Romans 1:28-31 meaning

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Romans 1:28
  • Romans 1:29
  • Romans 1:30
  • Romans 1:31

Eventually when people persist in sin and insist that they know best, God will give them over to a depraved mind. This results in a mind that cannot tell right from wrong and is totally focused on “me.”

The judgment or wrath of God in this chapter comes via three instances of “gave them over,” and this is the third and final stage in a progression of increasing judgment. This is the final stage of God’s wrath: He decides to remove His protection and allow us to experience the full consequence of what we desire, by giving us up to a depraved mind. Likely, one of the worst consequences is our sinful nature gaining control of us.

Note here that what we give up is the knowledge of God, and instead, we are left with a mind that has no foundation, no moral center, no base other than just “me.” A mind without a foundation for proper behavior can now be open to any behavior. The Greek word here indicates a mind that can’t tell right from wrong. Once we lose the moral anchor God provides, we become slaves of desires that lead us to destruction and use our mind to rationalize our behavior. We have lost our “base.” We are now slaves of a sinful nature with no goodness.

The list Paul makes in the following verses draw an excellent picture of what someone is like when all their efforts are bent to “myself” as being the center of all things. It turns out that when our minds are just focused on “self” we turn into the sort of person whom people may fear—but no one likes.

Paul now expands the list of sinful behaviors we are led to when we have Self instead of God as our foundation. God pours out His wrath by removing His protection, therefore we lose our “base” and now have a “debased mind” (1:28), resulting in behaviors on this list. No one ever wants to be characterized by such behaviors or to engage with such a person. Even those who are evil expend substantial resources justifying themselves (or asserting there is no such thing as evil).

It is a natural progression. If we have Self as our “base”—if fulfilling our appetites is the chief end we pursue, of course greed would characterize our lives. If greed is now justified in our debased mind, then of course cheating, lying, or coercing to achieve our desires would naturally follow. Subsequently, we will surely quarrel with anyone who stands in our way and have malice toward them. To the extent we are able, we will destroy the person obstructing our desires from being met, which is the root attitude behind murder.

After beginning with sexual sin, Paul continues to expand the list of sinful behaviors we are led to when we have Self instead of God as a base or foundation. In addition to the characteristics of greed, treachery, and murder that a self-based mind embraces (1:29), Paul describes a general set of traits that undermines any authority that might compete with “self” as our ultimate authority. Disobedience to parents is the root of overthrowing authority. Insolence and slander are typical ways to resist moral authorities.

Slander is one of the most effective ways to undermine any individual who might be a threat to “myself” standing at the center of all things. In his writings, C. S. Lewis does an excellent job of illustrating that the ultimate outworking of sinful behavior is aloneness. Just think, if everyone is exercising these behaviors seeking to cause everyone else to focus on them, the ultimate result must be that everyone ends up in a world with just themselves. What a sad state we insist on when we walk our own path instead of humbling ourselves before our Creator. This list of behaviors is a list of God-hating activity.

Continuing this list of defining characteristics for a person God has turned over to themselves as a moral base, these behaviors make effective relationships with other people impossible. When our mind is “debased” (1:30) and we only seek self-orientation, we lose the ability to empathize or see anything from anyone else’s perspective. If that is the case, we will have no discernment and no trustworthiness. That would be expected since we have now rejected the notion that there is a right or true way independent of our view or opinion. Therefore, we will always justify our actions and will not be willing to submit to a notion or idea that there is a “right” thing to do, (which is what makes someone trustworthy).

Also, since true love is seeking the best for others, and mercy is based on identifying and empathizing with others, a debased self-seeking mind has no basis for either. When we turn to Self as our moral base, we turn away from love, trust, and mercy.

Biblical Text

28 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, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful;

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