Romans 1 and Human Sexuality, Pt 4

In this series of reflections on Romans, I am asking how the context and purpose of the entire letter might shape Christian discussions about human sexuality. Paul refers to same gender erotic relations in Romans 1:26-27 as part of his aim to shape Christian identity as participation in a community of new creation flourishing characterized by practices of hospitality and postures of humility and hope. When we think and talk about sexuality, it is crucial that we do so as this sort of community.

I have been stating that the problem among the Roman Christians, as Paul configures it, is that one faction identifies itself as more godly and committed to Scripture than the other. Because of their supposed conversion to Judaism, they imagine that they have escaped identification with gentile ungodliness. This gives them a cause for boasting in their superior moral identity over-against gentile Christians.

I noted previously that Paul’s strategy in Romans 2-3 is to establish that there is only one group of Roman Christians. They are all united in bondage under Sin for they have all sinned. And they are all united in justification because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.

In Romans 4-5, Paul confronts the group that is boasting in its identity with the reality that their self-regard as “godly” puts them at risk of being outside of God’s saving purposes. To those who regard themselves as more “godly” or more “righteous” than others, God behaves scandalously.

God is one who “justifies the ungodly” (4:5), so that gentiles—those in the “ungodly” group—have their sins forgiven in the same way God forgave David’s sins (4:6-8). Abraham is also a member of that group, who was justified before God apart from the works that would have identified him as a Jew (4:3, 9-10).

Those who have adopted a Jewish way of life in hopes of gaining the status of “righteous” would have their reward of approval not by grace, but as something that they deserve (4:4). But that is not how God justifies anyone. God justifies on the basis of faithfulness without reference to Jewish identity (4:5, 11-12), so that those who are “ungodly”—those the judging group have condemned as morally inferior—stand before God as justified.

Paul, then, scandalizes the group that is judging, since they imagine that they have an inside track with God and stand closer in relation to God than the gentiles. He scandalizes them by noting that God’s very identity is the God who justifies the ungodly—the ones they consider morally inferior.

If the boasting group, then, will not consider themselves “ungodly,” they cannot be justified. God’s very identity excludes them from his people.

Paul intensifies his argument in 5:6-8, which is loaded with sarcasm. He notes that “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (v. 6). Again, Paul insists that one must own the identity of “ungodly” to be among those for whom Christ died.

Then, in a sarcastic aside, he notes that it would be pointless for anyone to die for a “righteous” person. I mean, goodness, what was God thinking to send Jesus to die if there were already people set right with God? Well, maybe for the “good” person, perhaps maybe then God’s actions would make sense.

But that isn’t the God of the gospel. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8).

To enjoy the salvation of the God of Israel revealed in Jesus, one must own the identity of “ungodly,” “sinner.” Paul is not, of course, advocating the pursuit of ungodliness and sin (6:1-23).

“Ungodly sinner justified by God” is a crucial identity for Christians in conflict and in situations in which one group imagines itself as morally superior. All are ungodly sinners, and all are justified. All share in the history of human idolatry and degradation, and all are loved by the God who justifies the ungodly and who sends Christ to die for sinners.

Paul’s configuration of Christian identity—and of God’s identity—would put the Roman Christians back on their heels. It would make the group boasting in moral superiority pause before speaking, reconsidering their words. They now look at one another with hesitation about their posture of superiority over those they formerly labeled as “ungodly.” They begin to think about the slow but necessary steps of reconciliation with those they have mistreated.

They were so certain in their conception of Christian identity and the moral clarity of their reading of Scripture. Paul, however, reveals their conception of God and Christian identity as deficient.

So, returning to our abiding question: when it comes to discussions among Christians about human sexuality, discussions that involve moral judgments, how might Christian identity as “ungodly sinners” shape our posture as we engage one another and others?

4 thoughts on “Romans 1 and Human Sexuality, Pt 4

  1. Sherri

    This is so dead on. We must be dead to the old man of self righteous acts of the 1 covenant to be able to enter into the New Covenant of Righteousness of Spirit; which can be found in Hebrews 9:8-18. The Jews obeyed the law that they had at the time and their obedience was counted as righteousness according to what they had and not according to what they did not YET have. In actuality a perfect dead sacrifice did not please God as he desires us to be a living sacrifice Holy and acceptable to God which is our reasonable act of service. Holy because Jesus free promised gift of the Holy Spirit of Faith lives inside us, forgiving us the imperfections of our past traditions as we grow in newness of Faith, Spiritual knowledge and understanding that the Holy Ghost teaches, 1 John 2:20-27. We are perfect for God now sees His Children, born of His Spirit through the loving eyes of Jesus and not through the letter of the old law that is obsolete and fading away. As believers we have The perfect living accountability partner living inside us. Romans 7:1-6 states, that when we and our current husband are dead to the law, we can be married to another, even to Christ, apart from the letter of the law.

  2. Sherri

    Through marriage we may bear fruit to Him! This deed or work is not our own but of Christ working through us and that not of ourselves lest any man should boast!

  3. Sherri

    For all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. Then Jesus came, died, rose again and returned to the father to be glorified in the Glory that they had together before the earth was created. So when we call in the Name of Jesus and invite Him to live in our heart and mind, we become His Temple; Together both the Father and the Son, come and abide in us, in the form of the Holy Spirit. Not in name only but in power, enabling us to boldly share the Gospel of the good news, as a true witness. Our burden is light because His word proceeds us, so we may serve Him out of the gifts which He has given, that we have received by Grace through faith, with thanksgiving. Believers, have been Spiritually restored and empowered to do all God asks! It is not our work that people believe but it is God’s work that people believe. All he asks is that we share our story by faith, of what he has done for us and it is new every morning; for great is His faithfulness; by which I truly believe. Amen.

  4. joey

    However it is that Christian identity as “ungodly sinners” should shape our posture as we engage on human sexually should be the same way in which we engage on the other “issues of morality” (can we say that?) that Paul refers to in 1:18-32. Is that a reasonable conclusion? These would includes issues like: idolatry, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, gossip, slander, hatred of God, insolence, haughtiness, boasting, inventing evil, disobedience to parents, foolishness, faithlessness, heartlessness, and ruthlessness.
    As an “ungodly sinner,” how did you engage with your own children when they were disobedient (“disobedience to parents”)? How should we engage with others over the issue of murder?
    Another way of finding an answer to the question of this series might be to look at how the author, himself, engaged, at least with fellow believers, over issues of human sexuality. Did Paul see himself as an “ungodly sinner”? How did Paul, who wrote Romans, engage with believers in Corinth (1 Corinthians 5) over the sexual sin (or was it sin?) present in that church? There are other examples of Paul engaging over (some of) the moral issues that he mentions in Romans 1.

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