For Part 2 in this series, click here.
“For the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 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.
Therefore, God handed them over 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.
For this reason, God handed them over 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.
And because they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (Romans 1:18-32)
Sexual immorality serves as a tragic parable in the world for those with eyes to see, as it gives public exposure to the hidden, invisible nature of human idolatry.
To borrow a powerful image from Richard Hays, sexual immorality is interpreted by Paul as a wretched “sacrament”—that is, it is an outward expression of a catastrophic inward spiritual reality. Sexual immorality epitomizes the impoverished spiritual condition of the human race, which in turn results from our active, ongoing participation in idolatry, according to Romans 1:18-32.
As offensive as the claim may be in the ears of an increasingly secular society, every distorted form of sexuality is, by God’s wise design, a sort of drama which displays our fractured spirituality. Sexual immorality brings our religious sedition to the surface, demanding our reluctant acknowledgement of the treacherous depths to which we have descended through our turning away from God. Our sexual brokenness and the terrible fruit which follows are meant to awaken us to our actual condition—and it is a dire one indeed. These shattered sexual experiences, and the harrowing consequences they conjure up in our lives over the long haul, are divinely intended to rip off the blinders we conveniently don in the hope of avoiding that uncomfortable reality before the Lord. This frantic avoidance, moreover, is fueled by our corresponding preference for self-made fantasy worlds we invent to replace God’s actual designs in creation—we “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
When we do the same things sexually that we have first done spiritually, Paul perceives that a jaded dramatization of our true condition is being performed upon a very public stage. What often remains hidden spiritually now moves into the public domain by means of our sexual brokenness and distortions. Just as human sexuality which is content to flourish within the life-long commitment of marriage embodies a vivid resemblance to the beauty and goodness of God’s ideal relationship with His people apart from sin, so all warped, deformed expressions of sexuality which violate God’s holy intentions in creation simultaneously bespeak the deeper tragedy of our costly, adulterous love affair with the things God has created instead of Him. Let those who have eyes to see, see, and those who have ears to hear, hear.
This is the logic of the “dark exchange” Paul so brilliantly narrates for us in Romans 1:18-32. When we trade off the God-ordained sexual roles we were created to gladly accept and enjoy for those outside of the covenant of marriage, the by-product we unwittingly manufacture is a faint, appalling reflection of our prior abandonment of God. Sexual immorality rings out with the haunted echo of every human being’s idolatrous preference for the creation at the expense of the Creator. A proper, beautiful instinct (worship or sex) is unnaturally directed toward a good, admirable—and yet ultimately unfitting—object (creation or the same gender ). Human beings thus engage in sexual experiences that are “contrary to nature” because they have first previously directed their God-given desire to worship and glorify an “other” outside of themselves (God) to something which God has made that is the “same” (created)—that is, they also worship “contrary to nature.” Everything is thus out of order in our existence.
 Assuming, of course, that such a marriage is pursued and enjoyed as a secondary good under God, and not as a replacement for Him. Heterosexual marriage can just as easily fall under the indictment of idolatry as any form of explicitly immoral sex.
 Though homosexuality receives Paul’s most sustained attention in Romans 1, both this passage and manifold others in Scripture make plain that all forms of sexual immorality ultimately operate along the same logic—and therefore receive the same level of condemnation. Consider heterosexual affairs outside of marriage (adultery or premarital sex), or sex with self (masturbation). Here too a legitimate, God-given desire is wrongly transferred to objects or contexts which are just as unnatural as persons of the same gender.