Romans (Part 08) – Cravings of the Heart: Believing the Lie (1:26–32)
In verses 24 and 25—the summary of God giving us up—Paul provided two categories of the cravings of our hearts; the first was sexual impurity, and the second was believing the lie. Paul goes into more detail of these two categories in the rest of this chapter. The first of these—sexual impurity—is discussed in verses 26 and 27.
We have already talked about the Genesis 1 and 2 basis for understanding sexual purity as the symbol or image of right relationship. It stands in one aspect for the right relationship of God in his Trinity and in another aspect for right relationship between both God and humankind and Christ and humankind. And sexual purity as described in Genesis 2 (feeding off Genesis 1) is the exclusivity of sexual relationship between a male and a female in a marriage covenant. We realized that definition through the Genesis 2 story of God taking the one created human being, separating that human into two divisions—male and female (with attributes singular or more proficient to each), and then recombining them through sex as a multiple-in-one, dependent union in marriage covenant. The multiple-in-one aspect reflects the Trinitarian relationship. The dependent union aspect reflects the God and humankind relationship.
The male/female division occurring with separate attributes given to each forces the dependency of one (whether male or female) to the other. Because physical (muscular) strength is such a dominating characteristic, males have been seen to have the upper hand in our sin-cursed world. However, in God’s imaging, the one who has (or has more of) is given the responsibility, not of authority or dominion over the other, but of providing for the more vulnerable (the one who has less). Even though we may think that the muscular advantage is significant, God interestingly (and purposefully) presents the story with exactly the opposite emphasis. First, the female is made as the help. Remember the help (Hebrew ezer) is used of God 16 of the other 19 times used in the OT. It is not used as help meaning to assist. It is used as help in providing for when the other is not able. Therefore, the female is made to provide for the male who alone is not capable without the female’s specific characteristics and proficiencies. Second, we are told the male will leave his parents to cling to his female. The picture there is of the male, having been formerly dependent on his parents (as all children are who cannot provide for themselves), ending that dependency in order to cling in dependency to his marriage partner. Thus, in both cases, we see the female as contributing the care of her attributes to the male who needs that care. I believe the female’s care is emphasized in the creative look in Genesis 2 in order to counter the overemphasis that may occur of the male’s necessary care for the female. Care and receiving care are intrinsically involved for both the male and the female in the marriage relationship. And that loving care images the care of God in relationship to humankind.
Verse 26 begins our look at the sexual impurity identified as one of the two categories of sin resulting from God’s giving us up. The first thing to note is that it is described as degrading passions. Let’s break that down even further. The adjective there is degrading. In other words, we are discussing something that, in fact, degrades us from our created human position and worth. The movement pictured is, then, a dehumanizing or sub-humanizing result. And notice that the degradation spoken of is not yet of the activity, but first the passions that prompt the activity. What occurs then is sub-human (sub-purposed) desire to be satisfied in sexual relationship other than through that of the created image. This understanding is important as we go on to figure out how Paul describes the activity itself.
Paul describes the result of the degrading passions as exchanging natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. The HCSB and NIV translate “even their women,” which is unfortunate. It makes it sound as if Paul is saying, “We could understand males engaging in this activity, but even the women were doing it!” That is not the intent. Both the ESV and NASB translate closer to what the Greek meaning appears to be. It is simply a both-and statement: “Both their females exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones and the men did also.”
The question, then, is why Paul is calling out both females and males for engaging in this particular sexual activity. After all, all sexual sin violates the image of right relationship: adultery, sex outside a marriage covenant, bestiality, and homosexuality. However, homosexuality is what Paul discusses here because it most thoroughly gets to his point.
The point Paul is making (especially seen in this particular example of impure sex) is that the same-sex activity specifically violates the two-divisional creation purpose in which God separated the one human into those two divisions (male and female) precisely in order to bring them back together in a multiple-in-one sexual union to image right relationship. Homosexual activity denies that imaging of right relationship by instead having each division (male and female) seeking sex within their own divisions. That same-sex activity violates the union of divisions that sex was designed to image.
We need to pause in Paul’s logic to address a misinterpretation here by some Christian homosexuals of our day. It is difficult to read this passage in such a way as to come from it thinking God condones homosexual relationship. But the Christian homosexuals who do argue for God’s acceptance and blessing on it focus on the words “natural” and “unnatural.” What Paul is here condemning, they argue, is the person who by his nature is heterosexual but, in lust for perversity, ignores that heterosexual nature and pursues a homosexual encounter. That practice, they say, is wrong and what Paul is against. However, the natural homosexual pursuing his or her natural inclination in homosexuality is, again according to the Christian homosexual interpretation, not even discussed in this passage.
That interpretation is flawed because its premise argues against what Paul has been claiming throughout the passage so far. Paul began by saying that God revealed himself (i.e., his divine nature [TGB], his eternal power [loving care], and his wrath [or punishment] against rejection of himself as TGB source) to his creatures. However, in suppressing (or shrouding over) God as source of truth, goodness, and beauty, the creatures settled on themselves as source. But Paul insists that this change in consideration of the source for TGB has resulted for these creatures in their asynetos cardia skotizo (i.e., their foolish hearts being darkened). The Greek there is translated fairly faithfully. Asynetos means without understanding. Cardia may mean the actual heart, but in this context, as similar in English, the heart speaks of the soul as the seat of the sensibilities, affections, emotions, desires, appetites, and passions. And skotizo means simply a metaphorical darkening of the light of truth. This result—this foolish, darkened heart—is the creature’s now natural state. In 1 Corinthians 2:14, Paul speaks of this natural person as follows: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
The insistence then of the Christian homosexual that Paul would first define the natural tendency of the corrupted creatures as foolishly darkened but then go on to bless the trust and pursuit of that foolishly darkened understanding is ludicrous. It not only cannot be defended in the passage context, it is blatantly illogical.
Now, perhaps the Christian homosexual who holds to this view would argue how can I as one with heterosexual tendency therefore trust that inclination since I should not trust my own corrupted flesh—my natural self. But, of course, if the Christian homosexual would bring up that point, it would only reveal the lack of understanding of the true issue. I am not (and Paul is not) arguing that everything the creature feels is automatically wrong. The point is that the creature cannot—should not—place his or her trust in the inclinations of a naturally corrupted heart. Consistent with what Paul has said all along, the right judgment is the one that depends on and trusts in God’s revealed TGB. Thus, Paul’s use of natural is not in equating it with sinfully corrupted flesh but rather with God’s purposed revelation of TGB (primarily revealed for us now in his Word). Therefore, even as one with heterosexual leanings, I cannot place my trust in those natural inclinations. I must cling to God’s revelation. And God’s revelation, especially in this passage as juxtaposed with Genesis 2, shouts out for sexual purity in the exclusivity of sexual relationship between a male and a female in a marriage covenant.
So then, counter to the homosexual claim, natural relations (i.e., TGB of relations) are not sourced in the body (in creation). Natural relations are God-revealed relations. And therefore, males leaving God-revealed relations with females in lust for other males is sexual impurity (1:27b). Females exchanging God-revealed sexual relations for unnatural (creation-sourced) relations is sexual impurity. And sexual impurity is the image of the Fall—broken relationship with God.
Whereas 1:26–27 focused on the attack against the image of relationship with God, the next section (1:28–32) has to do with the attack against relationship with each other. We should recall that in creation, God formed three basic relationship types: God with humanity, humanity with the rest of creation, and humanity within itself. Paul did not merely attempt to list all the sins that came to mind in verses 28 through 31. Those listed are sins that destroy relationship with each other. We may have thought it odd for Paul to list “disobedient to parents” alongside such horrific thoughts as “inventors of evil” and “unmerciful,” but that is only if we miss the context. Being disobedient to parents fits right in based on the categorical understanding of things harmful to relationship.
Paul ends in verse 32 with a concept that showcases the foolish darkening of hearts without God. In 32 Paul says that those who practice such things—those who deserve to die because of their practice—applaud others who practice those things. How ridiculously inconsistent! Our cheering for others in celebration of relationship-harming activity is the height of darkened understanding in our false pursuit of TGB without God. If we pursue activities that destroy relationship and center our individual existence entirely on ourselves in isolation, how can we then applaud those (thinking we are banding together in camaraderie with others) who are practicing those same relationship-violating activities against us! It is foolishness. It is selfish isolationism—the exact opposite of the true community of true love that occurs only with hearts settled on God as source for all truth, goodness, and beauty.