THE POWER OF THE POTTER
Copyright © 2008 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
The more one reads the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, the more evident it becomes that God is controlling the history of mankind. We understand our destiny is in our own hands; that we will receive in the Day of Resurrection that which we have practiced during our lifetime on the earth. Nevertheless it is clear it actually is God who is working all things according to His will. We have to keep these two apparently opposing thoughts in balance if we are to cut a straight course in the Word of truth.
THE POWER OF THE POTTER
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? (Romans 9:21)
The more I read the Bible the more I can see how much God is in control of all things. He hardens whom He will. He blesses whom He will. Various kinds of men are promoted by God’s decision, as God uses them to provide the environment that will bring forth the brothers of Jesus Christ and the unblemished Bride of the Lamb.
The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so the living may know the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men. (Daniel 4:17)
We really are rebelling against God when we fret about the wickedness that prevails in the world today. If there is something helpful we can do, then we should do that. But to fret is to ignore the fact that God is using all that takes place on the earth, the good and the bad, to bring forth His Kingdom.
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. (Psalms 37:7-10)
God is in control. Satan does what he can to destroy what is pure and lovely, but God always causes Satan’s actions to further God’s purposes.
The Apostle Paul wrote very clearly concerning the fact that God is the Potter and we are the clay. Paul stressed the control of God over all things in His universe.
We may have a hard time accepting this!
Probably most of us are familiar with the Calvinist-Arminian controversy. John Calvin emphasized the omnipotence of God and the salvation of the elect by God’s grace alone. Jacobus Arminius stressed that predestination was conditioned by God’s foreknowledge of human free choices.
One is saying we have no choice. The other is saying we have a choice. One could go through the Bible and “prove” either position.
The Lord Jesus stated that no one could come to Him unless the Father draw that individual.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:44)
He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” (John 6:65)
The Lord Jesus stated that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. He said also that He would not drive away anyone who comes to Him.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16)
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. (John 6:37)
If we are to believe the Bible we must take both positions. No one can come to Christ unless the Father draws that person. Period. There is no question about this.
Whoever chooses to believe and be baptized will be saved. Period. There is no question about this.
There is no problem with these two facts. The problem arises when we attempt to arrange or systematize them so we can produce a systematic theology. Our human brain cannot seem to grasp how God can direct all things and at the same time leave us with choices. So we choose one position or the other and thereby lose half of the Scriptures in the process.
If we latch onto the total sovereignty of God we create a sense of inevitability. It doesn’t matter what we do because God will save whomever He chooses regardless of the individual’s behavior. To hold to this doctrine is to ensure there will be little moral growth in the believers.
If we champion the idea of human choice, evangelism becomes a kind of democratic free-for-all. Evangelists go forth with no concept that “all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48)
Instead of seeking out those whom God has chosen, the enthusiastic evangelists approach the world as though there are no elect. Of course, we have to preach the Gospel to every creature. We can’t determine whom God has chosen. However, if we follow the Holy Spirit instead of our own plans we might be more fruitful.
Whoever preaches the Kingdom of God is planting seed; and those whom God has chosen will bear eternal fruit.
I think current teaching is a kind of mixture of the two positions in which both concepts are distorted. The Calvinist idea of sovereign grace appears in the doctrine that once we make a profession of Christ we will go to Heaven no matter how we behave. The Arminian idea of human choice appears in the work of evangelism that appears to ignore the biblical teaching that God brings to Christ whom He will.
On the one hand we have an unfounded assurance that is contradicted by several passages of the Scripture. On the other hand we have a blind marketing approach to church membership which proceeds more by computers than by prayer. The result is churches having many members who have become members of the Christian religion but have not actually come to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The truth is, God is the Potter, and He controls all that transpires. Yet it is incumbent on us to choose to overcome sin and to press into Jesus Christ each day, carrying our cross faithfully. If we do not we will reap corruption in the Day of Resurrection.
One may inquire, “How can God judge us if He works in terms of an elect whom He draws to Jesus Christ?”
Paul did not attempt to reconcile the two points of view. He said the Potter will do as He will and we are not to talk back to God. Americans have a difficult time accepting something they do not understand, particularly if it appears to be unfair. We would not have so much trouble if we were accustomed to living under an absolute monarchy and had to do what we were told.
Remember, the Kingdom of God is an absolute monarchy. The Lord Jesus Christ answers to no one except God Almighty, who Himself answers to absolutely no one, including proud, rebellious Americans.
Perhaps at this point we need to look at what Paul said about God’s control over the work of salvation.
It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: Not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:6-13)
The whole idea of “Israel” is that of a special group of people called out from the world (the meaning of the term church) to be closer to God than other people.
On what basis did God choose Israel? On what basis does God choose the members of His Church? Purely according to His own wishes. Until we can grasp the truth that God did not choose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob because they were better or more worthy than other people, we will remain ignorant of one of the major teachings of the Bible.
Is this fair? Who are we to say what is fair? By what standard do we determine fairness? If you live long enough you will find out that life itself is not fair. Some are born talented and some handicapped. You yourself will not be treated fairly.
The Bible says far more about righteousness than it does about fairness. Righteousness is that of which God approves. God alone decides what behavior is righteous. The term “fair” is used a few times in the New International Version. We Americans use the word “fair” a great deal, but not the word “righteous.”
When it comes to the fact that God elects certain people to serve as members of a governing priesthood, there is nothing fair about it, according to our standards, because all people do not have an equal opportunity to be members of God’s elect. But the Divine selection of an elect taken from the larger group of mankind is righteous because God did it; and God never acts in an unrighteous manner, even though people and Satan may accuse Him of being unfair.
When we read Paul’s words above we see that one does not become a part of God’s Israel by being in the bloodline of Abraham. Israel always has been by election, as determined by prophetic promise. God loved Jacob and hated Esau before they were born. Yet they both were in the bloodline of Abraham.
We can speculate that God knew Jacob and Esau before they were born, and on this basis loved the one and hated the other. But remember, the Bible does not say foreknowledge was the basis. That is just our trying to make God’s action understandable. Maybe it is enough that God loved Jacob and hated Esau. Maybe there are things we don’t understand!
Being a part of God’s Israel always has been by election. When the Lord Jesus came, those who were appointed to eternal life believed and the rest were removed from the Olive Tree.
So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, As it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so they could not see and ears so they could not hear, to this very day.” (Romans 11:5-8)
So even in the case of the Jewish people, some were chosen to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and others were hardened and blinded.
Paul’s expression “if by grace, then it is no longer by works” is used today to mean we are saved by making a profession of Christ, and after that it does not matter how we behave. This hardly is what it means. Paul is speaking about God choosing the members of the true Israel, the royal priesthood.
Since that time the Divine election has included both Jews and Gentiles by physical birth. We know, from what Paul said, that when the full number of Gentiles have been grafted onto the Olive Tree, God will turn once again to Israel and resume the election there.
We Gentiles who have become part of the Lord Jesus Christ are members of the one Seed of Abraham. However, there always is a special blessing on those who are Jewish by physical birth.
Is this fair? Who cares! If God works this way it is righteous, and that is all that matters. We may be concerned about fairness, but God is more concerned about righteousness. Wisdom is always justified by her children. But the stubborn and rebellious will never understand God’s ways!
Maybe we need to look further at what Paul has to say. I don’t know about you, but I believe the Apostle Paul spoke the Words of the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe Paul wrote the very Word of God, and I believe it whether or not I understand it.
What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 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)
God alone decides on whom He will have mercy. This may be hard for us Americans to swallow because we have been led to believe we can decide what is to be done in terms of “fairness.” If we are not treated “fairly” we sue someone. This makes it difficult for us to understand God does what He wishes and no one can call Him to account.
It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. (Romans 9:16-18)
God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden. Pharaoh was an object of Divine wrath. Moses and Aaron were chosen to be close to God.
One could stress this fact and make a case for inevitability. But there are passages in the New Testament that leave it up to us to choose whether we live according to our sinful nature or whether we choose to live in the Spirit of God.
One of the reasons Evangelical doctrine is so far off course today is that certain passages have been chosen as axioms, and conclusions have been drawn from these. We can’t interpret the Bible deductively! If we do, we soon will be teaching error. We have to let the Bible express its own “therefores.”
We could conclude from the above verses that it does not matter what anyone does. God has mercy on whomever He decides to have mercy and hardens whomever He decides to harden. Therefore what’s the use? He is going to do whatever pleases Him; so just drift along and whatever is going to happen will happen.
This is the wrong “therefore.” It is not the biblical “therefore.”
The interpretation of the Bible must be approached inductively. We must keep reading, keep reading, keep reading, and build our doctrine from all the verses kept in context. If this had been done we would not have the destructive concept of Divine grace that prevails today and has destroyed the moral strength of the Christian people.
Was it fair to Pharaoh that God hardened him and blessed Moses and Aaron? Of course it was not fair, by our standards. Was it righteous? Of course it was righteous. Since God alone determines what is righteous, God cannot act unrighteously. The fact that God hardened Pharaoh in order to proclaim God’s name throughout the earth makes it a righteous act. God answers to no one, not to Satan; not to the dust of the earth. He is God!
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? (Romans 9:19-21)
Can you see that Paul does not attempt to explain how God can blame us when we are unable to resist His will? It is not something that can be explained in terms of our standards of fairness. If we are unable to resist His will, how can He blame us? There is no explanation.
So Paul appeals to the fact that God is the Potter and we are the clay. A potter can do whatever he wishes with a lump of clay. He can make an expensive vase or He can make a urinal. The choice is his alone.
But how can God harden someone and then punish the individual for being hardened? The only answer is, God is the Potter and we are the clay. He can treat us however He wishes.
The reason we have a problem with this is that we are proud.
You know, at one time God provoked David to number the people. Then God punished David because David numbered the people.
Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.” (II Samuel 21:4)
I know it says in Chronicles that it was Satan who incited David. So we must conclude that God used Satan to persuade David to number the fighting men.
So David sent Joab to take the census. Then God punished David and Israel because David numbered the fighting men.
So the LORD sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. (II Samuel 24:15)
You and I may view this episode as unreasonable. Actually it does not matter what we think. If God does it, it is righteous. God alone is good. God alone is righteous. Maybe some day we will understand; maybe we won’t. The only answer is, as Paul said, God is the Potter and we are the clay.
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? 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? As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” (Romans 9:22-25)
Notice that Paul says, “What if God…?”
In other words, “It is none of your business what God does. If He wants to create an object of His wrath, and prepare it for destruction, what business is it of yours?
“If God wants to harden some people so other people who are objects of His mercy might appreciate the riches of the glory He has showered on them, so what?” He is the Potter and He can do as He wishes with the clay.
The idea that people are not treated fairly (according to our understanding) takes some getting used to, doesn’t it?
God calls whomever He wishes “My people” and “My loved one.”
We have seen thus far the tremendous control God has over people. As we read the Bible and notice how God rained hailstones on the inhabitants of Canaan so the Israelite warriors might overcome them, we can see how God destroyed some nations that Israel might be blessed.
I am persuaded salvation is of the Lord. We may think we are choosing to serve the Lord, but we will understand some day that it has been God all along who gave us the desire to seek His face. He has worked in us to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Perhaps I have made a strong case for God’s role in the affairs of men, particularly in the area of those whom He has called to be members of the royal priesthood, His Church.
But I have not forgotten the many passages that remind us of the opportunity we have to serve God; to turn away from the sinful nature; to choose to be victorious that we might inherit all that God is making new in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I have not forgotten we have to make our calling and election certain.
I have not forgotten God warmly welcomes all who come to the Lord Jesus Christ, that whoever will choose to do so may come.
But it is entirely possible that our choice to be victorious over sin, our desire to make our calling and election certain, our coming to the Lord Jesus in the beginning and then every day after that, may proceed from God working His own desires in us.
If an individual feels he is not a member of God’s elect, but would like to be, the fact that he would like to be is positive proof he has been called to be a member of the elect.
But if someone wishes to dwell on how unfair God is, and protests that God has no right to act according to the counsel of His own will, then I would speculate that the calling of the Lord is not on that person.
The bottom line is this: act as if you are a happy member of God’s elect, and you will be. Guaranteed. God will never, never, never turn His back on someone who loves Him.
For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:4-7)
There it is. The ball is in our court. Any one of us can bind ourselves to the Lord and choose to serve and worship Him.
How can one reconcile the apparently arbitrary actions of God with the fact that all are invited; all may choose to know Christ, the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings; all may come to the Master and choose to abide in Him forever?
How do we put it together so it makes sense to us?
We probably can’t make sense of it. We are to read the whole Bible and say “Amen.” Those passages we cannot make sense of we bring to God for the understanding, and then leave them until they become clear to us.
There is one thing we do know beyond doubt: He who gave His only Son to die on the cross for our sins can never be accused of a lack of concern for our welfare. He never can be accused of unrighteousness or of being without mercy.
Let us then trust God with all our heart, realizing that one day His inscrutable actions will be made plain to us.
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (Revelation 4:11)
And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. 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, (Ephesians 1:9-11)
(“The Power of the Potter”, 3246-1)