To be a Christian is be someone who has given up ownership of your life to God. If you are truly saved, that means that at the moment of your salvation, you acknowledged that God was God and you are not. By the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, you were persuaded to turn from sin and self and submit control of your life to the Jesus Christ of the Bible as your Lord and Savior. Indeed, one of the most important mottos of the church for 2,000 years has been the simple yet deep biblical profession of faith: “Jesus is Lord.” If Jesus is indeed your Lord, then today’s passage from Romans should ring true in your heart even if it is difficult to understand and may take some time to process and accept.
Paul concludes his reflection on the mystery of God’s sovereignty over man’s salvation by using a familiar metaphor from the Old Testament of how God relates with people – the analogy of the Potter and the clay. Paul anticipates that some readers will object to the idea that God has chosen to save some people by changing their hearts to believe in Him while allowing many other people to die in their sin and unbelief. To our natural human minds, the concept may seem unfair and we might be tempted to blame God and say, “Then it’s His fault that lost people go to hell” (Romans 9:19). But Paul stops us cold in our tracks in the next verse with some spiritual “chin music” (that’s when in baseball or softball a pitcher intentionally throws a pitch high and inside to force a hitter to stop crowding the plate and “get back to where they belong”). Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit who is God, says, “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?” (Romans 9:20). Biem! Checkmate, God. Drop the mike. Paul and God are right. The Lord is the divine Potter, and He has the right to form us, the clay, into whatever vessels He chooses (Romans 9:21). God in His unsearchable wisdom has willed to lovingly save some people and turn them into the humble recipients of his amazing mercy and grace destined for the glory of heaven (Romans 9:23). At the same time, God has also chosen to endure the sinful rebellion of others and allow them to face the final destruction and judgment that they have “prepared” or earned for themselves (Romans 9:22). That is the most straightforward interpretation of today’s passage, it is what we see all through the history of the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the book of Acts, and it is what we still see in the lives of people around us today. We know that this truth of God’s sovereignty in saving souls applies not just to Israel but to the rest of church (“Gentiles”), too, based on Romans 9:24, which says that God’s chosen vessels of mercy include – “even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.”
Now let’s deal with some possible misunderstandings of this passage as well as how this text should influence our personal walks with Christ. First, it’s really important to note that God actively saves and transforms Christians into “vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:23). That means, as it clearly tells us in Ephesians 2:8-9, that salvation is a total act of God’s grace and no Christian should ever brag or boast about being saved. As Christians, we need to be daily humbled and made grateful by remembering that but for the totally unearned grace of God in changing our wicked hearts to repent and believe upon Christ, we would still be dying as slaves of sin like our lost friends, family, and neighbors. Second, God’s choice to allow many people to continually reject Him for their entire lives and finally die and face judgment for their sins is a passive, not an active decision. Verse 22 does NOT tell us that God prepared the “vessels of wrath” or lost sinners for “destruction” in eternity past like He did with the “vessels of glory” (the saved). Instead, God has chosen for His own reasons to simply let some people get the fates that they have earned for themselves from their lifetimes of evil words, actions, thoughts, and desires. That is an act of justice and as God, He has the right to judge and punish sin. That He should choose to instead punish His own Son for some (the saved) that they might be forgiven and made into new creations of grace is a wonder for which we as Christians should never cease to praise Him. Third and finally, we are not God, so we do not know which of the lost people we love on, pray for, and witness to will ultimately become vessels of mercy like us. That means that we should be ever passionate in our lifestyle evangelism to the lost just as Jesus and the apostles were. We should freely and earnestly proclaim the gospel to our dying world daily through our words, attitudes, and deeds, praying that God’s Spirit would use our witness to help draw people out of the darkness of sin and death and into His marvelous light of eternal life. May God’s Word from Romans 9:19-24 stoke the fires of our love for Him and others today.
The Text (Romans 9:19-24)
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” 20 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?” 21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
22 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, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
Questions to Think About
- Have you ever found yourself questioning God about what He has done in your life or the lives of people you care about? Are there good and bad ways to question God? Explain.
- Have you ever been tempted to take some credit for your faith and actions as a Christian? How should today’s passage change the way you think about your own walk with Christ?
- How should today’s passage influence your approach to personal evangelism?