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Romans 9:19-21

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Romans 9:19
  • Romans 9:20
  • Romans 9:21

The Apostle Paul writes to the world-renowned believers in Rome, the center of the world at that time, in order to answer a slanderous charge made to them against Paul and his message. Paul’s detractors claim his emphasis on faith overturns the law. Paul says that ” just living by the law” does not achieve personal justice before God, while “just living by faith” does. Paul then demonstrates what a just life looks like: harmonious living with Jesus as the leader. Paul also makes clear the choice a believer has: to walk in faith and the power of the resurrection and experience resurrection life, or walk in sin and unnecessarily experience the negative consequences.


In Chapter 9, Paul addresses Israel’s relationship with God. He makes it clear that he is grieved the Israelites have rejected God’s offer of grace through faith, they have rejected Christ. Israel is God’s chosen nation, with whom He has made covenants and promises. So, even though Israel’s fellowship with God is suffering, this is not due to God breaking His word. As humans, we deserve nothing from God, yet He chooses to extend mercy to us. He is our maker, and we have no right or power to demand anything from Him. Yet, He chooses to show mercy to whom He chooses to show mercy. We cannot earn His favor; He gives it to whom He chooses. God does not care about our works apart from obedience to Him, and when He sent His Son to die for the world, all He required from us was faith. The Gentiles have been reconciled to Him because of their faith, but the Jews have alienated themselves from Him by only pursuing works. The fault lies with Israel. God has not abandoned them.


Again Paul anticipates someone to respond, “Well then, why does God find fault in people? No one can resist God’s agenda.” Paul responds with a profound answer, “You’re only a created man. You cannot argue with God, your Creator.”

Paul anticipates an argument in response, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” Implying that God cannot judge because he is in control. Paul’s meaning is clear here. He’s essentially saying, “Let’s get this straight. God is God. And we are not.” Paul has asserted throughout his letter to the Romans that God will judge (Romans 2:16, one of many examples). God will judge, not man. Not the competing Jewish “authorities”, and not Paul. We are accountable for our actions to God.

But, Paul asks rhetorically, so he can answer the false charge, if God is also in charge of how we are made, if God is completely sovereign, then how can He judge us? Paul’s answer is that we cannot argue with God, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?. We are the creation and He is the Creator.

Paul makes an analogy here about a potter molding clay into different types of vessels. One vessel is made for a special purpose, and another for a common purpose. And wouldn’t it be crazy, Paul is saying, if the thing molded looked up at the molder and demanded, Why did you make me like this? It’s the potter who’s doing the making. If the potter makes a cup, the cup is a cup, and can’t ask the potter why it’s a cup. It’s still a cup even if it could ask this question. Likewise, it’s God who has created us, and God who is sovereign over our lives, and God who is looking out for us (Romans 8:28). The potter ha[s] a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel or honorable use and another for common use. We can’t ask Him why He does the things He does. God doesn’t answer to us.

It’s beneficial for our understanding of the Bible to remember that many of its foundational principles are built on paradox, and much of the world is guided by western, Greek thought processes, which are bound within logical systems. The way we’re taught to think as Greeks and Romans is that we can know everything, and there is a lot of positive about a logical system; Paul is using logic to defend his gospel. However, we typically start with the premise “I can know”, while the Bible contains mysteries which we can’t fully know. We typically think of a mystery as that which we do not yet know; it’s a temporary condition until we do know. However, that’s not the way the Bible presents things connected to God. In the Bible, the unknowable mystery is the person of God. Paul uses logic, but will end chapters 9-11 by exclaiming that God’s wonderful, amazing ways are past knowing, to the Glory of God. Romans 11:33-36

The constant paradox/mystery in the Bible is that God can be two things at once. For example, is God inside time or outside time? He’s both. Is God man or spirit? Is God human or some transcendent being? The answer is: both. In the form of Jesus Christ, He was both fully man and fully God (Hebrews 2:5-18).

The paradox in Romans 9 is this: is God sovereign, or does God give us free will? And the answer is, it’s both. The Bible does not begin with in the beginning I shall know. What it does start with is in the beginning God. In the beginning God created. God is paradoxical to us, as created beings. But God is not a contradiction, because God is God. All things that exist do so because they were made by God.  God is the “I Am” – that which exists without being created. God created all things that were created, and all things are held together by God (Col 1:17).

Biblical text

19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 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?

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