The phrase "God gave them over" is very much akin to the phrase from the apostle Paul "delivered him over to Satan."
These verses outline a recipe for the disintegration of a society, any society. Paul outlines four stages of decline to which God deliberately and with purpose gave them over.
- The first stage is the decline of knowledge and wisdom – 18-23.
This represents a change of status in the epistemology of man. Paul says that man has no excuse for such an epistemological shift. There are only two epistemologies from which man can obtain knowledge – there is the natural world of human experience and there is revelation. Revelation had been abandoned for the epistemology of human experience. Now, man regards human experience as the revealer of truth.
- The second stage is the decline into idolatry, 18-25.
God has been replaced by his own creation. Glory has been transferred by man away from God to created things.
The third stage is the decline into sexual depravity, 26-28. This is ALL sexual depravity, not just homosexuality.
The fourth and final stage is the decline into absolute moral collapse. 29-32.
Here, sexual perversion, along with the perversion of every other human imagination, reaches its zenith. This is yet a deeper stage of depravity that goes beyond just the practice of homosexuality. Society has now descended into such things as bestiality and all manner of wickedness. No behavior was forbidden. Man recognized no limits of experimentation, and as a result, God gave them over to the most extreme perversions of every kind. This is the mind of man that is completely cut off from revealed constraints. No redeeming qualities remain. Man has descended as far as he can go into a depraved state and God has now totally abandoned them to the fate of their choices.
These verses are dealing with the four stages of societal decline.
- After they had exchanged God for creatures of the earth, “God gave them over....”
If we so strongly desire the lowest elements of human behavior, the Lord will allow us to seek it. He will not interfere. The Lord’s policy is that if you want this kind of life or this kind of society, then you can have it. As a result, people began to experiment with all manner of human experiences that God in his wisdom has forbidden.
- Their insistence upon seeking depraved behavior caused God to give them over yet again, this time to sexual impurity.
“God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that
their bodies would be dishonored among them.”
This is a particular type of impurity that directly violates the intended function and purpose of the human body. It is an impurity of the body in which the body is dishonored.
This is not necessarily speaking of homosexuality, but it certainly would not exclude it. This first stage of sexual decline in a society is to remove sexual behavior from its proper place. This changes the context of sexual behavior which is limited by God to the marriage covenant.
Man has expanded the acceptable range of sexual behavior to the advancement of sexual experimentation. Marriage is no longer recognized as a boundary for sexual activity. Socially acceptable sexual conduct has now been expanded to include adultery, fornication, illicit sex, sodomy, and prostitution. This behavior is degrading because it abandons the divinely appointed context for sex. This is not the proper place or purpose of sexuality. What the Lord calls sexual impurity and degradation is now regarded by man as freedom and enlightenment.
- In verse 25, we see yet another exchange – “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie.”
a. Abandonment of the word of God is unidirectional. It only travels in one direction – away from God. When people walk away from revealed truths, then all hope is gone. After that, there is an upheaval of the moral standard. What was true has now become a lie, and what was a lie has now become truth. No one knows the difference any more.
Without a revealed standard to show man the difference between right and wrong, societies will always choose the wrong. Man will always descend into depravity – ALWAYS! In fact, what we learn here and from other places in scripture such as Genesis six, and what history confirms for us, is that even in the presence of revealed truth, man will still eventually descend into depravity; and historically, it does not usually take long.
b. They “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”
At this point, man himself becomes his own god. Man has now come to believe his own lies. He has resigned himself to a world devoid of absolutes, devoid of revealed truth, devoid of the limiting will of God. As Fredric Nietzsche once wrote, "God is dead and all we have left are values." These values to which Nietzsche refers are those given by man, for man, and that are held by the consensus of man.
Because of this type of thinking, God once again “gave them over” to their “degrading, dishonorable, shameful passions.” The standard here for what is considered degrading, dishonorable, or shameful is not the opinion of man, it is the assessment of God. God says these things are degrading, dishonorable, and shameful.
When man casts aside his conscience regarding these things, then his sense of shame will be cast aside along with it. If we do not register any sense of shame regarding what scripture says about our sins, then these verses become meaningless to us.
The sense of shame is a human barometer that was given to us by the Lord to tell us how far we have moved away from the will of God. Shame is more than just embarrassment; it is a sense of guilt before God. We have forgotten how to blush.
Just how deeply has our conscience been seared? Consider the music you listen to, the movies you take in, or what passes for humor to you on television. God has created us with a capacity for shame, and he has created us in this way to prevent us from engaging in such soul-destroying behaviors as these mentioned in out text.
In order to placate our own conscience, we have determined to separate ourselves from any standard that condemns our behavior. The removal of the word of God as a standard for regulating human behavior is a necessary step that allows us to rationalize and justify our choices. This is how one removes the sense of guilt.
In the final analysis, This was a deliberate act on the part of the Almighty to abandon them to their most perverse desires to their own destruction.