A Reprobate Mind
The beauty of Holy Scripture is the way its timeless truth is relevant today despite being written down centuries ago. Romans 1:18-32 is a classic example.
The doctrinal section of Romans (chs1-8) is bookended by two references to “the mind.” In chapter one it is the “reprobate mind” of ungodly men. But the power of the gospel effects a change in the mind, and in chapter 8 we are introduced to a “new man” who walks not after the flesh but after the Spirit. He is “spiritually minded,” which is “life and peace.” Chapter 1 exposes a reprobate Gentile mind, chapter 2 examines the religious Hebrew mind, and God exclaims His global verdict on every mind as “guilty” in chapter 3 (v19).
I met a Jewish man recently in Oxford whose marriage had broken up and he is now in a relationship with a man. He once read the Torah but today rejects Jehovah, claiming to be an atheist. Though never saved, he clearly had some light in the past but his heart and mind were now obviously darkened. He refused any literature, and it was clear from our conversation that his acknowledging the existence of God would have been a major obstacle to pursuing his sinful lifestyle. A rejection of God is always the antecedent to moral decline, and it is shocking how rampant this moral decline is; Sodom is knocking on the doors of our homes and schools. Romans 1 charts at least three stages that lead to a “reprobate mind,” punctuated three times with the phrase “God gave them up/over.” This mindset may account for so little response to the gospel yet highlights the need for preaching the gospel. In verses 18-19 the righteous wrath of God hovers over humanity as the unavoidable consequence of sin, but God’s wrath is never without holy and heavenly reason. The details for the sad reason are outlined in verses 20-32.
The Heart Darkened (vv20-23)
This passage teaches us that creation leaves men without excuse. Romans 1 mentions three ways in which God’s power is manifested: in His Son (v4), in the gospel (v16) and in creation (v20). The point in chapter 1 is that the Gentile mind rejects whatever light God gives, beginning with a revelation of God in the created universe, which cannot save a man but leaves him without excuse. The mind, having both an instinctive conscience and consciousness of God, will either worship or reject the Creator. While heathen nations historically may be in view, the mindset of our nation today is increasingly heathen, and those who have never heard the gospel are evidence of the darkness into which people have descended through rejecting God. While men boast in their creative power claiming God is not necessary, this is to wilfully ignore the evidence in creation. The visible heavens declare the glory of an unseen Creator (Psa 19:1). It is important to note the repetition of “declare” and “uttereth.” The unseen atoms utter, “God created us,” yet are harnessed by ungodly men to produce a visible atomic energy supply void of God’s glory. Man is left without excuse for his gross sins and cannot excuse his behaviour on the grounds he didn’t know God existed.
A wilful rejection of the Creator results in a people empty in their imaginations so that their foolish hearts and minds are robbed of any light and become darkened (v21). Adam began with a knowledge of God, but when sin entered, humanity quickly descended into darkness. Although professing to be wise, academic pride and human knowledge without God has only led to greater spiritual darkness. These people are described as fools in verse 22 and in Psalm 14:1. While the Hubble telescope may have given us unprecedented powers of observation, the heart of man is darker than ever because the mind does “not like to retain God in their knowledge” (v28).
Richard Dawkins said, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” He is placing God on the same level as the Greek gods of mythology, a bird or four-footed beast or one of the 330 Hindu gods, just as those described in verse 23 were doing. Mr. Dawkins had an “Anglican upbringing,” a knowledge of the existence of God as Creator, but chose atheism in his early teens after learning about Darwin’s theory of evolution. He chose not to retain God in his knowledge.
What a contrast to the great minds of science in the past who were thankful and did glorify God. Sir Isaac Newton, who was a pioneer of modern physics and discovered the laws of gravity and motion, said, “I have a fundamental belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by men who were inspired. I study the Bible daily.”
Man was made in the image and glory of God and distinguished by gender – male and female – but the darkened heart wants to change the glory of God into something else; therefore, the body is the next object of attack.
The Body Dishonoured (vv24-27)
The statement “God gave them up” indicates the sad consequences of a wilful abandonment of God (v24). The restraining hand of God’s grace is removed according to His righteous wrath (v18) so that men suffer the consequences of their free choice energised by the unbridled “lusts of their own hearts.” This does not mean God has given up on man, but the purpose is that man may be brought to repentance. Sin dishonours the body, and while every sin may not be found in every person, the seeds of every sin are in every mind.
In verse 25, those with a reprobate mind believe that their body is their own and can be used for anything they want as long as it gives pleasure. Dawkins strongly argues for a genetic basis for homosexuality and postulates that the gene was preserved through various social and cultural processes. This is changing the truth of God into a lie so that sin can be justified by genetics rather than judged by a holy God who Paul says is “blessed forever.” Man either blesses the Creator or rejects Him and worships the creation.
“The Greeks and the Romans, while producing some brilliant minds, did not condemn homosexuality. Even Plato, the great Greek mind, practiced it.”
The Greek word for affections is the word pathos, an area where God’s restraining hand is removed so that the emotions and feelings of the darkened heart have no light to steer the affections within God-given parameters (v26). The body then indulges in what God calls “vile” practice. The word “vile” means “a disgrace,” and this sin is an exchange of the natural for the unnatural.
The disgraceful practice of sexual relationships between men who have abandoned divine order is condemned in verse 27 because “men leave the natural use of the women.” God said that “a man should leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife” (Gen 2:24).
One reason underpinning the LGBT movement is the wholesale rejection of God, and Paul says such behaviour is an object of the righteous wrath of God. Some who claim to be Christian yet feel free to engage in such behaviour only prove the darkness of the mind that attempts to change the truth of God into a lie to allow the pursuit of their vile affections. The use of the body in such a vile way has grave repercussions for the mind: the mind becomes depraved.
The Mind Depraved (vv28-32)
We have the phrase “God gave them over” repeated for a third time (v28), and Romans 1 closes with a further catalogue of 23 sins that reveal there is no area of life that is not affected by a rejection of the Creator. The word “reprobate” means rejected or of no use. This is a mind that cannot tell right from wrong because of judicial blindness.
The idea of being filled (v29) is the same word used in Ephesians 5:18 where the believer is to be filled with the Spirit, meaning “to be controlled.” The reprobate mind has lost its moral compass and the 23 sins Paul lists are common in our day. This depravity permeates the moral fabric of society from the governments and policy makers all the way into the home, resulting in disobedience to parents and, in some countries, the prohibition of disciplining our children. Schools actively encourage children to open their minds to an anti-God agenda and identify as whatever they want to be.
The evidence of degeneration in the reprobate mind is not only seen in the wilful pursuit of sin but also in deriving pleasure in both the sin and in those who are likeminded participants. Even when conscience and Scripture warn of the wages of sin, the reprobate mind persists, loving “darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (Joh 3:19).
Romans 1 paints a sad picture, but it is against this dark landscape that the power of the gospel is able to penetrate the darkest of minds and transform the sinful mind into a spiritual mind, all because “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.
 Dr. Jack L. Arnold, The Consequences of Rejecting Light at thegospelcoalition.org.