*Romans 1:18-32, part 1
*Unless otherwise specified, Scripture references are from the New American Standard.
In examining the biblical passages that deal with homosexuality (See previous blogs here, here, here, and here.), there is no clearer condemnation for homosexual acts than what is found in Romans 1:18-32.
However, Christians make a serious exegetical error if they think this passage is only about homosexuality. Instead, it is a theological broadside by the Apostle Paul against the human tendency toward idolatry – the worship of what men desire out of creation while simultaneously rejecting the Creator.
Here is a concise outline of Paul’s argument in vv. 18-25:
(1) God reveals Himself in nature.
Romans 1 says that creation (“what has been made”) reveals God’s “invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature” (vs. 20). The chapter also instructs men and women about how they should live as beings that bear the divine image.
The Bible contains countless examples of God speaking through nature. Sometimes it is in the form of a metaphor or simile, as in Psalm 1. In that chapter the righteous man is portrayed as one who delights himself in the Lord and meditates upon the word of God. He will be “like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:2-3).
On other occasions, we are commanded to observe nature itself – how it operates – and to emulate it. “Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise” (Proverbs 6:6). Since God is the One who created ants to behave in this manner, observing their activities can instruct us.
Sometimes even the natural behavior of human beings reveals aspects of God’s nature, as in the love of a mother for her children. “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15).
Like an artist who discloses his heart through the work he fashions, God has manifested certain aspects of His nature through creation. It reveals the Artist of all artists.
(2) What God reveals in nature can be understood.
Paul says these truths about God can be “clearly seen” and “understood through what has been made.” It is “made evident to them”
– that is, the revelation of God is clear and unmistakable.
However, this revelation is not simply something that is external to human beings, for Paul says these truths are “evident within them.” There is an internal recognition of God’s existence.
This cognizance even extends to morality. For example, in Romans 2:14-15 Paul speaks of Gentiles (non-Jews) who do not have the Law of God but nevertheless “do instinctively the things of the Law … in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts.”
(3) Men and women actively repress this testimony.
Of course, not everyone who recognizes this “natural” sense of right and wrong heeds it. In Romans 1, after Paul discusses how men and women suppress the knowledge of God, he proceeds to list the sinful things they do as a result. He concludes the chapter by stating that sinners know they are doing wrong: “although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (vs. 32).
When they understand God’s voice in nature, Paul says most people “suppress the truth.” In fact, this entire passage, right through the end of Romans 1:32, presents a series of dark choices made by people who see and understand the truth about God yet willfully reject it.
Why did they reject the truth seen in nature? Paul says they suppressed it “in unrighteousness.” Truth convicts the conscience of sin and conviction is painful. Rather than repent, however, people find that the easiest cure for the pain of conviction is to suppress what caused it in the first place – in this case, the testimony of nature.
This tendency of people to reject what nature reveals about God runs deep in humanity, for Jesus taught that even when He came to testify about God in undeniable clarity, men and women turned away:
“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:19-20).
Again we see the pattern: People loved their sin and did not want it exposed to the Light. Therefore they rejected the truth proclaimed by Jesus Christ and preferred to hide in the darkness where, in their minds at least, the Light could not penetrate.
(4) The clarity of God’s voice in nature condemns human rebellion.
Romans 1 says that the wrath of God comes and is poured out against “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” because they are “without excuse.”
It must be stressed that men and women cannot be saved by God’s voice in nature – they can only be saved through the preaching of the gospel (Romans 10:14). However, Paul makes clear that mankind’s rebellion against the testimony of nature is sufficient grounds for their damnation.
In Romans 1:18, Paul says that the wrath of God is not only of an eternal nature, it is temporal too. It is revealed – now, in this age, and not only in the age to come.
This passage, then, is ominous news for America. For example, what the Supreme Court has decided regarding the nature of marriage demonstrates the veracity of Paul’s teaching. It is terrifying to see national leaders embrace an ideology that is clearly a suppression of the truth.
If God judges in this life as well as the next, it could be that America will soon suffer under the wrath of God revealed from heaven – and revealed in some explicit way. The Old Testament reveals the horrors of such national judgments.
However, sometimes God’s judgment isn’t explicit at all. The Almighty is not obligated to show His displeasure every time the rebellion of human beings manifests itself. In fact, for some people, past historical judgments (upon cities and nations) are all the warning they will receive before an eternal sentence is passed on their lives.
As the apostle notes in 2 Peter 2:6-10, “and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter;…then the Lord knows how…to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.”
Is America as deaf to that “warning-by-example” as it appears to be blind to the voice of God in nature? We may very well discover the answer to that question in the coming days.