Depravity has Radically Corrupted Human Reason
I. Why study the ethical condition of the unbeliever’s mind?
A. The doctrine of original sin concerns man’s apostasy from God. In Eden, Adam and Eve tested God, rebelling against His command. As a result of the fall of our first parents, sin (radical depravity), and death became universal for the human race
B. When man broke away from God ethically, he also broke away intellectually.Man’s intellectual rebellion is expressed in his attempt to interpret everything inwhich he comes into contact without reference to God.[i]
C. Grover Gunn gives us an analogy that is extremely helpful in understanding the the unbeliever’s intellectual rebellion. Gunn compares the natural man’s reasoning processes to a pair of “faulty scales.”[ii]
1. In this analogy the “scales” are analogous to one’s world view. All information that a person encounters is interpreted by means of his world view. (The scales are utilized to validate everything except one thing – they cannot weigh themselves! World view cannot validate itself.)
2. God has given to every man “weights” that are accurately stamped. They are stamped internally by reason of the fact that all men bear the image of God. Every person has an innate knowledge that he is made in the image of an almighty Creator. By reason of that image, every man also has the law of God written upon his heart (Rom 2:14, 15).
3. The God-given “weights” are also stamped externally. The whole creation that surrounds man gives inescapable daily evidence of the power, wisdom and majesty of it Creator.[iii]
4. In order to avoid the indelible stamp that God has put upon these “weights,” the natural man constructs a fantasy view of reality that flows from his own mind. He assumes that the true and living God has not revealed Himself in Scripture.
5. As a consequence, the unbeliever’s scales do not “weigh” accurately. Due to the rebellious assumption that the God of Scripture does not exist, every conceivable area of life is interpreted in an erroneous manner. (“Issues that should carry great weight have no weight at all on the scales of unbelief.”)[iv]
6. In essence, the unbeliever is “pressing a depraved thumb upon the scales.” The God-given weights are rendered inaccurate by that constant act of tampering. The unbeliever cannot get an accurate reading upon his scales because he has set aside the authoritative claims of God, Christ and Scripture.[v]
7. When the revelation of God is evaluated on the world’s scales, the result is rejection and skepticism. As a result, measuring reality is a task that is absolutely impossible for the world’s autonomous scales.
8. Because the apologist is armed with an understanding of the unbeliever’s reasoning processes, he will not suggest for a moment that the unbeliever’s scales are in working order. Rather, his argument will at many junctures will confront the unbeliever’s world view – “Hey, get your thumb off of those scales! You’re cheating!”[vi]
II. Romans 1:18-23 is the Scriptural record of the universal corruption of humanreason. The Romans passage documents man’s intellectual war upon the moralimage of God.
A. Romans 1:18 – The wrath of God – God’s wrath is His holy aversion to all that is evil. God’s holiness and love are expressed in righteous indignation against evil.
Revealed – A continued outpouring, “dynamically, effectively operative in the world of men… proceeding from heaven” Murray, p. 35. Present tense, ongoing disposition; settled indignation.
Against ungodliness – (Ungodliness is disregard directed against God Himself) and unrighteousness (disregard for God’s laws); the latter flows from the former.
Suppression – To Suppress is to hinder or hold down as a captive what is true (Psalm 14:1). They continue to try to convince themselves that the God of the Bible does not exist. Though they studiously suppress the knowledge of God, all men are theists in their hearts.
B. Romans 1:19 – Natural revelation – What they do know – the knowledge of God that is “in them” – subjective (the image of God in them) and “unto them” –objective (the wonders of nature), Psalm 19:1,2 “The heavens…”
C. Romans 1:20 – They are without excuse because they know:
The facts of creation – They have observed the external creation.
God’s eternal power – They have been witness to God’s unfailing omnipotence in sustaining the world. They have beheld God’s invisible attributes (wisdom, omniscience, etc.) and God’s eternal power. They know (internally) because they have reflected upon the creation.
The divine nature (the Godhead) – The divine nature is seen in God’s unchanging, everlasting deliverance – His providential dealings through the ages – His consistency in upholding the world.
Clearly seen – God’s attributes are seen (understood) upon reflection and by observation (limited knowledge and awareness of the Creator). This knowledge is sufficient to condemn him, but not to save him. Psalm 97:6 – “The heavens declare the righteousness…”
III. The unbeliever’s mind is fixed upon a lie.
A. Though the whole cosmos points inescapable to the truth of the Creator, theunbeliever prefers the lie. (Although he tries, man can’t escape from himself, for he is the crown of God’s creation – Ps 8; 19; 139.)[vii]
1. He exchanges the truth for a lie (Rom. 1:25). The opposite of truth is rebellion, lies, foolishness (Prov. 1:7; Jer. 22:11-14; Matt. 12:30). He worships the creature instead of the Creator – this is idolatry.
2. He has foolishly decided in his heart that the God of the Bible does not exist (Rom. 3:10-12).
a.) His heart, the inner control center, is against God (Rom. 5:10).
b.) Out of the heart are the issues of life (Prov. 4:23).
c.) The heart is the location of human character (Luke 6:45).
d.) The heart is the aspect of man that concerns God the most (1 Sam. 16:7).
e.) The heart is the seat of man’s spiritual faculty (Prov. 3:5), man’s moral faculty (Mark 7:20-23), man’s intellectual faculty (Heb. 4:12) and man’s emotional faculty (Prov. 15:13).
3. The unbeliever seeks to wipe out God and be his own god.
a.) Genesis 3:1-7 – Satan told Eve a lie -- she would be “like God” knowing perfect holiness. Adam and Eve sought to interpret the universe without God – Jer. 8:9.
b.) Lost men are usurpers of God’s place; they are acting autonomously.
B. The unbeliever’s conscience accuses him (Romans 2:15).
1. The Law is written upon man’s heart (his moral conscience).
2. Men know it is wrong to steal, kill and lie, but they reject the God who put this moral standard in their heart – they cannot give an account for the morals they believe to be true.
3. John Calvin said that there is an inescapable sense of Deity in the heart of every person.
IV. The unbeliever suppresses the truth of God.
A. In order to embrace the lie, the unbeliever unrighteously suppresses God’s truth.He “holds down” the truth of God, not wishing to retain the knowledge of God in his thoughts.
1. Though he possesses the truth of God, he suppresses the truth about God, thus
he sins against knowledge. (The unbeliever has no sentiment to live for the glory of God.)[viii]
2. Although the unbeliever represents himself as a “truth seeker,” as “neutral”
and as “objective,” the Scriptures declare the natural man to be in rebellion against
the God of truth. The seat of all sin lies in this aforementioned suppression.
The denial of God’s truth is an expression of man’s arrogant claim to be
autonomous. At the heart of the denial is man’s wicked attempt to erase the
very essence of the Creator-creature distinction which alone can give meaning
3. The unbeliever resembles the tenant farmers in Jesus’ parable (Matt. 21:33-44).
The farmers had a livelihood because of the mercy of the landowner, but they
refused to honor Him.
4. The natural man has “an ax to grind,” or vested interest in suppressing the
revelation of God. If he can expunge the knowledge of the Creator from his
thoughts, then he will not have to think about God as his Lawgiver and Judge
B. In his suppression, the unbeliever makes self the ultimate reference point. The
natural man wants to be his own absolute authority. The Scriptures affirm that
autonomy belongs to God alone.
1. The unbeliever attributes autonomy to self – he tries to make his mind the
determiner of reality. Man desires a “god” who will leave the autonomy of his
mind in tact.
2. The Bible states that man cannot know God, the created world or self apart from
the revelation of God. Therefore when man makes self the ultimate reference
point, he places himself in a position to not understand truth. God regards man’s
speculations as futility, darkness and utter foolishness (Rom. 1:21-23; Eph. 4:17-
3. Reasoning begins either with self or with God. The Bible is the infallible
starting point. Submission to God only occurs when men believe, submit to and
obey God’s Word. Submission to the truth of God is submission to God.
C. The non-Christian’s philosophy or world view, is based upon his allegiance to
1. Man’s commitment to independence from God rules out the possibility of
acquiring true knowledge. By seeking to live and think independently of God,
man has left the only source of certainty. The natural man wears a mask of total
certainty, but at the same time he is uncertain because he has abandoned the
source of true knowledge. (The cost of rendering God irrelevant is incalculable.
It thrusts man upon a shore-less sea of epistemological despair.)
2. In so doing, he opposes himself – he is left with only finite speculation and
probability.[xi] He is stuck with a world ruled by chance and contingency. A
universe based upon chance has no basis for meaning and rationality, thus no
certainty. The commitment to independence brings man to futility and
3. The God of Scripture is ultimate reality and absolute truth. The choice to live
independently of Him is incalculably expensive. Non-Christian philosophy
based upon allegiance to independence claims to know truth, but offers nothing
but ruin and eternal death.
4. In their determination to be independent of God, unbelievers reject the claims of
Christ. The Apostle Paul refers to every man-generated philosophy as “empty
deception” (Col. 2:8).
D. Scripture exposes the lie of independence.
1. Romans 1:18-23 reveals that the opposite of truth is not ignorance, but
rebellion, folly, foolishness and preference for the lie. The Bible states that the
whole knowledge endeavor is a moral issue. God gives meaning to the facts of
His creation. The sinful mind rejects God’s authoritative interpretation of the
facts. (To assign a fact a different meaning than God does is sin. Sinners
readily redefine knowledge that God has already defined, eg.: death, galaxies,
2. The lie began when the human race fell away from God. When our first parents
sinned, they believed the lie that man can successfully be his own ultimate
reference point. The lie offered “freedom” – man could do whatever he deemed
right in his own eyes and succeed. Man could be the measure of all things and
the master of his own destiny without his world falling apart. The lie also
involved a philosophical commitment that pictured man as able to give facts
their original definition.
3. Reception of the lie corrupted man’s reason. The unbeliever by God’s common
grace is able to use his created abilities to make worthwhile contributions to
culture, research, education, the arts etc. But, his sinful mind rejects God’s
authoritative revelation. His radical sin bias (known as depravity) issues forth
in a comprehensive and antagonistic perversion of God’s general revelation
(God’s witness in the created universe). As long as the lie is in place, a man is
kept from knowing the true and living God.
4. Fallen man uses his intellect to judge God’s revelation as false. The sinner uses
the autonomy lie to set himself up as judge over what presents itself as divine
revelation. Fallen man does not wish to think about the source of his existence
(namely that he is upheld every moment by the thought and power of God). By
means of the lie, man seeks to produce an “intellectual” buffer between himself
and God. (Through the philosophy the lie provides, man seeks to distance
himself from accountability to God – he wants estrangement from his Creator
who makes claims upon him.)
5. “[A]ll humans are born under the dominion of sin, with an overwhelming
inclination to measure life in the scales provided by Satan. The basic measure of
Satan’s scales is the false gospel, ‘you can do what is right in your own eyes, and
you will not be judged with death; you will succeed in life’” (Grover Gunn on
6. Fallen man distorts the truth to fit his desires. He does not conform his desires to
the truth. Fallen men adopt a belief system that permits sinful expression. This
could be referred to as “L.C.D. religion.” (LCD because the lowest common
denominator in this “equation” is a man’s lusts, desires and passions – these
determine what he will believe – he gravitates to a belief system that allows him
to keep his sin.)
In other words, the unbeliever selects a belief system that does not demand
repentance from sin. By contrast, the Word of God declares that true repentance
(which God requires of man) involves forsaking the sins which are antagonistic to
the truth of God.
7. (Only by the miracle of the new birth is a man enabled to repent – only then does
he possess the inclination to do God’s will and forsake evil.) The sinful
suppression of truth only ends when a man repents from self as the ultimate
reference point. Os Guinness notes that impenitence is characterized by distorting
the truth so that it is conformed to one’s desires. By contrast, true repentance
submits to the truth of God and, in ongoing repentance, one’s desires are
continually conformed to God’s truth.[xii]
E. The lie is filled with internal inconsistencies.
1. The lie assumes that this space, mass, time continuum known as the universe is
self-sustaining. But the naturalistic world view cannot account for morals, the
laws of logic, the conditions of knowledge and uniformity in nature. (i.e., a
universe founded upon chaos offers no accounting for the above.)
2. Suppression by choice is unsuccessful. The natural man knows that punishment
awaits him for his sin, yet he pretends that he can’t find God for lack of data.
Greg Bahnsen offers the following insight from Scripture, “Being ‘without God in
the world,’ the natural man yet knows God, and, in spite of himself, to some extent
recognizes God. By virtue of their creation in God’s image, by virtue of the
ineradicable sense of deity within them and by virtue of God’s restraining general
grace, those who hate God, yet in a restricted sense know God, and do good.”
(One cannot disassociate who God is from what He has commanded and
commended as His system of truth and ethics.)
3. For fallen man, corrupted reason is never the tool of divine revelation. For the
unbeliever, reason is either slain on the altar of chance or reason is worshipped as
the final authority. (The unbeliever’s god is not rational, realistic or reasonable.)
The unbeliever claims that he lacks reliable proof that the God of the Bible exists.
BUT when asked to supply the categories of “proof” he would designate as
admissible, he is unable to describe those categories (See Proverbs 28:26).
4. A chance universe is the enemy of rationality. To say that rationality is based upon
irrationality is to “kill” facts as they are gathered. (Facts are “killed” because it
becomes impossible to give them meaning with any certainty.)
V. Suppressing the truth of God results in dire consequences.
A. There is nothing more destructive to the dignity and integrity of man than to know
the truth of God and to suppress it. The Apostle Paul pulls back the curtain and
shows us the moral turpitude ensues when it is no longer held back by the dam of
truth. (With the theological basis for morality set aside, nothing remains to keep the
floodgates of immorality closed.)
B. It is not enough to know that men suppress the truth of God. We must know the evil
consequences of suppression. This is not just an intellectual rejection of God’s truth.
What is involved is nothing less than the rebellion of the whole man.[xiii] (Mind,
emotion and will are all united in the refusal to give God the glory He is due. Men
refused to honor Him or give thanks.)
C. The dire consequences of man’s suppression are catalogued in Romans chapter one:
1. INTELLECTUAL FUTILITY – All thinking that sets aside the claims of God
always ends in futility. (They make nonsense out of logic.)
2. SPIRITUAL DARKNESS – When the Creator-creature distinction is denied, the
mind is flooded with soul-damning myths. (The areas of life dominated by the
myth run the gamut, the range of subjects is endless: origin, destiny, purpose,
knowledge, ownership, being, death, reason, morality, hope, reality etc.)
3. INCREDIBLE FOLLY AND STUPIDITY – The more man claimed to be eminent
in philosophy, the more foolish he became. Nothing less than vanity can be
expected when men exchange the truth of God for a lie.
4. FALSE RELIGION – False religion is evidenced in the proliferation of idolatry in
all its forms and manifestations. Men worshipped and served the creature and the
creation. This universal idolatry includes egocentrism, humanism, hedonism,
skepticism, materialism, intellectualism, and vain philosophy.
5. GROSS IMMORALITY – The unbridled expression of lust is one of the degrading
effects of man’s mutiny against God. Immorality is the rebellion of mind, spirit,
and body. The lust of the flesh replaces the love of the creature for the Creator.
6. SOCIAL DEPRAVITY – Suppression of God’s truth is highly destructive to social
standards and structures. Social depravity disrupts the essential order that is
necessary to maintain the decency and dignity of civilized society.[xiv]
[i] James F. Stitzinger, Apologetics and Evangelism, (The Master’s Seminary, Sun Valley, CA, 1999).
[iii] Ibid., pp. 5-7.
[iv] Ibid., p. 13.
[v] Ibid., p. 14.
[vi] Ibid., p. 15.
[vii] Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, “Crucial Biblical Passages for Christian Apologetics” Jerusalem and Athens,
E. R. Geehan, Ed. (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1971), pp. 134-136.
[viii] Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready, (Atlanta: American Vision, 1996), p. 42.
[ix] Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Jerusalem and Athens, p. 136.
[x] James F. Stitzinger, Apologetics and Evangelism.
[xi]Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready, p. 105.
[xii] Os Guinness, Time for Truth, from Christian Book Summaries, vol. 1 no. 15 (Apr. 2000), pp. 6, 7.
[xiii] Hughes, Biblical Passages, p. 136.
[xiv] Ibid., p. 137.