Sex and sexual practices – Paul draws on them here to highlight the evident disorder he finds in a world run amuck. It’s critical to note he sees sexual disorder as a consequence and not a cause of the crisis humanity has gotten itself into. It’s not as though a campaign to rid the world of sexual disorders (however we define them) would restore us to genuine humanity under God. Far from it. Our problem cuts far deeper than that! In fact, such a campaign of moral reformation only feeds the problem – our presumption that we can fix it ourselves. That’s Adam and Eve and the snake all over again.
Only when we “hit bottom” and know in the depths of our being that we can do nothing to pull ourselves out of this morass is there any hope for us. And that’s because it’s idolatry and not morality that is our fundamental problem. Who or what we salute and obey rather than what we do is what troubles us.
That said, sex and sexual practices remain important matters to consider – duh! Why is it that they can play such a decisive demonstrative role in Paul’s thought? I’m sure there are a number of reasons for this. But I want to focus briefly on one that makes a good deal of sense to me and that I believe is in line with the direction of Paul’s thought.
I propose that we think of sex and sexual practice as the most intimate picture of our soul that we present to the world. A world filled with sexual disorders and malpractices is one that shows itself full of malformed and disordered souls. It is not for Paul a matter of repressive morality or right of individual choice (though those will be reasons offered by many and too often, even Christians). Rather, for Paul, there is an order in creation, a moral order, that when transgressed hits back. Living out of sync with the Creator and his order diminishes and deforms our souls (hearts, whatever you want to call it). And because we are embodied souls or ensouled bodies, our soul’s condition becomes visible in the use to which we put our bodies. And while we can argue and debate and disagree over whether homosexual practice transgresses God’s order, or whether what we know as homosexuality is what Paul uses as an example of disordered sexual practice here in Romans 1, whatever Paul describes there crosses that line and we pay for it in our own bodies (v.27).
And if what Paul describes are perhaps the most egregious examples he has at hand, it seems fair to extrapolate and claim that other sexual deviances scripture names have the same effect on us. And it is manifestly fair in that light to claim that or culture is liable to the same critique Paul makes of the Gentile culture of his day.