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Chosen Before Time Began

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 9:19–23

God chooses us! That is a wonderful truth we followers of Christ can rejoice in. In fact, we can rejoice in all God’s sovereign choices because they demonstrate His holiness, justice, mercy, and grace and bring glory to Him.


Some time ago I read an article that listed some rather humorous questions that all began with the word why. For instance:

  • Why is it you can tell your child there are billions of stars and he will believe you, but tell him the oven is hot and he has to touch it to believe it
  • Here is another mystifying question: Why do banks charge you for insufficient funds when they know you do not have any more money?
  • One more: If the store near you is continually lowering its prices, as advertised, why isn’t everything over there free by now?

Not every question that begins with the word why can be fully answered.

We have been sailing in some deep waters in our Wisdom Journey as we have encountered the doctrines of election and predestination. I personally believe we will never get beyond the tension of man’s free will and divine election. And that is because we will never get to the bottom of the ocean of God’s sovereignty.

Paul began answering objections to God’s sovereign role in our salvation here in Romans 9. So far, he has reminded us that God does not have to do anything at all to condemn unbelieving mankind, because they are already condemned. God does not predestine people to hell because everyone is heading there anyway.

Now with that, Paul raises a question that begins with the word why in Romans 9:19: “Why does he [God] still find fault?” In other words, “If God has not chosen to grant someone the faith to believe, why does He hold that unbeliever accountable?”

That is a great question. But instead of trying to help us understand the depth of God’s sovereign actions, Paul simply informs us that God can act anyway He wants; and in any way God acts, He is righteous and just.

Paul’s answer is really a threefold rebuke. The first rebuke is here in verse 20, where Paul writes, “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” The pride and rebellion in our hearts are revealed by our suggestion, back in verse 19, that God is unjust. As one author put it, “We want the final word [and] we think we have the right to challenge God!”[1]

Paul is saying here, “Are you going to talk back to God? Have you forgotten that God will have the final word?”

The second part of Paul’s rebuke delivers an analogy—verse 20: “Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” To put it another way, “Is the creature going to lecture the Creator?” Beloved, the unbelieving world does not believe they are accountable to God. They would like to think that God is accountable to them!

But the opposite is true. Paul declared back in Romans 3:19 that God’s law condemns everyone “so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.” God does not answer to you; you answer to God.

In our last study, I mentioned Jonathan Edwards, the leading pastor of the Great Awakening in North America back in the 1700s. He preached a sermon entitled, “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners.” You are probably not going to see a sermon title like that in a church bulletin. The first point in his sermon was this: “If God should forever cast you off, it would be exactly agreeable to your treatment of Him.”[2] In other words, the unbelieving world does not want God in their lives; and one day, God will give them their wish.

Third, Paul essentially asks, “Who are you to direct the hand of the Potter?” Note what he writes here in verse 21:

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?

The potter has the authority and power over the clay. Does he talk it over with the clay? Does he ask the clay to direct his hands? No, that would imply the authority resides in the clay rather than in the potter.

The reason so many of us today do not like Paul’s analogy here is because we do not consider ourselves common clay. We are better than that! We are more intelligent than that! But this analogy reminds us of the huge difference between common clay and the divine Potter.

Now Paul asks his own question:

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? (verses 22-23)

Again, Paul turns our thinking upside down. Even God’s judgment one day will give the redeemed cause to worship Him for His wisdom and righteousness. One day we are going to say, “God is just, and justice was served.”

Here in verse 22, Paul describes the vessels of wrath (unbelievers) in contrast to the vessels of mercy (believers). Paul writes about these “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.” That does not mean God is preparing people for hell; the Greek verb indicates that these vessels of wrath are preparing themselves for destruction.

God does not make sinful people for hell. God simply leaves them in their sin, which they willingly and gladly choose to embrace. In so doing, they prepare themselves for destruction.

But then Paul writes at the end of verse 23 about “vessels of mercy which he [God] has prepared beforehand for glory.” The original construction changes here so that the vessels of mercy are not preparing themselves for heaven; God is doing that! People do not need any help from God to go to hell. They can get there all by themselves. But those who are going to heaven cannot get there without the help—the saving work—of God.

Now let me say a closing word to the believer—by faith in Christ alone, you are one of those vessels of mercy.

I remember someone recalling his childhood trauma of being chosen last for those neighborhood baseball games. He described the scene this way:

The captains are down to their last choices; a slow kid to play catcher, someone to stick out in right field, where nobody hits the ball. Just once I would have liked to have had a captain choose me first and say, “Him! I want him! That skinny kid with the glasses and the black shoes. I want you on my team!” Ah, but the truth is, I was never chosen with much enthusiasm.

Listen to Paul as he writes in Ephesians 1:4-5:

He chose us in him before the foundation of the world … In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ.

That is another way of saying that God chose you with enthusiasm, and early on—in fact, before the creation of the world.

Again, this is a deep ocean of truth regarding the sovereign decisions of God. Jesus combined both election and free will when He declared in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”

So, the question you need to answer today is not, Why did God choose some to come to Him and not choose everyone? or, Why did God even create some people if He knew they would never choose to come to Him?

Listen, here is the real question: Have you come to Him? That is the question you need to answer: Have you come to Him? And if you have not, what are you waiting for?

[2] Cited in James Montgomery Boice, Romans: An Expositional Commentary, Volume 3 (Baker, 1993), 1103.

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