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I Am Not Ashamed: The Potter’s Freedom

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Is God being unfair because He is being too generous to some and not all? Paul says, “no”.

I Am Not Ashamed: The Potter’s Freedom
Text: Romans 9:19-33
Theme: Is God being unfair because He is being too generous to some and not all? Paul says, “no”.
Date: 10/23/2016 File name: Romans_2016_29.wpd ID Number: 226
I miss Calvin and Hobbes. It was, for many years, a daily syndicated cartoon written by Bill Watterson. Calvin was a precocious, mischievous, and adventurous six-year-old boy, and Hobbes, his witty stuffed tiger. Calvin sees the world through the eyes of a six-year-old and in this panel, he complains that the world is “unfair.” Calvin wishes it would be more “unfair” in his favor. The central issue of our text this morning is this: Is God being unfair because He chooses to elect some to salvation and not others? Yes. But I would maintain, that if you understand the Scripture, and if you understand what Paul is saying to the Church at Rome, that in a backward kind of way, it’s the saved that God is being unfair to.


“It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (Romans 9:16, NIV84)
1. in the history of the world virtually every religion past or present has been based on the appeasement of the gods
a. men and women had to do something to appease their deity or deities in order to merit a place of blessing in the afterworld, or to curry the favor of the gods in this world
b. only Christianity says that eternal life is about receiving a righteousness from God based on His grace instead earning a righteousness from God based on our own good behavior
“And [Abraham] being fully persuaded that, what he [God] had promised, he [God] was able also to perform. 22 And therefore it was imputed to him [Abraham] for righteousness. 23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; 24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” (Romans 4:21–25, KJV)
1) what we receive from God is the imputed righteousness of Christ that comes by faith through grace because of the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross
2. in this chapter, the apostle is clear, there is nothing anyone can do to merit salvation
a. according to the apostle every man has sinned and because every man has sinned that person falls short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:2), and are by nature the children of wrath (Eph. 1:3) prepared for damnation
b. as we discovered last week in the various Old Testament illustrations that the apostle Paul uses to defend the doctrine of election God says “ I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Romans 9:15, NIV84)


1. Satan’s greatest lie may be that good works, or right behavior, or religious rituals can help sinners escape the punishment of hell and merit the joy of heaven
“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” (Romans 3:20, NIV84)
“know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16, NIV84)
a. what is the Apostle saying in these and similar verses?
1) regardless off how really, really good you try to be, your personal goodness will never be good enough to make it into Heaven
2) BUT, if you put you faith in the one who was the perfect, spotless Lamb of God, then Heaven will be your home
2. God grants unmerited favor to many, but not all
a. just because God limits His mercy doesn’t mean He is stingy with His mercy
“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9, NIV84)
ILLUS. Christianity is openly mocked in all media: television, movies, print. Nightly News portrays a world seemingly in despair with no hope. The U.S., Canada, and Europe continue their downward slide away from God in their rejection of anything having to do with Christ and the Bible. Even common sense and tenets of basic human morality are regularly attacked and vilified. Yet the truth is that, in our time, worldwide—particularly in Africa, Asia, and South America, God is doing exceedingly abundantly above what we can imagine. The Holy Spirit is greatly moving in what was once called "the Third World". Around the world millions are coming to Christ every year.
"Look at the nations and watch - and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told." (Habakkuk 1:5, NIV)
3. the Apostle clearly tells us that God “ ... will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and He will have compassion on whom He will have compassion” (Romans 9:15)
a. God saves multitudes, but God saves a particular multitude that He has singled out from before the foundation of the world
4. no one can merit it, but He graciously gives it


“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NIV84)
1. since grace, the unmerited favor of God, is the only means by which God saves sinners, anyone attempting to merit eternal life by their own good behavior, or religious ritual has instead earned death
a. only by God’s grace do we get what we don’t deserve—heaven, and ...
b. only by His mercy do we avoid getting what we do deserve—hell
2. the apostle Paul quotes to his readers from Exodus 33:19, “God will mercy whom he chooses to show mercy on and God will compassion whom he chooses to show compassion on”
a. God makes the choice, and the sinner can either choose to receive it, or choose to reject it
1) in vv. 22-23 Paul says that those who receive His grace are objects of mercy, while those who reject His grace are objects of wrath
3. mercy and compassion, are by nature, not obligatory
ILLUS. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that your spouse is killed by a drunk driver. As is sadly the case, the drunk driver walks away unscathed, but the person he hits is killed. During the trial, you confront the killer of your spouse face to face, and he says to you "I demand mercy. You owe it to me." Do you? Do you owe that person mercy? What that person is owed, is condemnation and a lengthy prison term. You may, in the end, decide to give it, but mercy is something that is not owed. The moment is ti, it is no longer mercy.
5. The Apostle Paul Teaches Us of the Fallacy of Human Effort in Salvation


“One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” 20 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?’ ” 21 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? 22 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? 23 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— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:19–24, NIV84)
1. when the apostle writes that God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy and will have compassion on whom He will show compassion, that His election is not dependent on a man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy the apostle anticipates what his readers are going to say next … "One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" (vs. 19)


1. God does what He wills, when He wills, with whom He wills, and for the purpose He wills, and what He will is always right, and always for His glory, and always for the believer’s ultimate benefit
a. does this mean that humans are merely pieces in God’s game of cosmic chess?
b. does the Apostle Paul mean to imply that Pharaoh and rebellious Israel are not accountable for their disobedience?
c. if Pharaoh, and Israel, and lost men, are just playing the role God has intended for them to play in the outworking of his strategy in human history, why should God judge any of them for resisting his will?
1) obviously these are not unimportant questions
2. again, the apostle rejects the premise, and claims that every person is indeed responsible for his or her own response to God even though God is able to use both our obedience and our disobedience to fulfill his purposes
a. Paul is just kinda blunt here—“Who do you think you are talking back to God?”
b. actually the apostle writes, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?” which can be loosely interpreted, “Who do you think you are talking back to God?”
ILLUS. Toward the end of the Book of Job the Patriarch expresses his frustration with how God is handling things. Job has been through some horrifically traumatic events, and he’s accusing God of not running the world right. "Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: 2 "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? 3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. 4 "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand." (Job 38:1-4, NIV84). God is not being dismissive of Job's pain, but he's reminding Job—and us—that God is God and we're not, and He has eternal purposes that He's not necessarily filled us in on. It’s one of the biggest ‘smack-downs’ in the bible.
3. the Apostle is not discouraging believers from asking our Heavenly Father the tough questions
a. he is reminding us that there is a difference, a significant difference, between the creature, i.e. us, and the Creator
1) Hebrews 4:16 encourages us to approach God with confidence, but never in arrogance
“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?’ ” (Romans 9:20, NIV84)
2) do you hear the haughtiness in that question?
4. God is not the prisoner of our expectations


ILLUS. People who are craftsmen always amaze me. I enjoy watching people, who are good at their craft, make things. Carpenters, a blacksmith, chandlers, a wheelwright, and glass-blowers all fascinate me. Forty plus years ago—I know it was at least that long ago because Linda and I were not yet married, but only dating. The fact that I remember this tells you something of the impression it made on me. We had gone to the Northwest Plaza shopping center at Christmas time when it was the really cool shopping place to go. In one of the department stores there was a man demonstrating pottery making. He was busy at the potter’s wheel turning out all kinds of ware. He had drawn a rather large crowd and was explaining the process to his audience. At one point he placed a rather large amount of clay on the wheel and began to turn it. He pressed, and shaped, and began to mold the lump into large clay vase. At one point I can remember him having virtually his entire arm down inside the vessel as he shaped it from the inside. He drew out the rim of the vase, and created handles for each side which he deftly attached to the vessel. When he finished, he stood, and took a bow, and everyone applauded. Then, as everyone was watched, he took his hands and collapsed the vessel and squeezed it back into a lump of clay. And everybody want “awh.”
1. as the potter has the right to do with the clay as he desires, so God has the right to do with His creators as desires
2. the imagery of a potter forming a vessel into exactly what the potter wants it to be is the exact same imagery that’s used in Genesis 2 when it speaks of God as shaping the first man out of the clay of the ground and then breathing into him the breath of life
a. the implication in Romans is that God retains the right of sovereignty over His creatures
3. one of the keys to understanding this entire passage is one word in vs. 22 and one word in vs. 23
“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? 23 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—” (Romans 9:22–23, NIV84)
a. 1st, God has great patience toward the lost ... God bore with great patience—literally endures—God endures their unbelief, rejection, hatred, blasphemy, and iniquity, while patiently allowing time for repentance
1) lost men everywhere in the world stand condemned and are objects of his wrath
"Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:18, NIV84)
3) because of sin, sinners stand condemned
b. 2nd, the lost are preparing themselves for destruction
1) it is not God whom makes men sinful, but that He leaves them in their sin unless they repent of it and turn to His Son for deliverance
a) the unrighteous, the lost are the objects of wrath in vs. 22
2) the verb rendered prepared in vs. 22 is a verb in the passive voice ... OK, so what does that mean?
a) God is not the one doing the preparing
3) the sinner’s preparation for destruction is of his or her own doing
a) the responsibility for their damnation rests fully on the shoulders of those who refuse to heed God’s Word and believe in His Son
b) they are prepared for destruction by their own rejection of the Gospel
c. 3rd, the saved are being prepared by God for glory
1) God does not make men sinful, but if they are going to enter His Kingdom, He must make them righteous
a) the righteous are the vessels of glory the Apostle refers to in vs. 23
b) these are people which He prepared beforehand for glory in heaven
2) the verb rendered prepared in vs. 23 is a verb in the active voice ... OK, so what does that mean?
a) God is the one who actively works to save His Elect in order to reveal the riches of His glory to us whom He has called
4. and the REALLY good news is that this grace is for both Jew and Gentile


1. OK, what do we do with all this?
a. last Sunday we dove into the deep end of the pool as we reached the 9th chapter of Romans
1) this chapter, as well as the next two do not make for light reading
b. these chapters were dealing with some of the deepest, and toughest stuff in the Bible
1) this is all the more reason why we need to take some time in these chapters
2. there is so much in the New Testament that is easy to understand
a. take John 3: 16—we read that and the meaning is obvious
ILLUS. Go back to Augustine from last week, this is one of those verses that is shallow enough for a child to wade in.
1) we don't have to scratch our heads and wonder, "What did God mean when he said that?"
2) there's something about the simplicity of the text ... we read it, and we connect with it, and we "get it"
3. the biggest hurtle in Romans 9 is, “Is God Fair? Is God just in that He choose to save some, while passing over others?”


1. as we saw last week, God chose Isaac over Ishmael, he chose Jacob over Esau, he chose Israel over all the other nations of the earth
a. the Jewish people of Paul’s day had some tough versus in their scriptures
1) in last week’s sermon, we hear the apostle Paul quoting one of those tough versus—it’s from the prophet Malachi
“I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the LORD says. “Yet I have loved Jacob, 3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” (Malachi 1:2–3, NIV84)
2) there is no way to cut it, that’s a tough verse
3) God alone claims the right of whom He will choose to receive his promises, and whom will not
2. the New Testament has some equally difficult versus
“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, NIV84)
a. people look at that verse, including many Christians, and conclude, “But that’s unfair!”
b. if Jesus meant what he said in John 14:6, if Christianity is true, then there is only one God and salvation comes only through Him, and religions that deny this are not merely alternate forms of spiritual expression, but systems of belief that prevent their adherents from obtaining salvation
c. maintaining that belief as a core tenant of the faith will get you ostracized pretty quickly in much of our society
3. in an America that is thoroughly pluralistic the greatest theological challenge for the Church is the exclusivity of the gospel
a. the pluralist believes that there are many pathways to God, Jesus being merely one of them
b. the pluralist believes that since salvation can come through other religions and other religious leaders, it surely follows that people do not have to believe in Jesus Christ to be saved
4. Jesus, however, did not leave his church that choice
ILLUS. C. S. Lewis, explained in his well-known book, Mere Christianity, "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher; he'd either be a lunatic -- on a level with a man who says he's a poached egg -- or else he'd be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."
a. John 14:6 causes Christian readers to raise the same question the Jewish readers of Paul’s epistle to the Romans also raised—if God mercies some and not all isn’t God unjust?
b. the pluralist looks at John 14:6 and concludes one way is just too exclusive, one way is just too narrow, one way is just too restrictive, it’s too cut and dried, it’s too yes and no
1) we live in a culture that likes “spiritual gray” on these matters
a) how is John 14:6 fair to the people who have never been exposed to the gospel?
b) how is John 14:6 fair to the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world?
c) how is John 14:6 fair to the 1 billion Hindus in the world?
d) how is John 14:6 fair to the 376 million Buddhists, or the 23 million Sikhs, or the 1.1 billion nonreligious, or the 2.6 million Zoroastrians, or the 16 million Jews?
c. if God does not save all, or if he does not give all an equal chance for all to be saved is God being unjust?
“What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Romans 9:14–15, NIV84)
5. the universal human condition is that we are all—all—under God's wrath
a. the apostle has made this abundantly clear in the early chapters of his letter
b. “What if,” the Apostle says in vs. 22, out of that sinful mass of humanity, all of which deserve wrath, and condemnation, and damnation for eternity God chooses to save some, but not others?
1) is that unjust?
c. Paul is clear—God is not obligated to mercy any ... He isn't obligated to choose any
1) this is one of the tough things of the gospel
2) Jesus said, "narrow is the way that leads to salvation, and wide is the way that leads to destruction"
6. but God does have mercy and who are we to say He is unfair in giving it to some and not others?
ILLUS. There are currently forty inmates on Missouri’s “death row”. Each has been tried, found guilty of capitol murder and sentenced by a judge to die. Their condemnation is just. Suppose a week before the end of his term, Governor Nixon writes down forty names on slips of paper, tosses them into a hat, and draws out four names. Those four will receive a full and complete pardon. As a governor, he has full and complete authority to do this. They are to be set free as soon as possible. Is Governor Nixon being unjust in that he does not pardon the other 36? No. As a matter fact those men are receiving exactly what is fair; exactly what is just according to the law. The mercy that the governor chooses to bestow on some does not obligate him to bestow it on all. Do you think any of the four he unconditionally chooses to give mercy to, are going to say, “Wow, this is so unfair. If he doesn’t give mercy to the other 36, I’m not sure I want to be a part of this.”?
a. the REAL problem that most of us would have is the governor turning loose four convicted murders upon society, and we’re thankful the other 36 are still condemned!
b. isn’t this part of the real issue?
1) it’s not that the governor is being “unfair” to the many, but He’s being “too fair” to the wrong people
c. “We know that we deserve mercy, but by golly, there are some who don’t.”
1) we look at the alcoholic reprobate who gets saved, and think to ourselves "If I were God it would have been straight to hell for him."
2) if it were up to us, who would we mercy and compassion?
a) it would be the people who like us, or people who we like, or who are most like us
b) our prejudices would control who is saved and who is not saved
3) for most of us, that means that the high and mighty, the influential, the talented—these are the people who would "make it"
a. the womanizing alcoholic, the child molester, the community troublemaker, the mean little kid, the neighbor who offended us would be objects of our wrath
d. in other words, if we were able to save, the salvation we offer would be wholly conditional, and the conditions would be rather arbitrary
ILLUS. Can you imaging the shock in the early church when word started getting around that Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of the church, a man responsible for dozens of imprisoned and executed Christians, is now a believer? Yeah ... right. God wouldn’t do that!
7. God's love is a sovereign, saving, electing love, that defies all attempts at fully understanding it
Here’s the conclusion of the matter.
No One Is Saved Against His or Her Will. God will not coerce anyone to come to Christ. No one enters the kingdom of God kicking and screaming.
Conversely No One Who Genuinely Wants to Be Saved Will Be Denied. As we will discover when we arrive at Romans chapter 10 "That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." (Romans 10:9-10, NIV84). If you believe in your heart that God has raised Jesus from the dead, and if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, God doesn't have to sit back and say, "Hmmm … Let me check and see if you're on the list. Nope, you’re not one of my Elect. Sorry."
God has been “unfair”, but he’s been unfair in favor of those who choose Christ. None of us deserve His mercy.
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