Romans 1:18-32

After an encouraging, polite and pleasant introduction, Paul’s words take a sharp turn as he suddenly declares: “The wrath of God is being revealed…” (18). Romans sounds to me like a classic Daniel Band song, where the music starts out rather gently and then the drums kick in.

Paul’s premise from verse 17 is: “The righteous will live by faith”. He begins by explaining why the righteous need to live by faith. In fact, it’s the only way. Paul goes back, way back, to the creation of the world. Paul is painting a big picture here, so we need to step back to understand.

God has made it plain (18-19)

Paul began by saying God’s wrath is being revealed. Who is God so angry at? and why? Paul tells us that God is against all the godlessness and wickedness of liars, people who suppress the truth. God has spoken plainly, but people have covered up and hidden the plain truth about God.  The invisible qualities of God, such as power and divinity, can be clearly seen in nature. We can see God’s nature in the anatomy of the human eye and the vast expanse of stars in galaxies. We can see God’s nature in the function of ant and the mighty power of an elephant. We can see God’s nature in the division of cells and the death of a star. God has made the truth about Him plain.

Inexcusable Irreverence And Ingratitude (20)

That’s how the prince of preachers, Spurgeon, titled Romans 1. Spurgeon’s words here are helpful: “Men who never heard the gospel can see God in his works if they open their eyes. There is written upon the face of nature enough to condemn men if they do not turn to God. There is a gospel of the sea, and of the heavens, of the stars, and of the sun; and if men will not read it, they are guilty, for they are wilfully ignorant of what they might know, and ought to know.”

Idolatry leads to a landslide of wickedness (21)

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.

Have you ever studied Exodus 20 and learned the Ten Commandments? What did God say before the commandments? God said, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2). Some numbering schemes of the Ten Commandments rightly include this in the first commandment. But the common scheme leaves this out. From God’s point of view in Romans, this appears to be the critical part of the whole list. In fact, that is what Jesus confirmed.

I often wonder what God wants from me. What do you want from me, O God?! That is often our cry. Paul says plainly that God wants first of all, for us to love Him as God and walk humbly with Him. God wants us to know Him, glorify Him as God and give thanks to Him. God can put up with a lot of crap, but He doesn’t put up with holding down the truth about Him.

Next Paul explains what happens when we make something into an idol, replacing God. God then gives people over to themselves. Paul shows us three dark exchanges and four levels of the landslide; a series of dark exchanges that leads to further degradation. When God is not in our heart, wickedness spirals out of control. How might we stem such wickedness? It begins with facing the truth about God in our heart.

First level – Sexual Impurity (22-24)

Exchange 1 – glory of God for images of man and nature

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 mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 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.

Idolaters become fools, resulting in impurity in their hearts and degradation of their bodies. The first exchange is to swap the glory of God for images of man and nature. Do we do this? Most would say no, we don’t carve stone idols any more! But wait… we create millions of digital images. Our generation has exchanged the glory of God for brilliant, multi-million pixel images of men, women, and all things in nature, expressing all manners of sinful desires and sexual impurity.

Second level – Worshiping Created Things (25)

Exchange 2 – truth of God for a lie

25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

The first exchange quickly leads to a second dark exchange. We start to believe lies about God. We start to wonder, “Did God really say…?” Our hearts become fixated on created things rather than the Creator. We love the blessings of God more than God who is the source of blessing.  We begin to crave our own safety and start protecting our stuff. We put ourselves on the throne of our life, sacrificing and working hard, not for God or His glory, but for our own.

Third level – Shameful Lusts (26-27)

Exchange 3 – natural relations for unnatural 

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural 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 indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

What is this third exchange? A plain reading of these verses is the natural law argument: Idolaters exchange natural (heterosexual) relations for unnatural (homosexual) relations. In these verses, unlike in other verses, Paul clearly uses the common Greek word for homosexuality.

The plain teaching here is that it is shameful for a heterosexual man or women to suddenly choose to explore homosexual activity. The text plainly says these people chose to abandon natural relations and chose to commit indecent acts. They could make such choices because they already made the first two exchanges.

It is also clear here that promiscuity of any kind is shameful and a perversion, since all the activity listed here in Romans 1 of a sexual nature is occurring outside a monogamous marriage relationship.

What about LGBT?

Although the text here does not warrant a distracting discussion on all the LGBT issues, I will say a few words because this passage has been taken out of context and used to slam the LGBT community unfairly in our generation, and in a way that has not been experienced in ancient generations.

Restraint and Caution

These verses ought to be taught plainly and boldly to restrain those who would casually experiment with homosexual activity. Choosing to do so is clearly sinful in God’s mind. But what do these verses say to someone who is born with a homosexual orientation? What value do these verses have in the same-sex marriage debate of our generation? The only value I see in such things is that these verses serve as a constraint and a warning. We all should be cautious and patient when addressing homosexuality, and not be quick to judge or condemn (which by the way is Paul’s point in Romans 2…)

The Christian Church cannot just throw off all restraint and celebrate homosexual activity. I hope (and think) many in the LGBT community would understand that. At the same time, the Christian Church must remain “Christ-like” even in dealing with the LGBT community. I would say especially when dealing with the LGBT community. To quote Romans 1 and say that all homosexuality we see in our generation is the result of the dark exchanges in this passage is not being truthful to the text and is not showing the love of God for people; people He created. And on a basic level, to say that Romans 1 is God’s condemnation for homosexual people is simply wrong. I question the faith of anyone who does so.

Fourth level – Every kind of wickedness (28-32)

28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 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.

Idolaters did not retain the knowledge of God (Scripture, Spirit teaching, dialogue with fellow Christians, etc), resulting in every kind of wickedness. All the exchanges lead to a landslide of wickedness.

Reversing the Exchange

The text in Romans 1 doesn’t say how to reverse, slow down or change the exchanges that people make. Perhaps we could set our eyes on the glory of God, seeing His beauty, His majesty, His joy, His peace, His love and His grace.  Perhaps we need to experience the furious love of God who says to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” (Job 1:12) Perhaps we should study the truth of God, reading what God actually did and did not say, learning what God did and did not do, and listening to the voice of God.

However, before we jump into how to prevent this landslide of wickedness (if that were even possible?), I suggest we “keep reading”. Paul presents God’s amazing solution to these problems, so we shouldn’t stop the ride just yet. Instead, I think we should ponder what is going on, understand the process and ultimately accept that the exchanges in Romans have happened and will continue to happen.

Who is “they”?

In chapter 1, Paul doesn’t take a breathe to conclude anything. So we should be careful not to draw too many conclusions just yet. Paul keeps right on going to chapter 2. Before we start making all kinds of applications or going off on a rabid inquisition to purge our church or society from wicked people, I suggest we turn the page in our Bibles and read Romans 2:1-4, and realize that the “they” in chapter 1 is the “you” in chapter 2.



5 thoughts on “Romans 1:18-32

  1. Hi, Brian! I have a question: who told you that there is a person who is born homosexual? And another question: don’t you “approve of those who practice them”? My faith is that our Christ is the Almighty God who saves those who call, he saves from any sin. Why is the new life of a christian called new birth, not a change? But it seems that you teach that a gay person may “live by faith” and under grace though practicing his sins in his heart and mind and acts, without any change (but in his thinking style), not to mention without being born again. In your opinion, does Christ really save from anything? What kind of Christ is he if he does not save from sin, though says “Go now and leave your life of sin”?!

    • Hi Vitaly, I’ll reply to your questions below:

      “who told you that there is a person who is born homosexual?”

      1. No one “told me”. This is what I’ve learned after discussions with a friend from 30 years ago, and from reading Freud and other’s opinions on homosexuality, which included statements against homosexuality by Christian greats. You can even discern such truth from John Piper’s “dark exchange” sermons.

      2. The leading homosexual ministry of the Christian world in th West is Exodus International. They have long acknowledged that there is a homosexual orientation that cannot be chosen, and homosexual action that is chosen. All views on homosexuality that are in synch with Scripture make such distinction. Recently, Exodus International became opposed to the “gay cure” method and firmly rejects it based on their decades of ministry. They have rejected the gay cure approach. The WHO also rejects the cure approach.

      3. As I’ve said before here, Dr. Robert Spitzer apologized and admitted that some of his key research was flawed and misinterpretted, and that there is no cure for homosexuality, because it is not a disease or a disorder (though it is a minority abnormality technically). See his story here: Dr. Spitzer’s apology to gay community.

      4. Throughout history there have been many who testify that homosexuality is something that most homosexuals will have to live with their entire life. So yes, there is a choice in how to deal with homosexuality, but I contend that we must interact with homosexuals understanding that they wont’ be able to become heterosexual.

      “Why is the new life of a christian called new birth, not a change?”

      This is not an either/or situation. Scripture calls the new life of Christ both “new birth” and “a change”. We are born again (justified) and then we embark on a journey of faith in which the Holy Spirit changes and renews us (sanctified).

      “But it seems that you teach that a gay person may “live by faith” and under grace though practicing his sins in his heart and mind and acts, without any change (but in his thinking style), not to mention without being born again.”

      Not quite what I am saying. I am saying this: a gay person may “live by faith” and under grace though remaining homosexual in his heart and mind and acts, and will, because of grace and the Spirit, be radically changed and transformed for the glory of God (such as eventually stopping promiscuity, finding God’s hope for life, finding a monogamous relationship, dealing with transformation in non-homosexual sins, etc).

      “In your opinion, does Christ really save from anything?”

      Yes, I see a five-fold problem that Christ saves from: sin, death, law, curse, brokenness. But this is also a “saving to”. We are saved from and to, and our final “saving” is in Heaven, the only time and place where believers in grace will be fully glorified. Grace gives us power to resist sin and overcome temptation and rise up after failure, but does not remove sin completely from our lives. Sin is in our DNA until we die. Only the grace of God opens the way to live after death. Only the grace of God enables us to live now.

      “What kind of Christ is he if he does not save from sin, though says “Go now and leave your life of sin”?”

      I think you should read Romans 2. Have you left your life of sin? Do you have any sins that remain with you for decades?

  2. Hi, Brian! Yes, I have left my life of sin by Jesus’ grace and power. I have a new life in Jesus. Though I agree that I can not be completely free from sin in this life on earth. That will happen in heaven. What I meant is that “you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolator or a slanderer, a drankard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat” (1Cor5:11). I do not judge anyone neither condemn. I believe that a homosexual person can be saved by Jesus and have a new life. Those who drank don’t drink after being born again though they may have such a sin in their toughts. I think you understand what I mean. I believe that there is no gay orientation from birth as there is no drinking orientation from birth. And the problem of justifying homosexuals there is in such places as the US and Europe, the situation is not not similar in diffirent places of the world. Why do people with homosexual orientation choose to be born in particular countries? From your words it seems that nature has somehow in some places become unnatural. Romans says (and you write about it in the article) that nature created by God is beautiful and great and displays God’s power and greatness. And I believe that this nature is created natural, and there is natural beauty, even in human bodies and families and children. I can agree that doctors may testify about their inability to cure orientation. But are they able to cure alcoholism, heterosexual immorality, drugs/computer addiction? Some sins remain in christians but there is such a tremendous change in them when the Holy Spirit indwells them that it is called a new life. There is a christian church in our city called “New Life”. That makes sense. I believe that a homosexual person can be freed from his unnatural immorality the same way a heterosexual person can be freed from his immorality, in Jesus. And I agree with you that grace comes first, then the new life, by the power of God’s Spirit, not by human effort. A homosexual person can become my brother in Christ but only when he is born a child of God by the Holy Spirit. This is what I think.

    • Vitaly,

      1. You bring up 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. I would caution us to look at this text carefully. Probably, you already know this… Here Paul is talking about immorality inside the church. He clearly says we are to associate with immoral people outside the church, but not let immorality rule the church. So this text supports one of my main points: Christians are to associate (to a point) with non-believers, including a non-believing homosexual. We Christians are not to condemn and dissociate from non-believing homosexuals. How else could they ever hear the gospel?

      2. The questions, then, are how do we treat a homosexual who believes the gospel of Jesus? And how do we preach the gospel to such a person? Do we demand such a person to practice heterosexuality?

      3. Associating “alcoholism” with “homosexuality” is very unhealthy and unhelpful. That is what Christians and non-Christian people have discovered.

      4. I think Scripture tells us to have a gospel-centric, Christ-centric approach to all “sins”. Scripture plainly teaches that there is sin does not lead to death, and sin that does lead to death. And Jesus clearly teaches that there are problems after the Fall that have nothing to do with sin.

      5. I’m fascinated that Christians seem to be fixated on homosexuality, demanding 100% conformance to holiness. I see this approach nowhere else, except in highly legalistic organizations.

      6. Penal substitution is a key part of the message of the cross. But sin is only one of the problems the cross addresses. The gospel is comprehensive good news about sin, law, curse, death and brokenness.

      7. “I can agree that doctors may testify about their inability to cure orientation. But are they able to cure alcoholism, heterosexual immorality, drugs/computer addiction?” Yes, to a point. They testify that these problems are very different from the homosexual orientation issue. If a heterosexual simply chooses to experiment with homosexuality, then I would agree with you and such a thing is similar to alcoholism. But there does exist a homosexual orientation that is different and is not a disease or disorder.

  3. I came back to your blog, because I am concerned whether you have any actual Spiritual Discernment from the Holy Spirit and want to pose the relevant question to you as you challenge the foundation of the Church and God whether, or not you TRULY believe you recieved salvation

    Mark 4 known as the sower and the seed, is different even from ubf, where ubf is false in its very foundation, the sower and the seed describes not who just flee from consistently attending the Church that Worship’s God, but those who enter Churches and on their own chosing lead a life of meteocrity as they become stunted in their growth in God. This begins from a variety of reason including an individual seeking authority that is not theirs, self-rigtheousness, or burnout from trying do God’s work in themselves. What am I communicating? I am saying you should in fact be repulsed and hating the sin of homosexuality!

    [admin note: Eric, we’ve been through this before… a lot of your comment here has been removed. I will not allow you to use my blog to make wild, illogical statements about UBF or about homosexuals. If you have a question or comment, please ask or state briefly. And I would ask you to refrain from questioning whether someone is saved or not.]