The Pagan Mindset
In Romans 1:18-32, Paul describes in the clearest language the pagan mindset in which the world lies. In short, it is a world where men suppress the knowledge of God which the world displays and their souls long for, and choose instead gods of their own making who approve of their wicked deeds. Men must worship something or someone, and they prefer to worship a god much like themselves, the true God being so hung up about sin and faith in Christ and coming judgment and self-control and all that (Acts 24:24-25). The true God seems so concerned about changing men to look more like His Son and less like themselves that one gets the impression that God thinks that a man should find fulfillment solely in doing His will instead of a man’s own. Why, to the pagan mindset, this all quite counter-intuitive!
And this is exactly what Paul and Barnabas ran into at Lystra. While Paul was preaching the Gospel, he saw a poor man who was crippled from birth. Upon healing the man, the crowds immediately credited the wonderful event to their ancient made-up gods of Zeus and Hermes, a strange declaration when one considers that the Greek gods generally harmed men and women rather than healed them, and mostly for their own sadistic and immoral pleasures. When Paul and Barnabas discovered that the ignorant masses were about to offer sacrifice to them, thinking them impersonated in the very gods themselves, they tore their garments and ran out to stop the people, informing them that it was these very demons that they sought to turn them away from and towards the living God who made heaven and earth, who had overlooked their sins by giving them rain and harvest, but now proclaimed to them the Gospel by the hands of these very human messengers. But we are told that even with such earnest pleas, they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.
Such an account sounds so strange to twenty-first century ears. And yet I submit that nothing has changed with pagan man. What Paul describes in Romans 1:18-32 is not an isolated and particular episode but a general and universal description of man who rejects God, of man without God. He sinks further and further into his own depravity, choosing the creature (himself) over the Creator, such that his mind is so darkened that even when confronted by the plain truth before him, he scarcely restrains himself from running headlong into hell. “And such were some of [us]. But [we] were washed, [we] were sanctified, [we] were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).