Today is National Coming Out Day in the United States, a catastrophic day in our culture that foregrounds a cultural acceptance of sin. So what role do these culture-wide celebrations, this “pride” of homosexual practice and transgenderism, play in the proliferation of rebellion against God? A listener asks about Philippians 3:18–19 and Romans 1:32, respectively. What role does widespread cultural celebration of homosexuality play to the ubiquity of this sin?
Jake in Nashville asks, “Hello, Pastor John. What is the role of cultural celebration, or pride, in encouraging sin to be accepted? I’m thinking of Paul’s conclusion to his condemnation of homosexual practices in Romans 1:18–32: ‘Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them’ (Romans 1:32). Or in Philippians, ‘For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things’ (Philippians 3:18–19). Does Paul foreshadow a nationwide coming-out movement?”
I really hear two questions, maybe more. First, what is the role of cultural celebration or pride in encouraging sin to be accepted? And that’s obvious I think to all of us. The more something is celebrated publicly, the more it is normalized. Perhaps there’s more to say about that, but I’m going to come at it indirectly. This is the second question: Does Paul foreshadow a nationwide coming-out movement? So, I’m going to focus on the second question and see whether or not it sheds more light on the first.
Twenty Centuries of Sin
In Romans 1 and Philippians 3, Paul is describing what is — not just what will be. (I’m focusing on this issue of whether Paul is foreshadowing.) He’s focusing on what is already. It’s not just something that’s going to come in the twenty-first century; this is in Paul’s day. In other words, he’s not just foreshadowing; he is reporting the history of Israel and the present state of the world. The prophet Hosea spoke about the Israel of his day when God would
change their glory into shame. . . .
They shall eat, but not be satisfied;
they shall play the whore, but not multiply,
because they have forsaken the Lord
to cherish whoredom, wine, and new wine,
which take away the understanding. (Hosea 4:7, 10–11)
When a people turn the world upside down and elevate man and degrade God, one of God’s responses is to turn their values inside out. If they turn the world upside down, God’s going to turn their values inside out. Their glory becomes their shame. And God sees to it that that happens. Their shame becomes their glory.
“Same-sex desires are a heartbreaking part of the sinful brokenness of the fallen world.”
That was true for Israel and for the world in general when Paul lived. He describes the upside-down worship of the pagan world and the inside-out sexuality of the world in Romans 1. Paul says this in Romans 1:19: “What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” And he goes on to say they’re without excuse. “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature [especially man] rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25).
So, the world has turned upside down. Creatures are put where God is supposed to be, and God is put where creatures are supposed to be. Paul says, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions” (Romans 1:26).
Now, listen to how this goes inside out:
Their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26–27)
So, sexual relations as God gave them were turned inside out. They were reversed. “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die” — they know this — “they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32). In other words, it’s not just suicide; it’s murder. They’re asking people to join them in practices that, deep down, they know are deadly. The fact that Paul is describing history in his own day, of course, doesn’t rule out the fact that he is foreshadowing our day; he certainly is. The beauty and the authority of God are brought low, and the autonomy and the will of men are exalted. And this upside-down view of the world has resulted more and more and more in the reversal of God-ordained sexual relations.
And one of the most appalling parts of Romans 1 is at the end, where Paul says every one of those people who turns God into a creature — who lowers God and exalts self — every one of them knows what they’re doing. When they reflect that inversion of God and man, and reverse their sexual roles, they know what they’re doing. It says they know God in the depth of their soul (Romans 1:21). And they know that homosexual practice and transsexual experimentation is against God’s righteous will.
“Creatures are put where God is supposed to be and God is put where creatures are supposed to be.”
But it gets worse. Not only do they know that it’s wrong, and not only do they know it deserves death, and not only do they practice it, but they recruit others to do the same and die with them. So, the sin is not just self-destructive but other-destructive. Here’s the key verse: “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things” — speaking of homosexuality, among others — “deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).
So, on the National Coming Out Day, advocates for homosexual practice encourage the practice, and knowingly — deep down knowingly — are celebrating death, celebrating divine judgment, celebrating the very deed that Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 keeps people from entering the kingdom of God. This is not a happy day. This is a sad day.
Those who stand up and say, “There is forgiveness with God because of Jesus Christ; there is cleansing from sin, and hope now and forever” — those people are not the haters here. The haters are those who know deep down what displeases God and who turn that very behavior into a day of celebration. There will be a global day of coming out: the day when it comes out that it is suicidal and hopeless to turn shame into glory. We don’t have to wait to be shocked on that day. We shouldn’t wait.
God has spoken in his word, the Bible. Same-sex desires are a heartbreaking part of the sinful brokenness of the fallen world. All of us are a part of this sinful brokenness. All of us have things about us, about our personalities, our preferences, our dispositions, our habits, our inborn bent — all of us have things about us that we do not like and do not approve. We don’t approve of them, and we should not condone them just because they seem to be part of us.
Some aspects of our sinful bent God changes now in this life. Others we deal with till the day we die or the day Jesus comes back and makes all things new. The key to hope in this world is Jesus Christ. He “bore our sins in his body . . . that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).
So on the one hand, a National Coming Out Day is a day of mourning because of how much destruction is being celebrated. But on the other hand, there’s a hidden hope in Paul’s words when he says that they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve God’s judgment. We have no idea whether God will keep handing people over to their illusions or whether he might grant a great awakening. But we know how to pray; we know what we should pray toward.