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_.

No Moody Deity: Why the Wrath of God is Unlike the Wrath of Man

By Mathew Gilbert

If you’ve ever seen the movie The Lion King, then you’ll surely remember the scene where Mufasa, king of the lion tribe, gazes out at his entire kingdom with his young son, Simba. Mufasa is trying to help Simba see that one day he will be gone and the kingdom will belong to him. The royal lions are gazing out into their dominion of the African safari, which is marked by a glorious and booming sun shining down. Mufasa’s words are, “Look, Simba. Everything the light touches is our kingdom.” Then, little Simba notices another part of the kingdom that is untouched by the sun. He curiously asks his father, “But what about the shadowy place?” Mufasa responds, “That’s beyond our borders. You must never go there, Simba.”

Romans 1 is much like this scene from The Lion King. The first 17 verses shine with the glorious light of the gospel. However, picking up in verse 18 until the end of the chapter, Paul goes to a very dark place. The first half of Romans 1 is the domain of light we not only want to walk in, but all we want to talk about. The second half of Romans 1 is the domain of darkness we would rather ignore. Indeed, we stay away from this shadowy place in thought and action. But as New Testament scholar Douglas Moo has said, “Only when we have really come to grips with the extent of the human dilemma will we be able to respond as we should to the answer to that dilemma found in the good news about Jesus.”

Romans 1:18-32 really is a shadowy place filled with the wrath of God, the power and curse of sin, idolatry, depravity, and judgment. Paul seems to move from the light of the gospel to the darkness of sin and judgment to answer one question: “Why do we need the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation?”

There are few topics or truths in the Bible that ruffle feathers quite like the wrath of God. Even saying, the wrath of God, sounds scary. It’s not something we like to talk about much. In fact, I’ve heard non-Christians say they could easily believe in a God of love, but they could never believe in a God of wrath. In other words, they can believe in a John 3:16 God, but not a Romans 1:18 God.

The problem with this concern is that the John 3:16 God is also the Romans 1:18 God. There aren’t multiple gods revealed in Scripture. There is only one true and living God revealed in Scripture, and he is both loving and holy. Actually, because he is loving and holy, he pours out his wrath against unrighteousness and the unrighteous. But an important question for us to ask is, “What is the wrath of God?”

Wrath is just an intense word that basically means anger. God is angry at unrighteousness and ungodliness. But it is important to remember that God’s anger is not like our anger. It is possible for us to be angry in a righteous or holy way. For example, it is good to be angry at murder, injustice, and evil of all kinds. But most of the time we are angry in sinful ways. Our motivations and actions fueled by anger are usually sinful.

God is never angry in an unrighteous or sinful way. His anger is pure, holy, and right. It is also wrong to think about God’s wrath as the attitude and action of a moody deity. God doesn’t have mood swings or a temper. Instead, in the words of John Stott, “God’s wrath is his holy hostility to evil, his refusal to condone it or come to terms with it, his just judgment upon it.”

God’s righteousness is the origin of his wrath. If he did not hate and destroy that which is unrighteous, he would rob himself of glory and his people of joy. It is amazing news that God opposes unrighteousness and sin because he also absorbs the very wrath the unrighteous deserve. God’s wrath and God’s love are not enemies. The enemy of God’s wrath is neutrality. If God just ignored our sin, he could not save us from our sin. Instead, God’s wrath is against sin and sinners. And in God’s love he sent Jesus to fully bear his wrath in our place. In the finished work of Christ, God saves us from himself, to himself, and for himself.


Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

Sermons From Sunday (Feb. 28, 2016)

Deep South Reformation would like these Sermons to benefit you and be an aid to help you understand the scripture for God’s glory. If you are a pastor and would like your sermons on DSR, let us know and if you have any other questions please contact us.

Jaime Orozco on Characteristics of a Pure Heart in the Midst of Trial (Psalm 73)

Jarrod Hawthorne on Jesus’ Ministry Begins (Mark 1:9-11)

Greg Gilbert on “Are We There Yet?” (Romans 8:18:27)

Have a great week!

 

Sermons From Sunday (Feb. 21, 2016)

Deep South Reformation would like these Sermons to benefit you and be an aid to help you understand the scripture for God’s glory. If you are a pastor and would like your sermons on DSR, let us know and if you have any other questions please contact us.

Paul Sanchez on 1 Peter 4:12-19 (Surprised by Fire)

Jake Stone on Daniel 9:1-23 (O Lord, Hear Me)

Greg Gilbert on Romans 8:12-17 (The Heir Up There)