Romans 1:26–27, “26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 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.”
The righteousness that can avail for us before the Lord must come through faith alone, because of the depravity of Jew and Gentile alike (Rom. 1:16–3:20). In due time, the Apostle Paul will tell us that human beings are depraved because they are in Adam (5:12–21), but at this point in his epistle to the Roman church, he is content simply to state the truth of the human condition, particularly the condition of those without access to God’s special revelation in Scripture. Human beings have denied the God who is and have knowingly suppressed His truth, leading to the worship of the creature rather than the Creator (1:18–25).
Such idolatrous worship includes not only the praise of gods resembling men and animals, but also the twisting of the created order and the refusal to live according to the manner in which God has made us. In this context, Paul specifically mentions homosexual activity (vv. 26–27). Just as human beings have exchanged the truth of the Lord for a lie, so have they “exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature.”
To state the obvious, today’s passage is not currently popular in Western culture. The idea that nature itself puts limitations on sexual activity is rejected. Homosexual behavior is less and less seen as a departure from what is good and holy, and calls for us all to affirm it as good and honorable grow stronger every day. This should not surprise us in one respect. If the Lord gives some people over to dishonorable passions, we should expect those who engage in homosexual acts impenitently to demand our approval. Every time we do not do so, we are reminding them of the truth that they are trying so very hard to suppress.
Many people try to get around the teaching of today’s passage, interpreting it to mean that Paul is not speaking of those with a “natural” homosexual orientation but of heterosexuals who commit homosexual acts. Others have said the text only concerns homosexual prostitution. Neither view can be substantiated. Even the most liberal scholars who do not like what the Bible has to say about human sexuality will admit that Scripture condemns all sexual activity outside of the heterosexual marriage relationship. In fact, these scholars say that Romans 1 is probably the clearest condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible.
Having said this, we must also be careful to note that while homosexuality is a particularly clear twisting of God’s creative intent, it is not the unforgivable sin. Those who turn from this evil and trust in Christ alone also receive the gift of His righteousness.
Witnessing to our culture about God’s standards for sexuality takes a good deal of wisdom. We must tell people that the Lord has a design for the sexual relationship, which is a privilege for husbands and wives in the context of a lawful marriage. We must also be clear that sexual sin is not unforgivable sin, and that God forgives all those who turn from sexual transgressions. Let us pray that the Lord would give us a bold, true, and compassionate gospel witness on these matters.