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Oct 27, 2019

Who's the Sinner

Passage: Romans 1:22-31

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Romans

Keywords: identity, sin, homosexuality, human nature, lgbtq, holy sexuality


Our culture is in a completely different place from the biblical sexual morality given to God's people in God's Word. But it's no different from the Roman world to which Paul addressed the book of Romans. This message looks at both what Romans 1 teaches about godly morality and how that intersects with our cultural reality today.


Who’s the Sinner?

Romans 1:22-31

October 27, 2019


Everybody seems to be into polls these days.  So I figured it’s time for a little bit of internal polling at Mosaic.  Don’t feel obligated to participate.  I’ve tried to develop questions that are generic enough that you won’t feel pressured to answer a certain way just because you are in church but relevant enough to help us see what our brothers and sisters in Christ are thinking about things going on in the church and our culture.  I’m just a little curious about what we’re all thinking when it comes to some issues that are really BIG in our culture today.

#1. How many of you have same-sex attracted friends, family, neighbors and work or school acquaintances?

#2.  How many think that American Christians are perceived as anti-LGBTQ?

#3.  How many of you have friends, neighbors or family who are sexually active outside of marriage?

#4.  How many of you think that God’s design of our human body can and should give us at least some good clues as to our sexuality and how to express it?

#5.  How many believe all of us…everyone… has some sort of disordered sexuality or sexual desires?

#6.  How many think sex is a major “false god” in our culture?

#7  How many think sins such as gossiping, arrogance or boasting about one’s own achievements are just as sinful as homosexual sex or heterosexual sex outside marriage?

Pollster George Barna came out with a poll in 2016 (almost 4 years ago now) that revealed some differences in attitudes about sex between different generations and different religious groups.  Take a look at a few of the differences.  [See What Americans Believe About Sex found at https://www.barna.com/research/what-americans-believe-about-sex/ on 10.25.2019]

You might be wondering if today’s message is another one predominately about sex. It’s not.  But Paul is going to point to sexual sin specifically as he takes a deep-dive into his explanation of sin in the human condition.  Sin, like sexuality, is something we ALL have experience with…even if those feelings and experiences are different from each other. 

REVIEW:  You’ll remember if you were with us last week that we spent quite a bit of time looking at the amazing realities, laws and discoveries in nature that support precisely what Romans 1:20—“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” 

BTW, at family dinner last week, I was checking out with Dr. Daniel how accurate or off-base I was last week in talking about platelets.  Apparently I wasn’t too embarrassingly off-target at least.  J  Anyway, Daniel mentioned that during medical school he kept a running list of topics or systems or parts of the human body they were studying that left him completely in awe of how amazingly God has designed just the human body.  So I warned him that I’d be asking him to share some of that with us someday here in Mosaic.  All of that amazing complexity is just further proof of the truthfulness and accuracy of Romans 1:20. 

            But from that high vista point of awe and wonder over this unbelievably complex, beautiful and intricate universe, Paul now takes us down a very slippery and dark slide—the slide of sin.  Having established that nature shouts to both the tribal bushman and the technologically savvy astronomer, Paul now reminds us that human beings all are predisposed to “suppress the truth” about God in what He has revealed to us in nature.  How do we do that? “By their [our] wickedness.”  And we talked about the “suppressive effect of sin” in our own hearts and minds. 

            Paul is going to use the pronoun “they” a lot here.  So just who is the “they” Paul is referring to?  You have to go all the way back to verse 18—“people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”  Paul is going to develop what that means.  But take my word for it for now that Paul is going to show us that WE ALL were or may yet be today in that group of “people” he is going to describe. 

            Remember a few weeks ago when we started into Chapter 1 I told you that Paul never refers to born again Christ-followers as “sinners” but rather as “saints”?  I made the point that it’s not because once you follow Christ you stop sinning and actually become a Mother Teresa or St. Augustine. You may over time, but sainthood is a title and position, according to the Bible, that God bestows on us who have fled to Jesus for refuge from our sin and God’s judgment against that sin.  His holiness has been laid on us where God used to see only our sin.  The result is that we are no longer treated as rebel sinners but as holy saints by our holy God. 

            So I think that Paul is basically talking about all of us in our pre-salvation state…along with the majority of the world that is this very moment living in rebellion against God and what they know about Him.  We also noticed last week that, according to verse 18, God’s wrath is presently being poured out “against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” 

The question is, HOW is that wrath being poured out?  Is God going to the furnace of His divine wrath with a big bucket, dipping it in and pouring out white hot coals of “God’s wrath” whenever we sin?  OR is his wrath something that might be present with the sin itself…a state of animosity that just comes with sin when we choose to worship lesser gods?  Might sin be its own punishment?  Might it have built into it an automatic measure of God’s wrath? 

And since Christ bore the wrath of God against our sin on the cross, what is it that God does with our continuing sin once we’ve been reconciled in Christ? 

We’re hard pressed to find anywhere that God’s wrath gets poured out on his children, believing followers of Jesus.  In fact, several scriptures indicate that God’s children are spared from the wrath of God when they embrace His salvation. (I Thess. 5:9—For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  I Thess. 1:10—we “wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.).

NOTE:  This begs the question, “Then how does God treat His children differently when they sin if not with wrath?”  For that answer, go take a look at Hebrews 12:4-13.  Wrath against rebels becomes restorative discipline towards His children.  As one man I heard recently at the Spokane Fatherhood Initiative dinner share, he grew up in a home where disobedience was always met with swift anger by his dad.  But now he’s learning that discipline is really to be all about educating a child, not expressing anger. 

But since we were ALL total rebels at one time suppressing the truth we knew about God so we could continue to make idols of ourselves, our careers, other people, the ecology, you name it, in one sense, this passage is referring to ALL of us.  We’ve all been objects of God’s wrath at one time.  Paul is going to show us in this passage what the natural progression is for people who continue to reject God’s Lordship over their lives.  It is a road every one of us have been on at some time.  Some of us just got off it earlier than others.  And it’s a road we sometime take “detours” back onto when we willfully rebel against what we know God has already revealed to us even as children of God. 

Paul is, I believe, going to choose 1 arena of sin that we all have to deal with in life—the sexual arena—as an illustration of the slippery slide of sin.  Sexual sin is universal, whether in mind, heart or body.  I think that is why Paul pulls it out here to demonstrate just how damaging sin is to us every time we engage in it. 

But let me suggest that just as sexual sin has a progression we’re going to see, sexual holiness has an equally positive and blessed benefit to those who choose it. 

CONTEXT:  This section of Romans 1 is really a description of pagan Rome at the time of Paul.  I think we can all agree that America is pretty messed up when it comes to sex and sexuality.  Pornography is rampant among both sexes.  Our children are being marinated in it at ever younger ages through smart phones, peers, sexting and “comprehensive sex-ed” classes in which students are required to interact with stories and discussions designed to desensitize them to what should be normal sexual inhibitions. 

Rome was pretty dark as well in this arena.  Men married wives for procreation and child-care.  But they had mistresses for sexual pleasure.  Homosexuality was commonplace in all classes of society from the Caesars on down.  Pederasty (man-boy sex) was sadly far too common just as is human trafficking today. Faithful, loving marriage and chastity in singleness were scorned and devalued. 

It is against this backdrop that Paul writes to the most important urban center in the Roman Empire—Rome itself.  His attack against sexual sin in this chapter was something that would earn him and Christianity the ire and scorn of the Gentile world. 

As one author writes, “Our early Christian ancestors did not confess biblical chastity in a safe culture that naturally agreed with them. The sexual morality they taught and practiced stood out as unnatural to the Roman world… Christian sexual ethics that limited intercourse to the marriage of a man and a woman were not merely different from Roman ethics; they were utterly against Roman ideals of virtue and love.”

This is exactly why Christians faced so much hostility. Their morality threatened society’s stability by loving and protecting the marginalized and disenfranchised while condemning (or even converting) those who took advantage of them.

APP:  Isn’t this the very thing happening again today? Our society is throwing off the last vestiges of the Christian sexual ethic and as it does so, we are once again outsiders and traitors who threaten to destabilize the whole system. As we insist that sex is to be limited to the marriage of one man to one woman we threaten the stability of a society hell-bent on permitting and celebrating nearly everything except sex within marriage.

As we insist that people flourish only within God-given sexual boundaries, we threaten the ideals of virtue and love…or lust… that demand no greater commitment than consent. As we live our moral lives according to a higher ethic, we silently condemn those who reject the whisper within.  [Article by Tim Challies, Three Awful Features of Roman Sexuality, found at https://www.challies.com/articles/3-awful-features-of-roman-sexual-morality/ on 10.25.19] But perhaps this battle is precisely what will bring us deep holiness and zeal for our God as we must now each pay a price at different ages and stages for pursuing holiness. 

But why does Paul focus on homosexual relations here?  Thomas Schreiner (Romans [Baker], p. 94) explains,

Probably because it functions as the best illustration of that which is unnatural in the sexual sphere. Idolatry is “unnatural” in the sense that it is contrary to God’s intention for human beings. To worship corruptible animals and human beings instead of the incorruptible God is to turn the created order upside down. In the sexual sphere the mirror image of this “unnatural” choice of idolatry is homosexuality.

Remember last week I said that one of the important questions to ask of any passage of scripture is, “What does this tell me about mankind/people?”  Verses 21-23 are all about what we, humankind, people have and are doing:

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

            We human beings—the only part of the creation that bears the “image” of God in our being—are the first to step away from our Creator.  We are the first to reject the perfect love of God, run from Him and embrace terribly inferior substitutes.  And, as in any genuine love relationship where there must be freedom to either love another or run from their love, when we run from our truest Love, he does not block our exit or bolt the door.  The remaining paragraphs in this chapter illustrate, rather, the sad and progressive destruction and decline our sinful choices bring as God progressively lets go of us, “gives us over” as the text 3 times says, to the natural consequences sin always brings.

            This is a very important point.  Sin is its own punishment.  Just as “breaking” the law of gravity brings with it its own consequences, so breaking the moral law of God brings with it its own consequences.  When we try to “break” physical laws, they end up breaking us.  So too with spiritual and moral laws God has put in place. Initially it may feel like we beat the system and got away with saying “no” to God’s truth.  But sadly every time we exchange God’s truth for a lie and choose to worship something or someone in creation rather than the Creator, those sins are their own punishment. 

Three times Paul says, “God gave them over”: First (1:24), to sinful desires/impurity; second (1:26), to shameful lusts/degrading passions (homosexuality); third, to a depraved mind (1:28). The phrase means that God took His hands off their lives and let them go into slavery to the false gods they had chosen, where sin takes its own ugly course.  God simply letting go of us after we turn from Him leads to the ever-steepening slippery slope of sin.  Look at these verses.

Vs. 24--24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

Vs. 26--26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. And then Paul describes both male and female homosexuality in vs. 27.

Vs. 28--28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.  After which Paul gives 21 different specific sins, most of which have to do with human relationships but none of which are specifically sexual in nature.  NOTE:  if this is a progression (or digression) into increasing sin as some content, then homosexuality is not the worst sin mentioned.  The other 21 are!  So be careful who you think is (or call) the “worse sinner.”  

            Let’s unpack this progression just a little bit.  Verse 24 speaks to “sexual impurity” in general, not specifically homosexuality.  How does God define “sexual impurity”?  It’s pretty simple because He defines sexual purity—sex that God blesses—pretty simply:  holy sexual faithfulness between a man and woman in the bonds of covenant marriage OR holy chastity in the state of singleness.  Anything outside of those two options God calls “sexual impurity”.  If you want specifics, try reading Leviticus 18 & 20.  Both chapters contain very explicit boundaries as to who you cannot marry or have sexual relations with. While the New Testament is not as specific in its prohibitions, there is absolutely nothing in either Jesus’ or Paul’s teachings that indicates that anything other than God-sanctioned marriage between a man and a woman is permissible in terms of human sexual union. 

            Now I’m well aware that there are some 10-12 different interpretations of Romans 1 that some try to take of this passage, and find homosexual relations of one kind or another permissible despite the clear and unequivocal meaning of this text.  All of them fail the simplest scrutiny and must engage in hermeneutical and interpretive gymnastics in order to arrive at their preconceived and predetermined conclusions.  But from Genesis to Revelation the Bible is clear that “sexual impurity” is anything outside of faithful marriage between and man and woman OR anything outside of holy celibacy for single men and women. 

            How strange does that sound to 21st century American ears?  The fact that studies consistently show that monogamous heterosexual married religious couples have the most satisfying sex lives of any sexually active demographic in the land seems to consistently fall on deaf ears if not be dismissed out of hand without any statistical or sociological data to refute it.  (That isn’t to say that monogamous heterosexual religious married couples don’t have their sexual challenges or that every such marriage is happier at all times than other sexually involved couples.  But the levels of satisfaction and intimacy are statistically undeniable and impressive.)

            Which brings me to one more observation about sexual impurity verses sexual purity.  Sex is powerful in both directions on the continuum of “impure-to-pure” or “sinful-to-holy”.  Just as sexual sin can become more and more damaging and destructive the more out-of-bounds it gets, so the more blessed and constructive sexual holiness is for both faithful married couples and holy abstinent singles.  Holy sexuality is available to every one of us who are “in Christ,” whether married or single.  Holy celibacy in singleness, according to the N.T., actually holds blessings unavailable to married couples just as faithful marriage between a believing man and woman holds some blessings unavailable to celibate believing singles.  The goal is not simple heterosexuality or heterosexual sex; it is holy, faithful sexuality inside marriage and holy celibate sexuality outside of marriage. 

            So now let’s dive into the very counter-cultural contention of vss. 26-27. 

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.   

Paul uses Greek words for “male” and “female” here which are elsewhere used in the Greek translation of the creation account. His point is that homosexuality, for either sex, goes against God’s intention in creation.

It seems to me that simply looking at how men’s and women’s bodies are designed anatomically should prove that point!  But having sat through hour after hour of debate in the public arena of public school sex education, I can assure you that it is anything but obvious to those who reject God’s truth.

Modern medicine certainly bears out the negative effects of non-heterosexual, non-monogamous, non-vaginal sex if you care to simply look at the results, effects and negative health factors associated with virtually every form of such sexual activity.  But you can be sure that our youth in public schools are being shielded from that truth lest we be accused of “using fear” “sex-shaming” anyone by suggesting certain sex is better than any sex.

Here are the facts. Homosexuals are disproportionately unhappy people.  The LGBTQ community lays the blame for that squarely at the feet of those of us “narrow-minded, bigoted, homophobic” Christians who reject not only homosexual sex but any sexual activity outside of God-defined holy matrimony.  But tolerance of differing sexual ethics was never the goal of this movement; total acceptance of and support of such sexual behaviors has always been its goal. 

But the reality is, if we even look at homosexuals who attempt to live in committed homosexual relationships, you will find that they have a 3 to 4 times greater dissolution of those committed relationships than that of heterosexual married couples. They experience much higher rates of domestic violence than opposite sex couples do [See an email from the Family Research Council, Aug. 10, 2010.] Even The Journal of Human Sexuality (Vol. 1, p. 93, National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, 2009) concludes with regard to homosexuals, “No other group of comparable size in society experiences such intense and widespread pathology.”

            Many in the LGBTQ community will contend that they are “born that way.”  While there is no compelling evidence to support that contention, the reality is that, even were that true, it doesn’t change God’s call to holy sexuality.  It still is sin to practice homosexuality or any sexual relations with another person outside of monogamous heterosexual marriage. Some may be genetically prone to heterosexual lust or to anger or alcohol addiction, but these are still sins. Even if we are genetically predisposed to a sin, it is still sin and we are responsible before God if we yield to that sin.  Fact is, we are ALL “predisposed” whether genetically or simply morally and spiritually towards various sexual sins due to our sin natures from birth.  But that does not make us free of responsibility for our sexual or other moral decisions and choices.        

            One side-note on this issue of sexual sin.  Every one of us in this room and certainly every one of our children and grandchildren are in a completely new and very challenging environment when it comes to sexual purity simply because of the fastest-growing industry in the world:  PORNOGRAPHY!  Here are the facts:

If we as God’s kids are hooked on pornography, we have exchanged the truth of God for a lie. We are worshiping the creature, not the Creator. Viewing pornography weakens our resistance to other sexual temptation and encounters which Satan will bring our way. If we yield to that, we dishonor our body, we defile ourselves, and we start on this downward cycle of sexual sin. If we are married, viewing pornography sabotages our marriage. If you are single, viewing pornography sabotages your holy celibacy. 

Jesus warned all of us that if we do not take radical action (“pluck out your eye, cut off your hand”) to rid ourselves of the sin of lust, we may well be simply fooling ourselves about who we are really worshiping and could be on our way to hell (Matt. 5:27-30).

In this passage in Romans 1, God is trying to not only show us the price associated with our rejection of Him; He is trying to wave all of us off of any form of sexual sin.  And in doing so He strikes directly at the heart of what both the Roman and the American culture demanded/demands we embrace and accept—any and every form of sexual expression, sexuality, sexual identity, sexual activity and sexual experimentation.  To which God says, “NO…not if you want to use your bodies as they were designed and created to be…and not if you want to enjoy intimacy with God and holy relationships with people.” 

So let me open this up for some QUESTIONS about how we should lovingly engage both people and our culture that may hold very different and strong opinions about human sexuality.  Here are a few questions I thought of that we may want to discuss.  I trust you will have a few of your own that you may want to raise.

  1. Is same-sex sexual attraction a sin in itself? (Desire doesn’t turn into lust; wrongly-ordered desire is lust. The moral value of any desire is determined by whether its’ end’ transgresses or conforms to God’s standard.)
  2. Is my sexuality who I am or what I do? (We have confused desire with personhood. My identity should not be confused with my desires.)
  3. What are the causes and roots of same-sex attraction? (Influence [parenting, abuse, etc.] is not the same as cause [original sin].)
  4. What should be the goal of the same-sex attracted Christian when it comes to sexuality? (Not to make sexuality our identity; holy chastity)
  5. What should the church do to encourage holy heterosexual marriages and holy celibate singleness?
  6. How should we love same-sex attracted brothers and sisters in Christ?