“So, they are without excuse,” writes Paul in Romans chapter one.
“They” is humanity. That’s us. There is no excuse for you.
“They exchanged the Truth of God”—who is Jesus—“for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” It happened on a tree in the middle of a garden. And this was the lie: “You can take knowledge of the Good, and in this way, make yourself in the image of God . . . and not die.”
“For this reason, God gave them up to dishonorable passions,” writes Paul. “Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural.” Paul doesn’t specify what those relations were. “And the men, likewise, gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
There were Jews in the church in Rome, for whom homosexual activity was seen as a crime worthy of death. And there were Romans in that church, for whom it was something quite different. For Romans, homosexuality was more like an extracurricular activity; some engaged, some did not.
And sadly, for many boys in Roman society, slave and free, homosexuality took the form of humiliating abuse—pederasty.
The Christians in Rome must’ve wondered, “Paul, why did you bring this up? This won’t help the discussion at the potluck. What are you thinking?”
We know that Paul wasn’t thinking that there is a group of people whom God doesn’t love, whom God won’t justify, sanctify, and redeem. But what was he thinking?
Many now argue that the Greek word, sometimes translated as “homosexual” in English Bibles, should be translated as something more like “cult prostitute,” “pedophile,” or even “rapist.” They claim that in Romans chapter one, Paul is speaking to men who have left their heterosexual relationships to engage in pederasty, rape, and idolatry. He is not speaking of those engaged in the lifelong, committed, homosexual relationships that some experience in our society today, they say.
Others argue, that although cultural factors are clearly reflected in Paul’s vocabulary and phrasing, he is indeed speaking of homosexuality itself as a “dishonorable passion.”
How exactly Paul would expect believers today to apply Levitical law, as well as his exhortations to churches in the first century, is a bit confusing—circumcision, dietary laws, women speaking in church, head coverings, divorce, tattoos. I’m confused.
Technically, in Romans chapter one, Paul is not telling us what we should do.
He’s actually telling us what we did do.
“The men” and “their women,” who exchanged the Truth for a lie, is us.
We don’t seem to notice that. . .
Instead, we all just want to know: “Do we accuse or excuse?”
Actually, we think it’s the pastor’s job: to grant more knowledge of Good and evil, so we can excuse or accuse; so we can judge.
Paul continues: “God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with… covetousness (Our economy runs on covetousness.)… full of envy (Have you ever envied?)… gossips (What’s that? People magazine or National Enquirer—accuse or excuse?), slanderers (That’s speaking evil of someone)… haughty (Sounds like gay pride and straight pride are both dishonorable passions), boastful…disobedient to parents (Can you imagine?), foolish, faithless… They (which is us) not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Therefore…”
“Therefore,” tells us what this discussion is there for.
“Therefore, you are without excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another, you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”
Paul said, there is no excuse for you. But I don’t think we believed him.
He brought up a controversial and confusing topic.
We took the bait and began to do what we always do: accuse and excuse.
He reeled us in and pronounced the judgment that was pronounced at the beginning of time—the “day you eat of it dying you will die.” That’s the “due penalty” for our error.
And so, what’s the dishonorable passion?
Isn’t it judging your neighbor, which is judging yourself, which is judging the Creator, and so trapping the Truth in the hell which is your own ego?
It’s taking the Fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden.
It’s taking the Life of Christ on the cross.
It’s taking the Knowledge of the Good, who is God, to justify yourself.
The knowledge of Good and evil is not evil, just as the law is not evil.
However, taking that knowledge to judge yourself, your God, or your neighbor is the pinnacle of evil: the dishonorable passion.
When we judge actions, we judge abstractions and we do it poorly
When we judge people, we judge a judgment made at a tree in the garden of our neighbor’s soul.
Take a look at that tree. It represents two passions.
#1 Humanity’s desire, the desire to judge, the dishonorable passion—sin .
#2 God’s desire, the desire of the Judge, the Passion of the Christ—Relentless Love, Grace.
My friend once tried to judge himself with a gunshot to the head in a field by a tree.
And God judged his judgment in the form of an eagle that made him drop that gun.
The Eagle didn’t give him instructions, but the Eagle did reveal the Truth and the Judgment of God: “You are my beloved.”
Don’t be mistaken. God is absolutely committed to making each of us good, as he is good.
It’s just that we can’t make ourselves good; he must make us good with his Judgment.
In his presence, dishonorable passions die, and the Honorable Passion begins to rule upon the throne in the Sanctuary of our heart—the heart of Adam: Humanity made in the image and likeness of God.