Almost everyone will have heard by now of the recent announcement by Jason Collins, an otherwise unheralded pro basketball player, that he is “gay” (i.e., homosexual). This has made him famous; he has become the darling of the media.
Many have noted the contrast between the way the media have treated Tim Tebow and the way they are treating Collins. One political cartoon has Tebow saying, “I’m a Christian,” and the media guy responding, “Keep it to yourself.” Then the cartoon has Collins saying, “I’m gay,” and the media guy gushing, “My hero!”
This whole tawdry episode has reminded me of what the Apostle Paul says about the pagan world in Romans 1:18-32. He declares that even those who have never had access to the Bible know, from what God has written on our hearts (Rom. 2:15), that certain kinds of behavior are sinful. These include the list of sins he names in Romans 1:24-31, where he gives special attention to homosexualism (vv. 26-27).
In verse 26 the Apostle specifically condemns lesbianism: “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural.” This is the only specific reference to female homosexualism in the Bible, but it is clear enough. Then in verse 27 Paul turns to male homosexualism and declares it to be wrong in many ways: “And in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”
Then, after naming over a score of other sins, Paul affirms that we all know that these things—including homosexualism—are wrong: “They know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death” (v. 32a). When Paul says, “they know,” he means every human being: we all know that homosexual behavior is wrong because God has written it upon our hearts. Nevertheless, as the Apostle says in verse 18, it is characteristic of ungodly and unrighteous men to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
The widespread presence of all the sins mentioned in verses 26-31, especially homosexual behavior, indicates the depth to which our culture has sunk. But the Collins affair has turned the spotlight on another, even more demonic aspect of evil as mentioned by Paul in verse 32b, namely, that when someone is seen to be guilty of such sins, his fellow sinners “not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”
This “hearty approval” is what we have been witnessing ever since Collins made his announcement. This man has been not just defended but praised, congratulated, and indeed made into a hero for something that is the epitome of sin. Thus the guilt, the shame, and the condemnation fall not just upon the man himself, but also upon all who have spit into the face of God by glorifying and exalting this man and his sin.
In my Commentary on Romans (College Press, 1996), I said this about Romans 1:32: “Here Paul indicates that there is something worse than committing the sins named here. . . . Paul makes it clear that applauding and encouraging indulgence in sin is a serious aspect of the depravity of the Gentile world. The word means ‘to be pleased along with, to consent with, to give approval to, to applaud.’ Paul uses this very word to describe his participation in Stephen’s death, though he did not throw any stones (Acts 22:20; see Acts 8:1). What makes this so evil is well described by Cranfield: ‘Those who condone and applaud the vicious action of others are actually making a deliberate contribution to the setting up of a public opinion favourable to vice, and so to the corruption of an indefinite number of other people’ (I:135). The best modern example of this is the plethora of movies, TV programs, books, musicians and entertainers in general who openly and brazenly promote all the forms of ungodliness and wickedness described here, and more” (I:168).
To the list in this last sentence we can add journalists, bloggers, sports writers, athletes, politicians, comedians, and talk show hosts, along with any others who “not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (v. 32b, NIV).
I have said elsewhere that there is a difference between having homosexual tendencies (i.e., “being” homosexual) and living a homosexual lifestyle (i.e., engaging in homosexual behavior). The latter is sinful; the former is not. I do not know for sure into which category Mr. Collins falls. If the former, God bless him. I think it is safe to say, though, that if he were simply confessing that he is a non-practicing homosexual, he would not be attracting all the praise and attention that is being heaped upon him by our pagan culture.
We all need to be conscientious regarding our attitudes toward sin. It is indeed important to avoid sins themselves. But how often do we find ourselves laughing at others who indulge in sins, or joking about sinful behavior—whether in real life or in fiction? How often do we catch ourselves being nonchalant and unconcerned about the ever-expanding cesspool of evil that threatens to inundate our world? To be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16) includes hating sin with the same passion that God hates it.

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  1. brother Cottrell-I cannot thank you enough for your honesty and courage in exegetical,doctrinal and ethical scholarship.Your loyalty to ‘the faith once for all delivered to the saints’has been very encouraging to many of us.May God grant you more years and good health to continue in research and writing.From my perspective you are a true theologian and greatly needed.

  2. Dr. Cottrell,

    Thanks for your latest blog post on “Applauding and Abetting Evil”. It is most timely.

    Would you be willing to shine a little light on the current rage in Christian thought; that all sin is equally sin; that there is no sin greater than another, therefore homosexuality is no worse, say, than gluttony? Does not this type of thinking soften our aversion to even more deeply abominable behavior, such as bestiality or necrophilia?

    These are issues that we are currently facing and I need to think biblically about such things. How do you love the practicing homosexual, who claims to be a brother, redemptively? It seems that the restorative point of church discipline is lost in our current church culture, and any such action is simply viewed as intolerant, hypocritical and hateful. They will simply find themselves a church who will embrace and love them for who and what they are.

    • There is indeed a hierarchy of sins, with some being worse than others. We know this because some commandments are more important than others (Matt. 22:38; 23:23), and because there are degrees of punishment or suffering in hell (Matt. 10:15; 11:22-24; Luke 12:47-48; James 3:1). On the issue at hand, it may be relevant that in Romans 1 Paul specifically singles out homosexualism (male and female) for comment (vv. 26-27), while just naming a host of other sins. We should remember, though, that all sin is anomia (lawlessness, 1 John 3:4), and every sin is worthy of punishment (James 2:10). All who are accepted into the church are sinners, but one of the requirements or conditions for salvation is repentance. This includes an admission that we are sinners, a renunciation and hatred of all sin, and a sincere desire and a deliberate effort to be rid of sin in our lives. Salvation is salvation from sin; in our hearts we must renounce either sin or salvation.

      • Thank you for your response and clarification on this matter. It is growing more and more difficult to stand unwaveringly for truth when the lines of morality have been so blurred and skewed.

        May God give us grace to stand lovingly, yet courageously in the face of fierce opposition. And may I not stand smug in self-righteousness, knowing the depths of my own sin.

        It is helpful to be reminded that each of us must “renounce either sin or salvation.” Quite sobering, as daily we seek to die to self and self-will.


  4. Thanks Brother …
    We need to pray that these caught up in this sin find the TRUTH and be set free. Dave <

  5. Bro. Cottrell, I feel I want to let you know that a book of yours I read about 30 years ago has percolated in my mind and spirit over the years, and gradually has caused a complete revolution in my spirituality. That book is “Being Good Enough In’t Good Enough”. It is amazing to me how the absolute simplicity of the main point of book I could have missed throughout my entire Christian life up to that point. Since then I have discovered some ramifications of the premise of that book that are entirely contrary to many practices in churches. I was scared to try them, but a very small group of men and myself have been “boasting in our weaknesses” and have developed a deeper fellowship in the church than I ever thought possible. I’d like to share with you what I have discovered (nothing in it is really new, it just feels that way). I am writing a “Grace Manifesto” in which I hope to outline where the premise of your book has taken me. If you are interested I can send it to you when I’m done with it.

  6. Thank you Mr. Cottrell,
    Yesterday was the National Day of Prayer in which we prayed for godly men and women to influence the nation through the media. I agree the media and the television is a big part of our problem. It does not show this behavior as a sin. Innocent shows that my husband and I used to enjoy are now having women kissing women or men kissing men. Children are still up!! (needless to say we do not watch them any more)

    We prayed families, where godly values are being pushed aside. Parents need to take the vows they said to heart and remember the values of God to teach their children. They can not leave it to the Church alone. We also prayed for godly influence in our Government, our Military, those teaching our children (Education), our economy and our Business leaders. We also prayed for our Churches and the Church Leaders to spread the Gospel and teach the Bible.

  7. Thank you for your thoughts and wisdom. I have come to realize that our words are most likely never going to convince people of the truth. What we really need to do in response to homosexualism, as well as any other sin, is to quote scripture. When we use our own words, we are accused of hating and judging. If we use scripture, it is God who is speaking to the sinner.

  8. Dr. Cottrell,

    I always appreciate your insights. I find that the battle I wrestle with is not whether or not homosexuality is wrong, but as a believer how do we respond to the World. Lets face it anytime a Christian post something on social media it seems to stir up division and arguments and accusations of Christians as people who hate homosexuals. Posting on facebook that homosexuality is sin seems to never gain a hearing. I am not advocating that we not stand for truth but I wonder if this is a better approach, or that we should not air things on facebook or twitter. Ultimately the gospel offends but I wonder if many times we offend when we don’t have to and forget to love. Clever arguments and reason no longer seem to be enough because we are so closed to truth as a society. I want to find ways to reach out to the homosexual community and love them and through that love share Jesus with them. My social media post does not seem to change them but the Holy Spirit can. Just looking for some direction.

  9. Thanks for the clear words of truth. I also think we all need to reach out and encourage ESPN to support analyst Chris Broussard, who is now being persecuted for also speaking clear words of truth. I sent the following to ESPN.

    “I am one avid ESPN fan who greatly appreciated both the message & spirit of tolerance in which Chris Broussard responded to what appeared a ‘gotcha question.’ Surely, all reasonable people, even those who strongly disagree with his personal convictions, will support his right to share them when asked. I’d prefer ESPN, focus on the wonderful diversion that is sports, but if you must report on controversial moral, social & political issues please do so with fairness and balance.”

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