With the denial of God and His created order, there is no anchor for the biblical concept of human beings being made in the image of God. Man is reduced to an animal with base animal instincts. There is no transcendent reality, as reflected in the Judeo-Christian worldview that elevates human beings beyond mere animal existence.
Ancient paganism led to barbaric, uncivilized societies. Today, as the culture and civilization established by Judeo-Christian theism fades into the horizon, neo-paganism is on the rise, manifesting itself in modern barbaric forms. We are witnessing manifestations of ancient pagan culture in our neo-pagan world.
- Sensuality (a corrupted view of the body)
- Self-indulgence (“their god is their stomach” Phil. 3:19)
- Sexual immorality and faithlessness in marriage (a low view of marriage)
- Human sacrifice (a low view of human life)
- Fatalism (a denial of God’s providential goodness)
- Corruption (bribery of the gods)
Worship of pagan gods is accompanied by adultery, promiscuity, prostitution, fornication and sexual aberration. Sexual promiscuity, behavior divorced from transcendent sexuality, is considered normal.
In fact Judeo-Christian Theism is a rebellion against pagan culture. Sexual purity founded in a transcendent concept of love and intimacy, a commitment to covenantal marriage, is an aberration to pagan culture. We are witnessing the full onslaught of modern pagan culture in the redefining of human sexuality and the rending of the family.
Paul demonstrates the link between the suppression of truth, the denial of God, and the corresponding change in values that leads to behavior changes. In Romans 1 he unpacks the external wicked behavior flowing from pagan culture. Notice the progression in verses 24-31:
A categorical statement – 1:24, “Therefore God gave them over … for the degrading of their bodies with one another.”
People who practice a pagan value system degrade (treat shamefully, insult, dishonor) their own bodies. This is not done to them by some external force; they willfully did it to themselves. Through their choices, they ended up insulting and degrading their own bodies.
How tragic! Thinking of themselves as wise, they became fools insulting their own bodies. They simply “followed their noses,” pursued their base animal instincts. They have become more like impulsive animals than morally conscious human beings.
A specific description – 1:26-27, “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
From the general debasing of their own bodies by heterosexual sin comes a further degradation. Men and women are abandoning the natural, complementarian relationships for which they were designed, for unnatural, homosexual relationships.
The order of nature is turned upside down. Women lust for women – lesbianism, and men for men – homosexuality.
Human sexuality is complementarian by design. Before the creation, the One and Many, Trinitarian God existed eternally. God created the universe, including human relations, in this same complementarian pattern. When people deny God, they deny their own complementarian design. “Natural sexual relations” refers to God’s design for a man and a woman in covenantal marriage. Same-sex relationships are unnatural in God’s creatin order.
In abandoning their design, opting instead for unnatural relations, they “received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
The word error is the Greek word meaning “deception” or “delusion.” When we suppress the truth, denying God and our own design, we are deceiving ourselves. We are living in a world of delusion.
All human choices have logical consequences. Choices based on truth bring positive consequences; harmful consequences come from choices based on a delusion. Paul speaks of the “due penalty of their error.” The term means “recompense, an exchange based on what is deserved (good or bad).” This is nothing more or less than the natural consequences of behavior.
Perhaps the first consequence is sexual/identity confusion. People no longer know who they are and what they were created to be. Lives are lived without purpose, without thinking in terms of the natural consequences of one’s choices. Today we celebrate the pretense that an individual can change their birth sex as if sex were a malleable characteristic.
A second consequence is the destructive spread of STDs – sexually transmitted diseases. It’s politically incorrect to point out the correlation between sex outside of marriage and STDs. But, then again, there’s no virtue in being tolerant of behavior that brings real harm to people God considers precious. Love does not cloak the truth: STDs are a natural consequence of illicit sexual behavior. It’s compassionate to call attention to the fact that homosexual intercourse results in a much higher rate of STDS. The graph from the Center for Disease Control shows the 2010 estimates of new HIV infections in the United States for the most-affected subpopulations. (MSM means “men who have sex with men,” IDU is “injection drug user.”)
Following the creation order of sexual fidelity would greatly reduce, if not eliminate, the incidences of STD.
A lifestyle of depravity – 1:28b-31, “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over …to do what ought not to be done.”
The suppression of truth and the denial of God not only lead to base animal instincts and sexual perversion, but also to what might be called a “lifestyle of vice.” In these few verses, we find a great catalog of vice, violation of the 10 Commandments and the greater moral code. Paul speaks of sins against God (the “first table,” commandments 1-4) which lead to sins against fellow humans (the “second table,” commandments 5-10).
Paul continues the litany:
They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.
One phrase especially jumps out at me: “they invent ways of doing evil.” The word “invent” means to contrive, to think up. Not content to follow established forms of evil, they use their depravity to invent new kinds of evil. The sexual vice described earlier now morphs into new forms of perversion.
Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message, captures the stench of the depravity and consequences of the great exchange.
Since they didn’t bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-bashers. Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags! They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. They ditch their parents when they get in the way. Stupid, slimy, cruel, cold-blooded. And it’s not as if they don’t know better. They know perfectly well they’re spitting in God’s face. And they don’t care—worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best! Romans 1:28-32
Let us weep at the pain and suffering that is a product of this behavior.
- Darrow Miller