God’s Choice for Mercy

Sermon Study Sheets

Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

September 22, 2002

God’s Choice for Mercy

Romans 9:18-33

This morning we come another passage that is very theologically deep and
often misunderstood. As I have said over the past few weeks, I believe the
reason for the misunderstanding is that theologians want to understand the
infinite God within a framework that they can comprehend. The result is that
they interpret Scriptures within the logic of their theological framework
instead of what those Scriptures actually reveal about God. We must always
remember that God is beyond us. His ways are higher than our ways and often
beyond our understanding (Isa. 55:9). He does not have to make logical sense to
us. We need to accept and believe what He has revealed about Himself in the
Scriptures. Please keep that in mind this morning as we study the last half of
Romans 9. While I hope to help you understand what God has said in this passage,
I know that you may still leave here still trying to make sense of it all, for
when we come to the issue of God’s election and man’s responsibility for his
own choices, both are true.

The Argument (18,19)

Last week we examined Romans 9:1-18 and God’s sovereign choice of Israel to
be His people. God did not do this because of anything special about that
nation. In fact, many of the Scriptures that comment on this make it clear that
God chose them despite their characteristics (Deut. 4:37-39; Deut. 9:5,6; Deut
10:14,15). Throughout this passage, Paul does not shy away from a clear
declaration that God is sovereign in His choices. God choose Isaac and not
Ishmael to be the son of Promise. God then choose Jacob and not Esau to be the
next son of Promise. Despite any claims Arabic or Islamic people may make, the
blessings of God, including the ancient lands of Abraham, belong to the Jewish
people and not to them. God has compassion and mercy on who He decides to extend
it, and like He did to Pharaoh, God is also free to harden those who resist Him
as He desires for His own purposes. Whether we like it or not, God is sovereign
in what He does.

But this immediately brings up an argument against God’s justice. Paul
states the argument that he knows will be in the minds of some in verse 19. "You
will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His

In other words, how can God be just if He determines our eternal destiny?
Because God is omniscient and omnipotent, all knowing and all powerful, no one
can successfully resist God’s will. In the end, God always wins. If man does
not make his own choice about his eternal destiny, then it is not fair for God
to find fault with him and punish him for something he did not have a choice in.

That argument is still around today in full force. I pointed this out a few
weeks ago when I explained what Arminian theology and those arguing for the idea
of "Open Theism" believe. Arminians, and others, reject God’s
sovereign election in salvation and change it to God choosing by His omniscience
those who would choose Him. In effect, they make man sovereign in choosing their
own salvation. The "Open Theists" go beyond this by claiming that God
is also bound by time, and therefore, they reduce God’s foreknowledge to
foresight. Man chooses and God responds with His own choice.

But the plain reading of Romans 8 & 9 makes it clear that God’s
foreknowledge is much, much more than foresight. Roman’s 8 magnifies God’s
sovereignty in both His actions that bring salvation to an individual –
foreknowledge, predestination, calling and justification, as well as the
absolute guarantee of fulfilling His promise to fulfill all of salvation in
glorification. No circumstance, no entity, nothing at all can separate us from
God’s love. What God has begun in us, He will complete (Phil. 1:6). When we
add in Paul’s comment about the timing of God’s work in our salvation that "He
choose us in Him before the foundation of the world"
(Eph. 1:4), then
it is clear that we did not choose first. Jesus’ statement in John 6:44 &
65 that "no one can come to Him unless the Father draws him"
and the statement in 1 John 4:19 that "we love, because He first loved
make it clear that man’s choice is a response to God’s choice,
and not the other way around.

What then is the answer to the charge of God being unjust if man does not
have free will, autonomy, to make his own choice?

The Answer (20-29)

Paul answers the charges in verses 20-29 by explaining God’s rights as
creator, God’s patient endurance of the wicked, God’s glory in extending
mercy and then giving examples of this among both Jews and Gentiles. Let’s
first look at God’s right as creator in verses 20,21.

God’s Right as Creator (20,21)

On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing
molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this,"
will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the
same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use?

Whether you like it or not, God is the creator and you are simply one of His
creatures. He has full right as the creator to use you for whatever He desires.
In addition, God would be just regardless of whatever decision He does make
concerning you.

Paul’s analogy here about the potter having the right over the clay he is
working with is one that God had used before in explaining things to Israel. In
both Isaiah (64:6-8) and Jeremiah (18:3-16), the people are reminded that they
are the clay, and God is the potter who can deal with them as He desires. This
analogy is also something all those in the ancient Roman world would have

Potters and pottery were a part of everyday life. Today, we usually buy pots
and such from a retail store. We never meet, much less see the potter at work.
But back then, pots were usually bought at the marketplace from the potter or
his representative, or directly from the potter at the place where he was busy
making pots. He could have been the guy that lived just down the street or next
door. Everyone had seen potters take a lump of clay, divide it into several
parts and then proceed to make one clump of it into a beautiful vase for holding
wine, juice or milk, and then from another piece of the same lump of clay, he
would make a common wash pot. What each piece of clay was made into was totally
up to the discretion of the potter. You could use any modern analogy you want to
get the same point across.

From the same pad of paper, one sheet could be used to compose a beautiful
poem extolling the virtues of your spouse or children, and the next sheet is
used to compose a shopping list of cleaning supplies. Cotton is harvested from
the same field. Part of it is manufactured into beautiful cloth that is made
into curtains to decorate the kitchen. Part of it is made into common cloth that
is used for dish rags. An oak tree is cut down. Part of it is made into a
pulpit, part of is used to make shipping pallets and some of it is burned up in
a campfire. Every person here understands that the clay, the paper, the cotton
and the tree are all used at the complete discretion of the one who has
authority over them. Those things have no right to say to the one using them,
"Why did you make or use me like this?" Neither does man posses the
right to challenge God on what He decides to do with a person or how He wants to
use them.

That thought does not sit well with us humans because we have an inherent
desire to be autonomous, and we resist, or out right reject anything that would
be contrary to having the right and freedom to choose as we desire. One of Satan’s
lies that he used to deceive Eve was that if she would disobey God by eating of
the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then she would be like God. Man has
continued to believe similar lies ever since. He either wants to elevate himself
to the position of God with authority over others, or bring God down to man’s
level as a mean’s of denying God’s rightful authority over him, or it will
be a combination of the two.

Praise the Lord that He did not let Paul end the discussion there. That is
the end of the discussion in Islam, for their false God is all powerful, but
completely arbitrary in his dealings with people. No matter what they do, they
never know what Allah will do. While Paul makes sure we understand the right of
God as creator to do with us what He wishes, he also goes on to give us some
great insight into God’s dealings with man, and we find that the true God is
not arbitrary, but rather, the true God is patient, just and merciful.

God’s Actual Dealings with Man (22-24)

Romans 9:22-24 (NASB) "What if God, although willing to demonstrate
His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of
wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And [He did so] in order that He might make
known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared
beforehand for glory. [even] us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only,
but also from among Gentiles.

This is a rhetorical question that changes the thought by considering the
answer to the question from a different angle. Paul has made it clear that God
has the right as the creator to do as He pleases, but what has God actually
shown in His dealings with man? Can anyone have legitimate reason to complain
about God being unjust when His actual actions toward man have show Him to
extend to man unwarranted and unexpected mercy?

While we all might like some complete explanation for why God has allowed
evil to exist, God has chosen to not reveal the full answer to this point in
time. However, what He reveals here through Paul does give us at least two
reasons for it even as Paul demonstrates God’s mercy toward man.

His Wrath & Patient Endurance (22)

Paul first presents God’s dealings with wicked men. He continues on in the
language of the analogy given in the previous verses and calls them
"vessels of wrath." Paul’s argument here is that rather than God
being unjust to the wicked, He has in fact shown great mercy in His patient
endurance of them, and in fact the only reason He has put up with them is
because He has chosen to demonstrate His wrath and make His power known through

Go back and consider again the example of Pharaoh that Paul gave in verse 17.
Those who quickly glance over the Scriptures often conclude that God was unjust
in punishing Pharaoh since God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. God seems almost
cruel in telling Pharaoh that the very purpose He raised Pharaoh up was to "demonstrate
My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole
God had revealed to Moses what would happen before Moses had
even made it back to Egypt (Exod. 4:21-23), but the Lord did not say this to
Pharaoh until there had already been six plagues, and Pharaoh had not been
passive in his response to God in each of the plagues up to that point.

Pharaoh’s heart was hardened when Aaron’s rod became a serpent and ate up
those that Pharaoh’s magicians threw down (7:13). Pharaoh’s heart was
hardened at the turning of the water into blood (7:22). Pharaoh hardened his
heart at the plague of the frogs (8:15). His heart was hardened at the plague of
gnats (8:19) and he hardened his heart again when Moses removed the plague
(8:32). Pharaoh’s heart was hardened once again when the Egyptian cattle died
(9:7). It is not until the plague of boils that we find that "the Lord
hardened Pharaoh’s heart."
It is only after all of this that God
tells Pharaoh through Moses, "But, indeed, for this cause I have allowed
you to remain, in order to show you My power, and in order to proclaim My name
through all the earth. Still you exalt yourself against My people by not letting
them go."

That is patient endurance of a stubborn and rebellious man. God would not
have even had to send the first plague as a warning before wiping Pharaoh and
his kingdom out. He could have just sent Moses back with the orders and power to
destroy Pharaoh from the beginning because Pharaoh had enslaved the Israelites.
It was an unwarranted and unexpected mercy for God to delay His final judgement
at all, and to send the plagues as warnings of what was to come. God only put up
with Pharaoh’s insolent pride and rebellion because He had already determined
that He would use Pharaoh as a means to demonstrate His wrath against sin and
make His power known throughout the earth.

That is still true today. It is only the unwarranted mercy of God that
extends from His longsuffering patience that causes Him to delay final judgement
on sinners even while He seeks to bring them to repentance. God is willing, not
in the sense of indifference, but with a determined intent, to endure sinners
for the present. Peter warns in 2 Peter 3:9 that God’s patience with sinners
should not be construed that He is slow to carry out His promises – of either
blessing or destruction. God’s patience is extended because His desire is for
all to come to repentance instead of perishing. Every breath that the
unrepentant sinner takes is a demonstration of God’s mercy to him. But at the
same time there is a point at which that patience ends and the wrath of God is
revealed. Never presume upon the mercy and patience of God. You do not know when
the mercy will cease and the hardening will take place.

God will glorify Himself through all men. Those who repent and turn in faith
to Jesus Christ for salvation from their sin will glorify God willingly. Those
who remain unrepentant will be forced to glorify God by bowing the knee and
confessing Christ prior to their final judgement. They will glorify God
unwillingly through the demonstration of His righteous judgement of them.

Now some may still object at this point that it is not fair to punish people
who were not chosen by God for salvation. This idea is predicated on the idea
that people are passive recipients of God’s decrees. They will point out the
last part of verse 22 as proof because in English it appears that they are
passive recipients as "vessels of wrath prepared [fitted for – KJV] for

However, in Greek, this verb is in the middle tense. We do not have such a
thing in English, so it is hard to translate it. It is neither active tense, by
which the subject performs the action. This would be the sinner preparing
themselves for destruction. Nor is it passive, by which the subject has the
action performed upon it. This would be the sinner being prepared by an outside
for destruction. It is instead in the middle. The subject, the sinner, the
vessel of wrath, performs the action of preparing itself for destruction while
at the same time there is a force that is concurrent in preparing it for
destruction. That is in perfect keeping with the example of Pharaoh that was
given earlier.

The sinner is not an innocent party that has been unfairly chosen by God to
be a vessel of wrath. The sinner is a guilty party that has actively brought
condemnation upon themselves by their rebellion against God and to which God has
concurred and sealed them as a vessel of wrath. In mercy, God patiently endures
them and their continuing sin and rebellion for the present even while He
demonstrates His own glory through His righteous wrath upon them and proclaims
His power through them.

His Glory & Mercy (23)

Verse 23 Paul further proclaims the mercy of God by magnifying the riches of
God’s glory which is made know to the "vessels of mercy" through the
contrast to His wrath on the vessels prepared for destruction. "And [He
did so] in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels
of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory."

While the vessels of wrath have a part in their preparation for destruction,
the vessels of mercy are prepared before hand by God. God is the one that has
taken action upon them which in turn displays His glory. This is not something
they have done for themselves. Believer’s are saved without merit of their own
or for any work they have done. Paul stated this directly in Titus 3:5, "He
saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but
according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy
That is why believers must give all praise and glory to God,
because He choose you as a vessel to receive His mercy despite your sinful
character and works.

Mercy by definition is to have the punishment that is deserved withheld. God
couples this with His grace in extending to us blessings that we do not deserve.
Here in this verse, it is being the recipients of the riches of His glory. The
riches of His glory refers to all the various blessings of salvation that Paul
has already brought out that belong to those justified by faith in the Lord
Jesus including our future glorification. We have God’s mercy, compassion,
love, grace, forgiveness of sin, justification, the Holy Spirit and His
ministry, Jesus’ intercession, sanctification, progressively being conformed
to the image of Christ, and the promises of inheritance in heaven are all part
of riches of God’s glory made known to us.

Examples (24-29)

Paul does not leave this discussion as ethereal theology, but applies it
directly to his readers, for as he says in verse 24, God’s mercy has been
extended to "even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but
also from among Gentiles.
" Paul then gives two specific examples from
the Old Testament. One demonstrating God’s mercy that included the Gentiles in
the plan of salvation, and the other showing God’s choosing of only a remnant
of Israel.

Hosea – Gentiles Included (25,26)

"As He says also in Hosea, "I will call those who were not My
people, ‘My people,’ And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’" 26 "And
it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My
people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God."
quotes come from Hosea 2:23 and 1:9,10 respectively.

The Lord spoke through the prophet Hosea about His relationship to the nation
of Israel. The nation had forsaken God with the result that the curses that God
had warned them about even as early as Deuteronomy 27,28 came true. God had
already judged and scattered the northern ten tribes of Israel through the
Assyrian captivity. In Hosea, God is warning the two remaining tribes in Judah
that the same was about to happen to them. That judgement was carried out in the
Babylonian captivity. Yet, even in the warning of coming judgement there was
hope given. Though they would be estranged from God for a time. Though Gentiles
who would believe would be able to become part of God’s beloved people, Israel
would eventually be restored to her place as God’s chosen people. We will be
examining these truths more closely in a few weeks in our study of Romans 11.
But for here, Paul is simply making the point that God’s mercy was extended
even to the gentiles, and that Israel, though under His judgement, would still
receive His mercy.

Isaiah – Only a Remnant of Israel (27-29)

Paul explains further in verses 27-29. "And Isaiah cries out
concerning Israel, "Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand
of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; 28 for the Lord will execute
His word upon the earth, thoroughly and quickly." 29 And just as Isaiah
foretold, "Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, We would
have become as Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah."
Paul is
quoting from Isaiah 10:23 and 1:9 to demonstrate that only a remnant of Israel
will receive this mercy from God. The rest will receive His wrath. In Israel
then, there is an illustration of both vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath.
They were all deserving of God’s wrath, yet He still extended mercy to a

The claim that there is injustice with God because He has mercy on whom He
desires and hardens who He desires is false. First, the charge cannot be made
because God is creator and therefore has full right to do whatever He wants to
His creatures. No creature has the right to question what God does. Second,
regardless of God’s rights as creator, God had already demonstrated that what
He extends to His creatures is mercy. To the vessels of wrath, there is mercy in
His patient endurance of their evil instead of instantaneous destruction. To the
vessels of mercy, there is mercy in granting them the riches of His glory. God’s
mercy has been extended to both Jews and Gentiles.

Righteousness of Faith vs. Works of the Law (30-33)

Some Jews might have objected that God was still unfair for extending such
mercy to the Gentiles while withholding it from His own chosen people, Israel.
Paul responds with a brief explanation of the basis for God’s extending mercy
to the Gentiles while judging Israel. There is no injustice with God.

"What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue
righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith;
31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at [that] law. 32
Why? Because [they did] not [pursue it] by faith, but as though [it were] by
works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written,
"Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he
who believes in Him will not be disappointed."

Mercy was not extended to the Gentiles because of anything they were able to
do or anything they received that was beyond what Israel had already received.
God’s blessing had already been poured out on Israel, but the vast majority of
the people did not understand what it all meant and how they were supposed to
live. Though their father, Abraham, was the example of what it meant to receive
God’s mercy because God reckons faith for righteousness, most Jews stumbled
over the law. They believed that they could become righteousness enough for God
through their own efforts. That has never been true, and it never will be true,
but the truth does not stop most people from responding to their false beliefs.
People today are no different from the Israelites back then.

The gentiles were granted mercy based upon the righteousness attained by
faith. Faith in what? The stumbling stone and rock of offense that so many of
the Jews rejected. The person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul had explained this
faith at the end of chapter 3, and illustrated the nature of this faith by
Abraham’s example in chapter 5. The Jews had the Mosaic Law and sought to earn
their righteousness by keeping that law. However, they never could keep the law.
No man can. Instead of crying out to God for mercy as the law convicted them of
their unrighteousness, they started to redefine the law for themselves. They
reinterpreted some of God’s commandments into ways that they could keep, or at
least fool themselves into thinking they were keeping them. Other laws were
rated as not so important, so it did not matter that much whether you kept them
or not. A general belief arose which is still with us today that if you had more
good works than sin, then the balance tipped in your favor and you made it into
heaven. But no one keeps the law (Rom. 3:23) and breaking any part of the law
makes you guilty of all (James. 2:10). They, and so many today, were so busy
trying to earn their own righteousness, that they refused to believe that God
would accept them based on their faith in what God had already done for them in
Jesus Christ. He had already paid the penalty of their sin on the cross and
offered them forgiveness of their sins based on simple faith in Him. Salvation
is received as a gift from a merciful God. It cannot be earned.

That is a truth with many ramifications including this theological fact that
God chooses only some men for salvation. All are deserving of His eternal wrath,
but He chooses to extend His mercy to some. God has not revealed to us why He
chooses some and not others. We mere mortals struggle with understanding and
accepting this. It is one of those things that would be included in Peter’s
comments about Paul’s writings which, "speaking in them of these
things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and
unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own
There is no cause in this truth to question God’s
character. There is no injustice with Him. This doctrine demonstrates the glory
of God and His sovereignty. Salvation is God’s choice, yet man is responsible
for His rebellion against God and refusal to heed God’s call to repentance.

While God foreknows, predestines, calls, justifies and glorifies those who
will be saved. The opposite is not true for those who will suffer eternal
judgement in Hell. God does not choose them for that. Hell was not made for man.
Matthew 25:41 states that Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels. Man
goes there because he does not repent and turn to Jesus Christ for salvation.
God simply leaves the non-elect in their sinful state under His law, and as Paul
pointed out in Romans 1, 2 & 3, man is condemned by failure to keep the law,
even that of his own conscience. God has no obligation whatsoever to extend to
man anything except condemnation, yet God extends mercy and grace.

The truths of this passage of Scripture should cause those of you who are
saved to be even more thankful that the Lord has chosen you, though you were not
and are not more worthy of that salvation than anyone else, even those who are
still lost.

Those who have yet to repent and place their faith in Jesus Christ should be
greatly sobered by the doctrine of election. God is not unjust. You are
responsible to heed His call. Cease striving to earn your salvation, humble
yourself and cry out to Him for mercy. God resists the proud, but gives His
grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5). He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Jer.
29:13). Jesus has invited all who are weary and heavy laden to come to Him. He
will give you rest for your soul (Matt. 11:28,29). What are you waiting for?
Today is the day of salvation. Don’t risk God sealing your rebellion by
hardening your heart as He did with Pharaoh.




Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s
lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something
you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older
Children –
Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times words
for choice (choose, elect, etc.) are used. 2) Discuss with your parents your own
responsibility in responding to God’s call.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. Why did God
choose Israel to be His people? Can God be just to condemn sinners if He is
sovereign in their salvation? Why or why not? Does man make his own autonomous
choice concerning his eternal destiny? Why or why not? What rights does God have
as the creator? How that make you feel? Why is the true God not like Islam’s
Allah? How could God deal with man? How does He actually deal with man? How does
He show mercy to the unsaved? How did He deal with Pharaoh? On what basis and
for what purpose? How responsible are the unsaved for being condemned by God?
Why? What are the "riches of His glory" that God makes know to the
elect? What is mercy? What is grace? What are the examples of God’s mercy to
the gentiles? To the Jews? How can a sinner become righteous before God? What
was the stumbling block to the Jews? Do people still stumble over it? If God
elects the saved to be vessels of mercy, does He also elect the unsaved to be
vessels of wrath? Why or why not?


Sermon Study Sheets

God’s Choice For Mercy – Romans 9:18-33

The Argument (18,19)



The Answer (20-29)

God’s Right as Creator (20,21)

Isaiah 64:6-8; Jeremiah 18:3-16





God’s Actual Dealings with Man (22:23)

His Wrath & Patient Endurance (22)



Stubborn Men


Vessels of wrath prepared for destruction

The sinner is not an innocent party that has been unfairly chosen by God to
be a vessel of wrath. The sinner is a guilty party that has actively brought
condemnation upon themselves

His Glory & Mercy (23)


Examples (24-29)

Hosea – Gentiles Included (25,26)

Hosea 2:23 & 1:9,10

Isaiah – Only a Remnant of Israel (27-29)

Isaiah 10:23 & 1:9

Righteousness of Faith vs. Works of the Law (30-33)

The Elect

The non-elect.