You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” – Romans 9:18-26 ESV
In this section of chapter nine, Paul continues to defend God’s sovereign prerogative to show mercy based on His will, not on any merits or worthiness of men. The fact is, all men are under God’s divine wrath and subject to His holy judgment, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV) and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 NLT). All mankind is deserving of God’s righteous judgment of death. And yet, Paul has reminded us, God has shown mercy to some. Again, not because they deserved it, but simply because God, in His mercy and grace decided to do so. And Paul knew that this merciful and gracious action of God would be misconstrued and misunderstood by some as unjust and unfair. Paul was fully aware of those within his audience who would question why God could be so hard on those whom He had not chosen to show His mercy. Paul knew how their minds worked, because he had probably struggled with the same questions at one time in his life. He had more than likely pondered the question of how anyone could find fault with Esau, if God chose Jacob over Esau based on nothing more than His own will. But at this point in his life and in his relationship with God, Paul knew better than to question the sovereign will of God, which is why he warned his readers, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Romans 9:20 ESV). Paul was using the Old Testament Scriptures to argue his point. He quoted from the prophet Isaiah. “What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’” (Isaiah 45:9 NLT).
This is all about the sovereign will of God. In our world, we have made man the center of our universe. Everything revolves around us. We see ourselves as the pinnacle of creation and focus all our attention on our ability to accomplish great good, while always recognizing our capacity to commit all kinds of evil. We live in a merit-based society where the good we do gets rewarded, while the bad we do gets punished. And we expect God to judge us in the same way. But Paul’s whole point thus far in his letter has been to stress that salvation is based on faith alone. His thesis statement for his letter is found in the opening chapter. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV).
From God’s divine perspective, all men are guilty and stand before Him worthy of His judgment and wrath. And yet, God chooses to show mercy on some. And while we may see that as somehow unfair, Paul would have us consider, “Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” Can God, the creator, not do what He wants to do? Is He not free to show mercy on whomever He wants to show mercy? What Paul is doing is inviting you and me to see things from a different perspective. He is asking us to remove man from the center of our universe and put God there in his place. The fact is, all mankind is deserving of God’s judgment. Even Israel, God’s chosen nation, could not live in obedience to His law or remain faithful to Him. And while God would have been fully just in destroying them for their rebellion and unfaithfulness, He showed them mercy instead. He could have exhibited His wrath and revealed His power in destructive judgment, but instead He showed patience – time and time again. He “endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy” (Romans 9:22-23 ESV). God had a plan. He had made a promise to Abraham that He was going to keep. He was sending His Son as the Messiah of the Jews and the Savior of the Gentiles. God was going to show mercy, allowing some to come to a saving knowledge of His Son, not based on their own righteousness or human merit, but on their faith in His mercy as expressed in His Son’s sacrificial death on the cross.
God sent His Son to the Jews first, but most of them refused Him. And yet, there were those among the Jews who did believe. And there were Gentiles who placed their faith in Christ as their Savior. God showed His mercy on some, even though all deserved His wrath. He chose to forgive some. All in fulfillment of the prophecy found in the book of Hosea: “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people.’” Our problem is that we get hung up on God’s wrath and miss the unbelievable nature of His mercy. The fact that God shows mercy to anyone should amaze and astound us. None of us are deserving of it. When we come to fully comprehend our guiltiness and the fact that we deserved God’s wrath, and yet were shown His mercy, we can better appreciate the magnitude of the gift we have received.