In the first half of Romans 9 Paul begins to speak specifically about the audience of salvation - those people for whom salvation is offered. He teaches that the children of God are those who are related to the promised Son - not merely by the fleshly descent of Isaac, but referring instead to the spiritual kinship of His son Jesus Christ. As children of the promise, we have been both chosen by God and have ourselves chosen God.
God chose the nation of Israel as a whole to be His anointed people. He did not chose them based upon any merit that they had. He did not chose them because He foreknew that they’d embrace Him in return - as a matter of fact, history proves that they didn’t. He choose them solely based upon His own sovereign will. In response to God’s gracious choice of them, Israel by-and-large rejected Him.
As individuals, God has chosen each of us as candidates for salvation. His will is that none should perish, but that all might choose eternal life. This is why He sent His only begotten Son Jesus to die on the cross, in order that all people would have a path to redemption. As is the case for Israel, His choice to love us and make salvation available to us is not based upon our merit, nor is it limited to those He foreknows will receive it. His gracious choice extends to everyone, but it does not negate our responsibility to choose Him in return. We must both (God and man) choose each other.
God’s hand is at work in the temporal, earthly realm in which we live as well as in the unseen, spiritual realm which surrounds us. In the visible realm, God’s sovereignly orchestrates the events of history causing some nations to rise and others to fall. He ordains that some individuals will rise to prominence while others remain shrouded in obscurity. He shows mercy to those whom He desires, and even hardens the heart of those whom He desires. This is done for the purpose of revealing his glory to the world.
But in the invisible realm, which is eternal, God’s desire is for all people to be saved. While he may hate the sinful actions of nations collectively and of people particularly, He still loves the individual person themselves. Such a position is consistent with what the Bible teaches about the character and nature of God. We often say to one another, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” The reason we express this sentiment is because it describes the character of God, which we should imitate.
Even if the bitter wrath of God befalls a person in this present life (even for no apparent reason), it is contradictory to the prevailing teaching of Scripture to believe that such a person is completely hopeless and utterly unable to be saved. God can and on occasion does break through to even the most hard-hearted and wicked people (even though He may have hardened their heart in the first place). His curse might be upon the present activities of a person’s life, but His affection for their soul remains steadfast.
I. THE POTTER IS SOVEREIGN OVER THE CLAY (Romans 9:19-21)
Have you ever wondered why your life seems so difficult? Have you ever shaken your fist at the sky and yelled at God? Have you asked, “Why did you make me like this?” Have you believed in your heart that God is not always fair? Have you laid awake at crying because God “hated” you? If we are honest, most of us have had at least one if not several of these experiences, myself included.
God is the potter and we are the clay. He is the Creator and we are His creation. He possesses absolute sovereignty and full discretion as to how He will shape our lives. If He chooses to make some of our lives more “honorable” than others, so be it. Such is His right as the potter. We are not in a position to question His authority. Nor is He under any obligation to answer us when we do. This is demonstrated quite vividly in the story of Job. Such is the harsh reality that we must all come to grips with.
Far too many people wander through life angry with themselves, angry with others, but mostly angry with God. Such anger will get you nowhere. God will exercise His authority over us whether we receive it willingly or not. Thus, we’d be much better off if we’d simply learn to submit to God’s control, regardless of our never-ending opinions, and stop questioning His decisions. If nothing else, our attitudes would improve as our anger subsided…
There is a popular saying that we often repeat around our house - “It is what it is.” Have you heard that or said it yourself? I will concede that we can change and work to improve most of the things we face in this life, so this saying is not always very accurate. However, there are some things that are beyond our control - things only God can change. In these cases, we must realize that we are only the clay, that He is the Potter, and that our complaining and worrying is a colossal waste of time and energy...
II. VESSELS OF MERCY AND VESSELS OF WRATH (Romans 9:22-23)
Following his illustration of the potter and the clay, Paul asks a thought provoking question - what if God patiently endures “vessels of wrath” in order to display His glory to “vessels of mercy”? With this query he presents us with two contrasting types of vessels, and upon a casual reading we are left once again with the troubling possibility that God creates some of His creations for destruction. But is this really the case?
The “vessels of wrath” are prepared for destruction, while the “vessels of mercy” are prepared for glory. But who is actually making these preparations? Notice that when speaking about the “vessels of mercy” the text definitely says that He (God) prepared them, but when but when speaking about the “vessels of wrath” it does not directly state that God prepared them. Rather, it simply says they were "prepared for destruction" without definitively attributing the action to anyone. The Lord is certainly “enduring” these vessels, but the passive voice of the verb “prepared” in this sentence is inconclusive as to whether God was the one who actually prepared them or not.
Many scholars interpret the tense of the word used here (katartizo in the original Greek) to mean that these vessels are actually preparing themselves for destruction. They are willfully resisting the mercy of God, and though He certainly can and does use them to “demonstrate His wrath and make His power known” in this present world, still He patiently endures their continued ungodliness. Why would He do such a gracious and undeserved thing as that? I suggest that He endures because, despite their waywardness, God deeply loves these “vessels of destruction” and longs to see them come to repentance.
III. WHO ARE THE VESSELS OF MERCY (Romans 9:24-33)
The “vessels of mercy which God has prepared beforehand for glory” are identified more clearly in the final verses of this chapter. Paul cites several Old Testament passages to support his identification of them. He quotes both Hosea and Isaiah as he teaches that these vessels include both Jews and Gentiles. Not only are both included at the time of Paul’s writing to the Romans, but they always have been since “beforehand” (v23)!
We have talked a lot about the fact that God is Lord of both the Jews and the Gentiles. This has been a repeated theme in this book, and is prominent in most of Paul’s letters. Since we have discussed it several times in this series, we will just briefly reemphasize it today…
As a whole, the Jews unsuccessfully pursued God via the law while the Gentiles found Him through faith. Thus, the “vessels of mercy” are those who have placed their faith in God through the person of Jesus Christ regardless of whether they are Jew or Greek. They chose to follow Him.
There is a large segment of Christianity who believe that God sovereignly chooses those who will and will not be saved, and that people can do nothing to change His predetermination. Romans 9 is often used by those who ascribe to this viewpoint as justification of their theology. When you read this chapter by itself, apart from the context of the rest of Scripture, it certainly would appear this way.
On this we can agree… God alone is responsible for our salvation. It was His design, we can only receive it as He offers, and it is His power that accomplishes and secures it. We are wholly unable in our own fallen and corrupt nature to attain salvation on our own. God must draw us to Himself, through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, and supernaturally present us with an opportunity to receive redemption. We might, by our own choosing, place ourselves in situations that are more conducive to moments of conviction, but ultimately God chooses when and how often these moments will come.
Sadly, there are thousands of people in our churches today who believe they are saved but are not. This is because they approached God on their own terms, but not while under Holy Spirit conviction. Their “perceived new-birth experience” may have been emotional, but emotion does not equate to the stirring of the Spirit. Some of them came to God because they wanted to fit in, it seemed like the right thing to do, someone pressured them into it, or for a host of other humanistic reasons. But apart from the genuine conviction of God, true salvation is impossible.
In closing, it is Scripturally accurate to say that God chooses His children - but it is also incomplete. In order to be saved, we must also choose Him. Paul will emphasize this aspect of election more in the coming chapter so that we have a balanced presentation of both perspectives. God directs the events of this present world as He chooses, having predetermined to ultimately accomplish His own purposes, but upon consideration of the entirety of Scripture I don’t believe He predestines the eternal fate of individuals without allowing them a choice in the matter.