A Reprobate Mind
Text: Romans 1:28-31
Introduction: Our English word reprobate comes to us from the Latin REPROBATUS, “to reprove, rejected.” Webster defines the word as follows: “to disapprove of strongly; condemn; depraved; corrupt; unprincipled. Often used hyperbolically of a mischievous rogue.”[i] As you can see, it is a very potent word. In fact, the word is rarely used in our day-to-day speech unless we wish to express ourselves in a way that strongly conveys contempt for a person whose behavior we find absolutely offensive. We noted in our last study that Paul lays as much stress on the mental sins of mankind as he does the sensual sins. It is true to say that sensual sins flow out of and are the products of the heart and mind (cf. Matthew 15:19). One of the major theological errors that pervades large sections of the charismatic movement is the gnostic tendency to blame all sin and moral failure on Satan. In light of this, it is significant that the Apostle Paul does not even mention Satan or demons until 16:20 (where Satan is described as the enemy of Christ who strives to destroy the work of Christ). The Apostle, as Schlatter has correctly noted, “rejected speculation that degraded the body of the individual or his sexual desire as the work of Satan.”[ii]
The other major theme of this portion of Scripture is that of divine judgment. God is our judge. Psalm 119:137 declares; “Righteous art thou, O Lord, and upright are thy judgments.” The character of God is what makes all His judgments right. God is what He is, so He is what He should be. The great Puritan preacher William Ames once commented, “Although vain men feign to themselves many notions of righteousness, yet there is no true and real righteousness besides that revealed in God’s Word.”[iii]
If you have seen the movie The Unforgiven there is a line by Clint Eastwood that captures the main thought of Romans 1:32. In response to a remark that a man they had killed had it coming (he deserved what he got), Eastwood said, “We all got it coming.” It is because we don’t realize the infinitely evil nature of all sin that we have a difficult time accepting at face value the teaching of Scripture on the wrath and judgment of a Holy God. The imprecatory Psalms (like 69, 129, and especially 109) have long been considered (even by some Christians) one of the moral difficulties of the Bible.
But long ago Jonathan Edwards, rightly said, “We cannot think that those imprecations we find in the Psalms and Prophets, were out of their own hearts; for cursing is spoken of as a very dreadful sin in the Old Testament; and David, whom we hear oftener than any other praying for vengeance on his enemies, by the history of his life, was of a spirit very remote from spiteful and revengeful…And some of the most terrible imprecations that we find in all the Old Testament, are in the New spoken of as prophetical, even those in the 109th Psalm; as in Acts 1:20…They wish them ill, not as personal, but as public enemies to the church of God.”[iv] As we come to the close of the first chapter of Romans, the Apostle Paul saw no need to vindicate the reputation of God from the charge that He is not acting properly in His judgments. He is just in all that he does.
I. Unmasking the Human Heart: In the last few verses of this chapter, the Apostle concludes his analysis of the human condition with an extended catalogue of sin. “These verses,” writes Boice, “detail what theologians call ‘total depravity,’ and people do not want to hear about that. So many preachers change their message to fit today’s cultural expectations. They speak of our goodness, the potential for human betterment, the comfort of the gospel—without speaking of that for which the gospel is the cure.”[v] Structurally, Paul’s list may be broken down into three parts.
A. Filled with Evil: The participle PEPLEROMENOUS (filled up with) is used to introduce four governing forms of evil.
1. Unrighteousness (cf 1:18): A total disregard for what is right as determined by God.
2. Evil: Absence of moral principle; moral rot.
3. Selfish Greed: This refers to both the lust for wealth and the craving to gratify any kind of lust. The word is used in Colossians 3:5 in reference to idolatry (cf. I Thessalonians 2:5).
4. Depravity: A vicious disposition. The word KAKIA basically refers to the lack of all that constitutes human excellence and contributes to a corruption of others.
B. Full of Bitter Anti-Social Sin: The adjective MESTOUS (to be full of) introduces five words that in act or feeling define envy and two additional terms that underscores the sinfulness of slander.
1. Envy: The green-eyed monster, which is never isolated from other sins.
2. Murder: Acts of violence, which are rooted in premeditation (cf. James 4:1-3).
3. Strife: Wrangling and sharp contention. This produces other maligned actions rooted in hate.
4. Deceit: The attempt to mislead. The word always implies covert activity. The Greek word used here (DOLOS) literally referred to “bait for fish.”[vi]
5. Malice: A disposition to take all things in the worst sense. It denotes a spiteful attitude.
6. Gossips: Whispering detractors. Spreading rumors and putting the worst possible slant on what they hear (cf. James 4:11; I Peter 2:12; 3:16).
7. Slanders: Closely related with the previous term. The word speaks of public denouncement, attempting to bring ruin upon someone by character assassination.
C. Full of Themselves: The final category contains ten expressions that speak of self-serving, self-centered pride and arrogance.
1. God-Haters: This describes their feelings. They are hostile to the concept that God holds them accountable for their actions. It is interesting to note that the word follows that of “slander.” The sin of pride (the sin of the Devil, I Timothy 3:6) will always resent a Sovereign God, as the following term illustrates.
2. Insolent: The Greek word used here is HYBRISTAS. Our word “hubris” is derived from this. This is boastful pride.
3. Arrogant: An attitude rooted in a sense of superiority. The word literally means “to look down on”; to consider others unworthy.
4. Boastful: This is always based on pride. The word means to swagger (cf. II Timothy 3:2; James 4:16).
5. Creative Evildoers: They invent ways of doing evil (cf. Psalm 106:29). They are very productive when it comes to sin.
6. Disobedient to Parents: Their arrogance knows no boundaries. The whole fabric of society is torn when this sin spreads.
7. Senseless: Describes their true condition. They lack understanding. “In every sin there is something both of ignorance and error at the bottom: for, did sinners truly know what they do in sinning, we might say of every sin what the Apostle speaks concerning that great sin, ‘Had they known him, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.’”[vii]
8. Faithless: This does not mean that they do not believe anything, but rather they cannot be trusted.
9. Heartless: Lacking proper affection. It can be seen in our society today in the way the barbaric procedure called partial-birth abortion is touted as a woman’s choice or in the way fathers abandon their families.
10. Ruthless: Without mercy. The word indicates cruelty. “It is significant that, in an epistle that will stress God’s mercy throughout, the list of vices should be rounded off with merciless. This is the very depth of evil. The people who show no mercy can scarcely go lower.”[viii]
II. God’s Judgment: Universally Acknowledged: The heathen possess this knowledge. They are able to discern the fact that their evil deserves to be punished by God. They possess a moral consciousness. Furthermore, they realize that God’s judgments are more than mere temporal discomforts. They deserve (are worthy of) eternal death. Note the Apostle’s point. They know, but this knowledge does not change their conduct. “But knowledge does not liberate him from practicing sin. Knowledge alone does not save him; on the contrary, it renders him guilty, for his knowledge does not prevent him from practicing that which he condemns; furthermore he completes his resistance against the truth not only by not contracting those who practice evil, but by approving them.”[ix]
III. God’s Judgment: It’s Inevitable Demonstration: As certain as effect follows cause, so does punishment follow sin. There is no possible escape from condemnation for those who persist in pursuing unrighteousness (cf. Hebrews 2:3). To practice sin implies deliberation and habit. Note Paul’s language here. The word translated approve in the NIV (the King James Version has have pleasure in) is SUNEUDOKOUSIN. It does not describe simple passive assent or mere acquiescence, but active or hearty approval to act in a certain way (cf. Luke 11:48; Acts 8:1; 22:20; I Corinthians 7:12, 13). The Apostle is speaking of those whose conduct involves a deliberate rejection of the light that God has given them. Furthermore, they actually conspire to spread their wickedness. “The full extent of the rejection of God becomes evident in such an attitude. His judgment is known, yet people are encouraged to pursue evil anyway. Those who encourage others to pursue evil commit a greater evil in that they foment the spread of evil and are complicit in the destruction of others. The hatred of God is so entrenched that people are willing to risk future judgment in order to carry out their evil desires. Once again the text hints that the fundamental sin that informs all others is a refusal to delight in or submit to God’s lordship. God’s wrath is rightly inflicted on those who not only practice evil but find their greatest delight in it.”[x]
IV. God’s Judgment: It is Essential to God’s Character: God is not free to act contrary to His nature. Justice always characterizes God (cf. II Thessalonians 1:6; Hebrews 2:2; Jude 7). God hates sin because He is holy; it is His nature to hate sin. Since God hates sin then He must by His own standard of righteousness punish sin. God’s righteous judgment upon sin is certain, inevitable and universal.
Conclusion: The late “Dr. John Gerstner, Professor Emeritus of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, was teaching about the depravity of man, and to make his point he compared men and women to rats. After he had finished his address there was a question-and-answer period, and someone who had been offended by the comparison asked Gerstner to apologize. Gerstner did. ‘I do apologize,’ he said. ‘I apologize profusely. The comparison was terribly unfair…to the rats.’ He then went on to show that what a rat does, it does by the gifts of God that make it rat like. It does not sin. But we, when we behave like rats, behave worse than we should and even worse than rats. We are worse than ‘beasts’ in our behavior.”[xi] The Apostle began in section (1:18) by stating that sin develops from the neglect of the light. From there it leads to the rejection of the light followed by rebellion against the light—then come all kinds of manifold wickedness. Sin renders us powerless against sin and our guilt and condemnation can be dealt with only by Christ.
[i] Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language: Second College Edition (World Publishing, 1972), p. 1207.
[ii] Adolf Schlatter, Romans: The Righteousness of God, trans. S. S. Schatzmann (Hendrickson, 1995), p. 42.
[iii] As cited in William S. Plumer, Psalms: A Critical and Expository Commentary with Doctrinal and Practical Remarks (rpt. The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), p. 1079.
[iv] John Gerstner, The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards I (Ligonier, 1991), p. 524.
[v] J. M. Boice, Romans: An Expositional Commentary I (Baker, 1991), p. 185.
[vi] Leon Morris points out that the word was used of such stratagems as the Trojan horse. The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans, 1988), p. 96.
[vii] To the Christian reader, especially heads of families, preface to The Westminster Confession of Faith (Free Presbyterian Press, 1983), p. 4.
[viii] L. Morris, p. 99.
[ix] Schlatter, p. 47.
[x] T. R. Schreiner, Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary (Baker, 1998), p. 100.
[xi] As cited in Boice, p. 179.
This $57 billion dollar industry is swallowing peoples worldwide as its revenues exceed that of professional football, baseball, and basketball combined. Statistics reveal that upwards of 40 million American adults regularly visit over 372 million published pornographic web pages. How did we get here?
In the “free love” decade of the 1960s, the New Left refashioned pornography into a new image – the symbol of moral freedom. What was once sold “under the counter” as filth was now celebrated as the literary symbol of liberation from God and His law-word. This refashioning was nothing new. It was but an echo of the liberation theology of the Marquis de Sade . the 19th century pervert de France (1740-1814).
In 1974, R. J. Rushdoony, wrote, “[T]his new pornography, first conceived by Sade – will not be eliminated by moral indignation or by legistlation.” Rushdoony recognized that the roots of pornography in modern culture are essentially religious and must be combated religiously.
In this powerful book Noble Savages (formerly The Politics of Pornography) Rushdoony demonstrates that in order for modern man to justify his perversion he must reject the Biblical doctrine of the fall of man. If there is no fall, the Marquis de Sade argued, then all that man does is normative. Rushdoony concluded, “[T]he world will soon catch up with Sade, unless it abandons its humanistic foundations.”
In his conclusion Rushdoony wrote, “Symptoms are important and sometimes very serious, but it is very wrong and dangerous to treat symptoms rather than the underlying disease. Pornography is a symptom; it is not the problem.” What is the problem? It’s the philosophy behind pornography – the rejection of the fall of man that makes normative all that man does. Learn it all in this timeless classic.