Romans 1 and the Mind

By Landon Jones

Romans 1:18-32 are some of the most profound verses in all of Scripture. In it the wrath of God as it relates to the unbelieving world is underscored. God’s justice in his dealings with incessant disobedience is part of the glory of God. The justice of God is a picture of the divine nature itself, and it is what causes God’s love and grace to shine brighter. In other words, divine justice is part of God’s essential being. Justice and righteousness go hand in hand, and if God lacked either, he would not be God.

In these verses, Paul places special emphasis on God dealing with disobedience. As a just God, He hates sin. But how exactly is God’s hatred of sin made manifest? Paul makes plain that God’s holy revulsion against both the sinner and his sin expresses itself within the man’s mind. First, I would make the case that verses 18-32 refer to the unbelieving world as a whole and not only to pre-law or post-law gentiles. Verse 18 implies that God’s wrath is an ever-present, all-pervasive reality that is revealing itself against “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Rom. 1:18). Wrath is a right-now reality, not something that is merely eschatological. Since unbelievers from all times and places are, by definition, unrighteous and ungodly (“none is righteous, no, not one” Rom. 3:10), it follows naturally that those described in verses 18-32 are characteristic of unbelievers everywhere. The Holy Spirit inspired these words that we as believers may know more of the nature of unbelievers as a whole, not merely the nature of unbelievers of a particular time. Therefore, we may also know more of this dreadful, faithless condition which God has graciously freed us from through his own Son’s blood. By these words we may know more of the greatness of God and our own salvation. We see that while God has given some over to their sin (Rom. 1:24; 26; 28), yet He has given us over to the Savior (John. 10:29). In both of these “givings” God remains entirely righteous. God may before their conversion give His elect over to sin for a time, but He certainly will not leave them there. They are foreknown, loved, and treasured by a God who, like His love, has neither beginning or end. They will most certainly receive and embrace Christ by faith at the exact moment that the Father has ordained for them to do so.

The first instance of God’s judgment on man is in the first verse of this unit: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). Sinners suppress the truth in unrighteousness as a result of God’s wrath against them. Truth is what is being shunned and suppressed. God’s wrath is immediately and particularly targeted at the mind, the intellect of the unrepentant. Truth is understood in the mind before it is felt in the heart. Therefore, God’s judgment on the mind in turn prevents truth’s ability to affect the heart. Man’s heart is why he is in trouble with his Creator. The lost persons deepest and most serious problem is his own rebellion against and hatred of the holy God that made him. Or as Paul says, it is this lack of honoring and giving thanks to God despite having received a God-given, crystal clear picture of His own nature as perceived through the creation (Rom. 1:20). Verse 21 confirms this same idea of how the head leads the heart. Because they did not honor the God they knew, “they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21). The pattern is the same. Their mind, their “thinking” is corrupted, and this inevitably leads to the corruption and darkening of the heart. A bad heart is always the product of a bad mind. The overflow of the heart dictates the course of the mouth (Matt. 12:34), and it is surely true that from the overflow of the mind and what it believes and understands will determine the condition of the heart.  

The last and most severe manifestation of God’s wrath lashed out upon man and his mind is found in verse 28: “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Rom. 1:28). Here they are guilty of ignoring and neglecting the true God and preferring various idols in exchange for both the glory of God and the truth about Him. By constant disobedience and suppression of God’s clear revelation, they have made themselves doubly undeserving. They have provoked one of the most awful judgments of God that can be experienced on earth: his abandonment. What really makes Hell so dreadful is not the pain of the flames, but the absence of God’s gracious presence alongside the presence of His wrath. That is what’s going on here. Although not Hell itself, they are given a foretaste of Hell whenever God on earth withdraws even more of His restraining grace from them. God’s response to this disobedience is another mind-targeted judgment. They are given over by God to a debased mind to do the things that God hates. The pattern remains: first the mind is influenced, then the heart. God only has to judge the already-evil mind of man to set him on a dark course of a sin-saturated existence apart from the life and goodness of God. Without sinning himself, God judges them by giving them over to commit their desired sins more frequently and freely. It’s important to note that God is passive, not active in this whole interchange. That is to say, God does not actively place evil in their hearts to make them sin more. Their hearts are already evil. Instead, God passively loosens His sin-restraining grip over their lives. This is all He needs to do to complete His judgment. 

The simple antidote to a corrupt mind is the power of the Holy Spirit as it works in one’s mind and heart through the Word of God. The Word of God is the instrument by which God has caused our rebirth. It carries within itself regenerating and sanctifying power. It is the sole and sufficient remedy to every sin problem Romans 1 presents. We are called, therefore, to a “renewing of our minds” and to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”(Rom. 12:2; 2nd Pet. 3:18). We are to think and meditate regularly about God and Christ and the glory of our salvation which is the essence of what is lovely, commendable, excellent, and praise-worthy (Phil. 4:8). And to the end that our hearts would be awakened with strong affections for God, we are exhorted, “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). God knows that more than anything that we need a biblically-saturated mind, which produces a heart that magnifies God. The God-breathed and Holy Spirit-inspired Word is God’s gift to us as the only sufficient antidote that can cure man’s natural enmity against God (Rom. 8:7). With the Scriptures always in our hearts and minds, we will be made more like Him. And that is the believers one true goal.


Landon Jones is a student at ULM with interests in Theological Studies. He has plans to go seminary upon graduation. Follow him on Instagram @_landonjones_.

David Platt – “Shepherd the Flock of God”

1. Do you love your ministry more than you love Jesus?

2. Are you content to care for the congregation that God has entrusted to you?

3. Is pastoring a job for you to perform or a passion for you to fulfill?

4. Are you pridefully concerned about what others think about you or humbly consumed by what God has called you to?

5. Are you driven by what you get in ministry or by what you give in ministry?

6. Is your leadership based on intimidation of others?

7. Is your life worthy of imitation of others?

8. Does the way you pastor make no sense on this earth and total sense in eternity?

Reforming with Ryle

rsz_jc_ryle_2By Evan Knies

John Charles Ryle was born in Macclesfield, Cheshire (1816) and educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. He entered ministry around the year 1841, and served many churches up until his retirement in 1900, when he was aged 83. He died later that year.

Ryle was a minister that wrote many popular gospel tracts in his day, but he is known for his books. His Expository Thoughts on the Gospels are very helpful for young and old ministers alike. He has also written books such as Holiness, Practical Religion, and Light from Old Times. 

Reading Ryle, I have learned two primary things this summer that I’d like to share with you:

1. Ryle pushes you to the text and draws theology from it. 

Ryle writes in a way so that the Christian reader must rest in the Scripture. His examples in Holiness are straight from biblical examples (i.e. Lots wife). Ryle was a minister who rested in the sufficiency of Scripture because he rested in a sufficient God.

2. Ryle points to the martyrs as an example for the Christian life. 

In Light from Old Times, Ryle allows the martyrs to speak for themselves. They suffered and died because of what they believed. Ryle has written this work to encourage the church on its mission in declaring the truths of the gospel of grace. Ryle has a chapter on “Why the Reformers were Burned,” the conclusion is that they were burned because of their view of the Lord’s Supper:

“The end of Rowland Taylor’s weary imprisonment came at last. On the 22nd of January 1555, he was brought before the Lord Chancellor, Bishop Gardiner, and other Commissioners, and subjected to a lengthy examination. To go into the details of all that was said on this occasion would be wearisome and unprofitable. The whole affair was conducted with the same gross unfairness and partiality which characterized all the proceedings against the English Reformers, and the result, as a matter of course, was the good man’s condemnation. To use his own words, in a letter to a friend, he was pronounced a heretic because he defended the marriage of priests, and denied the doctrine of transubstantiation. Never let it be forgotten in these days, that the denial of any corporal presence of Christ’s body and blood in the elements of the bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper, was the turning point which decided the fate of our martyred Reformers. If they gave way on that point they might have lived. Because they would not admit any corporal presence they died. These things are recorded for our learning.” – pg. 109-110 (Light From Old Times) 

May we learn from these martyrs the importance of doctrine, and also the sanctity of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Doctrine matters. In a day where doctrine seems to go by the wayside, we can read first and foremost our Bibles and see that martyrs died because of what they believe about Jesus (Acts 7, Hebrews 11). We also learn from Ryle that men before us, many reformers especially, died because of important doctrinal issues. This should cause us to think more deeply about what songs we sing on Sundays, what books we hand out, etc. Doctrine is not dead. Orthodoxy did not die at the cross. But the cross influences orthodoxy. Sound doctrine is tied up in Paul’s Statement, “I wish to know nothing but Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2)”. To say you don’t desire sound doctrine, you don’t desire Christ. What you believe matters.

From the works of Ryle, we are able to see the importance of preaching, ordinances of the local church, deaths of martyrs and a clear gospel. I am thankful to God for men like Ryle who have helped the church long past their life here on earth.

Friends, you only get one life and it will soon pass. Only what is done for Christ will last!


Evan Knies (B.A., Boyce College) and his wife Lauren are originally from Louisiana. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is serving as as student pastor at Bullitt Lick Baptist Church. You can follow him on Twitter at @Evan_Knies.