Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
March 3, 2002
How utterly sinful can man get? The answer to that is in Romans 1:28-32, our passage for study this
morning. The surprising thing about it is that God’s description of utter sinfulness would include many
people in our society that receive respect and honor. That is evidence that our society is in great need to
hear the gospel message.
Remember that Paul gives the clearest theological presentation of the gospel of God anywhere in the
Scriptures in the book of Romans. Paul introduces the theme for the book in verses 16 & 17 stating,
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,
to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it [the] righteousness of God is revealed from faith to
faith; as it is written, "But the righteous [man] shall live by faith."
The gospel message is about the righteousness of God, especially in His bringing salvation to those
who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, you can not understand this righteousness or what
salvation is about unless you first understand what you were saved from. Paul explains that in chapters
1:18-3:20. We are saved from sin and God’s righteous wrath upon it.
Some might argue that God would be unjust if He held them responsible for what they did not know.
Paul explains in verses 18-20 that this excuse will not hold up for they did know enough. "18 For the
wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who
suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them;
for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His
eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made,
so that they are without excuse."
Others might argue that they are already good enough to go to heaven, or that their good deed were
more than their bad deeds, so God will let them in. Paul destroys those arguments too. He demonstrates
the righteousness of God in His condemnation of the unrighteous and that everyone is unrighteous.
Those who are obviously immoral are unrighteous (1:21-32). Those who think themselves to be moral
are also unrighteous because they do not meet God’s standard and they fail to even keep their own (2:1-16). Those who are religious are also unrighteous because they also fail to meet God’s standard or to
keep the one they claim to be following (2:17-29). The final conclusion is that every person is
unrighteous before God. There is not even one person who seeks God on their own (Romans 3:10-12).
God is righteous in His condemnation of man, but God is also loving, gracious and merciful and He has
made a way for His justice to be met and for man to be saved from His sin at the same time through
faith in Jesus Christ.
The past few weeks we have looked at man’s slide into ever greater sin here in chapter 1. This is the
natural and logical consequence of man’s actions with the truth God has given to him. As verse 18
points out, men suppress the truth in unrighteousness. They willingly and purposely set themselves
against the truth God has revealed in order to keep the knowledge of it to a minimum. Even so, all men
are still without excuse because God’s revelation of Himself just in the works of creation alone are so
overwhelming. They demand that man acknowledge that there is a creator who should be sought.
But as verse 21 points out, even though man knew God, he refused to honor or give thanks to Him
for who He is. Instead, man sought to understand the world according to his own thoughts, but when
truth is shut out, all that is left is futile speculation. They may be always learning, but they are never able
to come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:6) because they already excluded the truth from
consideration. As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, that is the fundamental error in evolution and
other worldly philosophies.
When a person turns from glorifying God and giving thanks to Him, they are turning from truth to
futile speculation. This is the first step into evil. If truth no longer controls, it can only get worse, and
since people are proud, they profess to be wise in their futile speculations when the truth is that they
have become fools.
Now in saying they have turned from the truth, I am not saying that man can not figure some things
out for Himself. However, since his mind is given over to futile speculations, he will mix what truth he
may hold with error. The idolatry that Paul points out in verse 23 is an example of that. There is still
acknowledgement that there must be something more powerful than man that controls things, but instead
of turning to the creator to glorify Him, they turn to the things God has made and worship them.
I have previously pointed out the absurdity of idolatry. Isaiah speaks of this in Isaiah 40, 44 & 46. It
is absurd for man to worship something that cannot speak, has to be carried from place to place and
either held in place with chains or carefully made so that it does not fall over. Yet men pray to this object
to deliver them from harm? They take part of a hunk of wood and burn it to keep warm, part of it they
cook their meal over and part of it they carve into something which they then worship. It is utter
silliness, yet man has commonly done this throughout the ages even into our own time. This also opens
the door for demons to become the source of power in their idolatry which will blind and entrap them
even more (1 Cor. 10:20).
Few people in our society that are involved in such blatant idolatry as was practiced in the ancient
world, but idolatry does commonly exist in our society in the form of materialism, the pursuit of fame
and/or power. Anything you value as more important than God is an idol.
God’s judgement for this is to give them over, parevdwken / paradoken. This judgement occurs
three times in this chapter and each time it is to something worse. In verse 24 it is to the lusts of their
hearts in uncleanness to the dishonoring of their bodies in them. In verse 26 it is to degrading passions,
and in verse 28 it is to a depraved mind.
God’s care and protection for usually taken for granted. However, the truth is that it is God’s
restraining hand that keeps people from becoming as evil as they could be. God’s judgement here is His
moving back His restraining hand and yielding to let the person get their own way. They will then suffer
the natural consequences of their own sin. The purpose would be to let the pain of the results of their sin
cause them to turn back, but when they do not turn, the hand is moved farther back and the person is
allowed to fall farther into sin with its consequences. In short, God judges a person’s sin by allowing
them to become even more sinful with its consequences.
Because man does not properly honor and give thanks to God for who He is, man gives his mind to
futile speculation. A result of that is exchanging the glory of God for idols with the consequential
judgement of God giving them over to their desires for what is impure. The natural consequence of this
is the shameful and sometimes abusive treatment of their own bodies. The body becomes a biological
entity like an animal. People pursue whatever makes them feel good regardless of whether it is good for
them or not. They also view other people as pieces of flesh to exploit for their own pleasure.
The spiral continues downward when people exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship and
serve what is created instead of the Creator. God judges again and gives them over to degrading
passions. Evil desires become increasingly controlling which push the person into activities that are
degrading, dishonorable, shameful. Paul uses homosexuality as the example of this. A practice that has
horrible emotional and physical consequences.
But the spiral downward does not stop there. Verse 28 states, "And just as they did not see fit to
acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not
proper." First, they did not honor God properly. Next, they exchanged the worship of God who created
them for something created. Now they fail no longer see fit to acknowledge God. The idea here is that
they did not approve of retaining God in their knowledge. This does not mean that they are atheists, but
it does mean that they refuse to consider the true God for they have replaced Him with their own false
god or gods or futile speculations of Him.
God’s judgement is to pull His hand back and let their minds further degrade. There is a word play
correlation here between their action and God’s judgement of a depraved mind. William G.T. Shedd
comments, "as they did not think it worth while (after trial)[to consider God], God gave them over to a
worthless (after trial) mind." The less they considered God, the less their minds could consider what is
morally correct. They still had intellect, but there is now a judicial blindness so that they can not discern
the revelation of God even in nature. Jesus speaks of this in John 12:40 when He applies the statement of
Isaiah 44 to the Pharisees, "He has blinded their eyes, and He hardened their heart; lest they see with
their eyes, and perceive with their heart, and be converted, and I heal them." The rejecting minds
become the rejected minds.
Since they now have morally depraved or reprobate minds they are inclined to do those things which
are improper. Paul then lists out in verses 29-32 many of these improper things. These are the things that
reveal a depraved mind.
Characteristics of a Depraved Mind
The first several of the characteristics and actions Paul describes here in verses 29-32 are of a general
nature followed by more specific sins. It is important to note that a person does not have all of these
characteristics to demonstrate they have a depraved mind. One or two is sufficient, but as we go through
them you will see that where one characteristic exists, there are usually several others that go along with
it. It is also important to note that these are descriptions that would characterize the individual. The
Christian is capable of sinning in these areas too, but the Christians’ life will not be characterized by
them, and the Christian will be seeking to overcome them.
29 ajdikiva/ (adikia)- unrighteousness. We saw this word earlier in verse 19, and it is the general
characteristic that has led the person into their descent into evil. Unrighteousness is a general term for all
conduct which is in conflict with the standards God has set. God’s standards are based on His own
character, and so a rejection of them is also a rejection of God, and a rejection of God will necessarily
lead to a rejection of His standards. Those with an unrighteous mind will also have unrighteous
ponhriva/ (ponaria)- wickedness. This is a general term of wrong conduct directed toward others.
When God and His standards are rejected, then conduct towards other people will degenerate into evil.
Some translations based on later Greek manuscripts also add in here porneiva/ (porneia) which is
sexual immorality. This is something Paul has already used as examples of what happens when people
are given over either to "the lusts of their hearts to impurity" (vs. 24) or to "degrading passions" (vs.
26). In rejecting God’s standards for the husband and wife relationship, they descend into perverse and
shameful sexual activities.
pleonexiva/ (pleonexia) – covetousness, greed. This term is not limited to a quest for money, but is a
general term for the desire to gain for one’s self, usually what others have. It is the particular sin
forbidden in the tenth commandment (Exod. 20:17). Paul equates it with idolatry in Col. 3:5 because it is
a quest to satisfy personal desires in preference to fulfilling God’s will. Greed is not content with what
kakiva/ (kakia) – evil disposition, maliciousness, evil. This term is the antithesis of the "good" which
characterizes God. It is often used as a synonym for ponhriva/ (ponaria – wickedness), but when a
distinction is made kakiva/ (kakia) seems to put more emphasis on the evil disposition of the person and
ponhriva/ (ponaria) on the actions carrying out that disposition.
mestouV" fqovnou (mestous phthonou)- full of jealousy, envy. The terms Paul uses now become
more specific. This is the specific outworking of coveting in specifically wanting what someone else has.
Here, Paul specifically says that they are full of envy. It characterizes them. The word for "envy" has its
root in the idea of wanting to be first. Scripture warns Christians that envy is something that would have
characterized us in our foolish state before becoming Christians (Titus 3:3), but that we are to set it aside
along with other evils and pursue knowing and walking with Christ (1 Peter 2:1f). God is first in all
things, but envy replaces Him with self as the priority.
Envy is foolish among Christians because it is based in thinking that other people are not as
important than you. But in Christ, our importance is bound up completely in Him and what we are and
what we accomplish is based in how He gifts us and uses us (1 Cor. 12). Within the body of Christ,
every person is important for we are all part of one another in Him. If you succeed, then I also succeed as
part of the same body. If I succeed, then you also succeed as part of the same body. We are all on the
same team and it is the team that counts. Your joy is to be my joy and my joy is to be your joy and
likewise our sorrows. Christians are to consider others as more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3), and
that removes the basis of envy.
fovnou (phonou)- murder. This is the taking the life of another human without just cause. It is the
sixth commandment (Exod. 20:13). James 4:2 comments on this, "You lust and do not have; [so] you
commit murder." 1 John 3:15 equates hatred with murder because that is its basis. Hatred wants what
displeases to be removed from its presence. Murder makes that removal permanent. This is the supreme
act of selfishness. However, murder is primarily an attack against God for man is made in God’s image
(Gen. 9:5,6) which is why God commanded the death penalty for those that commit murder.
e[rido" (eridos)- strife. Strife and murder are closely related because strife is only one step below
murder and can easily lead to it. Again James 4:1,2 comment, "What is the source of quarrels and
conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and
do not have; [so] you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; [so] you fight and
quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask." Strife is the result of discontentment with what God
provides and His justice. It takes matters into its own hands to forcefully gain what it wants.
dovlou (dolou)- deceit, treachery. This is a more subtle way to carry out strife. Instead of open
blows, craftiness and guile are used to get a person to think one thing while actually doing something
else. Deceit freely mixes truth with lies to accomplish its objectives. Deceit is a reject of God’s holiness,
honesty and truth. Revelation 21:8 is a stern warning for those who practice deceit for it states that the
part of all liars will be in the lake that runs with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
kakohqeiva" (kakoatheias)- malice, evil disposition. This is the outward manifestation of kakiva/
(kakia) we looked at earlier. It is conscious and intentional wickedness. It is evil done for the sake of
evil. It is a fitting summary of what is behind our next two words.
yiquristav" (psithuristas) – gossip, whisperers. The Scriptures warn about gossip and instruct us to
not associate with them (Prov. 20:19). Gossips are quick to hear and tell negative information about
others. The term here means "whisperers," and that is its main characteristic. It is quietly spreading
information to others that would be embarrassing to say out loud. Whether the information is true or not,
this characteristic of whispering shows that gossip is meant to belittle or denigrate the one being talked
about. Christians need to be up front and honest. If you can not speak openly about a person, then that is
probably a good indicator that you don’t need to speak about them at all. If the person is involved in a
sin, then go talk with them and help them deal with it. There is no need to talk with someone else except
to get counsel on how to deal with the person in sin. The old adage is true. If you are not part of the
solution, then you are part of the problem.
30 katalavlou" (katalalous)- slander, backbiters. Whereas gossip is "whispered," slander is not so
secretive. The idea of the word is to speak evil against someone, and the speech may well include
exaggerations or outright lies. It seeks to tear the other person down through scorn, mocking, reviling or
false charges. This is part of the ninth commandment to not bear false witness. This is the opposite of the
commandment to Christians to love even in our speech. Eph. 4:29 expresses the manner in which
Christians are to speak – "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such [a word]
as is good for edification according to the need [of the moment,] that it may give grace to those who
hear." Slander and back-biting is common among the unsaved simply because they have rejected God
and His standards (James 4:11). Those who stand in the way of what they want should not be surprised
to be slandered. We who are Christians should expect to be slandered, but our response and behavior
must remain godly (Mt. 5:10-12; 1 Peter 3:12; 4:16).
qeostugei’" (theostugeis)- God haters. This is a simple compound word combining "God" and
"hateful." While we might want to reserve this just for the person that defiantly shakes their fist at God,
the truth is that this is the general underlying characteristic of the non-Christian. They willing suppressed
the truth God revealed to them because they hate Him and all that characterizes Him because it leaves
them guilty. "The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile toward God" (Rom. 8:7). They hate His
holiness, because it reveals their unholiness. They hate His goodness because it reveals their evil. They
hate His justice because it leaves them responsible and condemned. They hate His sovereignty because it
reveals their dependence. They even hate His grace & mercy because it excludes their own efforts. The
proof of this hatred of God is both the false religions and cults that create gods to man’s own liking, and
the blood of Christian martyrs shed throughout the centuries.
uJbristav" (hubristas)- insolence, despiteful. This is stronger than just the attitude suggested by the
words used to translate it. It is a word that characterizes the persecution of Christians as a revolt against
God. It is the outflow of hatred of God towards those that worship and follow Him. It includes both the
insulting mockery, reviling, slander and contempt that is expressed toward those who follow God, and
their physical abuse.
uJperhfavnou" (huperaphanous) – arrogance, proud. As already stated back in verse 22, though they
suppressed the knowledge of God and became futile in their speculations and had their foolish hearts
darkened, yet they professed to be wise. Such is the arrogant pride of the unsaved. Though they do not
understand the things of God, they have an inflated opinion of themselves and look down on others.
They are haughty. Their error is serious because God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the
humble (1 Pet. 5:5).
ajlazovna" (aladzonas) – boasters. This is boasting in the sense of vanity. It is similar to pride, but
not as strong. As one commentator put it, "the proud are too proud to be vain." These are people who
make claims beyond their ability. A good example of this is in James 4:13-17. "Come now, you who say,
"Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business
and make a profit." 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are [just] a vapor
that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, [you ought] to say, "If the Lord wills,
we shall live and also do this or that." 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is
evil. 17 Therefore, to one who knows [the] right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin."
ejfeuretaV" kakw’n (epheuretas kakon) – inventors of evil. It is not enough that they follow the evil
practices of others, but they create their own too. They may not be as bad as the people of Noah’s day
whose every intent of the thoughts of their hearts were only evil continually (Gen. 6:5), but they are
headed that direction. The evil they had been practicing no longer satisfies, so they develop new ways to
carry out even greater evils. We can easily identify this trend in our own society as we compare what is
openly practiced today with what was practiced in society just 10, 20 30 or 40 years ago. Such people
exploit what are wonderful new technologies for the purposes of evil.
goneu’sin ajpeiqei’" (goneusin apeitheis) – disobedient to parents. This is self explanatory, yet
surprises most people that it is included in the list because the current generations have become so
accustomed to children being disobedient that they think it is normal. It is not normal and contrary to
what is even natural. God takes this sin seriously, so much so it was included as the fifth commandment.
The penalty for flagrant disobedience to parents was death (Exod. 21:15,17). Parents who do not teach
their children to obey them are teaching them to disobey God.
31 ajsunevtou" (asunetous) – without understanding. This same word was used in verse 21 to
describe what happens to the state of the heart when God is not properly honored and thanked. It
becomes "darkened" or "without understanding." This is not a reflection on their intelligence itself, for
they can be extremely smart people, but rather on their ability to understanding the things of God. To put
it bluntly, in the area of morality they are unintelligent. That is the reason why so many people are
accepting of and will even argue for what is very clearly moral evil such as abortion, euthanasia,
pornography, prostitution and homosexuality. Their rejection of God and His standards results in moral
ajsunqevtou" (asunthetous) – disloyal, covenant breakers. Because they no longer have a foundation
for morality, they do not keep their word. They break the covenants or contracts they have made. Again
we clearly see this in our own society. A couple of generations ago when Christianity had a greater
influence on American society, a man’s word was binding. In current times with our society turning its
back on the God of the Bible, even detailed contracts are hard to enforce.
ajstovrgou" (astorgous) – without natural affection. Some Bibles translate this as "unloving," but
that is not as clear. The word here is the negation of Greek word stovrgh (storge) which speaks of
family love. When the relationship with God is not correct, then everything begins a downhill slide and
eventually even the natural affection that exists between family members simply because they are family
is also disrupted and destroyed. Again, this has become common in American society as parents and
children, brothers and sisters, all turn against each other to gain what they want without consideration
of others. Love is destroyed and replaced with the list of evils Paul has already put forth.
(It appears that ajspondou" /aspondous – implaccable – was added into later manuscripts from the
list of sins in 2 Timothy 3:2-4).
ajnelehvmona" (aneleamonas) – without mercy, unmerciful. The final characteristic listed shows the
complete self-centered nature the person has descended into. They no longer have compassion on others
either in seeking to relieve the distress of others or refraining from causing such distress.
The Bottom of Evil’s Pit
Paul brings his description to a conclusion in verse 32 by showing the utter depravity that develops
when people abandon God and His standards. "and, although they know the ordinance of God, that those
who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval
to those who practice them." Paul again points out that ignorance can not be used as an excuse because
people are not ignorant. As we will see in chapter two, even without the written revelation of God, man
knows the basic things that God requires. Man also knows the penalty for breaking them. Man knows
this by his own sense of guilt, the divine punishments they had either seen themselves or heard of, and
even from their own false superstitions and laws that still taught them these things were wrong.
Those who still have some morality left will still condemn the sins of others, even if they do the
same sins themselves. Such is the case in chapter two. Those in utter depravity no longer condemn, but
actually take pleasure in other people committing those sins. Such was the case in the abominations done
in the worship of the pagan gods then. Such is still the case today in false religions, cults and even in
elements of our secular society and government.
The consequence of turning from God and His standards is a spiral downward into utter depravity.
Yet, there is still hope for the power of sin is broken in Jesus Christ. Man can be justified through faith
in Jesus Christ and change and live in godliness and righteousness. Which path are you on? The spiral
up to holiness, or the spiral down into depravity?