Summary: We will never answer every question regarding God’s calling and election and man’s free will, but how we respond to God is very important. As we grapple with these deep truths, we must remember the greatest response is to trust Him and surrender ourselves
In Good Hands!
Romans 9 may have raised more questions than answers for you. You’re not alone in this. Even the Apostle Peter, when referring to inspired Scripture written by the Apostle Paul, recognized that his weighty words were sometimes difficult to comprehend in 2 Peter 3:16: “…His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
Let’s state right up front that there are some hard things to understand in the Bible – like predestination. Here are three passages to consider:
Romans 8:29: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…”
Ephesians 1:5: “He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ…”
Ephesians 1:11: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…”
The word predestination is composed of two parts: “Pre” meaning “before” and “destination” meaning “point of final arrival.” God chose us long before we chose Him, yet He also looked into the future and knew how we would respond to His love for us. If you think about this doctrine for awhile, you’ll have to face some difficult questions:
* How does predestination affect human responsibility?
* Are we just robots, doing what God has ordained?
* If only certain people are predestined to heaven, then why bother with evangelism?
* How can people be guilty of sin since they are doing only what they were predestined to do?
This topic has caused friendships to fracture, churches to split and divided Christians into different doctrinal groups. Here are a couple of things I hope we all can agree on: God is completely sovereign and we are responsible for our response to Him. The word “sovereign” means one who has absolute authority and complete control.
You can find both of these truths in the Bible. We could say that Romans 9 emphasizes the sovereignty of God while Romans 10 provides the framework for human responsibility. However, Paul doesn’t seek to relieve the tension. He doesn’t fully explain the working out of election and responsibility in this chapter because he’s more interested in addressing the haughty heart that dares to question the Creator.
Election and responsibility are taught by Jesus in John 6:37: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, [divine election] and whoever comes to me [human response] I will never drive away.” Here are just two verses from Acts 13 where these two friends are found: Verse 39: “Through him everyone who believes is [human response] justified” and verse 48: “…and all who were appointed [divine election] for eternal life believed.”
So what do we do with these two amazing truths? How do we deal with the tension that seems to exist between them? It is not likely that you will get every question answered regarding God’s calling and election and man’s free will, but how you respond to God is very important. We should rejoice that we are chosen by God and should make choices that flow in agreement with the new life we have in Jesus!
With all that as a preview of our passage today, let’s look at it. Notice that there are seven different questions listed in Romans 9:19-24: “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’ But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath — prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?”
While Paul doesn’t specifically answer each of these questions, there are at least three answers that are given that tell us what God is up to in His dealings with mankind.
1. God designs each of us with purpose (19-21). Let’s look at what’s behind Romans 9:19: “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’” The word “then” goes back to the question about Pharaoh. Specifically, as we learned last week, when Moses wanted to go, Pharaoh said no. Since Pharaoh was hardened and verse 18 states: “God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden,” then why are we blamed for our behavior? If we are simply playing the roles God has for us in the outworking of His will, how can God judge us for resisting His will? Paul takes issue with the attitude behind the two questions in verse 19 and so he replies in verse 20: “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?” The phrase “talk back” literally means “to answer to one’s face” or to “be against and away from.” Paul was putting this person in his place.