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Out of Their Minds

Or, Cultural Cognitive Disobedience
Romans 1:28-32
October 31, 2021
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins


We have to work extra hard to ignore the moral collapse of our culture, like ostriches burying our heads in the sand. The madness doesn’t just affect our so-called elites, the politicians and professors and media personalities. A good portion of our fellow citizens want what we’re getting; they vote and march and donate to get it. We think they are out of their minds, and we are right.

We also need to remember how it happened, where it all started. It wasn’t the 2020 election, it’s not the current presidential administration, or a generation of public schools, or the 60s sexual revolution, or Darwinism, or the Enlightenment with its enshrining of human ability. It started with the Serpent. He said we could be like gods, judging for ourselves good and evil. We wanted that, in our federal head, Adam. We chose the lie in Adam. And God Himself established hostility between the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman. What our culture needs is not mandated equality, but a heavenly Father. Our culture doesn’t need to redistribute wealth, or not, but to repent from our ingratitude to the Maker. Our society is full of sin, though a lot of it is legal, and so we need a Savior.

The gospel has changed hard hearts and then leavened neighborhoods and nations. We are seeing the leaven go stale, both as unbelievers are given over to their lusts and as believers are flattened by their own little-faith. Christians are to live in righteousness from faith to faith. We’re to live in our righteousness by faith, confessing Jesus as Lord. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Our worship of Him is exactly what the world needs and what they hate.

God’s wrath is revealed against knowers, and He says all men are knowers (Romans 1:19, 20, 21). He judges fools, not the ignorant, but the willfully ignorant. As they exchange the truth for the lie (1:25), God delivers them over into a life of chaos and confusion controlled by darkness. They are consumed by their own desires, gladly deceived by the sins that destroy them.

In verses 24-27 God gives them over to dishonorable and unnatural relationships. Homosexual desires and wanna-be transgenders are signs of regression, not progress or liberty or fruitfulness. It is not about equal rights, it is evil. As I said, it is not ignorant, it is willful hostility toward their Creator. They’ve been seeking religious exemption from gender and gender roles.

Verses 28-32 are an expanded vision of the debased mind and of a debased culture. Arguments could be made that we have it much better than the first century Romans, as bad as Paul’s description is. At least we have Romans, and we have 2000 years of gospel leavening to give thanks for. We also have the ugliness of knowing better. Men reject not only the Creator, but the gospel of Christ. God is giving men over to a debased mind that not only refuses to acknowledge His sovereignty, but also the Son of His love.

Their Comparative Cognitive Disobedience (verse 28)

The third refrain of abandon begins:

And just as they did not (approve) to have God in their thinking, God gave them over to an (unapproved) mind to do that which is not approved.

Dokimazo (δοκιμάζω)/“test” or “approve” is a word frequently used in the NT. It refers to testing something to find its value, as with metal, so “fit to acknowledge” (ESV) or “think it worthwhile” (NIV), “approve of having God in knowledge” (YLT). Men made themselves judges over God and decided that He wasn’t worth keeping in mind. As a judgment, God gave them over to an adokimon mind, to an unapproved, worthless mind. Different translations take it as a depraved, reprobate, debased mind. They think they are hot snot intellectuals but really they just have cold boogers for brains.

Cognitive dissonance is a mental discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs. For unbelievers, they know that God is worthy of praise and they know that they don’t want to praise Him. The discomfort gives birth to a cognitive bias, a pattern of deviation from the norm of rationality in judgment, a more comfortable subjective reality. Conveniently they keep ignoring evidence of God. From that comes cognitive disobedience, a systemic corruption of perception demonstrated in practice.

Such minds choose to do the unacceptable things, “the things which ought not be done.”

Verses 29-32 grammatically modify the “them” and thematically manifest the debased mind.

Their Comprehensive Cognitive Disobedience (verses 29-31)

There are three sections (four dative case words, five genitives, twelve accusatives), three sets of how how bad it is.

All (verse 29)

they … having filled themselves in all unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, (and) malice.

The verb is “filled,” the adjective “all” covers the four datives of content. These are broad categories, somewhat like the genus with specific species to follow.

Unrighteousness is injustice. Evil is a lack of moral or social values. Covetousness is desiring more than you deserve, greed. Malice is the opposite of virtue (BAGD), it refers to ill-will, to being mean-spirited.

Full (verse 30)

they … full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and maliciousness

Five more works of the flesh modify the adjective of “full.”

We can appreciate when pastors or teachers point out that the doctrine of total depravity does not mean that every manis as depraved as he could be. Amen, and thank You, Lord. I’ve heard different descriptions such as total inability—men can’t want God on their own, or radical corruption—men are ruined from the root, and fine to both.

But God’s Word reveals what is in a depraved man’s mind. They want what they don’t have (envy). They get so angry that they will fight others (strife), lie and cheat (deceit), and even kill others (murder). They want to be hurtful (maliciousness). They are full of these things.

There is no internally consistent reason for morality, for family, for community without God. There is no reason to value the weak or poor, no reason to love one’s neighbor, no reason for sacrifice, apart from the Triune God. Envy is the natural state of man. Murder is the inevitable choice from those who won’t worship God (think of Cain). Conflict is the way of the world and the devil (James 4:1-4, 7). As men are given over by God they become more and more sons of hell.

Attributes (verses 30-31)

The next twelve accusatives are attributes of the abandoned.

they … gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, heartless, merciless.

Organization and/or progression in this list is hard to prove. It’s more a shotgun, and they will all come to dominate Facebook’s Metaverse apart from Jesus, and any place men are.

As gossips (rumormonger) and slanderers (speaking against) they are seeking to hurt and ruin the reputations of others by misrepresentation. The first word may have a nuance as whispering the slander, the second word is posting on social media.

The boasters are big talkers; my wife refers to this sort of man as haing a big hat and few cattle. This man has never found a story he can’t be the hero of.

I have a grateful/hateful relationship with The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius. He wrote a nonchalant biography about some of the grossest men to walk the planet, some of whom ruled Rome at the time of Paul’s letter. However many specifics Paul knew about inventors of evil, Suetonius knocked down my little shack of imagination and put up a strip mall worth of possibilities. And, not to be outdone, we have drag queen story hour for five-year-olds at the public library, we have Epstein’s Island, we have Only Fans and PornHub and Superbowl sex-trade. Nothing is new under the sun, and also that doesn’t keep some from creative strategies for new forms.

Verse 31 finishes with four “withouts”: without sense, without loyalty, without love, without mercy. Or: “senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (NIV).

They don’t can’t put things together (ἀσυνέτους). They break their promises (ἀσυνθέτους), covenants and contracts are useless. They are without love (ἀστόργους), and without compassion (ἀνελεήμονας).

Their Compounding Cognitive Disobedience (verse 32)

The last component is their own practice and promotion, even protection of the debased mind.

knowing the decree of God—that the ones doing these things are worthy of death—they not only do them but also celebrate the ones doing them.

Up to now we’ve seen rejection of the Creator. This says they reject a commandment. Chapter 2 will show that God’s law is written on their hearts. So even without a Bible, they know that a powerful God exists and they know that God is righteous. They know that there is right and wrong because of an objective and transcendent Right. But that doesn’t give them pause or even slow them down. They know God disapproves, they know what they deserve.

They would rather die than submit to God’s intention. They would rather despise and be despised and dishonored as long as they don’t have to sacrifice their lusts. They are out of their minds, as long as they can keep God out of their minds.

So they live it up and they sue you for refusing to bake a cake for a homo-wedding. They are full of sin and they flaunt it. This is what they approve. Full-fool mode: activated.

There will be public promotions and punishments. There will be culture, and there will be cancel culture. The plural “them” that are given over by God have a singular “debased mind.” The “them” practice and make popular, we could call it peer-pretending; group agreement to live by the lie. Approval and criticisms take the form of public service announcements, mandates, plot lines in cartoons. This isn’t just white trash behavior, this is White House behavior. The words vice and virtue have been retained, but redefined. Now we say victims are those who can’t have their lusts.

Beloved, that is why Christians are the haters. In The Gospel Comes with a House Key, Rosaria Butterfield describes her fear of Christians before she became one.

Christians seemed like a small-minded, uncharitable, immoral bunch. They…violated human and environmental rights at a fevered pitch, denied a woman’s right to choose, and believed that the whole world should fall under the totalitarian obedience to the Bible, an ancient book fraught with racism, sexism, and homophobia. They believed in and manufactured superstitions about “sin,” which I believed was, as Freud declared, simply a cultural phobia deeply held by dupes whose thinking was manipulated by a universal obsessional neurosis. (loc. 653)

human autonomy—leaving consenting adults alone to do what they feel is best—is central to human flourishing and a healthy, happy world. (loc. 668)


Romans 1 begins with the truth, the certain-supposition, that there is nothing truly secular, that is, without a religious or spiritual basis. There is no neutral public square. God is overall the world, which does not mean the church is over all the world, but it does mean the church and believers in her should not submit to the judgments of the world.

Because our Savior is our Lord is our Creator, we have something to say about creation, about nature. We also have something to say about cultural lunacy and legislation because God does.

Unbelievers, if consistent, are committed to chaos due to rejecting the cosmos, the order and gifts made by God. Deconstruction is the way for the debased mind. Call it Modern, Postmodern, Medieval, Ancient, the mind of man is no good. Cognitive depravity.

If it is a sin problem, we have good news, and that gospel is the power of God to salvation.


Christian, your God is a public God. The Lord gives wisdom, He stores up sound wisdom for the upright, and is a shield to those who walk in integrity (Proverbs 2:6-7). Fear the Lord, call on Him as Father, live as the ransomed from futile ways of living (1 Peter 1:17-18).


For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:17–19, ESV)