What is a Reprobate Mind?
The expression “reprobate mind” is observed in Romans 1:28 relating to those who God has denied as godless and wicked. They “suppress the truth by their wickedness,” and it is against these people that the wrath of God occurs (Romans 1:18). The Greek word translated “reprobate” in the New Testament is adokimos, which means “unapproved, refused; by implication, worthless.”
Romans 9:21 states, “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?”
The question before us about a “reprobate” mind is one that takes us deep into the Scriptures and into the heart and mind of God who desires to save people. The doctrine of predestination is also called election, while the doctrine of predestination to damnation is called the doctrine of reprobation.
Bible Verses with "Reprobate"
The Greek word ἀδόκιμος or adókimos for reprobate occurs eight times in the New Testament but is translated into the English using various words. The following verses are an example of this:
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.”
1 Corinthians 9:27, "But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
2 Corinthians 13:5-7, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 6 I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. 7 But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed.”
2 Timothy 3:8, “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.”
Titus 1:16, "They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.”
- Hebrews 6:8, “But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.”
Three Important Points about Election and Reprobation
All humanity is in sin and has rebelled against the Lord God, which is why He doesn’t have to elect a single person. When the Lord saves sinners, He works in that person creating belief. All of this contrasts with the doctrine of reprobation where the Lord bypasses a sinner by not creating belief in their heart and letting them go their own way.
Reprobation and election are not ultimately equal. In the work of election, the Lord God acts powerfully to change people from sinners into saints. While election is an act of God, reprobation is the reflex demonstrating the Lord has not elected everybody.
God choosing to save some is also a decision not to save others. Such a decision is called election, and the decision to not save is called preterition. Such an action are two sides of the same coin and equally ultimate to that degree. For example, the Lord elects by calling saints by saving them apart from any works they do. In preterition, the Lord doesn’t do anything but leave sinners alone. The work of God in condemning the wicked is not the reverse side of His work in saving sinners but demonstrates the Lord alone is the primary agent in salvation.
Romans 1:28 and the Reprobate Mind
Romans 1:28 is Paul’s explanation that the Lord hands people over to a debased mind. These are people who refuse to have anything to do with the Lord, and they are handed over to their idols. To acknowledge the Lord is to retain Him at the center of our affections, to respond to Him with thankfulness and worship as He has revealed Himself in His Word. When we acknowledge the Lord with our minds, we can think properly and reason correctly based on Scripture (Romans 12:1-2). When we don’t, we will be unable to think rightly about the Lord and make right and godly decisions based on the Word of God.
It’s essential to bring clarity here and not confusion for the unbelieving mind is not incapable of reason, for it cannot glorify God in its present unregenerate state. The unregenerate mind can understand there is a holy God from whom they should worship and give thanks. With that said, an unregenerate mind cannot worship and give thanks as the Lord God commands. Even so, Christians can present evidence to an unregenerate mind showing the existence of God and the Christian faith which Paul did (Acts 17:22-24). Even so, apart from the Holy Spirit, unregenerate minds will take such evidence, pervert it, and use it to justify their current state away from the Lord.
The reprobate mind is given over to sinful passions and desires for such a person is set on satisfying every appetite and desire they have. The person who rejects God serves themselves and as a result, comes under the condemnation of the Lord. Such people don’t have any desire for the Lord, to attend church, or engage in any of the spiritual disciplines. As a result, they are under the just condemnation of the Lord, which is why they have no conviction of their sin or desire for the Lord.
Christians and the Reprobate Mind
What we’ve discussed thus far in this article is very saddening because it demonstrates the state of our present world. With that said, Christians do not have a reprobate mind because they have the Holy Spirit since they are born again (John 3:3-8; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Christians, as a result, will imperfectly seek the will of God as they struggle against indwelling sin and grow in the grace of God.
Romans 1:28 describes the “reprobate mind” as those who have rejected God and are wicked and godless, who “suppress the truth by their wickedness” for upon such people the wrath of God rests (Romans 1:18).
Jannes and Jambres are described by Paul as those who “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.” (2 Timothy 3:8). Reprobation here is demonstrated by resistance to the truth because of corrupt minds. In Titus 1:16, Paul refers to those whose works are reprobate, “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.”
Those who are reprobate have some knowledge of God and may even know the commandments of God. Even so, they live impure lives and have little to no desire to please the Lord because they live for themselves. These are the people whom the Lord has rejected, and has chosen to leave to their own devices.
Christians are those who by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone do not have reprobate minds because they are new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christians are new people because they have believed the gospel of grace. As a result, Christians are new people who live and speak differently than the world for their entire world is centered on Jesus whom they serve whole-heartedly. Christians, unlike those who are reprobate, seek to live a God-honoring life that pleases the Lord, unlike the reprobate who live only for themselves.
Dave Jenkins is the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and the Host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast. He received his MAR and M.Div. through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @davejjenkins, find him on Facebook at Dave Jenkins SOG, Instagram, or read more of his writing at Servants of Grace, or sign up for his email newsletter. When Dave isn’t busy with ministry, he loves spending time with his wife, Sarah, reading the latest from Christian publishers, the Reformers, and the Puritans, playing golf, watching movies, sports, and spending time with his family.