Derived from the Greek adjective noētikos, meaning “intellectual”; the Greek verb noein, meaning “to think”; and the Greek noun nous, meaning “mind,” the word noetic refers to the action of thinking. The noetic effect of sin is the effect of sin on man’s intellect. Because of sin, man’s ability to think and reason is clouded. The result is an impairment of the intellect that fosters doubt, skepticism, and unbelief concerning the things of God.
The Christian faith is neither an exercise in wishful thinking nor a mindless belief in the far-fetched and improbable. On the contrary, we have many indisputable reasons to believe, for God has left His fingerprints everywhere. But the evidence is difficult to see because of the noetic effects of sin. The apostle Paul wrote, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 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. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Romans 1:18–25, ESV).
According to this passage, the unrighteous
• suppress the truth of God (verse 18)
• refuse to believe that which has been revealed to them (verse 19)
• are without excuse (verse 20)
• refuse to honor or give thanks to their Creator (verse 21)
• are futile in their thinking (verse 21)
• have foolish, darkened hearts (verse 21)
• are fools who profess to be wise (verse 22)
• are prone to idolatry (verse 23)
• are given to various lusts that dishonor their mortal bodies (verse 24)
• prefer lies to truth (verse 25)
King David wrote, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good” (Psalm 14:1, ESV). The noetic effects of sin have rendered people foolish: they are intellectually and morally corrupt, doers of all manner of abominable deeds, and haters of that which is good and holy. It is as if those whose hearts are calloused by cynicism and whose minds are steeped in doubt and unbelief are immune to God’s revelations of Himself and His eternal truths. As to the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, the message of the cross is foolishness to those whose thinking has been darkened by sin (1 Corinthians 1:18).
Thankfully, God stands ready to rescue those whose minds have been ravaged by sin. By a simple act of faith, lost sinners can be redeemed and have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). No longer befuddled by sin, believers can live abundantly and victoriously by understanding God’s purpose and plans for their lives (see Jeremiah 29:11). Unlike atheists who believe they are here by some random accident, followers of Jesus Christ know who they are, why they are here, what they are to do, and where they are going. The mind of Christ counters the noetic effects of sin and replaces our formerly muddled thinking with crystal clarity.
In summary, the noetic effects of sin distort the intellect so that evil appears as good and good is seen to be evil (Isaiah 5:20). As worldly culture grows increasingly secular, we see logic and reason giving way to political correctness, uncritical thinking, and double standards. James, the half-brother of our Lord Jesus wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5, ESV). True wisdom, our best anodyne against the intellectually damaging effects of sin, allows us to see people, events, and circumstances through God’s eyes. We ought not think as the world thinks, for we are not of this world (Romans 12:2).