Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of our hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. (Romans 1:24, NIV)
Reading Romans in our church small groups this coming week, many of us will see the connection Paul makes between sexual immorality and godlessness. The Apostle explains that God is revealing His wrath against the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth about God, don’t glorify Him and don’t give Him thanks (Romans 1:18-23). In response to this, God gives them over to sins of many kinds – and the one Paul mentions first is sexual immorality.
But why sexual immorality? Is Paul just fixated with sex, or is there something more fundamental going on?
The answer is surely this. There is a similarity between the essence of sin (godlessness) and sexual immorality, in that in both cases we want the goodies without the covenant relationship. With (or without!) regard to God, we want to live in His world and enjoy all He’s given us – but we don’t want to have Him. His glory is plain for all to see from what He’s made – but we won’t glorify Him or give Him thanks. Instead, we manufacture our own gods. Yes, we’re happy to enjoy His world, but we don’t want Him.
Sexual immorality is also a matter of wanting the “goodies” of the physical thrill without the covenant relationship God has designed sex to be in, of lifelong marriage between a man and a woman. Instead, we settle for something miserably less than God has intended, and degrade our bodies from the high status God has afforded them.
What Paul explains in this chapter is that God reveals His righteous anger at our godlessness by handing us over to sins, and sinful desires of various kinds. He lets us see the consequences of this “goodies-without-God” attitude in our lives – in all sorts of ways, which the rest of Romans 1 describes.
God does this not out of spite, but to reveal His wrath: He wants us to wake up and see that there is something very wrong in our world – so that, of course, we recognise the need for the wonderful solution God has provided in Christ. And Paul starts by mentioning sexual immorality because it’s a particularly obvious example of how the punishment fits the crime.