The Noetic Effects of Sin
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Rom. 1:21).- Romans 1:18–23
It is clear from reading the epistle to the Hebrews that the author is full of faith in God and in Christ. What might be less apparent however, is that this faith is a reasonable faith. Far from being a blind leap into the dark, our author’s faith in Jesus is one supported by solid historical evidences like miracles and the testimony of many witnesses (2:1–4). Also, our author does not merely take the superiority of Jesus for granted. Rather, he presents carefully reasoned arguments as to why Jesus is superior to the angels, Moses, and to all of the high priests who filled the office before He did. Unfortunately, many Christians are confused about how faith and reason relate to each other. Therefore, over the next few days, we will go through the audio series Faith and Reason by Dr. R.C. Sproul with the hope of clarifying the relationship between reason and faith.
Romans 1 is one of the most important texts that deals with general revelation. General revelation is the revelation that God gives to all people, sinner or saint, in creation. The created order clearly and loudly tells all men about God’s power and divine nature (1:20).
But though all men clearly know there is a God, they do not honor or give thanks to Him (1:21). The fall into sin has caused mankind to ignore and deny their Creator. Sin has affected our minds and causes our thinking to become futile apart from Christ. This effect of sin upon our minds is known in theology as the “noetic effects of sin.”
Some have said that the fall into sin has destroyed our capacity to reason. It is true that the unredeemed mind will ultimately lead a person into futility. However, though our minds have been affected by sin, they have not been destroyed. Unbelievers still find truth quite often and can attain a breadth of knowledge in various areas. Scripture presents logical arguments for its teachings, presumably both to redeemed minds and to minds that are still enslaved by sin.
Dr. Sproul reasons that “even though the mind is darkened by sin, and leads us to futility apart from being captured by the Word of God, Paul is not saying that the human faculty for thinking is destroyed by sin.” The non-Christian can know some truth. If the faculty to reason was destroyed, truth could never be known and God could not condemn people for denying it.
Atheists claim that there is not enough reason to believe God exists. In Romans 1, Paul proves otherwise. All men see God in creation but suppress the evidence in sin. Good apologists for the Christian faith always remember that. As you prepare to defend the faith, study the truths of the faith and pray that minds will receive them.
Passages for Further Study
2 Cor. 3:7–16