Paul has been explaining how God makes His sovereign choice to have a relationship with men. He chooses to show mercy upon one, and He chooses to harden another. This is clearly stated in Romans 9:18 when Paul said, “Therefore, He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.” When Paul makes this point you automatically think to yourself, God has tremendous authority over our lives. The next question that naturally comes to your mind is, If God has sovereign control and authority over people’s lives, how can God find fault with anyone if they don’t do what He wants? Also, How can any man resist God’s will, if He's the one making the choices of whether or not I receive mercy? These are very important questions you must answer concerning the sovereignty of God.
In addition, the second question in verse 19 is equally difficult. Is God’s will resistible? To answer this question, you need to look at the explicit statements in this text, in other passages of Scripture, and the five points of Calvinism. Doing so will help you come to your own conclusion on this subject. There are Calvinists who make some very extreme statements on this topic. The fourth proposition of Calvinism is called ‘irresistible grace,’ which states that if God chooses you for salvation, then you cannot resist His call upon your life. I want to address this issue in this study. Also, if any of you are interested in a great book on this particular subject, Dr. Norman Geisler has a book entitled Chosen But Free. Geisler looks extensively into John Calvin's views and compares them with the modern Calvinistic teachings of today. It would be well worth reading as you research this topic. Don’t just believe what you hear; you need to do your own study on this topic.
How can you keep from questioning God and His righteousness?
Before we look at the Scriptures on this topic you need to first be concerned about your attitude toward God. After posing the questions in verse 19, Paul immediately turns to ask the reader to first question their own attitude toward God. So, before Paul takes this deep dive into God’s sovereign choosing, he wants to be sure that the readers attitude is right, and that they realize that they don’t know everything. You are a human being with limited insight and understanding on why God does what He does. So, be very careful! This is why Paul says in verse 19-20, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will? ‘But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” Paul asks the most natural question, If you cannot resist His will, then how can God righteously find fault with anyone? These questions need to be answered. Now, I would venture to say that everyone in the world, including you, have questioned God at some point in life about why something has occurred. You have probably said to God, “Why did You let this happen to me? Why didn't You stop that, or not give me this or that? You think to yourself, If I were God, I wouldn't have let that occur in this person's life. I would have done it this way. To think or speak in this manner is to question God’s righteousness and love. When contemplating these concepts of God’s sovereignty, Paul wants you to resist trying to find fault with God. If there is ever fault to be found, it will always be with mankind, not God! Paul asserted earlier in Romans, “For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: ‘That You may be justified in Your words, and may overcome when You are judged’” (Rom. 3:3-4). God is judged by men every hour of every day. But God is not a man that He should lie, but men lie and deceive themselves quite often. Always remember, God will never be at fault. The problem will always be my fault, because I’m a sinner, or because of my limited understanding I have failed to perceive the big picture of what God is doing.
Control your thinking
Go back with me in our last study to verse 14, where Paul brought this issue up when He asked, “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!” This particular phrase “certainly not,” literally means, perish the thought. In effect, Paul is saying, “Don't even let this thought come into your mind that there is unrighteousness with God.” If you want to keep yourself from questioning the Lord, you must keep a constant watch over your thought life. Before you contemplate these truths concerning the sovereignty of God check your attitude, and be sure you never think you are God’s equal. Why do I say this? Because our thoughts are always so self-oriented. We are high-minded and arrogant. This is why God has warned us all, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8-9).
If you struggle with controlling your thoughts, I want to suggest that you read the chapter “Overcoming Your Thoughts and Feelings” in my book, Winning Your Personal Battles. Understanding how your thoughts influence the way you feel, and the way you ultimately behave, is very important. Many Christians don’t believe that they can actually control their own thinking, but this is just not true. God’s Word has much to say on this subject. You can refuse the thoughts that charge God with unrighteousness, and it is essential that you do, because this is God’s command!
Rebuke your own arrogance
The second thing that keeps you from questioning God, is rebuking your own arrogance. Arrogance is what drives us to question God in the first place. Think about this for a minute. Can a speck of dust know more than the Almighty God who created all things? Can you presume to ever know more than God Himself? You see things from a finite perspective. He works from His eternal perspective. You can only see what is right in front of you today. You cannot know the future for yourself or others, and neither can you know the secrets of any other human heart. You can’t know what is going on in someone’s mind, their thinking, or their motives for their choices unless they tell you, and even those confessions may be half-truths. Nor do you know what that person will do and choose in the future. You have no ability to see these things or understand the motives for their decisions. But God does have this ability! So, when you see something take place in a person's life that you don’t understand, you must realize that you are not God, and you should not presume, in arrogance, to know what God should or should not have done. This is why Paul taught in Romans 9:20, “But indeed O man, who are you to reply against God?” The word reply literally means to dispute or to contradict God. This is a great question. Who are we to contradict the Almighty God? Scripture makes it very clear in Romans 8:28, that God in his love is, “Working all things together for good for those who love God, and are the called according to His purpose.” He’s working, and has been working in my past. Right now, He is at work in my present circumstances and He will always be working for my good in the future. I don't understand all of the reasons for the things that happen to me or to anyone. But I know His character is love, and that His love is working on my behalf to bring about eternal good for me. In Isaiah 29:16, God tells those who think they are smarter than Him, “Surely you have things turned around!” Oh, how true! So often we all get things turned around in our heads. But God’s Word helps to turn things correctly around, so we can see things properly and more precisely as God gives us His wisdom and perspective.
God is trying to work all things out for your good, even when you don't think He is working at all, or working for your benefit. But again, we have things turned around in our minds, thinking that God is just like us. Isaiah warns again, “Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay” (Is. 29:16)? In other words, God is asking His people, “Do you think I’m just like you? This is an important question concerning your thinking about who God is and what He does. How do you see God? Do you see Him as good, just, righteous, and loving? And do you recognize Him and His right as the Potter, and yourself as the clay? Or, do you think God makes sudden and unpredictable decisions, because He is selfish like you? This is why men condemn God and His actions, because they think He is just like they are. This is why Paul is addressing this arrogance in the heart of men by asking, “Will the thing formed say to Him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” But He is the Creator, and He knows exactly what He is doing with every life, and every nation, including Israel. This question from men, “Why have you made me like I am,” is in reality man’s way of blaming God for what is wrong in their lives. And God would respond, “Why don’t you surrender to Me, and I will make you into a new man.”
So, be careful! Check your heart and be sure you see God correctly, and do not charge Him as the world does. Don’t think that God is against you. He declares over and over again that He is for you (Ps. 62:8; Rom. 8:31). Never believe the lie that you are the fortuitous concurrence of accidental circumstances, and that God has nothing to do with who you are. You are not alive just by chance. If you believe that, then you have “things turned around” again in your head. People think that God has no clue what needs to happen in their lives. However, He knows everything about you before you ever figure it out. He has a plan He wants to fulfill in your life, but arrogance will keep that from ever happening. Humble your heart before Him, acknowledge your position as the clay in His hands, and trust in Him with all your heart.
Fall back on what you know concerning God’s true character
The third thing that keeps you from questioning God is falling back on what you do know about Him. This is very important. When I begin to go in this direction of questioning the Lord, I just say to myself, “God is not against me, He is for me, He loves me, and He has proven that in action, by everything that He has done.” The supreme proof that He cares about me is the cross of Jesus Christ. The Father did not spare His most prized possession, His Son. He delivered Him up for us all. That's all the proof that I need. The sacrifice of Christ is the clearest proof that God is not playing games with my life. He cares about me, and He cares about me so much that He has given me the most precious Person who is closest to His heart, His Son. Paul said earlier in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” Yet, we still question the Lord. We say, “Lord, why aren't you doing this? Why aren't you giving me that? I want this, and You need to give it to me.” But He’s already given me His best. If He is not giving me something that I think He should, it must not be good for me, at least at this point in my life. God’s promise to His people is, “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11). Remember this simple truth!
Stand on the sure Word of God
You need to check your attitude on a regular basis, and make sure what you believe about God is correct. Stand on what you know is true about God and His character. Stand on what He has declared in His Word. If you want to know God’s heart, all you have to do is read His word. Look at what He says and does, that will reveal who He is. In this ninth chapter of Romans, do you know how many verses of Scripture Paul quotes? He quotes eleven verses from the Old Testament out of the thirty-three in this chapter. Why does he do that? The Words of God reveal the heart of God, the truth of God, and what He wants to do in your life. His Word reveals the warnings, commandments, and promises that declare His will for you. He reveals His foreknowledge through prophecy, and His desire to show mercy to any and all who call upon His name. God does not make arbitrary decisions in people's lives. He makes decisions based on His foreknowledge. Remember in the previous verses here in Romans, Esau and Jacob were the examples that before they were ever born, God made His decision between these two men. Why? Because He knew what they would choose to do in their individual lives. Paul also gave us a second example of Pharaoh, and how God made His decision concerning this ruler based on his decision to harden his heart against God. This is why all the plagues came upon the nation of Egypt. It is also the reason why the Lord gave Pharaoh chance after chance to turn in repentance. Again, this is why God sent Moses back to Pharaoh over and over, to reveal the fact that Pharaoh was the one who hardened his heart, long before God ever hardened Pharaoh's heart. This fact is revealed in Scripture. That is why these stories are in God’s Word, so you can see the truth of why God sovereignly deals with men as He does. So, stand on the facts that you know are true, and which are revealed in His Word.
How can a sovereign God find fault with men?
Now, that your thinking is correct and your attitude is right before God, let’s answer Paul’s first question in this passage. Paul declared, “Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will’” (Rom. 9:18-19)? The first question is how can a God who sovereignly chooses whom He will show mercy to, and whom He will harden, then turn around and find fault with that same man? The answer is simple. God will only find fault with a man because of man’s own individual choices and actions. I believe that the Scripture is very clear that all unregenerate men are responsible for their choices. Jesus made this absolutely clear in John 5:40, where He reproved and held the Pharisees accountable for their refusal to come and follow Him. He said to them, “You are not willing to come to Me that you might have life.” Notice that He said, “You” are not willing. Who is responsible for these religious leaders not coming to faith in Christ? Is God at fault, or is Jesus laying the responsibility upon the Pharisees for their unwillingness to come? I think it is pretty clear that Jesus held them personally responsible for their unbelief and rebellion against Him. I don’t think He could have said this any more clearly. This is why Jesus commanded all men in Mark 1:15, “Repent and believe in the gospel.” If God commands men to repent, then they have the ability and responsibility to repent. To be repentant means to change your mind and reverse the direction of your life. God would not command men to do this, if they didn’t have the ability to do it. That would be absurd!
However, in extreme Calvinism, you will hear people teach that men really don't have any will, they don't have any choices in the matter of their salvation. They believe God makes the choices, and then He changes people He wants to save, so that they will obey His choice, whether they like it or not. Is that a biblical concept? Not according to Jesus.
Do you remember what Paul taught at the beginning of this epistle in Romans 1:18? Why are the ungodly and the wicked the way they are? Why are they deserving of God’s judgment? He said so clearly that, “they suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Note the word “they.” They are responsible. God doesn’t claim responsibility for the way men are. He lays the responsibility right where it belongs, at the feet of rebellious mankind. They suppressed the truth in their hearts. They knew God, but they did not glorify Him as God. They then became futile in their thoughts, they professed to be wise, but their foolish hearts were darkened (Rom. 1:21-22). Each of these declarations is a decision made by man to suppress the truth.
The apostle details the same willful rebellion of man when he warns us about what men would say about the flood in the last days. Peter taught, “Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.’ For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water” (2 Peter 3:3-6). Why are these people scoffers? He said, because they, “willfully forget” what God did in destroying the world by the flood. Notice that God is holding men responsible to look at all the physical evidence concerning the flood, and be assured that He will one day destroy the world again by fire, just as He has promised.
If you don’t have a choice, what does that say about God?
If you believe you don't really have a choice as extreme Calvinists believe, then this makes God out to be unloving, unpredictable, and impulsive in His dealings with men. It would reveal that He has no clear reasoning behind His decisions. Why do I say this? Well, think about this for a moment. If God makes all the choices for you, and you have no choice at all in salvation, or your life as a whole, then that is going to affect your view of an all loving God. A person can’t claim that God is loving, and then in the next breath declare that He gives you no choice. Why? Because love would not force someone who despises Him to believe, neither would love exclude a person in an arbitrary manner. If someone did this to you today, you would immediately declare that this person did not love you.
In addition, if God really has not given us any choice in our salvation, then His Word is a lie. Why? Because it declares that anyone can be saved. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God either means whoever believes, or He does not. “Whoever” means that anyone who chooses to believe can be saved. He can't say it any clearer than that. In Deuteronomy 30:19, the Lord said, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.” God could not say choose life, if the people had no real choice. I believe the Bible is very clear. Unregenerate men have a choice, and they can exercise that choice, or they can suppress the truth in their own hearts and reject Him. Consequently then, whether you read the Old Testament or the New Testament, God has always made it clear that men have a choice, and they must exercise that choice if they are to be saved.
Can anyone resist God’s will?
In verses 19-24, Paul goes on to say, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?’ But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, 'Why have you made me like this?' Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” [The Greek word for dishonor actually means disgrace.] Paul continues, “What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He is called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?” Remember, the main question and theme in this text is how can God find fault if men cannot resist His will? If men have no will of their own, then God would be unrighteous if He judged them. Therefore, let’s answer Paul’s second question in verse 19, “For who has resisted His will?” This is a very important question to answer. Can anyone resist God’s will? The answer to this question is twofold, because it’s how you ask the question that is really important. First, can a man resist God’s sovereign will and the plan He has promised to fulfill in this world? Absolutely not. There is no resisting His sovereign will with the world. But, second, can a man individually resist God’s sovereign will in his personal life? Yes! The Bible is very clear that you can. Let’s examine this question in detail.
God’s will for the world vs. God’s will in your personal life
Let’s answer this question from those two vantage points. First, let’s consider God’s perspective on His will. In Proverbs 19:20-21, Solomon declared, “Listen to the counsel and receive instruction, that you may be wise in your latter days.” So, are you willing to listen to the counsel of God’s Word and receive instruction? Solomon goes on to say, “There are many plans in a man's heart, nevertheless the Lord's counsel--that will stand.” Note that Solomon addresses both issues. First, the plans in man’s heart and then second, God's counsel and His sovereign plan and will. These are the two issues you must consider. In Isaiah 14:26-27, God explains His plan to destroy the Assyrian army when they come into His land. Then God declared, “This is the purpose that is purposed against the whole earth, and this is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations. For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?” The answer to God’s rhetorical question is, no one will turn His hand back in relationship to the nations of the world and to the plan He has declared. What He has said will come to pass. The question is, will anyone hear His plan and yield to what He has said and believe in Him? Will anyone submit to Him? Just as in the first coming of Christ, God promised that, “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons”(Gal. 4:4-5). King Herod tried to hinder this predication from coming to pass by killing all the male children in Bethlehem, yet to no avail. However, men could reject Jesus personally when they were confronted by Him, or the message of the Gospel. That is man’s choice. Consequently, you will find these same two issues throughout the Scripture. If men cannot reject and resist God’s will in their lives, then what is the meaning of the word rebellion? If men can’t rebel, then that word has no meaning.
In Acts 7:51, Stephen said to the Pharisees, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.” Stephen is acknowledging that men can and do resist the will of God, and resist the Holy Spirit in their personal lives. Scripture can’t teach it more plainly than this. When extreme Calvinists say that God’s grace is irresistible, they are denying one of the clearest teachings of the Scripture. Stephen was telling these men that they had a problem. They were the rebellious ones. They were stiff-necked and uncircumcised in their hearts. In addition, Luke 7:30 declared, “But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves.” Again, it can’t be stated more clearly than this, men can reject the will of God for themselves!
Therefore, the answer to Paul’s question is simple. God's will for the world, His ultimate plan that He is bringing to pass, cannot ever be resisted or stopped by men. But you can surely reject the will of God for yourself. That is clearly the testimony of Scripture. Jesus said it this way in Matthew 23:37, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” Jesus explains His sovereign desire for them that they might be brought under the shadow of His wings. But where does He place the responsibility for those who did not come? He places that responsibility directly upon their unwillingness to choose to come to Him.
Always remember these two issues, God’s will and man’s will must always be balanced as you look at Scripture. God has a sovereign will, and man must respond to that. Notice this balance is clearly identified in 2 Peter 3:9 when God declared, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” God’s will is that no person should perish. But why will men die in their sin? Because they refuse to repent. This is God’s primary condition; repent and believe (Mark 1:15).
Even when you hear one of the last promises in the Bible, you hear God’s open invitation for men to come and receive. God says, “Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). But to drink of that water of life there is a condition, repentance. You must repent, believe and come. These are your personal responsibilities. Please don’t confuse God's sovereign will for the world and the conditional response required by men. Both are taught in Scripture. Personally, I don't believe God sends anyone to hell against their will. In addition, I don't believe God is going to send anyone to heaven against their will. I think one of the great theologians said it best when he said, “There are only two types of people, those who declare to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God will say after they have lived a life of rebellion, ‘Thy will be done.’ ” These are the two kinds of people on this planet. Which one are you? Do you say to God regularly, “Lord, Your will be done in my life; I surrender to You; I bow my knee to obey You?” Or, is He going to say to you, “I understand that you don't want to have anything to do with Me, or be loved by Me, or receive My love, then I will not force you into heaven?” You will be in one of those two camps. My hope and prayer is that you will surrender to Him!
Trusting that the Potter knows what He is doing
In Romans 9:21, Paul uses an awesome illustration of the potter and the clay to explain God’s sovereign will to do what is right in our lives. This illustration of the potter and the clay is used many times throughout the Scripture. It is used several times in the Old Testament and several times in the New Testament. This illustration reveals the basic moral principle of God’s sovereign working with mankind in the attempt to shape us after His will. He is the Potter, and I am the clay. Paul asks the question, “Does not the potter have the power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” So, what do you think to yourself when you read such a question? You either think, Yes, the potter has that right to do anything He wishes with the clay, or that doesn’t sound fair to me? What if I’m the vessel He makes to dishonor? This is a normal thing to think, but there is a more important question to ask yourself. The more important question should be, how does the potter make the determination of which piece of clay He can work with, and which lump of clay will He set aside? The answer is simple, the piece of clay which is most responsive to the potter's hand. I know this to be the truth for several reasons.
First, over the years whenever I have taught on this illustration of the potter and the clay, those within our church who are potters, have come up to me at the end of the teaching and said, “Everything that the Bible teaches about the Potter is absolutely true.” They have told me that because of impurities or the lack of impurities in the clay, some pieces are more responsive to their touch and others are not.
Second, I am absolutely sure this is correct because of what the Scripture teaches about the Potter’s work. In Jeremiah 18:1-10 you will find a lengthy passage where God describes Himself as the Potter and His people as the clay. Jeremiah declares, “The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying: 'Arise and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause you to hear My words.' Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; [What did he do with the vessel marred in his hand?] so he made it again [Notice that he reshaped it again.] into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 'O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?' says the Lord. 'Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel! The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.’” What does God mean by this illustration? If the clay does not respond to His hand in the way He desires, He only has two choices. He can either reshape it, where the Potter will take and crumple the clay back down again, add more water to it, work with it, and try to make it into the vessel that He intends. Or, the Potter’s other option is, if the clay is hard, has lumps in it, or stones in it, He will take that clay, and He will set it aside. He knows that this clay would only result in a vessel of disgrace, because it will crack or easily break. Therefore, He sets it aside. This is His right as the Potter.
Now, is that not the right decision made by the potter? Is that just and fair? Of course it is, because the potter has control over the clay. The clay either responds to his hand, or it does not. He desires to make this problem clay into a vessel of honor, but he cannot because of unwillingness to respond to his hand, and in the illustration because the people would not obey His voice. He desired to make it a vessel of honor; that is his desire, or he would not have the clay on the wheel, nor would he try and reshape it a second time. This is the potter’s intent. But, notice the word “if” in the text several times. “If that nation against whom I have spoken evil turns from it’s evil.” God is applying this illustration to the nation Israel and the people in general. The obvious point God is making, if the people will not repent and turn from their evil, they are being unresponsive to the hand of the Potter and will become marred in His hand, thus becoming vessels of disgrace. But, if the people turn in repentance, they will be vessels of mercy and honor, because they are responsive to the Potter’s hand. Therefore, for those who think they can live in sin and God will accept them on judgment day, they will be sadly mistaken. That is not a biblical concept. This is why the Bible teaches over and over again, that I must repent of my sins and turn from my evil ways if I want to have a relationship with the Lord. Then I can be shaped by the Potter’s hand into a vessel of honor. Is He shaping you into that vessel of honor today?
In 2 Timothy 2:19-21, Paul used the same image of a potter and the vessel in another context, but with the same point God was attempting to make through Jeremiah. He declared, “Nevertheless a solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: 'The Lord knows those who are His,' and, 'Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.' But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel of honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.” According to Paul, what causes a man or woman to become a vessel of honor? There is only one thing. When a person who names the name of Christ departs from their personal iniquity, which is what he means by, “if anyone cleanses himself from the latter.” This word cleanse means to purge out or to remove any known sin from your life, which allows you to be “sanctified and useful for the Master.” Note also the word “if” again in the passage which reveals that it is your choice to repent of iniquity. In other words, Paul again makes it abundantly clear that every true believer must respond to the Potter’s hand and allow Him to change and conform them into His image. This is what “prepares you for every good work” the Father has planned for you.
Why does wrath come upon men?
Returning to Romans 9:22-23, Paul explains, “What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory.” Paul now explains two essential truths concerning why He brings wrath on some, and bestows mercy on others.
First, you must understand why wrath comes upon mankind. Is it because God loves to punish people? No! It is because men leave Him no choice in the matter. Men resist His every attempt to show mercy. This is really important to remember when dealing with this subject of the sovereignty of God and His choosing of what to do with men. Paul already addressed this question several times in this epistle. In Romans 1:18, I remind you again that Paul taught that the wrath of God comes upon men who knew the truth that God exists, but they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Then in Romans 2:5, Paul declared that if you suppress the truth, you do so because of your, “hardness and your impenitent heart, you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath in the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” It is clear then that no one is going to experience wrath against their will, or because they didn’t know the truth. Wrath comes because men know the truth and reject it because of the hardness of their hearts. If you are fighting against God, if you are unrepentant, you cannot expect mercy, you can only expect to become a vessel of wrath. If you want to become a vessel of mercy, then humble yourself, repent of your sins; believe and follow Christ. If you do, He will make you into a vessel of mercy and honor. Anyone can be made into a vessel of honor, because that is what the Bible declares. Remember, 2 Timothy 2:21, “If anyone cleanses himself,” that means you! God would not say “anyone” if He didn’t mean it. Turn to Him, and He will receive you!
The question Paul is posing here in verse 22 is one that you must answer. Does God have the right and the prerogative as the Potter to decide what is to be done with a marred vessel that is not responsive to His touch? Of course He does. Why? First, because He is the Potter! He has the total right to do with the clay as He sees fit. Second, because His decisions are always going to be based in love. In His love He will never force someone to do what they hate. Third, because the Potter sees how the clay is responding to His hand. If the clay fails to respond to His transforming work, He has every right to discard the clay. In addition, He has every right because the Potter has at least tried to mold the clay to His will, and the clay has not cooperated. Does God then have the right to show both His wrath and His mercy to whom He chooses, knowing all that He knows? Yes, He does! He has not made this decision arbitrarily and without attempting to first work with the clay in His hands. This is what Paul meant when he declared that God reveals the glory of His power by His endurance and long-suffering with the vessels of wrath.
The longsuffering of the Potter
When you realize what the Potter goes through, longsuffering with clay that is not responsive to His hand, you understand God’s love and patience. But, where do you see this long-suffering demonstrated in the Biblical record? Remember again, Pharaoh is the best example. That is why the story of Pharaoh is in the Bible. It is a witness to God’s long-suffering with a vessel of wrath. This is why God sent Moses over and over and over again to him before the final plague came upon Egypt. No one could ever say, “God, You didn't really give Pharaoh a chance.” No, God gave Pharaoh ten chances to turn in repentance and to respond to God’s command. It’s pretty clear that God considered endurance and long-suffering as the Potter as He dealt with Pharaoh. This is also the reason why the ungodly today are allowed to continue to exist. It is the endurance and long-suffering of love toward a lost and rebellious world. I personally am very thankful for God having patience and long-suffering with this world, because I was delivered out of it. I repented of my sins and have followed Him. Therefore, don’t let anyone ever say that God is not fair, because He is extremely fair to let the ungodly continue to go on breathing with the hope that some will come to faith in Him.
However, many times people read verse 22 and they say, “I understand that God wants to show His power by enduring with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. But, wait a minute, doesn’t it also say that God prepared these people for destruction? That doesn’t seem fair! That sounds like these vessels of wrath really didn’t have a choice. It looks like God made them just so He could destroy them!” How does a believer respond to this objection? The answer to this objection is simple. The Greek word for “prepared,” according to Vines New Testament Word Dictionary, would be better translated “they have fitted themselves for destruction.” Again, this is a declaration that if the Potter can’t mold the clay, because it is hardened and unresponsive to His hand, then the Potter has done His best, and must now discard this clay as unusable. In other words, rebellious people have fitted themselves for their own destruction.
There is also an interesting side note here in the context. The word “prepared” in verse 23, is a completely different Greek word than is used in verse 22. In verse 23 the words are correctly translated in the NKJV to “prepare beforehand.” Paul makes it clear that through God’s foreknowledge, “He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory.” So, the only one that is prepared beforehand for glory is the vessel of mercy. Nowhere in Scripture is it taught what extreme Calvinists call Double Election. Extreme Calvinists teach that God chooses beforehand who is going to heaven, and He chooses beforehand those who are going to hell. This idea is not taught in Scripture. These two verses make this teaching of the extreme Calvinism weak and indefensible. The clear and simple teaching of Scripture reveals that, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). This passage in Romans makes it clear that men have “fitted themselves for destruction,” because of their hardness and unrepentant hearts before God. Thankfully, God is not willing that any of them should ever perish!
God’s call of the Gentiles Vs. 24-29
In verses 24-29, Paul acknowledges that God has not only called the Jews to Himself, but also the Gentiles. What he does first, is state the fact that God, “Called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles” (Rom. 9:24). This is a very important concept that God loved the Gentiles just as much as He did the Jews. These are verses you should show to orthodox Jews, that reveal God’s eternal purpose of loving and saving the Gentiles. There are many examples of God loving and accepting the Gentiles throughout the Old and New Testaments. God called Abram, who was formally an idolater to Himself (Joshua 24:2). There was a Gentile widow of Sidon who provided for Elijah and God blessed her with provisions (1 Kings 17:9). God healed Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings 5). Jesus also healed the Syro-Phoenician woman’s daughter because He said the woman had great faith (Mark 7:24-30). These examples show that God has always cared about Gentiles and that He would help anyone who trusted in Him.
From verses 25-29, Paul quotes numerous verses from the Old Testament to prove his point that God always intended to call and save the Gentiles. In verses 25-26 he quotes from Hosea the Prophet, “I will call them My people, who were not My people, and her beloved, who was not beloved. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not My people,' There they shall be called sons of the living God” (Rom. 9:25-26). The message here is so powerful. God declared that He was going to call a people who were not His people, referring to the Gentiles; He would call them His people. He would also call them beloved, which means loved by Him. For the Gentiles who were not His people, He would now call them His loved ones and His sons. What incredible promises were made to the Gentiles! As Christians we are the Father’s loved ones, and now partakers of the promises made to Abraham (Eph. 3:6; Gal. 3:14)!
In verses 27-28, Paul says, “Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the remnant will be saved. For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, because the LORD will make a short work upon the earth’” (Rom. 9:27-28). In these verses, Paul shows that from the prophecies of Isaiah only a small number of the Jews will ultimately be saved, because God will only save a remnant. He will stop short of fulfilling His promises to the Jews in righteousness. Why will God only save a small number of Jews even though they were as numerous as the sand of the sea? How can God stop short of fulfilling His promised purpose for them? God will stop short because of their unbelief and the Jewish people’s desire to obtain God’s blessings by their own good works. In verse 32, Paul states plainly the answer to this question of why God stopped short of all His promises to them. He declared, “Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law” (Rom. 9:32). We will cover this truth in-depth in our next study.
The last truth Paul quotes is in verse 29, when he declares, “As Isaiah said before: ‘Unless the LORD of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we would have become like Sodom, and we would have been made like Gomorrah” (Rom. 9:29). Prophetically God told the Jewish people through Isaiah that none of them would be saved unless God in His grace had left a seed or descendants. He told them that unless He bestowed grace upon them, they would have been utterly destroyed like the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. What an image is this! I have stood on the ruins of Sodom and seen the ruins of Gomorrah just a short distance away in the Jordan Valley. There is nothing left but ash, the foundations of broken-down stone structures, and a few blown apart skeletal remains of the people of these cities. When God says things like this, He means it. He rained fire and molten rock from the sky on these cities, and if He wants to obliterate a nation or a people, He can do it any time He chooses. These statements by God make it very clear that His grace is absolutely necessary for anyone to be saved, including the Gentiles. Don’t ever think that there is any other way for you to be saved today, unless He bestows His glorious matchless grace upon you. Salvation is all of grace! “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Remember, not your good works, but His awesome grace is the only thing that can save and transform your life. Cry out for His grace and receive it by faith!