@Narphi Steven, thank you for your post. In regard to the question of whether or not these stages of ‘gave them overs’ are distinct chronological states, I would say the answer is no. I think what is chronological is the rejection of the knowledge of God which leads to idolatry which leads to a further corruption of the flesh. Sam Storms has laid out this process using modern psychological terms - what follows is a direct quote from his blog:
Trauma R. C. Sproul explains: ‘A traumatic experience generally involves something negative or threatening to the individual. . . . In the case of Paul’s analysis the trauma is produced by encounter with God’s self-revelation. For various reasons, God’s presence is severely threatening to people. God manifests a threat to human moral standards, a threat to the quest for autonomy, and a threat to the desire for concealment. God’s revelation represents the invasion of light into the darkness to which people are accustomed’ (58).
Repression In psychological terms ‘repression may be defined as the process by which unacceptable desires or impulses are excluded from consciousness and thus, being denied direct satisfaction, are left to operate in the unconscious’ (59). The knowledge of God is simply unacceptable to the pagan, who buries what he knows or at least camouflages it sufficiently that it no longer poses a moral threat.
Substitution This corresponds to what Paul says about exchanging the glory and truth of God with an idolatrous substitute. As Sproul explains it, ‘what results from the repression is the profession of atheism either in militant terms, or its less militant form of agnosticism, or a kind of religion that makes God less of a threat than He really is. Either option, atheism or false religion, manifests an exchange of the truth for a lie. The truth is exchanged for a lie simply because the lie seems easier to live with’ (60).
Regarding your question of the ‘gave them overs’, Storms has a few helpful notes. He says the specific examples used by Paul are not intended to be ‘this is always how it works’ but rather some of the most egregious examples of abandoning what is natural. First, he quotes Douglas Moo who says that “God does not simply let the boat go — He gives it a push downstream. Like a judge who hands over a prisoner to the punishment his crime has earned, God hands over the sinner to the terrible cycle of ever-increasing sin”.
However, he then clarifies that:
God does not tempt anyone to sin and is not the author of evil - “In the midst of the retributive action of God there is no coercion of man. God does not entice or compel to evil” (S. Lewis Johnson)
Because God removes restraining grace, the sin accelerates
If you are interested, here is Sam Storms’ full article on Romans 1:18-32. I am not endorsing all he says - it is a long article, but I generally like Storms.
Any follow up questions? Any points of agreement / disagreement? May the Lord grant you understanding as you study His Word.