Depraved Mind

Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
~ Romans 1:21-23

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the LORD.
~ Psalm 14:1-4

And ye have done worse than your fathers; for, behold, ye walk every one after the imagination of his evil heart, that they may not hearken unto me:
~ Jeremiah 16:12

And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
~ Genesis 6:5

And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.
~ Genesis 8:21

What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous? Behold, he putteth no trust in his saints; yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight. How much more abominable and filthy is man, which drinketh iniquity like water?
~ Job 15:14-16

This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.
~ Ecclesiastes 9:3

A Depraved, Corrupted Mind, by John Owen.

Scripture teaches that man’s will and heart’s desires are corrupt and depraved. This is seen as weakness or impotence and leads to stubbornness and obstinacy. The whole soul lies in a state of spiritual death.

Spiritual darkness is in all men and lies on all men until God, by an almighty work of the Spirit, shines into men’s hearts or creates light in them (Mat 4:16; Joh 1:5; Act 26:18; Eph 5:8; Col 1:13; 1 Pet. 2:9)…The nature of this spiritual darkness must be understood. When men have no light to see by, then they are in darkness (Exo 10:23). Blind men are in darkness, either by birth or by illness or accident (Psa 69:23; Gen 19:11; Act 13:11). A spiritually blind man is in spiritual darkness and is ignorant of spiritual things.

There is an outward darkness on men and an inward darkness in men. Outward darkness is when men do not have that light by which they are enabled to see. So outward spiritual darkness is upon men when there is nothing to enlighten them about God and spiritual things (Mat 4:16; Psa 119:105; Psa 19:1-4, 8; 2Pe 1:19; Rom 10:15, 18). It is the work of the Holy Spirit to remove this darkness by sending the light of the gospel (Act 13:2, 4; 16:6-10; Psa 147:19, 20).

On the other hand, inward darkness arises from the natural depravity and corruption of the minds of men concerning spiritual things. Man’s mind is depraved and corrupted in things that are natural, civil, political, and moral, as well as in things that are spiritual, heavenly, and evangelical. This depravity is often held back from having its full effects by the common grace of the Holy Spirit. So, man’s mind being darkened, he is unable to see, receive, understand, or believe to the saving of his soul. Spiritual things, or the mysteries of the gospel, cannot bring salvation without the Holy Spirit first creating within the soul a new light by which they can see and receive those things.

However brilliant the mind may be and however brilliant the preaching and presentation of the gospel might be, yet without the Holy Spirit creating this light in them, they cannot receive, understand, and agree with the truths preached and so will not be led to salvation (Eph 4:17-18). So, the unregenerate “walk in the vanity of their mind” (Eph 4:17). The natural inclination of the unregenerate mind is to seek those things that cannot satisfy (Gen 6:5).

It is an unstable mind (Pro 7:11-12). The unregenerate understanding is darkened and cannot judge things properly (Joh 1:5). The unregenerate heart is blind. In Scripture, the heart includes the will also. Light is received by the mind, applied by the understanding and used by the heart. “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness,” said Jesus, “how great is that darkness” (Mat 6:23).

There are three things that arise from the natural futility of the mind in its depraved condition found among believers. Firstly, it makes the believer waver and to be unstable and fickle in the holy duties of meditation, prayer, and hearing the Word. The mind wanders and is distracted by many worldly thoughts. Secondly, this instability is the cause of backsliding in believers, leading them to conform to the world and its habits and customs, which are vain and foolish. And thirdly, this futility of the mind deceives believers into providing for the flesh and the lusts of the flesh. It can and often does lead to self-indulgence.

To win the victory over this corrupt and futile mind, we must fix our minds and desires on spiritual things shown us by the Holy Spirit. But in fixing our minds on spiritual things, we must watch that the mind does not slip back into vain, foolish, and unprofitable thoughts and ideas. We must get into the habit of meditating on holy, spiritual things (Col 3:2). We must be humbled as we realize how foolish and futile our minds are left to themselves.

The unregenerate mind is perverse and depraved, so men are “alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them” (Eph 4:18). This alienation from the life of God is because their minds are sinful and depraved (Col 1:21) .

The life of God from which men are alienated is the life that God requires of us so that we may please Him here and enjoy Him hereafter (Rom 1:17; Gal 2:20; Rom 6 & 7). It is the life that God works in us…spiritually by His grace (Eph 2:1, 5; Phi 2:13). It is the life by which we live to God (Rom 6 & 7). God is the supreme goal of that life, as He is also the creator of that life.

Through this life, we seek to do all things to the glory of God (Rom 14:7-8). By this life, we come to the eternal enjoyment of God as our eternal blessedness and eternal reward (Gen 15:1). The life of God is that life by which God lives in us by His Spirit through Jesus Christ (Gal 2:20; Col 3:3). It is that life whose fruits are holiness and spiritual, evangelical obedience (Rom 6:22; Phi 1:11). And this life of God never dies because it is eternal (Joh 17:3).

Now the unregenerate mind is alienated from this life of God, and this alienation reveals itself in two ways. It reveals itself by an unwillingness and inability of the unconverted mind to receive those things concerning this life of God (Luk 24:25; Heb 5:11-12; Jer 4:22). It also reveals itself by the unconverted mind choosing any other life than the life of God (1Ti 5:6; Jam 5:5; Rom 7:9; 9:32; 10:3). Even though the unconverted mind is highly educated and talented, yet it is utterly unable to receive and understand spiritually those things needful for its eternal salvation. It will not respond to the preaching of the gospel until it is renewed, enlightened, and enabled to do so by the Holy Spirit: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1Co 2:14). The subject of this verse is the natural man (the unregenerate man). The natural man is quite opposite to the spiritual man (1Co 15:44; Jude 19)…

In verse fourteen, we see things put to the natural man. These things are “the things of the Spirit of God.” Now what are these things of the Spirit of God that are put to the natural man? Here are some of them, all from 1 Corinthians chapter 2: “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (2:2); “the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory” (2:7); “the things that are freely given to us of God” (2:12); “the mind of Christ” (22:16).

These are the things of the Spirit of God. These are things that cannot be received except by sovereign, supernatural illumination. These are the things that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (2:9). They are things from God’s eternal counsel. These are the things that the mind of man at his first creation had no idea existed (Eph 3:8-11).

Two things can be said of the natural man and the things of the Spirit of God. Firstly, he does not receive them: secondly, he cannot know them.

In this double assertion, we learn firstly that the power to receive spiritual things is denied [to] the natural man (Rom 8:7). He cannot receive them because they are spiritually discerned. We learn secondly that the natural man willingly rejects them. This is implied in the words “does not receive the things of the Spirit of God.” And he rejects them because they appear to him to be foolish. The natural man cannot, will not, and does not receive the things of the Spirit of God! He can know the literal sense of the doctrines presented to him. He can know that Jesus Christ was crucified. But there is a wide difference between receiving doctrines as mere statements presented to him and knowing the reality that those statements present.

The natural man can know the way of righteousness as a mere statement (2Pe 2:21). He can know other things also, merely as ideas presented to him (Ti 1:16; Rom 2:23-24). But these truths have no transforming effect on his life. The spiritual man, on the other hand, knows them in reality and they have a transforming effect on his life (Rom 12:2; Eph 4:22-24).

Now before spiritual things can be received two things are necessary. It is necessary that we understand them, agree with them, and receive them because they agree with the wisdom, holiness, and righteousness of God (1Co 1:23-24). It is also necessary that we see how well adapted they are to glorifying God, the salvation of sinners and bringing the church to grace and glory.

The natural man cannot do this. He can, however, receive exhortations, promises, commands and threatenings in the gospel (1Jo 5:20). But to him the wisdom of God is foolishness. Paul says that the “foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1Co 1:25). But to the natural man they are foolishness.

The natural man cannot know spiritual things because it is the Spirit of God Who endows the minds of men with that ability, and the light itself by which alone spiritual things can be spiritually discerned is created in us by an almighty act of the power of God (2Co 4:6)…The natural man cannot discern spiritual things so as to lead to the salvation of his soul because his mind is darkened by its own depravity. This is the misery of our persons and the sin of our natures. But it cannot be used as an excuse in the judgment day for not receiving spiritual things.

There is also in the minds of unregenerate men a moral inability by which the mind will never receive spiritual things because it is governed and ruled by various lusts, corruptions, and prejudices. These are so fixed in the unregenerate mind as to make it think that spiritual things are foolish (Joh 6:44; 5:40; 3:19).

Paul teaches us that Christ “hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col 1:13). In this verse, we are said to be delivered from “the power of darkness” (Eph 5:11; Act 26:18; Isa 60:2; Eph 2:2; 2Co 4:4). Peter speaks of “chains of darkness” (2Pe 2:4). From these there is no escape.

This darkness fills the mind with enmity against God and all the things of God (Col 1:21; Rom 8:7). If God is great in goodness and beauty, why do men hate Him? This hatred arises from this darkness, which is the corruption and depravity of our nature. This darkness fills the mind with perverse lusts that resist the will of God (Eph 2:3; Phi 3:19; Col 2:18; Rom 8:5). This darkness fills the mind with prejudices against all spiritual things, and the mind is utterly unable to free itself from these prejudices. The darkened mind sees first the things it lusts after. Then, later, it recognizes those lusts in itself. But when men are called to seek God above all other desires, then this is considered to be foolish because the unconverted mind thinks that spiritual things will never bring contentment, happiness, and satisfaction. In particular, the unregenerate mind has a special bias against the gospel.

Now in the gospel there are two things preached: Firstly, there are those things that belong only to the gospel and have nothing of the Law or of the light of nature. They come to us only by revelation, and they are unique to the gospel. They are what makes the gospel to be the gospel. And they are all those things concerning the love and will of God in Christ Jesus (1Co 2:2; Eph 3:7-11).

Secondly, there are those things declared in the gospel that have their foundation in the Law and the light of nature. These are all the moral duties. These moral duties are in some measure known apart from the gospel (Rom 1:19; 2:14-15). There is on all men an obligation to obey these moral laws according to the light they have been given.

Now it is in this state that the gospel adds two things to the minds of men. Firstly, it shows the right way to obey. It shows that obedience can arise only from a regenerate heart that is no longer at enmity with God. It also shows that the whole purpose of obedience is to bring glory to God. It shows that we cannot obey until we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. All these things put moral duties in a new framework—the framework of the gospel.

Secondly, by giving us His Spirit, God strengthens and enables us to obey according to the gospel framework. The gospel declares to us things that make gospel obedience to be gospel obedience and not legal obedience (1Co 15:3; Rom 6:17; Gal 4:19; Ti 2:11, 12; 1Co 13:11; 2Co 3:18): First, the gospel teaches the mysteries of the faith and lays them down as the foundation of faith and obedience. Second, the gospel then grafts all duties of moral obedience onto this tree of faith in Jesus Christ. This is what Paul does in his epistles. He begins by teaching the mysteries of the Christian faith. Then, on the basis of these mysteries and wonders of the gospel that has brought to us the grace and mercy of God, he teaches that, out of gratitude, we should seek to please Him Who so loved us by obeying him…

So, while the mind of man remains unregenerate, there is no hope for the soul coming out of darkness into the light of the glorious gospel of Christ.

Conclusion: The mind in the state of nature is so depraved and corrupted that it is not able to understand, receive and embrace spiritual things. Therefore, while the mind remains unregenerate, the soul cannot and will not receive Christ for salvation, nor can it be made holy and fit for heaven. The heart and will cannot act independently of the mind. The will is not free to act on its own. The eye is the natural light of the body. By means of the eye, the body is led safely round dangerous obstacles, and so is kept from hurting itself. But if the eye is blind, or it is surrounded by darkness and so cannot see, then the body has no idea where it is going and will inevitably bump into objects or trip over obstacles.

What the eye is to the body, the mind is to the soul. If the mind sees the glory and beauty of Christ and His salvation presented in the gospel, it will excite the heart to desire them as truly good and the will to receive and embrace them. But if the mind is ignorant of the gospel, or is blinded by prejudice, then the heart will not be roused to desire Christ nor the will be urged to embrace Him. If the mind is deceived, both will and heart will be deceived also. Where the mind is depraved, so will the heart be (Rom 1:28-32; 1Ti 2:14; Heb 3:12, 13; 2Co 11:3).

We see, therefore, how important are the words of Jesus when He said, “Ye must be born again” (Joh 3:7).