- God’s Choice Is A Matter Of His Authority (9:19-23)
God is sovereign in the actions He takes and gracious in withholding wrath or extending glory. Paul writes in 9:19: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’” This is the exact question we are tempted to raise at this point. We might also be tempted to follow up this question with: “How can God blame people for rejecting Him if He did not choose them?” Or, if God hardens people then why does He blame them for being hard? Now this is a great spot for Paul to include an apology or strong word of explanation. But he does neither. He doesn’t try to soften his teaching nor does he feel the need to clarify or defend what he has previously taught regarding election. Don’t miss this! The question in 9:19 is only valid if the premise is valid. The premise of the question is that God is sovereign, and that He does choose to save some but not others. If the premise was wrong, then Paul would have corrected it here and now. But he doesn’t correct the premise. This further confirms that he is teaching the doctrine of individual election.
Paul even indicts the questioner for talking back to God: “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The question and the questioner are out of order. It’s a question that no one has a right to ask. We cannot approach God as though He were an equal or as if He had to answer to us. He is under no obligation to give us any answers at all. This is graphically illustrated for us in the book of Job. The book begins with a glimpse into heaven when Satan asks God’s permission to sift Job. The Lord grants Satan permission to do anything short of killing Job. For the next thirty-seven chapters Job goes through every type of trial imaginable. At the end of that time, God comes to Job and says to him essentially the same thing that Paul says here in these verses: “Who are you to answer back to God?”
What a great reminder to Let God be God. There are certain jobs that I’m not qualified for. One such job is anything dealing with automotive care. I can change my own oil, but that’s about it. Since I lack the necessary knowledge and skills, I have no right to tell an auto mechanic how to do his job. Likewise, I can’t walk into the home of another man or woman and change the rules of that household. I don’t own the place. Similarly, I don’t own this world. God does; and, He has a right to call the shots.
Paul backs up his theology with an Old Testament illustration. In 9:20b-21 he says: “The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?” These verses are some serious “smack down.” Paul says, “Shut your mouth!” He puts you and me in our place! Paul is trying to hammer home the point that God is wholly unaccountable for His dealings with us. This is illustrated in the matter of the potter and the clay. Doesn’t the potter have the right to take a lump of clay, divide it in half, take half of the lump to make a beautiful vessel that is designed for display in a living room, and take the other half to make a slop jar or something for the kitchen? Doesn’t he have this right? Yes, he does. The potter has the right to do with the clay as he wishes. Does clay ever talk back to the potter? Of course not!
In Paul’s analogy, sinful humankind is the lump of clay, which is sinful through and through. There is no neutrality in man—he is an enemy of God. So the question is not, “Why are some made to dishonor?” because dishonor is the natural state of the clay. The question is rather, “Why are some selected for honor?” Paul wants us to realize that we’re not the customers, we’re not the critics . . . we’re the clay! And the potter always has full right over the vessels that he creates.
On an intensely practical note:
Have you given “Potter’s Rights” to the Lord for how He made you, your personality, your looks, your physical makeup, your abilities and skills, your intellect, and the opportunities of your life?
Are you content with who God has made you to be and what He is doing in your life?
Do you want to be like someone else, or do you want to have something more? You and I must realize that God has the right to do whatever He wants to us and in us and through us and with us. We must submit ourselves fully to His use and let God be God over our lives.
Paul now comes to two of the most difficult verses in the entire New Testament. In 9:22-23 Paul writes, “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.” These verses have brought more than one reader to his or her knees before our awesome God. It’s time to put your thinking cap on. In an attempt to simplify the complicated, let me make a few observations:
- There is an obvious contrast between “vessels of wrath” and “vessels of mercy.”
- Two different Greek words are used to translate the word “prepared.” In 9:22 the word “prepared,” referring to the vessels of wrath, is a passive participle with no clear subject. In 9:23 the word “prepared,” referring to the vessels of mercy, is an active participle that has God as the subject. In 9:23 God is clearly the one who does the preparing. In 9:22 Paul avoids God’s direct involvement in the preparation of the vessels of wrath for destruction.
- The “vessels of mercy” were “prepared beforehand.” The Greek word translated “prepared” has a prefix at the front of the word that means “before.” This would seem to suggest that the vessels of wrath were prepared, but not necessarily in eternity past. Like Pharaoh, who hardened his own heart, and then God entered the picture and hardened his heart, the vessels of wrath may be prepared for destruction during their lifetime. But vessels of mercy are prepared in eternity past by God’s election. This great truth should never be softened or finessed.
- God’s choices on these matters are not disclosed to us, and they are not meant in any way to cause despair. It has been well said, “These truths were not meant to be a puzzle to the mind but a pillow to the soul.” The point of these two verses is to demonstrate God’s glory, which is evidenced in His patience and mercy. Putting it simply: The “vessels of mercy” have only God to thank, and the “vessels of wrath” have only themselves to blame.The vessel of mercy can only say, “I’m in heaven because of God!” While the vessel of wrath can only say, “I’m in hell because of me!” Those who experience eternal destruction will never be able to blame God or say, “I’m damned because God did not choose me!” Their damnation is based not upon God’s rejection of them but upon their rejection of God.
Imagine the following scenario. A man is imprisoned for a crime he actually committed; yet, he calls a press conference claiming to the world he’s been unjustly jailed. His incarceration is not fair. Why not? “It’s the governor’s fault,” he says. Why is it the governor’s fault? “Because the governor didn’t give me a pardon. If he would give me a pardon, I’d be out on the street right now; but, since he didn’t give me a pardon, I’m in prison. Therefore, it’s the governor’s fault I’m in prison, not mine.” Would you be swayed by that logic? I doubt it. Instead, you’d reply that the criminal is behind bars for crimes he committed—because he killed somebody, he robbed somebody, he stole something, or he extorted something. He broke the law, that’s why he’s in prison. Now, the criminal might be out if the governor chose to exercise mercy, but that isn’t why he’s behind bars. He’s in prison because he’s a criminal.
The same thing is true with us. We’re in deep trouble with God because we are criminals against Him. If we go to hell, it’s for only one reason: because we’ve rejected Christ as our sin bearer. Those who are punished are not punished unjustly. They are punished justly because they’re guilty. It would only be unjust if they weren’t guilty. If God chooses to exercise mercy on some people then it’s His prerogative. We must step back, sit down, shut up, and let God be God.
[God’s choice is a matter of His character and His authority. Now we will see a final great truth . . .]
- God’s Choice Is A Matter Of His Program (9:24-29)
Regardless of how it may appear, God is bringing about His kingdom purposes. Paul concludes the whole argument of this passage by stressing the fact that the Gentiles are as much an object of God’s mercy as are the Jews. The salvation of Gentiles is not an afterthought with God. Indeed, someone has well said that all saved are not God’s afterthoughts, but His forethoughts! Our text culminates with four quotations from the Old Testament, in which the same theme is sounded, namely, that it is because of God’s grace and mercy that any are saved, and those He has saved are not saved because they belong to a certain race or class but simply because God chose them and loved them.
Paul writes in 9:24-29: “. . . even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. As He says also in Hosea, ‘I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, ‘MY PEOPLE,’ AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, ‘BELOVED.’ ‘AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, ‘YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,’ THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF THE LIVING GOD.’ Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, ‘THOUGH THE NUMBER OF THE SONS OF ISRAEL BE LIKE THE SAND OF THE SEA, IT IS THE REMNANT THAT WILL BE SAVED; FOR THE LORD WILL EXECUTE HIS WORD ON THE EARTH, THOROUGHLY AND QUICKLY.’ And just as Isaiah foretold, ‘UNLESS THE LORD OF SABAOTH HAD LEFT TO US A POSTERITY, WE WOULD HAVE BECOME LIKE SODOM, AND WOULD HAVE RESEMBLED GOMORRAH.’” At first glance, you may say, “What’s the point of all these Old Testament quotes?” They speak to one of the primary objections against predestination. Many people think that predestination means that only a few people will be saved. Nothing could be further from the truth. God has determined to open the doors of heaven to the whole wide world. Anyone who believes in Jesus can be saved. In Paul’s day that meant that salvation was not just for the Jews; it was also for the Gentiles.
Today there are approximately 13.5 million Jews in the world out of a total population of nearly seven billion people. Who are the Gentiles? That’s everyone who isn’t Jewish, which is roughly 99.999% of the world. If God had said, “I’m only going to save the Jews,” he would still be fair because no one deserves to be saved. We couldn’t complain if salvation were limited to a small group if that’s what God had decided to do. Remember, no one can talk back to God. But, He didn’t do that. These verses teach us that God opened the door of salvation to everyone!
Romans 9 is designed to bring us to our knees. As a result, God wants us to cry out, “MERCY!” He longs for us to acknowledge that it is His mercy that has saved us. He also wants us to cry out, “MERCY” because we recognize that His ways are incomprehensible. If you don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ, your concern should not be, “Have I been chosen?” but rather, “Have I believed?” Please humble yourself before the sovereign Lord of this universe, acknowledge your sins, and believe in Christ today.