Romans 1:21-32

21       Because those knowing God, did not glorify (him) as God nor thank (Him) but they were vain (futile; useless; empty) in their reasoning (thinking) and their foolish (lit: unintelligent) heart was darkened.

Despite knowing God, they made a deliberate choice against God. This was an act of human will, and not a consequence of divine causation. They knew God; consider the implications of Revelation 6:12-17: they knew. They didn’t wonder what was this astonishing crisis that was upon them, but had certain knowledge that God’s wrath was about to be poured out and they were done.

From the beginning, Adam and Eve knew God like no one has known God since. Yet she believed and he obeyed the contradictory words of a created animal slandering God. They did not truly glorify Him as God. They had no prior impediment to being able to know Him; they only had hearts unwilling and / or minds unfaithful.

Moreover, they were unthankful; when the idea was introduced that God may have somehow limited their potential benefit despite their perfect life circumstance, rather than responding by acknowledging His super-abundant blessings to them, they agreed that they may have been deprived and proceeded to take what they felt entitled to take, in violation of God’s crystal-clear prohibition and warning of dire consequences. Had they truly glorified God as God and been thankful for the wonderful place into which He had placed them, they would have been happy to disregard any suggestion that they were losing something of benefit, knowing that they had only benefits in the abundance God had given into their hands.

Their hearts followed their poor thinking (“seeing that the tree was good for food… Genesis 3:6). Eve wanted, therefore she took, in keeping with her failure to believe and honour the God Who had (so recently) created her and given her so many good things. Adam knew, but he chose to disobey.

Human beings since Adam and Eve have been no different. Every one of us has the sense of the presence of God, and every one of us knows that there is a higher Authority than ourselves. We have all seen the wonders of creation that, by their nature and existence, demand the existence of a Creator. When we fail to acknowledge God for Who He is, we start to reason within ourselves contrary to God’s revealed wisdom and direction; our thinking becomes futile. Every thought contrary to God is a total waste; it begins false and carries us into sinful choices based on what we want or think or feel. Wilfully wrong thinking produces wrong desires, attitudes, and affections, which produce wrong actions.

22    professing (lit: alleging) themselves to be wise, they are made (became) fools (stupid)

The word “allege”  previously  had the sense of citing something or someone as an authority. These people, having deliberately rejected the only real God, put themselves forward as authoritative or authorities on ‘wisdom’. Paul declares that they became stupid instead.

Like today, these rebellious men considered themselves to be the ‘smart’ ones; they had all the answers, had it all together, had ‘the life’, and they would never give an account. Clearly if someone believes themselves to be the repository of wisdom while rejecting God, they know nothing of value nor in the manner in which it should be known. If as God has affirmed, wisdom originates in the fear of God; without that fear, wisdom is not possible. (Ps 111:10; Pr 9:10)

23    and they changed the glory of the incorruptible God in(to) (a) likeness of (an) image of corruptible human, and to birds (flying creatures) and four-footed beasts, and reptiles.

Humans will always worship something. Those who reject God will, whether deliberately or otherwise, find a substitute. Paul refers to men who changed God’s glory into an image (eikon) – they substituted the glorifying of God which was lacking in their lives for the glorification of images of pretenders in the form of various created things (homoiomati eikonos). These are objects to which rebellious men ascribe entity and deity by one manner or other. While we think automatically of those who worship statues, or animals, or objects of various sorts, the image can be physical, or spiritual, or psycho-emotional. Examples include:

 Native tribes worship wild animals and heavenly bodies and forces; traditional Japanese worshipped emperors and their ancestors. Nebuchadnezzar built his statue, people worship Ashtera poles, scarab beetle, cow, Vishnu, Krishna, Shiva, Zeus, Diana of the Ephesians, Ramtha, Ascended Masters, divinity of self, the universe, Gaia – “mother earth”, intelligence, self-discipline (oriental), pacifism, patriotism, health, etc., imaginary spirit beings with qualities of created things plus deity, which opens the door to demons.  Pre-eminence  is given to created things; self as sovereign; save the polar bears; save the environment; human brilliance as the ultimate virtue; education; prestige. All these things are temporal; all will one day cease to exist. None has power, none can preserve itself, never mind being of any lasting benefit to humanity.

“Corruption” means decay, to break down, to deteriorate. The Living and True God cannot be corrupted; God as spirit is outside of physical deterioration. God as perfect is beyond the reach of spiritual corruption. God has always been and shall always be entirely right, complete, and sufficient. Those who have depraved their own minds through refusal of God equate God’s glory to the appearance of an image of a created thing that will decay, that is not and cannot be complete, right, or sufficient, and can never be so apart from God. Consider the absurdity of a human with his tremendous potential for godliness, and ‘greatness’ as imbued from our Creator, kneeling and grovelling before, or serving a dung beetle, or fearing the movements of the stars in the heavens. But this is the state these characters, who allege themselves to be the more advanced of our species, bring themselves to in preference to worshipping and loving the true God.

 24    And through which (dio – wherefore) God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts into uncleanness, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves

For which reason, God gave them up. He did not place or push – He in no way caused their deviance, but permitted their deviance and surrendered them to their own stupidity. Men chose and continue to choose to refuse God. They make a conscious, voluntary, deliberate choice, and God surrenders them to their own desires and the consequences of it. Because of their rejection of God, God essentially “left them to their own devices’.

God gave them up …. to dishonour their own bodies. It seems a fitting consequence: because they dishonoured God, giving glory to fairytales and created things, they would ultimately dishonour even their own flesh. When man refuses God, he descends into an abyss of desperate wickedness. There is neither a point of reference for ‘goodness’ nor the motivation to pursue what fails to fulfill some fleshly preference.

Without the spiritual anchor in God Himself, the natural urges of man’s flesh are the sole basis for his decisions. As the apostle James states in his letter, “Everyone is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desire and enticed. Then when desire has conceived, it brings forth sin and sin, when it is accomplished, brings forth death.” When men choose to expunge the knowledge of God from their minds, they receive the ‘fitting recompense’ of God abandoning them to their depraved thinking and dishonourable passions.

Unrestrained by God or the acknowledgement of God, unmotivated by His Spirit to righteousness, the depths of man’s potential for evil is profound.

The ultimate outcome of idolatry is self-debasement. The pursuit of idols tends to result in increasingly base desires that lead people to abuse themselves in their urgency to appease their urges.  Left to themselves, men who reject God set up idols to serve and revere, falling deeper into their own error to the point of self-destruction: drugs, drunkenness, promiscuity, homosexuality, tattoos, piercings and other mutilations, grotesque make-up; ugly, dirty, or damaged clothing – anything that defaces or elevates the ugly or the sombre.

 25     Who (any who) changed the truth of God in the lie and worshipped and served the creation instead of the Creator Who is blessed forever, amen.

The truth of God consists of the fact that God is, Who and how God is, and everything pertaining to His deeds and His words, including the condition of men (condemned for sin) and the redemption in Christ. The lie is that any created thing may be or is ‘god’, and that man can choose whatever ‘god’ may please him and still be right. Men who choose to refuse God change what they choose to consider truth, according to what suits their purpose.

In abandoning a God with such power and majesty, humans – the epitome of God’s creation, having been formed ‘in God’s image’ – begin to revere and serve the creation. How is it that the only creature capable of reason, reflection, self-reflection, invention, altruism, and other complex thoughts and reactions, can debase itself to the point of giving honour to those things incapable of independent thought? How does the crown of creation come to kneel before snakes and cattle, and bugs, and dead sticks, offering honour and service to things that have no sense, or aren’t even alive?

The universe had to be brought into existence, and ‘heavens and earth’ shall pass away. The universe is completely dependant, but God is entirely independent, requiring no other being, nor any agent for Their continuance. God is to be praised forever because God is forever; yet rebellious men prefer to honour that which cannot sustain itself and can only decay without God’s divine intervention in the natural processes of the material world. The absurdity of this fact cannot be overstated.

26  Because of this, God gave them over to dishonourable passions, for even their females altered the natural use into what was against nature

Cause and effect: the situation was initiated by men, and responded to by God. God gave them up to their dishonourable passions. They left what was natural, to pursue what was unnatural and perverse. The word ‘natural’ means ‘according to nature’. Natural human behaviour is that to which God designed and desired human beings. Anything contrary to that purpose is unnatural, no matter how many people approve it or how agreeable it may make anyone feel. And whatever is unnatural is necessarily also wrong, and destined to be deleterious.

While this clause may allow for ambiguity of what those females were ‘using’, the following verse is completely clear; the language leaves no room for alternative understanding than homosexual desires and behaviours. Moreover, Paul has clearly stated that these desires and actions are ‘dishonourable’, and “contrary to nature”. Paul describes the men’s behaviours as “indecency”. If Paul was speaking on behalf of Christ – which all of his unequivocal statements were presented to be – then Paul on the authority of Christ, and on behalf of Christ has clearly condemned homosexuality; both the desire and the behaviours. His words are reinforced in 1 Corinthians, in which he includes male homosexuality in a list of specific sins in which the Corinthians used to participate, and from which they had been cleansed and set free. This entirely comports with God’s prohibitions under the Law of Moses against men and women engaging members of their own gender in sexual acts.

Notice Paul’s wording: “even their females” suggests that it seems to Paul either less comprehensible or more surprising for the women to abandon normal sexual relations than for men. Not only the men, but the women too, became guilty of this crime.

“Because of this” – the structure of Paul’s comments here serve to identify the origin of homosexuality. As men and women chose to push God out of their lives, setting up idols among the created order to fill their bent for ‘spirituality’ and ‘worship’, their desires and urges became debased to the point that, when God surrendered them to their passions, those passions came to include sexual desire towards members of their own sex. This ‘dishonourable passion’ and its fulfillment is described as the ‘fitting recompense’ of their ‘error’ of abandoning God for idols.

A thought to ponder: natural marriage as a holy union is used by God to illustrate the right relationship between YHWH and Israel, and between Christ and His bride, the church. Is it possible that the homosexual union is to God a similar representation but of the perverse fellowship of a human being with an idol so that, because they preferred their idols and chose to put God out of their minds, He therefore left them to their idols – which are ultimately demons – and the associated demonically-inspired self-destructive behaviour that reflects their spiritual perversion?

Many Christians behave as though homosexuality is one of the ‘worst’ sins, and most reprehensible. Most likely, the natural disgust that arises among most at the consideration of the things done in homosexual encounters fuels that idea; once upon a time, most people were disgusted with promiscuity, and a loose woman was considered the worst of sinners. This thinking is hypocritical and false. Lies are as wrong as sexual sin, greed is as wrong, theft, slander, etc. However, the implications of some sins, and their power to enslave and imprison tend to differ according to how ‘personal’ they are. Christians must learn to be open to meeting, talking to, and loving homosexuals just as we are usually willing to do with any other lost soul. If they don’t see the grace and love of God in us, they will neither hear our expression of God’s judgment upon their sin, nor His offer of forgiveness for it. They need Jesus too, just as we all once needed Jesus. We are not better than they; only we are now saved while they are not. Christ’s death covered all sins by all men for all time, and He loves all sinners as much as He loved us when we were still under condemnation. May the true church never be so foolish as to discriminate against any group of people in the proclamation of the love and grace of God offered to mitigate against the justice and wrath of God against sin!

 27  And likewise also the males left the natural using of the female and were inflamed in their desire toward one another, men in men working indecency, and receiving (getting back) in themselves the retribution ( ) that was binding (necessary consequence of) for their deception.

Research suggests that many male homosexuals obsess about having sex. Statistics demonstrate that many homosexual men self-report multiple partners, sometimes in the 100’s, propositioning any desired stranger in any environment, willing to run nearly any risk to make that connection. The behaviour resembles the obsession of a drug addict who is so driven to get that next hit, that he can think of nothing else, and will abandon all other activities, betray every trust, violate any statute, as long as he can satisfy the addiction. Homosexuality, particularly male homosexuality, completely resembles an addiction of the strongest kind. Moreover, many MSM consider their sexual preference as their primary defining characteristic. Their identity hinges on this single element – something that is transitory, since thousands have left the lifestyle and the desires behind, and something that is not essential to their functioning either as independent individuals or as members of greater society. This obsession is likewise ‘unnatural’, and suggests strongly that the urges are more that physical or psycho-emotional, but are spiritual, and if so are necessarily demonic. The implications of this in evangelism are immense, as are the implications of the influence of these men on the rest of society when given the opportunity to entice males who are especially vulnerable. This serves the devil’s purpose well, as MSM is physically, psycho-emotionally, and socially destructive, and becomes a spiritual entrapment.

For those who have chosen to reject God, they have left themselves open to competing spiritual influences, all of which are demonic. Among those not practising homosexuality, the only thing between them and such activities is personal preferences and any sense that it may not be all it’s cracked up to be by those who insist on its validity.

 28    And according as they did not approve to have the knowledge of God, God gave them over to an unapproved mind, to be doing what is not fitting.

“Just as” they did not approve knowing God, God surrendered them to an unapproved mind. They exercised a choice; it did not suit their preference to know God for whatever reason; they felt knowing God to be inconvenient. In order for this to be true, it is imperative that they DID know God (see v 21). They must know God in order to make the decision to disapprove the knowing, therefore it is possible to know God and yet refuse Him. It is possible to make a choice .

God released them to their choice and to an ‘unapproved mind’. Who would disapprove other than God? The way they think is unacceptable to or disapproved by God. The result of their state of mind which approved what was wrong and did not approve knowledge of God, was to do ‘those things’ – many things – that were not proper, including homosexuality. Paul continues to show how far from righteousness those who choose to refuse God will fall:

 29    Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, greet, evil, full of envy, murder, strife, fraud, depravity(evil customs/practices), whisperers,

“Being filled” – not just the occasional bad choice to do a single wicked act. They bring so much wickedness into themselves by leaving themselves open to the influences of all that is opposed to God. The list of wicked deeds is a reflection of the terrible state of the heart and mind of one who chooses despite knowledge, to reject God.

This entire list is identified as ‘unrighteousness’. The list includes attributes, not just actions. Jesus words in Matte chapters 5 – 8 show that even attitudes, feelings, and thoughts are sinful when they are against God. When we consider the list, and realize that these traits are expected among those who knowingly refuse God, we should be very concerned about the state of society when so many make that choice. These characteristics are completely destructive to individuals, communities, and nations, and can only be mitigated against through repentance from sin and faith towards God.

30    Backbiters (down-talkers: katalalous),  detesters of God, spiteful (hubristas), proud, over-bearing (ostentatious), inventors of evils, stubborn to parents,

31    without understanding (stupid), faithless (disloyal, untrustworthy), lacking natural affection, implacable, unmerciful,

32    Those who know the judgment of God that those committing such things are worthy of death, not only do them, but also endorse those who commit them!

The key is that they know God’s judgment; they just don’t care. What God says about their choices does not matter to them. They do not suffer from lack of knowledge or understanding; they lack the desire to know God as God, and prefer whatever pleases them or fills their desire for satisfaction. They know God has condemned and they know God has judged the guilty as deserving of the death penalty, but they pursue their own ideas nonetheless, and promote others who do likewise.

Who are these ‘they’? From the text, following through Paul’s own explanation, “they” are those who withhold / restrain / retain the truth in unrighteousness.

The point is that unrighteous men who hold or hold back the truth because they prefer their sin, and don’t prefer the God they know and Whose judgement they know, will experience God’s wrath. They sneer at the penalty (v 32) by both practising sin themselves and approving others who do likewise.