This morning we come another passage that is very theologically deep and often misunderstood. As I have said over the past few weeks, I believe the reason for the misunderstanding is that theologians . . .
Want to understand the infinite God
Within a framework that
They can comprehend.
The result is that they
Interpret Scriptures within the
Logic of their theological framework
Instead of what those Scriptures
Actually reveal about God.
We must always remember that God is beyond us. His ways are higher than our ways and often beyond our understanding (Isaiah 55:9). He does not have to make logical sense to us. We need to accept and believe what He has revealed about Himself in the Scriptures. Please keep that in mind this morning as we study the last half of Romans 9. While I hope to help you understand what God has said in this passage, I know that you may still have difficulty trying to make sense of it all, for . . .
When we come to the issue of God’s election
And man’s responsibility for his
Own choices, both are true.
Yesterday we examined Romans 9:18-19 and God’s sovereign choice of Israel to be His people. God did not do this because of anything special about that nation. In fact, many of the Scriptures that comment on this make it clear that God chose them despite their good qualities (Deuteronomy 4:37-39; 9:5-6; Deuteronomy 10:14,15). Throughout this passage . . .
Paul does not shy away from
A clear declaration that God
Is sovereign in His choices.
God choose Isaac and not Ishmael to be the son of Promise. God then choose Jacob and not Esau to be the next son of Promise. Despite any claims Arabic or Islamic people may make, the blessings of God, including the ancient lands of Abraham, belong to the Jewish people and not to them. God has compassion and mercy on who He decides to extend it, and like He did to Pharaoh, God is also free to harden those who resist Him as He desires for His own purposes. Whether we like it or not, God is sovereign in what He does.
But this immediately brings up an argument against God’s justice. Paul states the argument that he knows will be in the minds of some in verse 19, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’” In other words, how can God be just if He determines our eternal destiny? Because God is omniscient and omnipotent, all knowing and all powerful, no one can successfully resist God’s will. In the end, God always wins. If man does not make his own choice about his eternal destiny, then it is not fair for God to find fault with him and punish him for something he did not have a choice in.
That argument is still around today in full force. I pointed this out a few days ago when I explained what Arminian theology and those arguing for the idea of “Open Theism” believe. Arminians, and others, reject God’s sovereign election in salvation and change it to God choosing by His omniscience those who would choose Him. In effect, they make man sovereign in choosing their own salvation. The “Open Theists” go beyond this by claiming that God is also bound by time, and therefore, they reduce God’s foreknowledge to foresight. Man chooses and God responds with His own choice.
But the plain reading of Romans 8 and 9 makes it clear that God’s foreknowledge is much, much more than foresight. Roman’s 8 magnifies God’s sovereignty in both His actions that bring salvation to an individual – foreknowledge, predestination, calling, and justification; as well as the absolute guarantee of fulfilling His promise to fulfill all of salvation in glorification. No circumstance, no entity, nothing at all can separate us from God’s love. What God has begun in us, He will complete (Philippians 1:6). When we add in Paul’s comment about the timing of God’s work in our salvation that “He choose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4), then it is clear that we did not choose first. Jesus’ statement in John 6:44-45 that, “No one can come to Him unless the Father draws him” and the statement in 1 John 4:19 that, “We love God, because He first loved us,” make it clear that man’s choice is a response to God’s choice, and not the other way around.
What then is the answer to the charge of God being unjust if man does not have free will, autonomy, to make his own choice?
Paul answers the charges in verses 20-29 by explaining God’s rights as Creator, God’s patient endurance of the wicked, God’s glory in extending mercy, and then giving examples of this among both Jews and Gentiles. Let’s first look . . .
God’s Right as Creator.
Verses 20-21 states, “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? 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?” Whether you like it or not, God is the Creator and you are simply one of His creatures. He has full right as the Creator to use you for whatever He desires. In addition, God would be just regardless of whatever decision He does make concerning you.
Paul’s analogy here about the potter having the right over the clay he is working with is one that God had used before in explaining things to Israel. In both Isaiah (64:6-8) and Jeremiah (18:3-16), the people are reminded that they are the clay, and God is the potter who can deal with them as He desires. This analogy is also something all those in the ancient Roman world would have understood.
Potters and pottery were a part of everyday life. Today, we usually buy pots and such from a retail store. Unless we go to places like Silver Dollar City, we never meet, much less see the potter at work. But back then, pots were usually bought at the marketplace from the potter or his representative, or directly from the potter at the place where he was busy making pots. He could have been the guy that lived just down the street or next door. Everyone had seen potters take a lump of clay, divide it into several parts and then proceed to make one clump of it into a beautiful vase for holding wine, juice or milk, and then from another piece of the same lump of clay, he would make a common wash pot. What each piece of clay was made into was totally up to the discretion of the potter. You could use any modern analogy you want to get the same point across.
From the same pad of paper, one sheet could be used to compose a beautiful poem extolling the virtues of your spouse or children, and the next sheet is used to compose a shopping list of cleaning supplies. Cotton is harvested from the same field. Part of it is manufactured into beautiful cloth that is made into curtains to decorate the kitchen. Part of it is made into common cloth that is used for dish rags. An oak tree is cut down. Part of it is made into a pulpit, another part is used to make shipping pallets, and some of it is burned up in a campfire. Every person here understands that the clay, the paper, the cotton, and the tree are all used at the complete discretion of the one who has authority over them. Those things have no right to say to the one using them, “Why did you make or use me like this?” Neither does man possess the right to challenge God on what He decides to do with a person or how He wants to use them.
That thought does not sit well with us humans
Because we have an inherent desire to be autonomous,
And we resist, or outright reject anything that would be
Contrary to having the right and freedom to choose as we desire.
One of Satan’s lies that he used to deceive Eve was that if she would disobey God by eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then she would be like God. Man has continued to believe similar lies ever since. He either wants to elevate himself to the position of God with authority over others, or bring God down to man’s level as a mean’s of denying God’s rightful authority over him, or it will be a combination of the two.
Praise the Lord that He did not let Paul end the discussion there. That is the end of the discussion in Islam, for their false God is all powerful, but completely arbitrary in his dealings with people. No matter what they do, they never know what Allah will do.
While Paul makes sure we understand
The right of God as Creator to do
With us what He wishes,
He also goes on to give us some
Great insight into God’s dealings with man,
And we find that the true God is not arbitrary,
But rather, the true God is patient, just and merciful.
God’s Actual Dealings with Man.
Verses 22-24 state, “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] in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory. [even] us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.” This is a rhetorical question that changes the thought by considering the answer to the question from a different angle. Paul has made it clear that . . .
God has the right as the Creator to do as He pleases,
But what has God actually shown in His dealings with man?
Can anyone have legitimate reason to complain about God
Being unjust when His actual actions toward man have shown
Him to extend to man unwarranted and unexpected grace and mercy?
While we all might like some complete explanation for why God has allowed evil to exist, God has chosen to not reveal the full answer to this point in time. However, what He reveals here through Paul does give us at least two reasons for it even as Paul demonstrates God’s grace and mercy toward man.
His Wrath & Patient Endurance – Verse 22.
Paul first presents God’s dealings with wicked men. He continues in the language of the analogy given in the previous verses and calls them “vessels of wrath.” Paul’s argument here is that rather than God being unjust to the wicked, He has in fact shown great grace and mercy in His patient endurance of them, and in fact the only reason He has put up with them is because He has chosen to demonstrate His wrath and make His power known through them.
Go back and consider again the example of Pharaoh that Paul gave in verse 17. Those who quickly glance over the Scriptures often conclude that God was unjust in punishing Pharaoh since God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. God seems almost cruel in telling Pharaoh that the very purpose He raised Pharaoh up was to “demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” God had revealed to Moses what would happen before Moses had even made it back to Egypt (Exodus 4:21-23), but the Lord did not say this to Pharaoh until there had already been six plagues, and Pharaoh had not been passive in his response to God in each of the plagues up to that point.
- Pharaoh’s heart was hardened when Aaron’s rod became a serpent and ate up those that Pharaoh’s magicians threw down (7:13).
- Pharaoh’s heart was hardened at the turning of the water into blood (7:22).
- Pharaoh hardened his heart at the plague of the frogs (8:15).
- His heart was hardened at the plague of gnats (8:19).
- He hardened his heart again when Moses removed the plague (8:32).
- Pharaoh’s heart was hardened once again when the Egyptian cattle died (9:7).
It is not until the plague of boils that we find that “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” It is only after all of this that God tells Pharaoh through Moses, “But, indeed, for this cause I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power, and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth. Still you exalt yourself against My people by not letting them go.”
That is patient endurance of a stubborn and rebellious man. God would not have even had to send the first plague as a warning before wiping Pharaoh and his kingdom out. He could have just sent Moses back with the orders and power to destroy Pharaoh from the beginning because Pharaoh had enslaved the Israelites. It was an unwarranted and unexpected mercy for God to delay His final judgement at all, and to send the plagues as warnings of what was to come. God only put up with Pharaoh’s insolent pride and rebellion because He had already determined that He would use Pharaoh as a means to demonstrate His wrath against sin and make His power known throughout the earth.
That is still true today . . .
It is only the unwarranted mercy of God
That extends from His longsuffering
Patience that causes Him to delay
Final judgement on sinners even while
He seeks to bring them to repentance.
God is willing, not in the sense of indifference, but with a determined intent, to endure sinners for the present. Peter warns in 2 Peter 3:9 that God’s patience with sinners should not be construed that He is slow to carry out His promises – of either blessing or destruction.
God’s patience is extended because His desire is
For all to come to repentance instead of perishing.
Every breath that the unrepentant sinner takes is a demonstration of God’s mercy to him. But at the same time there is a point at which that patience ends and the wrath of God is revealed. Never presume upon the mercy and patience of God. You do not know when the mercy will cease and the hardening will take place.
God will glorify Himself through all men. Those who repent and turn in faith to Jesus Christ for salvation from their sin will glorify God willingly. Those who remain unrepentant will be forced to glorify God by bowing the knee and confessing Christ prior to their final judgement. They will glorify God unwillingly through the demonstration of His righteous judgement of them.
Now some may still object at this point that it is not fair to punish people who were not chosen by God for salvation. This idea is predicated on the idea that people are passive recipients of God’s decrees. They will point out the last part of verse 22 as proof because in English it appears that they are passive recipients as “vessels of wrath fitted for destruction.”
However, in Greek, this verb is in the middle tense. We do not have such a thing in English, so it is hard to translate it.
- It is not active tense, by which the subject performs the action. This would be the sinner preparing themselves for destruction.
- Nor is it passive, by which the subject has the action performed upon it. This would be the sinner being prepared by an outside for destruction.
- It is instead in the middle. The subject, the sinner, the vessel of wrath, performs the action of preparing itself for destruction while at the same time there is a force that is concurrent in preparing it for destruction.
That is in perfect keeping with the example of Pharaoh that was given earlier.
The sinner is not an innocent party that has been unfairly chosen by God to be a vessel of wrath. The sinner is a guilty party that has actively brought condemnation upon themselves by their rebellion against God and to which God has concurred and sealed them as a vessel of wrath. In mercy, God patiently endures them and their continuing sin and rebellion for the present even while He demonstrates His own glory through His righteous wrath upon them and proclaims His power through them.
His Glory And Mercy.
In verse 23, Paul further proclaims the grace and mercy of God by magnifying the riches of God’s glory which is made known to the “vessels of mercy” through the contrast to His wrath on the vessels prepared for destruction, “And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.” While the vessels of wrath have a part in their preparation for destruction, the vessels of mercy are prepared beforehand by God. God is the one that has taken action upon them which in turn displays His glory. This is not something they have done for themselves. Believer’s are saved without merit of their own or for any work they have done. Paul stated this directly in Titus 3:5, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.”
That is why believers must give
All praise and glory to God,
Because He choose you as a vessel
To receive His mercy despite
Your sinful character and works.
Mercy by definition is to have the punishment that is deserved withheld. God couples this with His grace in extending to us blessings that we do not deserve. Here in this verse, it is being the recipients of the riches of His glory. The phrase, “the riches of His glory” refers to all the various blessings of salvation that Paul has already brought out that belong to those justified by faith in the Lord Jesus including our future glorification. We have God’s mercy, compassion, love, grace, forgiveness of sin, justification, the Holy Spirit and His ministry, Jesus’ intercession, sanctification, progressively being conformed to the image of Christ, and the promises of inheritance in heaven are all part of riches of God’s glory made known to us.
Paul does not leave this discussion as ethereal theology, but applies it directly to his readers, for as he says in verse 24, God’s mercy has been extended to “even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.” Paul then gives two specific examples from the Old Testament. One demonstrating God’s mercy that included the Gentiles in the plan of salvation, and the other showing God’s choosing of only a remnant of Israel.
Hosea – Gentiles Included – Verses 25-26.
Verses 25-26 says, “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.” These quotes come from Hosea 2:23 and 1:9-10 respectively.
The Lord spoke through the prophet Hosea about His relationship to the nation of Israel. The nation had forsaken God with the result that the curses that God had warned them about even as early as Deuteronomy 27 and 28 came true. God had already judged and scattered the northern ten tribes of Israel through the Assyrian captivity. In Hosea, God is warning the two remaining tribes in Judah that the same was about to happen to them. That judgement was carried out in the Babylonian captivity. Yet, even in the warning of coming judgement there was hope given. Though they would be estranged from God for a time. Though Gentiles who would believe would be able to become part of God’s beloved people, Israel would eventually be restored to her place as God’s chosen people. We will be examining these truths more closely in a few days in our study of Romans 11.
But for here, Paul is simply making the point that God’s mercy was extended even to the Gentiles, and that Israel, though under His judgement, would still receive His mercy.
Isaiah – Only a Remnant of Israel.
Paul explains further in verses 27-29, “And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, ‘Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; for the Lord will execute His word upon the earth, thoroughly and quickly.’ And just as Isaiah foretold, ‘Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, we would
have become as Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.’” Paul is quoting from Isaiah 10:23 and 1:9 to demonstrate that only a remnant of Israel will receive this mercy from God. The rest will receive His wrath. In Israel then, there is an illustration of both vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath. They were all deserving of God’s wrath, yet He still extended mercy to a remnant.
The claim that there is injustice with God because He has mercy on whom He desires and hardens who He desires is false. First, the charge cannot be made because God is Creator and therefore has full right to do whatever He wants to His creatures. No creature has the right to question what God does. Second, regardless of God’s rights as Creator, God had already demonstrated that what He extends to His creatures is mercy. To the vessels of wrath, there is mercy in His patient endurance of their evil instead of instantaneous destruction. To the vessels of mercy, there is mercy in granting them the riches of His glory. God’s mercy has been extended to both Jews and Gentiles.
Righteousness Of Faith Verses Works Of The Law.
Some Jews might have objected that God was still unfair for extending such mercy to the Gentiles while withholding it from His own chosen people, Israel. Paul responds with a brief explanation of the basis for God’s extending mercy to the Gentiles while judging Israel. There is no injustice with God.
Verses 30-33 state, “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because [they did] not [pursue it] by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.’”
Mercy was not extended to the Gentiles because of anything they were able to do or anything they received that was beyond what Israel had already received. God’s blessing had already been poured out on Israel, but the vast majority of the people did not understand what it all meant and how they were supposed to live. Though their father, Abraham, was the example of what it meant to receive God’s mercy because God reckons faith for righteousness, most Jews stumbled over the law. They believed that they could become righteousness enough for God through their own efforts. That has never been true, and it never will be true, but the truth does not stop most people from responding to their false beliefs. People today are no different from the Israelites back then.
The Gentiles were granted mercy based upon the righteousness attained by faith. Faith in what? The stumbling stone and rock of offense that so many of the Jews rejected. The person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul had explained this faith at the end of chapter 3, and illustrated the nature of this faith by Abraham’s example in chapter 5. The Jews had the Mosaic Law and sought to earn their righteousness by keeping that law. However, they never could keep the law. No man can. Instead of crying out to God for mercy as the law convicted them of their unrighteousness, they started to redefine the law for themselves. They reinterpreted some of God’s commandments into ways that they could keep, or at least fool themselves into thinking they were keeping them. Other laws were rated as not so important, so it did not matter that much whether you kept them or not. A general belief arose which is still with us today that if you had more good works than sin, then the balance tipped in your favor and you made it into heaven. But no one keeps the law (Romans 3:23) and breaking any part of the law makes you guilty of all (James 2:10). They, and so many today, were so busy trying to earn their own righteousness, that they refused to believe that God would accept them based on their faith in what God had already done for them in Jesus Christ. He had already paid the penalty of their sin on the cross and offered them forgiveness of their sins based on simple faith in Him. Salvation is received as a gift from a merciful God. It cannot be earned.
That is a truth with many ramifications, including this theological fact that God chooses only some men for salvation. All are deserving of His eternal wrath, but He chooses to extend His mercy to some. God has not revealed to us why He chooses some and not others. We are mortals who struggle to understand and accept this. It is one of those things that would be included in Peter’s comments about Paul’s writings which, “speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own
destruction.” There is no cause in this truth to question God’s character. There is no injustice with Him. This doctrine demonstrates the glory of God and His sovereignty. Salvation is God’s choice, yet man is responsible for His rebellion against God and refusal to heed God’s call to repentance.
While God foreknows, predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies those who will be saved. The opposite is not true for those who will suffer eternal judgement in Hell. God does not choose them for that. Hell was not made for man. Matthew 25:41 states that Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels. Man goes there because he does not repent and turn to Jesus Christ for salvation. God simply leaves the non-elect in their sinful state under His law, and as Paul pointed out in Romans 1, 2 and 3, man is condemned by failure to keep the law, even that of his own conscience. God has no obligation whatsoever to extend to man anything except condemnation, yet God extends mercy and grace.
The truths of this passage of Scripture should cause those of us who are saved to be even more thankful that the Lord has chosen us, though we were not and are not more worthy of that salvation than anyone else, even those who are still lost.
Those who have yet to repent and place their faith in Jesus Christ should be greatly sobered by the doctrine of election. God is not unjust. You are responsible to heed His call. Cease striving to earn your salvation, humble yourself and cry out to Him for mercy. God resists the proud, but gives His grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Jeremiah 29:13). Jesus has invited all who are weary and heavy laden to come to Him. He will give you rest for your soul (Matthew 11:28-29). What are you waiting for? Today is the day of salvation. Don’t risk God sealing your rebellion by hardening your heart as He did with Pharaoh.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”