same sex. They are no longer operating as God intended them to. Their acts are unnatural and against the ordained will of God.
But in our day and age, any attempt to make this claim is met with disdain, hatred, cries of bigotry and intolerance, and a violent defense of individual rights and freedoms. But, according to Paul, we should not be surprised. Their foolish hearts are darkened. The claim to be wise, boasting in their enlightened understanding and progressive comprehension of all things moral and ethical. But they are fools. They have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man” (Romans 1:23 ESV). Of course, Paul was referring to idol worship here, but the real issue is that of man-worship. When the best expression we can come up with for God’s revealed power and divine nature is the image of man, we are in trouble. When we make a god out of man, we end up worshiping ourselves. And we sacrifice truth at the altar of our own corrupt passions and desires. Self-satisfaction and self-gratification consume us. God releases us to pursue our increasingly perverse passions.
We must not lose sight of the fact that Paul is attempting to explain and expound upon the gospel of God. The good news of Jesus Christ must be displayed against the backdrop of man’s darkened state of sin. Paul is going to show that man is in trouble. Apart from God, things will always for from bad to worse. In Paul’s estimation, it doesn’t matter if you’re pagan or pious, immoral or a moral icon of virtue. Without God’s glorious gospel, all men will ultimately receive “the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:27 ESV). Man without God is hopeless. Man, left to his own devices, will always gravitate toward ungodliness and unrighteousness. But the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV).