Recently Added
to Exposition of Romans:

3:9–20—Conclusion: OT confirms that humanity is under sin’s power
(January 26th 2019)
Romans 1:24–25—God hands over people to their sexual sin.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity,
to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,
25 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.

Verse 18, we recall, refers to the wrath of God directed against people’s ungodliness and unrighteousness. It seems best to see the “Therefore” at the beginning of verse 24 as pointing back to that divine wrath and to the intervening text that charges people with suppressing the truth. So here now is how God executes his wrath against people who value a lie over God.

The particular lie Paul has in mind is idolatry—serving the creature rather than the Creator. The “because” at the beginning of verse 25 points to idolatry as the reason for people’s descent into sexual sins and for God’s consequent judgment by giving them up to their lusts. And this lie is not an ordinary misstatement of truth. Everett Harrison says “a lie” does not capture the emphasis of the definite article in the Greek: “This is the lie above all others—the contention that something or someone is to be venerated in place of the true God.”

The meaning of “God gave them up”
This is the first of three parallel uses of the verb “gave them up” or in some translations “handed them over.” God also “gave them up to dishonorable passions” (verse 26) and “to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (verse 28).

God hands over people to the thoughts, intentions, and conduct they desire, in this case, to their lusts and impurity. Various explanations of this “handing over” have been offered. Is God’s role passive, such that people experience the natural consequences of their sin? So says Harrison: “God simply took his hands off and let willful rejection of himself produce its ugly results in human life.”

Or does God in some active way consign people to the sin they have chosen? Douglas Moo says the verb’s meaning demands that God be seen as having a more initiating role. Referring to a scholar who pictures God ceasing to hold the boat as it drifts away, Moo says, “God does not simply let the boat go—he gives it a push downstream. Like a judge who hands over a prisoner to the punishment his crime has earned, God hands over the sinner to the terrible cycle of ever-increasing sin.”

Charles Cranfield points to the emphatic threefold repetition of “gave them up” as evidence that “a deliberate, positive act of God is meant.”

To what extent might God’s role be active? Moo is certainly correct that God does not impel people to sin. This divine side of the cycle of sin, Moo says, must be balanced with the human side highlighted in Ephesians 4:19. There Paul says that Gentiles “have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”

Colin Kruse, who in this context sees God actively rendering people captive to their sins, says, “As repeatedly indicated in both the OT and the NT, God effects his judgments in conjunction with human choices, but never simply dependent upon those choices.”

For more on this subject, see my exposition on the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart (9:17–18).

“Dishonoring of their bodies”
This phrase modifies “impurity” (uncleanness), a term frequently associated with sexual sin (2 Corinthians 12:21, Galatians 5:19, Ephesians 5:31, Colossians 3:5, Thessalonians 4:7). The near parallelism of “dishonoring of their bodies” with “dishonorable passions” in verse 26 in the context of homosexuality suggests Paul has in mind, in addition to all sexual immorality, particularly that sin. Passions, like impurity, conveys sexual sin.

In verses 28 and following Paul will go on to list sins that are violations of personal relationships and the community, and these as well accompany idolatry. Richard Longenecker comments, “The consequences of idolatry, which stems from humanity’s rebellion against God, independence from God, and failure to respond in praise and thankfulness to God, work themselves out in the lives of people in ways that are morally perverse and ethically disastrous.”

Christianity affirms the dignity of the human body, the temple of the Holy Spirit. Practice of God’s gift of sexuality must respect both one’s own body and other people’s bodies (1 Thessalonians 4:3–8, 1 Corinthians 6:18–20). “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13; see also Romans 6:6 and 6:12–13).

Warning of future wrath
God’s wrath manifests in this current age in his handing over of people to their sin, but the worst is yet to come, as Paul explains in 2 Thessalonians 2:9–12. That futuristic passage parallels what Paul says here in Romans in that it speaks of God sending a strong delusion on people who have already refused to love the truth. When the antichrist appears, they will believe his lies and set themselves up for God’s condemnation because they seek pleasure in unrighteousness.

Neither in Romans nor in 2 Thessalonians does Paul indicate when a person reaches the point of no return. God sees into the human heart and knows when it reaches that point. The “mystery of lawlessness” is already at work, says Paul in verse 7 of the Thessalonians passage, and people continue to pursue lifetimes of sin.

Discipline to heal?
Seeing both God’s judgment and mercy at play in this Romans passage, Charles Cranfield points to God’s dealings in the past: “And the LORD will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the LORD, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them” (Isaiah 19:22).

If we take God’s action in this Romans passage as having a redemptive purpose, his intention could be to rub people’s faces in the filth of their sin so they come to their senses, repent, and cry out for salvation from sin present and the ultimate wrath to come. Some will, some will not. Some who did were part of the churches Paul founded (1 Corinthians 6:9–11, Ephesians 2:1–3, 1 Thessalonians 1:9).

Now while we still can, let us align our hearts with Jesus Christ. He will return and when he does he will have the final “breath.” Lord Jesus will kill the antichrist (“lawless one”) “with the breath of his mouth” and bring him to nothing (2 Thessalonians 2:8).

With Paul we affirm that the Creator is blessed forever!