Over the last few years, June has become a month that I am always glad to see end. June has been declared “LGBT Pride Month” in commemoration of the Stonewall riots that occurred at the end of June in 1969. The month becomes one continuous rainbow display as all levels of government, as well as major corporations seek to demonstrate how “woke,” tolerant and inclusive they are. The low point for me this year (train enthusiast that I am) was when the railroad Norfolk Southern shared on social media a picture of rainbow colored railroad tracks. During June we are relentlessly hammered with the celebration of sodomy and every other perversion of God’s gift of sexuality. And of course the accompanying message is that if you are not on board with this, then you are a homophobic bigot who deserves no rights.
As it turned out, during June I have been working with the first three chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Needless to say, studying Romans chapter 1 during “LGBT Pride Month” is an interesting experience! In this chapter, the apostle Paul does not merely say that homosexuality is sinful. He also identifies it as one of the ways that God’s wrath is already at work in the world.
Paul opens the key message of the letter by writing: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17). The apostle identifies the Gospel as the power of God for salvation for all people, Jew and Gentile alike. In particular he declares that in the Gospel, the righteousness of God is being revealed (Paul uses a present tense). This is God’s saving action to put all things right, and it causes those who believe in Jesus Christ to be justified on the Last Day.
Next the apostle says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). Paul’s statement that God’s wrath is being revealed (once again, he uses a present tense) mirrors his previous statement that the righteousness of God is being revealed.
The apostle then explains why this wrath is being revealed. He writes:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:19-23)
Paul says that although God has revealed himself in his creation, sinful man has chosen not to glorify God or give him thanks. Instead, he has exchanged the glory of the true God for various forms of paganism (and though the primary focus here is on Gentiles, God’s people of Israel had their own history of doing this in the golden calf incident, and the pagan worship that plagued both the northern and southern kingdoms).
The apostle then describes God’s response to this as he writes: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Romans 1:24-25). God’s wrath is being revealed in his action to give sinful man up to his lusts and the dishonoring of the body. He does this because sinful man has chosen a lie over God himself. He worships the creation instead of the Creator.
Next Paul adds:
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27)
Sinful man rejects God and instead creates his own “god” to worship. And so God’s wrath is revealed as he hands men and women over to dishonorable passions. For the second time Paul says that “God gave them up” (or more literally, “he handed them over”) to sin. The root cause of God’s action is man’s sin of breaking the First Commandment. The specific form that this takes may vary over the centuries, but the content is always the same (today the form is often the false of god of absolute personal autonomy).
God’s response is to give people over to their own sin. In Romans 1, Paul specifically identifies homosexual behavior as an example of this. It is not just that homosexuality is sinful (it is). More than that, the desire and willingness to misuse sexuality in this way is God’s wrath being revealed against sin here and now. “LGBT Pride Month” doesn’t just celebrate sin. It celebrates God’s wrath that is already being enacted against those who sin in this way.
Paul teaches us that the righteousness of God, and the wrath of God, both have a “now and not yet” character. Through faith in the crucified and risen Lord, the Christian is already justified and has peace with God (Romans 5:1). At the same time the divine verdict of justification will be spoken finally on the Last Day (Romans 3:30; 14:10). Likewise, the wrath of God is already being revealed against sin as God gives sinners over to indulge in sin such as homosexuality (Romans 1:26-27). And yet the final judgment and outpouring of God’s wrath awaits the Last Day (Romans 2:5).
Romans chapters 2-3 go on to warn us that no person is in a position to condemn self-righteously the sins of others. Instead we are all under sin (Romans 3:9) and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Only through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ is there forgiveness for sin and salvation (Romans 3:21-25). This invitation to forgiveness is open to all sinners, no matter what their sin may be.
Yet as we live in world that celebrates homosexuality and condemns those who refuse to accept it, Paul’s words in Romans chapter 1 teach us an important truth. The practice of homosexuality is not just sinful. It is in fact the wrath of God being revealed against sinners here and now.