In Romans 1, Paul talks about how people have turned against God. They have actually robbed him of his divinity and worshipped the things he has made instead of him. Starting in verse 24, Paul begins to outline God's response to this offense.
Three times in the passage, Paul says that God "gave them up" (ESV translation) to certain things. The Greek word behind the phrase is used most often in the New Testament in reference to what Judas did to Jesus. What Judas did was betrayal, but primarily it was that he turned Jesus over to the Jewish authorities. The basic meaning of the word is to give someone into the custody of someone else, or to place someone under the authority of another. Paul uses it here to show that God has simply turned people over to the master they have requested--sin. It is not that God perverts them against their will or unbeknownst to them. They have turned against him willingly, so he simply gives them what they want!
When I was an elementary school kid playing midget football, I was pretty stocky. And I was slow. So I got to play offensive lineman. Our coaches gave us this piece of advice, and I've never forgotten it. If your man wants to go to the right, push him to the right as hard as you can. If your man wants to go left, take him right on the way he wants to go. It seems from this passage that God does the same thing--if you want to go down the path of sin, God will send you down that road.
God gave them up to the lusts of their hearts. When they turned away from God, they became more and more impure. The final result was the dishonoring of their bodies. What this means is that an impure attitude about God leads to impure attitudes about our selves. This impure attitude leads in turn to impure actions. The image of God is becoming more and more blurry and marred.
He also gave them up to dishonorable passions. The specific example that Paul chooses is homosexuality. While it is important to be clear that this behavior is sinful, we must not believe it is the sin to end all sins. This particular sin is not the disease, it is just an extreme example of what sin does--it fractures how God made us, it makes us give up our humanity. Sexuality--that we were made male and female--is an integral part of what makes us human. Sin wants to turn that on its ear. Watching porn destroys the humanity of those who participate on both sides of the screen in a similar way.
He finally gave them up to a totally debased mind, totally full of sin. Paul proceeds to name off 21 different sins or sinful dispositions that sin leads us toward. The point is that it is not one certain sin that is a problem--it is an entire nature that is now dominated by sin because the person has turned from God.
Fortunately, Jesus came to liberate us from our own custody. We are dead in our sins--drowned in a sea of our own filth. But by the preaching of the good news that Jesus can save us, he brings us alive. When we hear this word, we can choose to follow him or not. Let him break your chains and save you!