Romans – Digging Deep: In Too Deep, pt. 2

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Romans 1:26-32


Kevin Baugh has his own country – The Republic of Molossia – and if you don’t mind, he’d prefer you call him “His Excellency Kevin Baugh.” He has an impressive khaki uniform with six big medals, a gold braid, epaulets at the shoulders, and a blue, white, and green sash. Oh – and a general’s cap with a gold starburst over the bill. Never heard of The Republic of Molossia? That’s understandable, because it consists of Baugh’s three-bedroom house and 1.3 acre yard outside of Dayton, Nevada. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, “He has a space program (a model rocket), a currency (pegged to the value of chocolate-chip cookie dough), a railroad (model size), a national sport (broomball), and—in his landlocked desert region—a navy (an inflatable boat).”


The newspaper goes on to say: “Baugh, a 45-year-old father of two, is a micronationalist, one of a wacky band of do-it-yourself nation builders who raise flags over their front yards and declare their property to be, as Baugh puts it ‘the kingdom of me.’” For Baugh, it’s a fun joke, but he’s joking about what all humans want to do – build a “kingdom of me.” It is the reason we are in trouble with God – the sovereign God, Ruler of all he has created. Sin is simply living by our own laws instead of God’s, of regarding ourselves in our quiet ways as “His Excellency” or “Her Majesty.” [i]  A country unto ourselves. That’s the essence of sin, the terminal sin disease that we all have. In the closing sentences of Romans 1, St. Paul describes the sin disease, our sin disease, my sin disease, in great detail. This text is not going to make you feel good. It is not going to make you feel comfortable. It wasn’t written for that purpose. The purpose of these words isn’t to comfort us. Their purpose is to challenge us, to make us uncomfortable. To make us squirm. The great Christian philosopher, teacher, and scholar Dallas Willard, who served as a professor in the department of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, said “We will be safe in our use of the Bible if we follow a simple rule: Read with a submissive attitude. Read with a readiness to surrender all you are – all your plans, opinions, possessions, positions.” As we dive into today’s passage and seek to apply it well, I’d recommend that we take his words to heart. Romans 1:26-32.


Sometimes people ask me, “Pastor, why don’t you typically do topical sermon series’ like many other pastors do these days?” And my answer to that question is twofold. First, the books of the Bible are exactly that, they are books, and also letters, and gospels, and collections of laws and collections of poems that are intended to be treated as a single unit. When we “cherry pick” our favorite verses and passages and constantly form them into topical sermon series, we tend to rip verses out of their context, making it much easier to make them seem to be saying things they were never intended to say.


The second reason is that it’s easy for a pastor to constantly preach his or her favorite topics and conveniently avoid difficult, even troubling passages like this one. Passages that are uncomfortable to preach. And skipping around like that can lead to congregations getting a really heavy dose of teaching around certain topics but not the balance of what theologians and scholars of the Bible call the “whole counsel of the Word of God.” So we’re looking at the next text up in our journey through Romans, Romans 1:26-32. And it can be a tough one, mainly because Vv. 26-27 are considered the primary biblical text that speaks to the issue of homosexuality. There are others, but this text is the primary one. And they are tough words. There may be some people here today who identify as homosexual. And I know that pretty much all of us have family members and friends, maybe even a child or a parent, we love dearly who are homosexual.


Pastor Rick McKinley, who pastors a church in Portland, Oregon, one of the most socially progressive and also least churched cities in America, tells of a meeting between himself, some other Portland pastors, and leaders of the gay community in Portland. He says “Some other pastors and I had the privilege of meeting with leaders of the gay community in Portland. They are leading initiatives in their own community. Two things in that conversation shocked me and woke me up. The first thing was a middle-aged woman who mentioned that the worst thing she ever heard about herself came from behind a pulpit. As I listened to her and thought about what I do every week, it was a shocking reminder about the power of standing behind a pulpit and saying, “This is what God says.” The second thing I found shocking was this: during that conversation, I said that we as the church need to repent for misrepresenting the love of Christ to the gay community. When we finished, Sam Adams said, “I never thought I’d hear that come out of a pastor’s mouth.” He never expected to hear an apology for the ways in which the church has mistreated the homosexual community.


He goes on to point out that the people of God must absolutely give up the moral high ground on this issue. In fact, the church has no moral authority in and of itself. We are not now and were never intended by God to be the “moral police.” But we do have the inspired Word of God speaking into our culture, and we must be faithful witnesses to it’s message. And we have been called by God to LIVE in ways that often times go against the flow of our culture, possibly at great risk and cost to ourselves. But the way we live as people who follow Christ is intended to reveal the light and love of Christ in the world and serve as an invitation to others to join us in the journey. It is not, and was never intended to be, a compulsion. Yes, people are responsible before God for their thoughts, words, and actions, but it is not up to us to be constantly yelling at people.


So that being said, we have to admit that we have often, and in many ways, misrepresented the love of God in our culture. You see, once we understand that eternal Truth that God is conveying to us in the pages of Scripture, we have to wrestle with appropriate ways of applying that truth, and it is there, not in understanding Truth, but in applying it, that we tend to miss the mark as followers of Jesus.


Many of our young people have grown up hearing from us that homosexuality is the lowest possible form of sin. That God doesn’t love people who are gay. That is something the Bible does not in fact say. And we must recognize that we as Christians exhibit as much sexual sin as the world at large. The statistics on pre-marital sex, on adultery, on divorce, on abusive relationships and sexual molestation bear that out, and we cannot argue with them. So our goal today is to 1. Realize that homosexuality is a part of, but not the whole, of what Paul deals with in this passage; 2. Wrestle honestly with what Scripture says; and 3. Figure out how to apply it honestly while honoring the commands of Scripture, and Jesus himself, to love our neighbor as ourselves.


Anyone who makes the argument that homosexuality is a legitimate, God-intended sexual expression has to deal with this passage. Some say that Paul was speaking out against the known exploitation of adolescent males who were being used as homosexual lovers by high-born men. And Paul was opposing this because of the exploitation and humiliation of the adolescents involved, and his comments were reserved for that context alone. Or that what Paul is standing against inappropriate homosexual relationships just as he does inappropriate heterosexual relationships, but that he isn’t at all talking about committed, faithful, monogamous homosexual relationships.


But that isn’t what the text says. In fact, the original language is even stronger than what appears in our translations. Our Bibles use the words “women” and “men,” but the words used are literally “male” and “female,” so that the text literally reads “For their females exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and were consumed with passion for one another …” Paul isn’t just talking about sexual excess, sexual expression outside of God’s intention for sex. And he isn’t just talking about relationships between older men and adolescent boys. He’s talking about homosexual expression in general.


And he’s using it as an example of the sin disease, of the depth to which we as human beings have fallen. That we have upended the natural order of things. And by natural, he isn’t talking about what feels natural. Up in V. 20, Paul says that enough can be known about God in the natural world, “ever since the creation of the world,” that you and I are without excuse before God. In other words, we can’t argue that we didn’t know about the whole sin thing. And Paul is talking about what falls in line with the way God created things to be “In the beginning …” He’s tying legitimate sexual expression in to the creation narrative, “Then God said, “Let us make man[h] in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;     male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26-27) … “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:24-25).


And homosexuality is used as one of several examples of the way in which sin and brokenness is expressed in us as human beings. So the truth we need to understand is that homosexuality is an expression of our broken, sinful nature. Unfortunately, we in the church have been led to believe that sexual sin, whether it be heterosexual or homosexual in nature, is a special category of really, really, bad sin. Like the worst. Like there is Hitler, then murderers, then sexual sin, and of course homosexuality is worse than heterosexual sins like affairs and pornography and prostitution and all the rest. But the Bible doesn’t say that. In fact, Paul has already brought up heterosexual sin up in V. 24, “Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves …” He’s talking about heterosexual relationships there. And he doesn’t stop there. He keeps going. Look at. Vv. 28-32.


Now can you find yourself in the list? Anyone here ever been deceitful or told a lie about someone else? Anyone here ever been envious and wanting what others have? Or foolish, which remember, in the Bible, is living as if there is no God? Anyone here struggle with too much ego? Contrary to popular opinion, Paul isn’t singling any one type of person out here. He isn’t in any way saying that those who are homosexual are in any way worse than anyone else. But that’s how we treat it. He’s simply painting a very vivid picture of the human condition apart from Christ. In his excellent book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote “If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity (in other words, sexual sin) as the supreme vice, he is wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All of the worst pleasures are purely spiritual. The pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and backbiting; the pleasure of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me competing with the human self which I must try to become: they are the animal self, and the diabolical self: and the diabolical self is the worst of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig, who goes regularly to church, may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But of course, it’s better to be neither.”[ii]


Paul is painting a picture here of humanity, of you and I, as we are, apart from Christ. No one is getting singled out as being worse than anyone else. We as human beings are inherently dishonest. It’s easy to be dishonest with someone else, but it’s even easier to be dishonest with ourselves, to fool ourselves. We say “I know there are some things about me that aren’t great. But I’ve never cheated on my spouse.” Unless, of course, we’ve done that. So then we say, “Well, at least I’m not a murderer” or something like that. And we all know that some people are capable of deeper evil than others. Paul isn’t arguing that. What he IS arguing is that there is enough sin in each one of us to separate us from God and that without outside intervention, this sin disease is eternally fatal.


So think about this. Take the typical Christian’s attitude toward homosexuality and replace the word “homosexual” or “gay” with “gluttony.” After all, there are three times as many passages in the Bible speaking out against gluttony than there are about homosexuality. Gluttony is actually closely related to greed, and it isn’t just about eating too much. Greed is wanting more than you need, and gluttony is actually taking or consuming in some way more than you need. But let’s assume we’re thinking mostly about food. Anyone here have a habit of eating more than they probably should? Not at feast times. But just as a normal part of life. Anybody here a little overweight because you eat a little too much. Any fat people here? Don’t answer that question. What would we think about a church that said, “We don’t allow fat people to come here. No gluttons allowed.” Gluttony is a sin (biblical truth), so we don’t have anything to do with it. No gluttons here. If you regularly eat too much, go to the heretical church down the street if you want, but don’t come here.” That’s ridiculous, isn’t it?


So how do we act when a couple of men walk in to the church holding hands, with their children tagging along behind? The same way we would someone who comes in here struggling with greed, or jealousy, or dishonesty, or something else that’s less visible. Or gluttony. The same way God welcomes all of us – with open hearts and open arms. We listen to their stories of hurt, of heartbreak, of fear, of agony. We speak out adamantly against those who would seek to harm them. We protect. We empathize if we can. And we let God keep on doing what God is doing. Some dishonest people will never completely master their sin in this life. Whether it be pride or insolence or slander or gossip. They’ll grow, but they may always struggle. The same will be true of those who know sexual sin. But that doesn’t mean God isn’t at work in their lives or that they haven’t given their lives to Christ. It means their sin and struggle run deep. My job is to let God be God, and to speak the truth of the Word of God as gently and as directly as I can.


One pastor was studying this passage and he decided, as part of his study, to flip this passage over, to write it’s opposite, and I’d like to share that with you.


“Therefore, God gave them over in their hearts to self-control and purity, that their bodies might be honored among them. For they kept and cherished the truth of God and worshiped and served the Creator, who is blessed forever, rather than the creature. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to pure and wholesome lives, lived with carefree ease even in the most intimate relations so that all received in their own persons the due reward of their fidelity. And just as they saw fit to acknowledge God in all things, God gave them over to a sound mind, to do those things which are proper, being filled with all righteousness, goodness, generosity, kindness; full of selflessness, life, healing, openness, kindliness; they are gentle in speech, always building others up, lovers of God, respectful, humble, self-effacing, inventors of good, obedient to parents, understanding, trustworthy, loving, merciful; and as they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are possessors of life, they do the same, and give hearty approval to those who do likewise.”[iii] Isn’t that beautiful? May we so strive to live. Let us pray.




[i] Colleen Mastony, “One Nation, Under Me,” Chicago Tribune (in the Tempo section, 7-3-08)

[ii] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1976), pp. 94, 95).

[iii] R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Romans – Righteousness From Heaven