Reading: Romans 1:18–2:4
This weekend the annual Gay Pride Parade occurs here in St. Petersburg, the home of the largest pride festival in Florida. In an effort to help believers be effective witnesses of the Gospel, I want to take another look at Romans 1 – 2 and examine how the Scriptures answer these questions: Why is homosexual practice increasing? How do we respond to our gay and lesbian friends, family, or co-workers? Why does America increasingly celebrate homosexual practice?
Why is homosexual practice increasing?
Whether homosexuality is increasing or that this perception is the result of greater openness to it, I can't prove one way or the other. However, we can say that this greater openness has provided more opportunity, more pursuit, and therefore increased practice of homosexuality in our nation over the last three decades. Biblically, we should know why this is happening. Romans 1:26-27 speaks to this issue:
26Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
The first three words (NIV) are, “Because of this...”; in the ESV, “For this reason...”. Although every sinful behavior will bear bad fruit, or have consequences, the point here is that this behavior is the consequence of something else. The reason women and men exchange or abandon their natural relations and take up unnatural ones is because God has given them over to it. And God gave them over to it because of something — something described in the previous verses.
Romans 1:18-32 states the cause or reason for this four times. First, because people suppress the truth about God as Creator (Romans 1:18-19). Then, because people refuse to glorify God and give Him thanks (Romans 1:21). Third, because people exchanged the glory of God for the lower glory of created things, worshiping them (Romans 1:23). Finally, it is restated in verse 28:
Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God [ESV: did not see fit to acknowledge God], so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28)
The cultural slide into immorality culminating in people exchanging natural sexual relations for unnatural sexual relations is not the cause of our cultural deterioration, it was caused by a larger cultural deterioration. The root cause is that our culture has exchanged natural worship (meaning the worship we were created for) for unnatural worship (worshiping that which is not God).
How do we respond to gay and lesbian friends, family, or co-workers?
The way many Christians speak about our cultural decay, one might detect fear—fear that God is going to punish our nation because of this immorality. This fear often leads to a sense of panic and even anger. One of the most important implications of what we see in Romans 1 above for the believer is that rather than fearing that God's wrath will come on our nation as a result of homosexuality, we should realize that those practicing homosexuality do so because God has given our culture over to these things already as a result of our rejection of Him at large. This ought to move the heart of any Christian to mercy toward the homosexual, knowing that we too deserve God's judgment. To be a Christian is to be an undeserving object of God's mercy.
Before Christ, we were all given over to disobedience in order that God might have mercy on us in Christ (Romans 11:32). The world stands under God's judgment and is condemned already. But that is not the final word on God's wrath. There is another word available to mankind through Jesus Christ (John 3:16-19). Therefore, we ought first and foremost to live as ambassadors for our King with the message of reconciliation.
17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)
The disobedience of the homosexual is not the only disobedience which people in this God-rejecting culture are given over to. We read of other ways this “being given over” is manifest:
29They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:29-31 ESV)
We were all a part of the disobedient culture because we were all idolaters before coming to Christ and therefore objects of wrath (Ephesians 1:1-3). By God's mercy and mercy alone have we escaped from the perverse generation of which we were actively a part (Acts 2:40).
The list of things a god-rejecting culture is given over to also includes heterosexual immorality. According to v. 24, “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.” This kind of impurity and dishonoring is rampant in the heterosexual community. Most of us are born with a natural inclination toward this kind of impurity, and it is only the grace of God that teaches us to say “no” to this ungodliness (Titus 2:12). Just like the heterosexual, the homosexual may often be born with a natural inclination toward impurity and lust that expresses itself with unnatural relations. But the grace of God can transform us all (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
In Romans 2:1-4, Paul draws a conclusion from what he writes in Romans 1:18-32. This conclusion instructs us how to interact with all sinners who still live under the wrath of God.
1You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? 4Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? (Romans 2:1-4)
Paul declares that those who pass judgment on another condemn themselves. How could this be? Because we were all given over to disobedience and under God's wrath. When we view other sinners as less deserving of God's mercy, we show contempt or disregard the kindness, tolerance, and patience of God.
Given the cultural meaning of the word “tolerance” today, I think the NIV's “tolerance” is not the best translation. Today most people think of tolerance in the sense that we must not view anything someone else does as actually being wrong. But that is not what is meant here at all. It may best be translated as the ESV translates is, “forbearance”. It means a holding back or a self-restraint. God is holding back His judgment, giving opportunity for repentance. Why? Because God has made provision for our sin in Jesus Christ. All of us would have suffered the wrath of God if this were not so. So we live in the hope that God will lead others toward this same repentance; we even participate in the process.
Why does America increasingly celebrate homosexual practice?
The Gay Pride festival and parade confirm another truth in Romans 1.
Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:32)
Our culture is in a massive mudslide toward approval of what is blatantly wrong. Approval of adultery, fornication, and homosexuality. Why? Because we are attempting to cover up our greater sin. We are trying to justify our rejection of God. If we keep calling it “progress” (which makes the assumption that it is good), then we think we can hide the fact that we have exchanged the glory of God for a lie; that though we claim to be wise, we have become fools; that we are returning to paganism and superstition.
Intolerance isn't the only alternative to celebrating homosexuality. I realize that some will believe what I have written is intolerant. But nothing could be further from the truth. I am not interested in threatening, harming, or punishing those who practice these things. I am interested in praying for, befriending, sharing the Gospel with, and treating them like I want to be treated.
Those who object to my writing that these behaviors are wrong also believe I am wrong for saying so. And they too will often say so. They are not being intolerant of me. It is only intolerant when they want to threaten, harm, or punish me for saying so. I hope those who think I am wrong will tolerate (forbear with) me. And yes, I hope to persuade them. But tolerating me doesn't mean you have to agree with me. The essence of tolerating something presumes disagreement from the start. You don't tolerate what you agree with.
As we think of the Gay Pride Festival this weekend, or of any other encounter with the homosexual community, let's pray for those who participate; let's grieve over all the sins of our nation (including our own) which contributed to deserving God's wrath, and let's reach out in mercy to those who are caught up in such sin, hoping for the gift of faith and repentance to be given by the abundant mercy of God.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,