Five Minute Devotions: Romans 1
The book of Romans is the closest thing to a systematic theology that Paul ever wrote. The first half of the book covers a progression from damnation (chapters one and two) to justification (three, four, and five) to sanctification (six and seven) to glorification (eight). The second half covers doctrinal aspects that basically build on the concept of sanctification.
Here in the first chapter, Paul wastes very little time getting to his message. He begins with a standard greeting (Rom. 1:1-7) and follows it with a declaration of his desire to visit Rome (Rom. 1:8-17). The very fact that Paul had not founded, or even visited, the church in Rome is likely the reason for the comprehensive nature of his message. The second half of the chapter wastes no time in unveiling Paul’s doctrine of depravity, teaching his readers that there is no excuse for denying the sovereignty of God (Rom. 1:18-22) and detailing the consequences of not honoring God as God (Rom. 1:23-32).
Throughout the chapter, Paul uses this phrase “God gave them over.” The picture here is that the people are sinning and sinning and sinning and that God finally and reluctantly gives them what they want. They have rejected the God who has made himself readily available and instead worshiped their own selves. (Rom. 1:21-23). God’s wrath is not something to be thought of us violent or unjust, but rather it is the firm and just sentence of a holy judge. Sin begets sin, and a holy God will, if you are unwilling to come to him, reluctantly turn you over to the natural consequences of sin.
First, God gave them over to sinful desires. Ancient Judaism connected sexual perversion very closely with idolatry. This was both because the religions around them often engaged in sexual acts as a part of worship. Ancient prostitutes were found, not in the red light district, but in the temples and places of worship. These sinful desires can be collected into this one phrase: I will do what I want. The very definition of sin is placing oneself in the place of God. All sin comes from the desire to usurp the throne.
In ancient religions, this desire usually manifested itself in some form of idol, and the idol in some form of animal. Here, Paul incredulously notes the absurdity of worshipping the wooden image of a created being over the Creator. It’s almost as absurd as worshipping yourself through your continuation in sin.
The second area, or escalation, is what Paul calls “shameful lusts” (Rom. 1:26). If heterosexual sin was implicit in the first area, homosexual sin is explicit here. This is a contentious subject in light of modern culture, but Paul cannot be much clearer. Acting upon homosexual temptations, whether male or female is both unnatural—not part of God’s created order—and shameful.
Note that Paul does not highlight homosexual sin as greater than that of heterosexual sin. Both are shameful lusts that result from abandonment of God. Much is said today about sexuality being an inherent part of one’s identity. Thus, to condemn the action or predilection is to attack the individual. However, we should all remember that every one of us is born with the identity of “sinful.” God accepts as we are, but in his love will not leave us that way.
The third area is that of a “depraved mind” (Rom. 1:28). Here, Paul recites a litany of sinful actions, attitudes, and behaviors in the social sphere. His purpose is to show how the mind absent of the knowledge of God becomes filled with a great many unproductive things. He concludes the chapter in grand fashion:
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.
Here, Paul recognizes that sin is a social activity. It cannot be done in private and it always affects the rest of the community. Each of the sins mentioned in the “vice list” are social in nature. Now, Paul records that, not only does the community engage in the vices, but actually approve and commend them. This is the final step in the development of depravity: it begins with personally by placing one’s self above God. It extends outward to the most intimate of our relationships. It envelops our families. Then it comes for our communities. Sin is all-consuming. What, Paul asks, can we do to stop it?