A Study of Romans 1:28
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.
In my explanation of verses 24 and 25 I compared the way and development of sin to a smooth and slippery road upon which the sinner slides down to destruction. He is forced down by a power which the apostle described as the revelation of the wrath of God.
God is the doom of the sinner.
For this same reason we may compare the development of sin as described in these last verses of Romans 1 to an organic growth. Sin can never stop. It must continue to work until it has corrupted every relation of life. This is not due only to an inherent power of sin. But it is also due to the fact that God works in sin. God is not the power of corruption. But God is the power that is able to cause the sinner to corrupt himself unto the very end. God works in sin, causing the sinner to go down from corruption to corruption and to destroy himself.
The beginning was that man did not want to glorify and thank God. By that beginning man stands opposed to the ever present and ever living God. The ever present and ever living God stands over against that sinner who will not glorify and thank Him, in His wrath. This wrath pushes the sinner down.
The apostle mentions three stages in this awful process. In the first place, the sinner becomes a religious fool, so that he bows down before an image made like unto corruptible man, and birds, and beasts, and creeping things. When man refuses to glorify and thank God, the first downward step is always that man becomes a religious fool, bowing down before an image. It makes no difference whether he carves this image in wood or stone, as the heathen did, or whether he carves it in his mind, as do the modernists of today.
The second stage, the apostle pictures in verses 24-27. God gave them over, the apostle says, to the stage that makes them lower than the beast.
If a man wants to worship the beast, why should he not become lower than the beast which he worships?
But wrath does not stop with this one sin. Sin does not stop. It goes on until it bears fruit in every relation of life, so that the third stage is that God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.
What this means is described in the following verses. When God gives the sinner over to a reprobate mind, three things happen. In the first place, this sinner becomes filled with all manner of unrighteousness, such as fornication, wickedness, covetousness, and maliciousness. Being so filled with unrighteousness, he becomes filled with all vices, such as envy, murder, deceit, and malignity. The final result is that he begins to act. When God gives men over to a reprobate mind, they become whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, etc.
Is there any hope?
What shall we do in such a world?
Shall we build up institutions of education?
With these institutions of education the world goes to hell.
Shall we reform this world?
With this reformation the world goes to hell.
Shall we have federations?
Men who slide down, when they federate, slide down together.
No, we shall say, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation.”
The mind is man’s moral judgment. It is that faculty of man by which he is able to distinguish between good and evil. It is that faculty of man by which he can distinguish between the truth and the lie, between righteousness and unrighteousness. Not only does the mind distinguish, but also it is that faculty that counsels the will. We might say that the mind is our moral attorney. It tells us what we should do and what we should not do. This is the function of the mind.
Now the text speaks of a reprobate mind. The original uses a word meaning a mind “not approved.” It refers to a mind that has been put to the test and has failed. It is a mind that has been condemned and rejected. It is a mind that does not function properly. The proper function of the mind would be to distinguish between what is good and what is evil. Having distinguished between what is good and what is evil, it is the function of the mind to persuade the will to determine that which is good. The function of the mind is not only to distinguish between good and evil. But the mind is also to persuade the will to determine what is according to the will of God.
A reprobate mind functions perversely. Suppose that one must give testimony in a certain case. A reprobate mind distinguishes between what is the truth and what is the lie concerning this case. But at the same time this mind compiles all kinds of lies and persuades the will to tell that which is the lie. That is a reprobate mind. A reprobate mind is a mind that distinguishes between good and evil, but persuades one to determine that which is evil. Of this mind the apostle is speaking.
To this reprobate mind, God gave man over. This “giving over” is not meant in a passive sense. The word does not mean, “to let go.” God cannot let things go. A God who lets things go, we do not fear. But the word means that God takes the sinner and delivers him up to corruption, or, to change the figure, pushes him down from corruption to corruption.
God is the doom of the sinner.
When the text says that God gave man over to a reprobate mind, that is, when God gave him over to such moral judgment, the meaning is not that God made his judgment corrupt. His judgment is already corrupt. The mind is already corrupt, when man refuses to glorify and thank God. It is already the judgment of a reprobate mind that changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image of corruptible man and of beasts. God had already given him over, when he fell into all kinds of bestiality.
But the text means that God gave man over to bear the fruit of sin to its fullest extent in every relation of life. There is a working of God in man’s soul, in his mind, in his will, in his desires. This working is a working of wrath.
God works in this mind in wrath.
In what way?
He causes this mind to bear all the possible fruits of sin.
What are the possible fruits of sin?
The next verse tells us. God gave man over to a reprobate mind. The result is that he begins to bear every possible fruit of corruption, so that he becomes filled with every possible unrighteousness. He does not become totally corrupt. He was totally corrupt. But he bears every possible fruit of unrighteousness.
When God influences the thistle, it bears fruit. When God influences the good tree, it brings forth good fruit. When He influences the corrupt tree, it brings forth corrupt fruit. When God influences the sinner, he becomes filled with every form of unrighteousness.
What is this?
The text says: fornication; wickedness; covetousness, that is, greed of every kind; and maliciousness, that is, the desire to do someone wrong.
When he has borne this fruit in its general motives, man bears still more fruit. He becomes full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity. Under the influence of God’s wrath, the reprobate mind bears fruit.
So it was with the world of Rome. So it is with the world of today.
If we scratch off a little of the varnish, what do we find?
We find these things. These things are boiling at the fountain heads of the world.
What is the result?
This is expressed in verse 28. Man does things that are unseemly. The inner motives bear fruit in actions. The man that is full of envy, etc., begins to act. What does He do? He does things that are unseemly. Notice that the text says that this is the intended result. God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do things which are not convenient. This is God’s purpose. This is the purpose of His anger. The purpose of God is not to hold the sinner back. The purpose is that the sinner become manifest in all his folly and corruption. If this is to become manifest, the sinner must do things. God will not let the sinner rest until he does things, in order that he may become ripe for judgment and that it may become manifest that God only is good.
They do things that are unseemly, that is, things that do not fit, the apostle says. The emphasis of the text is that these things do not fit with the way God rules things. If put my hand in the fire, God keeps right on working in that fire. The result is that I burn my hand. So God causes man to do things that do not fit with the way He rules things.
What these things are, the apostle mentions in verse 29 and the following verses. Whisperers, the apostle says, that is, people who secretly talk about you; back-biters, that is, wagging of the tongue when you are not present; haters of God, literally in the original, hated of God; despiteful; proud; boasters; inventors of evil things, that is, inventors of things to do evil with; disobedient to parents, that is, setting aside all authority; without understanding; covenant breakers, that is, unfaithful in any relation of life; without natural affection, so that the woman can murder the child of her womb.
This is the result. This was the case in the Roman world. These sins came forth out of that one sin. These sins lie at the bottom of the woe of the world of today. It is these sins that destroy the home, that destroy society, that destroy the world.
What shall we do?
I will go a step farther. These sins are in your heart and in my heart. I do not mean to say that every one of these sins is in the heart of every individual. But all these sins are in the hearts of men in general, so that the one manifests this sin, and the other another sin. These sins are in your heart and in mine.
This is the doom of the sinful world.
God forces it down from corruption and into destruction, into hell.
Why does God do this?
The text explains it.
“Even as,” the apostle says. Even as is the sin, so is the punishment.
Even as what?
What was the sin?
The sin was that they did not like to retain God in their knowledge. That is, they did not want to keep the true knowledge of God in their mind.
They knew God. But they did not want to keep this knowledge of God in their mind. The original uses a strong expression. The original means: they did not think God worthy to keep in mind. They knew God. They considered whether they would keep God in mind. They came to the conclusion that God was not fit to keep in mind.
Did they not know any better?
Was it an error on their part?
No, but they wanted to live in unrighteousness. It was not an intellectual error. It was a moral question. They did not want to keep God in mind.
Even as they did not see fit to keep God in mind, so God gave them over to an unfit mind, to do things that are unfit.
Because it must become manifest that he who does not think God fit to keep in mind must run to destruction.
What shall we do?
Nothing. Not if we want to reform the world.
What shall we do?
We shall conclude that it is hopeless. It is the wrath of God that is at the bottom of it all. It is the wrath of God that is at the bottom even of war, of the present confusion of the world, and of the depression.
What shall we do?
Shall we call a prayer day?
This is folly. Away with all that is of man! From the point of view of man, it is hopeless.
Because it is the wrath of God that takes hold of man and pulls him down into hell. Let us confess that it is hopeless.
What shall we do?
We shall say: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation.”
For what do we need?
We need righteousness; we need holiness; we need a power to snatch us away from the wrath of God. The gospel is a revelation of the righteousness of God, which is by faith in Christ Jesus.
This gospel is a power. It is not an offer. But it is a power. It is a power taking man out of the power of sin and lifting him up into the glory of everlasting life.
Hopeless, from the point of view of man, and of the world!
Full of hope in the cross of Calvary!
The righteous shall live by faith.
By Herman Hoeksema