Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 2: The Gospel in Romans

January 7th, 2009

In the previous entry, I talked about how the Gospel should be at the center of anything we say about homosexuality–and this includes stressing the point that we are all sinners, and no one has the right to feel self-righteous. It’s interesting that Paul makes precisely that point when he talked about it.

Romans 1

Paul talks about homosexuality in Rom. 1:26-27, and then lists other sins in Rom. 1:28-32–like gossip and disobedience to parents.  So, I started pointing that out, when I wanted to show that–biblically–homosexuality is a sin among other sins. To show that everyone–including me–stands condemned in the same way. No one can be self-righteous.

It’s odd. For some reason, I didn’t notice that Paul seems to be making exactly that point. Then recently, it clicked.  When he lists “big” sins with “small” sins, he almost seems to bait a trap for the smugly self-righteous–letting the readers feel comfortable for a moment, before cutting them low.  (Though… See the P.S. at the end of the entry.)

Cutting Them Low

Paul is talking about idolaters, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. He talks about homosexuality as being debased & unnatural. Then he wrote 1:28-32.  Let’s read it, and imagine yourself as a reader of Paul’s letter in Rome–someone who’s comfortably religious.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness.

“Yes!”, the smug may think. “Go, Paul! Stick it to those homosexuals and murderers and the like!”

They are gossips,

“Er… Wait a minute… That’s not in the same category!”

30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,

“OK… Slander. Hatred of God. That’s better footing. But…boasting? Disobedience to parents?”

31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 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.

Perhaps at this point the reader is slightly discomfited. Perhaps remembering an occasional indulgence in gossip, or various childhood failures to obey their parents (and grown-up failure to honor them). Perhaps remembering a boast or two. Perhaps disturbed at seeing their own sins listed with “the other guy’s” really bad sins. Disturbed at the sentence of death. “My sins deserve death?”

And then Paul slams the point home, in a passage that’s very similar to the context of Jesus’ statement, “Judge not, lest ye be judged“.

1 Therefore you have no 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. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Rom. 2:1-5)

God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. Paul goes on in the rest of Romans, indicting everyone as a sinner in need of a savior, and explaining the grace of the gospel–the love of God in the work of Christ on the cross. We all have the same need, and we can all find the same solution. Not by managing to be good enough for God, but by humble faith in Christ to save us. A humble faith that moves us to seek & follow him, through the gracious gift of the Spirit’s work in our lives.

Side Note: Part of my interpretation is based on the idea that Paul is listing “big” sins with “small” sins, and using that to challenge self-righteousness.  But that might not have been Paul’s intention, exactly.  Maybe the “small” sins only look small to a 21st-century American.  After all, gossip is one of the six things the Lord hates.  Maybe his attack on self-righteousness is more centered on “you, the judge, practice the very same things”.  If so… It’s still true that in Rom. 1, homosexuality is “just” a sin among other sins.  And it’s still true that Paul lists sins which we (wrongly) consider “small”.  The ramifications for the Gospel are still the same.

Conservative Christians pride ourselves on being Bible-believers.  We take the Bible seriously, we claim.  So, there’s something very wrong if homosexuality-as-sin becomes the focus of our public message.   (Do we speak more loudly against gay marriage than we proclaim the good news of Christ?)  A gay person’s greatest need is not to stop being gay.  It’s to know that they are sinners like everyone, to know the work of Christ, and to trust in him.  Our discussion will include sexual sin.  But our discussion of homosexuality needs to be in the context of the Gospel.

Jesus said that the whole of Scripture is about him.  If the focus of our message is not Christ, then we are not being the biblical Christians we claim to be.

————-
Update:
Here’s the entire series:
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 1: Slogans & the Gospel
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 2: The Gospel in Romans
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 3: Hypocrisy, Stereotyping, and the Gospel
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 4: Dealing with Stereotypes
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 4.5: P.S. On Dealing with Stereotypes

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2 Responses to “Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 2: The Gospel in Romans”

  1. bethyada says:

    I have thought for sometime about this issue, why does it get the focus? While I believe in a hierarchy of sins (and incidentally a hierarchy of sinners) and that this is a significant one, I am not sure that it is the reason for the current focus.

    I have come to the conclusion that this is where a major battle is currently being fought. So while many Christians can see that homosexuality is a wrong lifestyle that several have chosen and that others struggle with this, what much of the reaction in the public sphere is to is political activism.

    This behaviour has been forced into the public sphere so (from their point of view) that homosexuality can be normalised—viewed as a right behaviour, celebrated, equalised with marriage, taught to children, etc. And I think that the message that Christians are to give to individuals may not be the same as they give to the public sphere. Now they may have to choose their methods more cleverly, but public opposition is allowed to be vocal, and the public opposition is not the same as evangelism.

    Further Jesus was compassionate to sinners who knew they were. Jesus had more time for the tax collectors and prostitutes. But for those who were arrogant in their sin, Pharisees for example, Jesus was much harsher. You are right that a homosexual’s greatest need is Christ, and let Jesus deal with the conviction of sins (though we need to explain it). But to the bolshie activist who glories in his shame, I am not certain that speaking against them is wrong. Speaking up may be for their sake, but it is often for the sake of others who are in on the political discourse. If they are already hell bent, it may be that we are trying to prevent others from being persuaded there also. Shaming them may not win us favours with them but it may help fence-sitters reject their rhetoric.

    But least we feel proud in how we respond, we need to remember we are sinners too. We need to avoid Phariseeism ourselves.

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