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Paul: Rules of Behaviour or Love Above All? (Romans)

Wonderful to hear theologian N. T. (Tom) Wright say Paul's theology of love is more important than what Paul writes about justice, righteousness, or moral behaviour. He was speaking on the Slow Theology Podcast, also available on YouTube.

Romans 8 acknowledges our present suffering, our groaning, creation groaning, and the Holy Spirit groaning. N. T. Wright relates this to the Israelites groaning in slavery in Egypt as they waited to be freed.

I relate this groaning to the labour of childbirth (Romans 8:22). As a mother, the Holy Spirit groans in giving birth to our new life (John 6:63). Paul talks about the groaning and pains of childbirth as we wait to be born as children of God, freed as heirs with the rights of sons.

The inheritance is not all about going to heaven; it is about being a renewed creation. The story of the Bible is how God comes to dwell on earth to rescue, redeem and renew all creation.

Book Cover: Into the Heart of Romans

N. T. Wright says that Paul is discussing how we will groan, labour, and lament in this life. Lament is a form of worship, a way to bring our mess to God. God laments in the heart of this world by coming as the Spirit to live in us.

N. T. Wright explains that Romans 8:28 is often misunderstood. What it actually says is that God works with those who love him, those who allow the Spirit to work in their hearts, to produce the good fruit that the Spirit desires. This passage is not about salvation; it's about calling humans to groan, lament and labour with the Spirit dwelling in us to give birth to our new life. If the spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, you will have a new life, be a new creation (Rom. 8:9-11).

Our focus should be reading the Gospels, which remind us that God loved us enough to come into our world. If you see Jesus, you have seen the Father. Jesus is the way to know the Father. N. T. Wright says we should put a priority on reading the Gospels because it is through Jesus that we know God. We should not start with a concept of God and squeeze Jesus into our framework. We need to understand Paul's letters through the Gospel message, instead of bending the Gospels to fit into a narrow view of Paul's letters.

Intellectuals and theologians often neglect love or put it as a small piece of ethical Christian living. N. T. Wright says that the love of God is poured into our hearts through the Spirit (Rom. 5:5) and the love of God makes us more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37-39). Nothing can separate any believer from God's love. Breaking barriers between us can only be done by being completely saturated in God's love.


N. T. Wright states that love is over, under, and through all of Paul's letters and by being completely filled with God's love we are able to be united in Christ and break down the barriers between male/female, slave/citizen, and Jew/Gentile (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, 1 Corinthians 12:13).

Unfortunately, N. T. Wright has not followed his theology to its own conclusion and he continues to deny gay equality. His theology would lead to the conclusion of affirming LGBTQ+. When we are saturated in God's love and put a priority on love, that love can break the barriers between heterosexual/ homosexual just as it breaks dividing walls between other people groups. God loves all people. Nothing can separate an LGBT person from God's love. Seeing God through Jesus leads us to see all people with God's love.

In Romans 1, Paul discusses how the Gentiles in Rome "exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural". In Romans, Paul discusses what is 'natural' using the same language he uses in 1 Corinthians 11. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says it is 'natural' for a man to have short hair or a shaved head but 'disgraceful' for a woman to have short hair or a shaved head. We understand that was true in the first century, but does not apply today as a rule that women must have long hair and men must have short hair. Paul contrasts abusive and appropriate couplings using the same culturally specific 'natural' and 'disgraceful' (10). We know that it is natural for a percent of the population to be same-sex-oriented (11).

We know now that some humans are naturally attracted to members of the same gender. For them, it would be unnatural to go against their God-given nature to be with someone of the opposite gender. Paul is warning not to go against your nature. Romans 2 says that if you condemn the Gentiles of Romans 1, you condemn yourself.

Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian, now manages The Reformation Project to equip Christian advocacy for LGBTQ inclusion. He says that in Romans 1, Paul is addressing unrestrained lust, not sexual orientation. Paul argues in Romans 1 that Gentiles are condemned for violating the laws of nature they know through God's creation and in Romans 2, Jews are condemned for violating the Laws of Moses. First-century society thought that heterosexual relations would satisfy a normal appetite, and only insatiable lust would lead to same-sex relations. Paul says people put their salvation at risk if they steal, kidnap, take charge of prostitutes, or use prostitutes. Paul calls out heterosexual and homosexual men who lack self-control and sexually abuse or exploit a weaker partner, a vulnerable woman, or a young boy. He calls out anyone who is promiscuous, abusive, exploitative, or involved in child prostitution or pornography. Exploitive, abusive behaviour is immoral - whether by heterosexuals or homosexuals.

LGBTQ people are affirmed knowing that Romans 8:38-39 is for all people: that nothing can separate us from the love of God. God said, "Let us make man in our image". The plural pronoun comes from Genesis 1:26. Queer Christian Hannah Grace Melia sees the rainbow as both a symbol of God's promise to offer protection and a symbol for the LGBTQ community. Queer and cisgender are both under the protection of God's love.


Elaine Ricker Kelly uses her experiences as a woman in business to inspire and empower women at home, church and society. She was an investment and insurance advisor for thirty years, has three grown daughters, and is passionate about writing to encourage girls and women in leadership. Elaine R. Kelly lives near Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, with her husband and lap dog. She and her husband have hiked the 900 km Bruce Trail and enjoy hiking, nature, tennis, music, history and culture.

Books by Elaine Ricker Kelly:

Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold - biblical fiction offering hope and healing to anyone who feels forgotten, belittled, or out of place.

The Sword: A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on What the Bible Says About a Woman's Role - provides 104 flashcards with an objective, memorable look at the rationale for diverse views on gender roles.

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