Romans 1:28, “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.”
Homosexual behavior, in particular, demonstrates the exchange of what is good and natural according to God’s created order for that which is evil and unnatural. Thus, it is an especially blatant form of idolatry, of telling the Creator that one will not have Him as Lord but will worship and serve the creature (Rom. 1:24–27). This sexual twisting, however, is not the primal sin of humanity; rather, it is the ethical outworking of the fundamental transgression, namely, the refusal to honor and thank God (vv. 18–23).
Furthermore, homosexual behavior is not the only way our fundamentally idolatrous dispositions show themselves. As we will see in tomorrow’s study, there are innumerable ways in which idolatry bears unethical fruit. Today’s passage, however, introduces the vice list Paul provides in Romans 1:29–31, reminding us once again of the root of all evil.
The Apostle explains that God hands people over to a “debased mind to do what ought not to be done” as a consequence for failing to acknowledge Him (v. 28). If we will not have the Lord at the center of our hearts and minds, then God is content to give us over to our idols. To acknowledge God is to retain Him as our foremost concern and love, to respond to Him with thanksgiving and worship as He has revealed Himself in creation. Acknowledging God with our minds means that we think properly and reason correctly based on His revelation (see 12:1–2). If we do not do this, we will be unable to think correctly about God and make good decisions based on His will. Since we have rejected the Lord, this is the condition in which we find ourselves apart from divine intervention. John Calvin comments, “As they chose not to continue in the knowledge of God, which alone guides our minds to true wisdom, the Lord gave them a perverted mind, which can choose nothing that is right.”
This does not mean that the unbelieving mind is incapable of reason or that it has lost all capacity for logical thought. Instead, it means that the unbelieving mind cannot glorify God in its thinking. It can deduce from creation that there is a holy God whom we should worship and thank, but it cannot make us worship and thank Him as we ought. There remains a point of contact between the believing mind and the unbelieving mind that allows us to present evidence for God’s existence and the Christian faith. Paul himself assumed as much (Acts 17:22–34). Yet apart from the work of the Spirit, we will take that evidence and pervert it. We will justify the unjustifiable and reason ourselves away from the Lord.
The word for “knowledge” in today’s passage has a practical sense to it. It is the experiential knowledge of the Lord that comes from being in a right relationship to Him. If we do not retain this kind of knowledge, we do not lose our awareness of God’s existence or even of His standards; rather, we lose our ability to fulfill these standards and to reason properly from the nature of the Lord to right ethics. If we do not worship God, we cannot do what is good in His eyes.