Grace For The Journey
How utterly sinful can man get? The answer to that is in Romans 1:28-32, our passage for study today. The surprising thing about it is that God’s description of utter sinfulness would include many people in our society that receive respect and honor. That is evidence that our society is in great need to hear the Gospel message.
Remember that Paul gives the clearest theological presentation of the gospel of God anywhere in the Scriptures in the book of Romans. Paul introduces the theme for the book in verses 16 and17 stating, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it [the] righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous [man] shall live by faith.”
The gospel message is about the righteousness of God, especially in His bringing salvation to those who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, you cannot understand this righteousness or what salvation is about unless you first understand what you were saved from. Paul explains that in chapters 1:18-3:20. We are saved from sin and God’s righteous wrath upon it.
Some might argue that God would be unjust if He held them responsible for what they did not know. Paul explains in verses 18-20 that this excuse will not hold up for they did know enough, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made,
so that they are without excuse”
Others might argue that they are already good enough to go to heaven, or that their good deeds were more than their bad deeds, so God will let them in. Paul destroys those arguments too. He demonstrates the righteousness of God in His condemnation of the unrighteous and that everyone is unrighteous. Those who are obviously immoral are unrighteous (1:21-32). Those who think themselves to be moral are also unrighteous because they do not meet God’s standard and they fail to even keep their own (2:1-16). Those who are religious are also unrighteous because they also fail to meet God’s standard or to keep the one they claim to be following (2:17-29). The final conclusion is that every person is unrighteous before God. There is not even one person who seeks God on their own (Romans 3:10-12).
God is righteous in His condemnation of man, but God is also loving, gracious, and merciful; and He has made a way for His justice to be met and for man to be saved from His sin at the same time through faith in Jesus Christ.
The past few weeks we have looked at man’s slide into ever greater sin here in chapter 1. This is the natural and logical consequence of man’s actions with the truth God has given to him. As verse 18 points out, men suppress the truth in unrighteousness. They willingly and purposely set themselves against the truth God has revealed in order to keep the knowledge of it to a minimum. Even so, all men are still without excuse because God’s revelation of Himself just in the works of creation alone are so
overwhelming. They demand that man acknowledge that there is a Creator who should be sought.
But as verse 21 points out, even though man knew God, he refused to honor or give thanks to Him for who He is. Instead, man sought to understand the world according to his own thoughts, but when truth is shut out, all that is left is futile speculation. They may be always learning, but they are never able to come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:6) because they already excluded the truth from consideration. As I pointed out in a previous study, that is the fundamental error in evolution and other worldly philosophies.
When a person turns from glorifying God and giving thanks to Him, they are turning from truth to futile speculation. This is the first step into evil. If truth no longer controls, it can only get worse, and since people are proud, they profess to be wise in their futile speculations when the truth is that they have become fools.
Now in saying they have turned from the truth, I am not saying that man cannot figure some things out for Himself. However, since his mind is given over to futile speculations, he will mix what truth he may hold with error. The idolatry that Paul points out in verse 23 is an example of that. There is still acknowledgement that there must be something more powerful than man that controls things, but instead of turning to the Creator to glorify Him, they turn to the things God has made and worship them.
I have previously pointed out the absurdity of idolatry. Isaiah 40, 44, and 46 speaks of this. It is absurd for man to worship something that cannot speak, has to be carried from place to place, and either held in place with chains or carefully made so that it does not fall over. Yet men pray to this object to deliver them from harm! They take part of a hunk of wood and burn it to keep warm, part of it they cook their meal over, and part of it they carve into something which they then worship. It is utter silliness, yet man has commonly done this throughout the ages even into our own time. This also opens the door for demons to become the source of power in their idolatry which will blind and entrap them even more (1 Corinthians 10:20).
Few people in our society that are involved in such blatant idolatry as was practiced in the ancient world, but idolatry does commonly exist in our society in the form of materialism, the pursuit of fame, and/or power. Anything you value as more important than God is an idol.
God’s judgement for this is to “give them over.”
This judgement occurs three times in this chapter and each time it is to something worse . . .
- In verse 24 it is to the lusts of their hearts in uncleanness to the dishonoring of their bodies.
- In verse 26 it is to degrading passions.
- In verse 28 it is to a depraved mind.
God’s care and protection for usually taken for granted. However, the truth is that it is God’s restraining hand that keeps people from becoming as evil as they could be. God’s judgement here is His moving back His restraining hand and yielding to let the person get their own way. They will then suffer the natural consequences of their own sin. The purpose would be to let the pain of the results of their sin cause them to turn back, but when they do not turn, the hand is moved farther back and the person is
allowed to fall farther into sin with its consequences. In short . . .
God judges a person’s sin
By allowing them to become
Even more sinful with its consequences.
Because man does not properly honor and give thanks to God for who He is, man gives his mind to futile speculation. A result of that is exchanging the glory of God for idols with the consequential judgement of God giving them over to their desires for what is impure. The natural consequence of this is the shameful and sometimes abusive treatment of their own bodies. The body becomes a biological entity like an animal. People pursue whatever makes them feel good regardless of whether it is good for
them or not. They also view other people as pieces of flesh to exploit for their own pleasure.
The spiral continues downward when people exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship and serve what is created instead of the Creator. God judges again and gives them over to degrading passions. Evil desires become increasingly controlling which push the person into activities that are degrading, dishonorable, and shameful. Paul uses homosexuality as the example of this. A practice that has horrible emotional and physical consequences.
But the spiral downward does not stop there. Verse 28 states, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.”
- First, they did not honor God properly.
- Next, they exchanged the worship of God who created them for something created.
- Now they fail no longer see fit to acknowledge God.
The idea here is that they did not approve of retaining God in their knowledge. This does not mean that they are atheists, but it does mean that they refuse to consider the true God, for they have replaced Him with their own false god, gods, or futile speculations of Him.
God’s judgement is to pull His hand back and let their minds further degrade. There is a word play correlation here between their action and God’s judgement of a depraved mind. William G.T. Shedd comments, “As they did not think it worthwhile (after trial) [to consider God], God gave them over to a worthless mind.”
The less they considered God,
The less their minds could
Consider what is morally correct.
They still had intellect, but
There is now a judicial blindness
So that they cannot discern the
Revelation of God even in nature.
Jesus speaks of this in John 12:40 when He applies the statement of Isaiah 44 to the Pharisees, “He has blinded their eyes, and He hardened their heart; lest they see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, and be converted, and I heal them.” The rejecting minds become the rejected minds.
Since they now have morally depraved, or reprobate minds, they are inclined to do those things which are improper. Paul then lists in verses 29-32 many of these improper things. These are the things that reveal a depraved mind.
Characteristics of a Depraved Mind
The first several of the characteristics and actions Paul describes here in verses 29-32 are of a general nature followed by more specific sins. It is important to note that a person does not have to have all of these characteristics to demonstrate they have a depraved mind. One or two is sufficient, but as we go through them you will see that where one characteristic exists, there are usually several others that go along with
it. It is also important to note that these are descriptions that would characterize the individual. The Christian is capable of sinning in these areas too, but the Christians’ life will not be characterized by them, and the Christian will be seeking to overcome them.
“Unrighteousness.” We saw this word earlier in verse 19, and it is the general characteristic that has led the person into their descent into evil. “Unrighteousness” is a general term for all conduct which is in conflict with the standards God has set. God’s standards are based on His own character, and so a rejection of them is also a rejection of God, and a rejection of God will necessarily lead to a rejection of His standards.
Those with an unrighteous mind
Will also have unrighteous behavior.
“Wickedness, sexual immorality.” This is a general term of wrong conduct directed toward others. When God and His standards are rejected, then conduct towards other people will degenerate into evil. Paul add in here “porneia” which is sexual immorality. This is something Paul has already used as examples of what happens when people are given over either to “the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (verse 24) or to “degrading passions” (verse 26). In rejecting God’s standards for the husband and wife relationship, they descend into perverse and shameful sexual activities.
“Covetousness, greed.” This term is not limited to a quest for money, but is a
general term for the desire to gain for one’s self, usually what others have. It is the particular sin forbidden in the tenth commandment (Exodus 20:17). Paul equates it with idolatry in Colossians 3:5 because it is a quest to satisfy personal desires in preference to fulfilling God’s will. Greed is not content with what God provides.
“Evil disposition, maliciousness, evil.” his term is the antithesis of the “good” which characterizes God. It is often used as a synonym for “wickedness.” This word puts the emphasis on the evil disposition of the person and on the actions carrying out that disposition.
“Full of jealousy, envy.” The terms Paul uses now become more specific. This is the specific outworking of coveting in specifically wanting what someone else has. Here, Paul specifically says that they are “full of envy.” It characterizes them. The word for “envy” has its root in the idea of “wanting to be first.” The Bible warns Christians that envy is something that would have characterized us in our foolish state before becoming Christians (Titus 3:3), but that we are to set it aside along with other evils and pursue knowing and walking with Christ (1 Peter 2:1ff). God is first in all things, but envy replaces Him with self as the priority.
Envy is foolish among Christians because it is based in thinking that other people are not as important than you. But in Christ, our importance is bound up completely in Him and what we are and what we accomplish is based in how He gifts us and uses us (1 Corinthians 12). Within the body of Christ, every person is important for we are all part of one another in Him. If you succeed, then I also succeed as part of the same body. If I succeed, then you also succeed as part of the same body. We are all on the same team and it is the team that counts. Your joy is to be my joy and my joy is to be your joy and likewise our sorrows. Christians are to consider others as more important than ourselves (Philippians2:3), and that removes the basis of envy.
“Murder.” This is the taking the life of another human without just cause. It is the sixth commandment (Exodus 20:13). James 4:2 comments on this, “You lust and do not have; [so] you commit murder.” 1 John 3:15 equates hatred with murder because that is its basis. Hatred wants what displeases to be removed from its presence. Murder makes that removal permanent. This is the supreme act of selfishness. However, murder is primarily an attack against God for man is made in God’s image
(Genesis 9:5-6) which is why God commanded the death penalty for those that commit murder.
“Strife.” Strife and murder are closely related because strife is only one step below murder and can easily lead to it. Again James 4:2 says, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; [so] you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; [so] you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.” Strife is the result of discontentment with what God provides and His justice. It takes matters into its own hands to forcefully gain what it wants.
Deceit, treachery.” This is a more subtle way to carry out strife. Instead of open blows, craftiness and guile are used to get a person to think one thing while actually doing something else. Deceit freely mixes truth with lies to accomplish its objectives. Deceit is a reject of God’s holiness, honesty, and truth. Revelation 21:8 is a stern warning for those who practice deceit for it states that the part of all liars will be in the lake that runs with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
“Malice, evil-mindedness, evil disposition.” This is the outward manifestation of “wickedness.” It is conscious and intentional wickedness. It is evil done for the sake of evil. It is a fitting summary of what is behind our next two words.
“Gossip, whisperers.” The Bible warn about gossip and instructs us to not associate with them (Proverbs 20:19). Gossips are quick to hear and tell negative information about others. The term here means “whisperers,” and that is its main characteristic. It is quietly spreading information to others that would be embarrassing to say out loud. Whether the information is true or not, this characteristic of whispering shows that gossip is meant to belittle or denigrate the one being talked about. Christians need to be up front and honest. If you cannot speak openly about a person, then that is
probably a good indicator that you don’t need to speak about them at all. If the person is involved in a sin, then go talk with them and help them deal with it. There is no need to talk with someone else except to get counsel on how to deal with the person in sin. The old adage is true. If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.
“Slander, backbiters.” Whereas gossip is “whispered,” “slander” is not so secretive. The idea of the word is “to speak evil against someone, and the speech may well include exaggerations or outright lies.” It seeks to tear the other person down through scorn, mocking, reviling or false charges. This is part of the ninth commandment to not bear false witness. This is the opposite of the commandment to Christians to love even in our speech. Ephesians 4:29 expresses the manner in which Christians are to speak – “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such [a word]
as is good for edification according to the need [of the moment,] that it may give grace to those who hear.” Slander and back-biting is common among the unsaved simply because they have rejected God and His standards (James 4:11). Those who stand in the way of what they want should not be surprised to be slandered. We who are Christians should expect to be slandered, but our response and behavior must remain godly (Matthew 5:10-12; 1 Peter 3:12; 4:16).
“Haters of God.” This is a simple compound word combining “God” and “hateful.” While we might want to reserve this just for the person that defiantly shakes their fist at God, the truth is that this is the general underlying characteristic of the non-Christian. They willing suppressed the truth God revealed to them because they hate Him and all that characterizes Him because it leaves them guilty. The Bible says in Romans 8:7, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile toward God.” They hate His holiness, because it reveals their unholiness. They hate His goodness because it reveals their evil. They
hate His justice because it leaves them responsible and condemned. They hate His sovereignty because it reveals their dependence. They even hate His grace & mercy because it excludes their own efforts. The proof of this hatred of God is both the false religions and cults that create gods to man’s own liking, and the blood of Christian martyrs shed throughout the centuries.
“Violent.” This is stronger than just the attitude suggested by the words used to translate it. It is a word that characterizes the persecution of Christians as a revolt against God. It is the outflow of hatred of God towards those that worship and follow Him. It includes both the insulting mockery, reviling, slander, and contempt that is expressed toward those who follow God, and their physical abuse.
“Arrogance, proud.” As already stated back in verse 22, though they suppressed the knowledge of God and became futile in their speculations and had their foolish hearts darkened, yet they professed to be wise. Such is the arrogant pride of the unsaved. Though they do not understand the things of God, they have an inflated opinion of themselves and look down on others. They are haughty. Their error is serious because God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).
“Boasters.” This is boasting in the sense of vanity. It is similar to pride, but not as strong. As one commentator put it, “the proud are too proud to be vain.” These are people who make claims beyond their ability. A good example of this is in James 4:13-17, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are [just] a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, [you ought] to say, ‘If the Lord wills,
we shall live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows [the] right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.”
“Inventers of evil.” It is not enough that they follow the evilpractices of others, but they create their own too. They may not be as bad as the people of Noah’s day whose every intent of the thoughts of their hearts were only evil continually (Genesis 6:5), but they are headed in that direction. The evil they had been practicing no longer satisfies, so they develop new ways to carry out even greater evils. We can easily identify this trend in our own society as we compare what is openly practiced today with what was practiced in society just 10, 20, 30, or 40 years ago. Such people exploit what are wonderful new technologies for the purposes of evil.
“Disobedient to parents.” This is self-explanatory, yet surprises most people that it is included in the list because the current generations have become so accustomed to children being disobedient that they think it is normal. It is not normal and contrary to
what is even natural. God takes this sin seriously, so much so it was included as the fifth commandment. The penalty for flagrant disobedience to parents was death (Exodus 21:15,17). Parents who do not teach their children to obey them are teaching them to disobey God.
“Undiscerning, without understanding.” This same word was used in verse 21 to describe what happens to the state of the heart when God is not properly honored and thanked. It becomes “darkened” or “without understanding.” This is not a reflection on their intelligence itself, for they can be extremely smart people, but rather on their ability to understanding the things of God. To put it bluntly, in the area of morality they are unintelligent. That is the reason why so many people are accepting of and will even argue for what is very clearly moral evil such as abortion, euthanasia, pornography, prostitution, and homosexuality. Their rejection of God and His standards results in moral stupidity.
“Untrustworthy, disloyal, covenant breakers.” Because they no longer have a foundation for morality, they do not keep their word. They break the covenants or contracts they have made. Again we clearly see this in our own society. A couple of generations ago when Christianity had a greater influence on American society, a man’s word was binding. In current times with our society turning its back on the God of the Bible, even detailed contracts are hard to enforce.
“Unloving, without affection.” The word here is the negation of Greek word (“storge”) which speaks of family love. When the relationship with God is not correct, then everything begins a downhill slide and eventually even the natural affection that exists between family members simply because they are family is also disrupted and destroyed. Again, this has become common in American society as parents and children, brothers and sisters, all turn against each other to gain what they want without consideration of others. Love is destroyed and replaced with the list of evils Paul has already put forth.
“Unforgiving, without mercy, unmerciful.” The final characteristic listed shows the complete self-centered nature the person has descended into. They no longer have compassion on others either in seeking to relieve the distress of others or refraining from causing such distress.
The Bottom of Evil’s Pit.
Paul brings his description to a conclusion in verse 32 by showing the utter depravity that develops when people abandon God and His standards, “And, although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” Paul again points out that ignorance cannot be used as an excuse because people are not ignorant.
As we will see in chapter two, even without the written revelation of God, man
knows the basic things that God requires. Man also knows the penalty for breaking them. Man knows this by his own sense of guilt, the divine punishments they had either seen themselves or heard of, and even from their own false superstitions and laws that still taught them these things were wrong.
Those who still have some morality left will still condemn the sins of others, even if they do the same sins themselves. Such is the case in chapter two. Those in utter depravity no longer condemn, but actually take pleasure in other people committing those sins. Such was the case in the abominations done in the worship of the pagan gods then. Such is still the case today in false religions, cults and even in elements of our secular society and government.
The consequence of turning from God and His standards is a spiral downward into utter depravity. Yet, there is still hope for the power of sin is broken in Jesus Christ. Man can be justified through faith in Jesus Christ and change and live in godliness and righteousness. Which path are you on? The spiral up to holiness, or the spiral down into depravity?
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!