Pastor David B. Curtis


Who Has Resisted His Will?

Romans 9:19-24

Delivered 10/05/1997

There was a time when almost everybody on earth believed that the earth was flat. At that time, this was a very comfortable theory to live with. It was safe, easy to understand - it was comfortable. Now, believing this did not make it true, but it was easier to handle and it made life more predictable. In reading accounts of the time, we learn that people got rather upset when some evidence that this was not true was presented. As more and more scientists began to say that the earth was really round and not flat, contrary to the way it looked to their eyes, and that it was spinning on its axis and floating in a great sea of space, people got very upset.

Religious people, especially, were upset, for they believed with all their heart that the Bible taught that the earth was flat. They would quote certain passages that seemed to indicate this. So there was a great deal of controversy over the issue. It was a long time before people began to realize that the new evidence really made God appear more wonderful and more powerful than he ever had before. They began to discover, too, that there were certain verses and passages which they had overlooked before that supported this new evidence. They could see how the old viewpoint could be fitted within the context of this new truth that was appearing.

You know, I think that is our problem when it comes to a passage like Romans 9. There are a lot of us who have grown up thinking that God is flat, that he is rather safe and easy to understand and that he fits very comfortably into the pattern that we have made for him. He is predictable, and we find ourselves very secure with these little theological boxes into which we have crammed God. But Romans 9 is the kind of passage that destroys our little boxes. I hope that is what has been happening to some of the boxes that you have tried to fit God into.

The emphasis in Romans 9 is the absolute sovereignty of God. To say that God is sovereign is to say that He does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases: that whatever takes place in time is but the outworking of that which He decreed from eternity.

Ephesians 1:11 (NKJV) In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,
Isaiah 46:10 (NKJV) Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, 'My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,'
1 Timothy 6:15 (NKJV) which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords,

"Potentate," means ruler or authority. He is the only ruler! This means that everything that happens is according to the eternal plan of God. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way in paragraph 1 of chapter 3, "God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass."

God is absolutely sovereign, and Paul has been demonstrating this to us in Romans 9. He gave us the principle of sovereign election in verse 6. Then in verses 7-13 he illustrates the principle. God is a God who makes choices based only upon his own will. God rejects Ishmael and chooses Isaac. God chooses to love Jacob and to hate Esau.

This raises the question of verse 14, "Is god being unfair in choosing one person over another?" In verses 15-18 he shows that God is just and righteous to give mercy to whom he wishes and to withhold it from whom he wishes. God is sovereign in the exercise of His mercy and his love.

You might be thinking, "Boy this is not what I have been taught." It might not be, but it is what the Bible teaches. Believe the Bible, not what some preacher says about the Bible. You have a responsibility to be a Berean and study for yourself.

This raises another question; if God saves who he wills and hardens who he wills, what is the obvious question? How can he hold me responsible for his choice? I can't resist his will, so how can I be blamed for my unbelief? He hardened Pharaoh, and Pharaoh did just what God wanted him to do. He could not resist God's will, no man can. So, why does He find fault with and punish sinners?

Listen carefully! There would be no room for this objection, or that of verse 14, if Paul had been teaching that God chooses those whom he foresees would believe, or that the ground of distinction was in the different conduct of men. It is very evident, therefore, that he was teaching no such doctrine.

How easy it would have been to answer the charge of injustice by saying, "God chooses one and rejects another according to their works or faith." The only reason that this question arises is because Paul is teaching so clearly that God chooses one and rejects another based solely on his own will, and that the destiny of men is determined by his sovereign pleasure alone.

Have you ever asked these questions, "If God is sovereign and has decreed from all eternity whatsoever takes place how can I be held responsible for what I do? Who can resist His will?" If you have ever asked those questions, it's only because you understand what the Bible is teaching about the absolute sovereignty of God. I've heard this question raised many times.

Romans 9:19 (NKJV) You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?"

The Greek word for "fault" is memphomai, it means to blame. It has the idea of holding responsible. This question is reinforced by the consideration that no one can frustrate, or resist God's will. The Greek word for "will" is boulema. It means resolve or purpose.

When talking about the will of God we must differentiate between what is called his decretive will and his moral will, or his secret will and his revealed will. Look at "will" in these two passages.

Romans 9:19 (NKJV) You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?"
1 Thessalonians 4:3 (NKJV) For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality;

Does the term "will" mean the same in both of these passages? No. Romans 9 uses the term "will" to speak of God's secret will of decree. And 1 Thessalonians 4 uses the term "will" to speak of God's revealed will of precept.

The term "will" is ambiguous. The ten commandments are God's preceptive will. They command men to do this and to refrain from that. They state what ought to be done, but they neither state not cause what is done. God's decretive will, however, causes every event.

It might me helpful to clarify if the term "will" were not applied to the precepts. Call them requirements of morality, commands, precepts, or laws and reserve the term "will" for the divine decree.

Remember, God's sovereign will is secret until it happens. Our concern is to be obedient to the moral commands of God, the Scriptures.

The Scripture commands all men to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, but in His sovereign will he has chosen some to believe and He has chosen to harden the rest.

Romans 9:19 (NKJV) You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?"

How can God blame people for not believing when he has decreed that they be hardened? No one can resist His will.

This is a hard question. How can God send people to Hell for not believing when he has hardened them in unbelief?

Romans 9:20 (NKJV) But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?"

Paul doesn't answer the question but appeals to a reverential silence which the majesty of God demands of us. Note the contrast , "O man -- God." How can man question God?

The word "reply" comes from the Greek word antapokrinomai. It is a compound word from "anti" meaning opposite, contrast, or against and "apokrinomai," to conclude for oneself, to begin to speak, to contradict or dispute.

How can man with his infantile puny pea brain, speak against the Almighty God? The emphasis falls on "you." Who are you?

If you find yourself questioning God, you have played the fool because you are saying, "Because I can't figure this out, there must be something wrong with God." Paul says, "Shut your mouth and admit that you know very little."

God is omniscient and we are ignorant. How can we speak against Him?

Have you ever been in the presence of a really great mind and felt totally unworthy to question or contradict them? How can we ever question or contradict God? Paul gives us an Old Testament analogy that's an absurdity.

Romans 9:20b (NKJV) Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?"
Isaiah 45:9 (NKJV) "Woe to him who strives with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth! Shall the clay say to him who forms it, 'What are you making?' Or shall your handiwork say, 'He has no hands'?
Isaiah 64:8 (NKJV) But now, O LORD, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand.

Does the clay ask the potter questions? That is absurd! Man is as far from comprehending the mind of omniscient God as clay is from comprehending the mind of the potter. Realize the limits of your thinking.

Isaiah 55:8 (NKJV) "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD.
Psalms 50:21 (NKJV) These things you have done, and I kept silent; You thought that I was altogether like you; But I will rebuke you, And set them in order before your eyes.

Martin Luther said to Erasmus, "Mere human reason can never comprehend how God is good and merciful; and therefore you make to yourself a god of your own fancy, who hardens nobody, condemns nobody, pities everybody. You cannot comprehend how a just God can condemn those who are born in sin, and cannot help themselves, but must , by a necessity of their natural constitution, continue in sin, and remain children of wrath. The answer is God is incomprehensible throughout, and therefore His justice, as well as His other attributes, must be incomprehensible." It is on this very ground that Paul exclaims, " Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!" (Romans 11:33) Now, His judgements could not be past finding out, if we could always perceive them to be just."

Look with me at:

Jeremiah 18:3-6 (NKJV) Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. 4 And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. 5 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: 6 "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?" says the LORD. "Look, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!

The analogy is obvious. The potter makes choices and the clay has no part in the choice.

Romans 9:21 (NKJV) Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?

The word "power" is from the Greek word exousia which means authority, or right. What gives God the absolute authority over man? I'm looking for a one word answer; what is it? -- creation.

Genesis 1:1 (NKJV) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

In the great expanse of eternity which stretches behind Genesis 1:1, the universe was unborn and creation existed only in the mind of God. In His sovereign majesty, God dwelt alone.

Genesis 1:3 (NKJV) Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.

This is creation ex nihilo, out of nothing. There was no one to suggest plans to God, or to suggest alterations to the plans God had. There was no one to defeat God's purpose. God was alone. He could do as he pleased.

After God created something, the thing had no authority to complain, "Why have you made me this way?" A wren has no right to complain that it is not an elephant. God had decided to create a world and a world by definition includes differences. The different things have no right to hold God responsible for the qualities they have or the qualities they lack. God is responsible to no one. He distributed wings, horns, legs and minds just as it suited Him. No one has any claim on God. Out of His own free choice, he created angels, stars, planets, the earth, mountains, deserts, rivers, lakes, insects, and elephants and everything in between. He gave elephants four legs, thick ones, and wrens two legs, thin ones. Why? Because He wanted to!

Psalms 135:6 (NKJV) Whatever the LORD pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places.

To understand the Bible, you must realize that God is the sovereign Creator. There is no law superior to Him that commands, "Thou shalt not make elephants with two legs, or thou shalt not hate Esau, or harden Pharaoh's heart." The ultimate answer to all objections is the relative positions of Creator and creature. All objections presuppose that man is, in some way or other, independent of God and has obtained from somewhere, or achieved by his own efforts, some right over against him. Many folks suppose that once a being is created, he/she can claim that God is obliged to treat him as he wants to be treated, rather than as God decides to treat him. Man has rights they say, that God must respect. On the contrary man has no rights in opposition to God. What ever rights a man has are those God decides to give him. God, as Creator, can give, withhold, or retake any rights as He pleases. Whatever rights he gives to man are a gift and not a debt. No one has any claims over the creator.

Remember in the book of Job when Job began to question God? Job wanted a legal hearing to prove God's injustices against him. God didn't explain his ways to Job, He exhibited them, showing that the sovereign Creator and sustainer of the universe does not owe puny man an explanation.

Since God is God, who dare challenge His prerogative?

Paul concludes with three verses to apply his analogy.

Romans 9:22-24 (NKJV) What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

The grand object of God, both in the election and the reprobation of man, is that which is paramount to all else in the creation of the universe; namely, His own glory.

What if God, exercising His sovereign right of choice, makes some vessels of mercy while others are made vessels of wrath? Does God have a right to display his wrath? Does He have a right to display His Justice? Yes! Wrath and Justice are as much a part of His character as are mercy and grace.

"Willing to show His wrath;" this speaks of will of purpose, sovereign will. God wants to show His wrath because He wants to reveal Himself, and He is a God of wrath.

Deuteronomy 4:24 (NKJV) "For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

Therefore, the entrance of sin into the world was necessary, so that God could manifest His wrath and His judgement and His holy anger because these are part of His character.

Listen carefully, for ages, theologians have argued and debated over the origin of evil. Let me tell you plainly, it was God's will that sin should enter the world, He decreed it. Now if that shocks you, it is far more shocking to insist that sin has invaded the world against God's will. If that happened, He wouldn't be omnipotent, would he? Some folks say that God just permitted sin to enter the world. Permission is not a word to use with God. Nothing in the universe can be independent of the omnipotent Creator, for in him we live and move and have our being. Therefore, the idea of permission makes no sense when applied to God.

In his book "Reason to Believe" R.C. Sproul was examining all the best and most credible arguments for the origin of evil. After he examined some of the different theodicies, he concludes by saying this:

"These theodicies are but a few of the more popular of the multitude of theories that have been offered as possible solutions to the enigma of sin. I am not satisfied with any of them. It is not my intent to be the devil's advocate or to lend assistance to those who reject Christianity because of these objections. I am not trying to give the skeptic more ammunition than he may already have. I am trying to make it clear that the problem is a severe one and one for which I have no adequate solution. I do not know how evil could originate with a good God. I am baffled by it, and it remains a troublesome mystery to me." (Reason to Believe, pg 126)

Sproul is unable to address why there is a world full of evil. He has no explanation for it because he believes God is PASSIVE over evil, simply permitting it. How terrifying! As we look out into a world where evil is rampant, it would be terrifying to think that all this stuff is being ALLOWED to happen. What most Christians believe about God and evil is just plain old deism (the belief that God created the world and then left it to itself to operate). God is no idle spectator, looking on from a distant world at the happenings on our earth, but is Himself, shaping everything to the ultimate promotion of His own glory.


God brings to pass in time what he has decreed in eternity. There is evil in our world because God decreed it, and then created it for His own glory.

Revelation 4:11 (NKJV) "You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created."

All things, including sin, were created by God.

Listen carefully: if a 16 year old boy kills his mother and then goes to school and kills two classmates and wounds several others, as happened this past Wednesday, it was God's will that he should do so. NOTHING HAPPENS OUTSIDE GOD'S WILL.

Ephesians 1:11 (NKJV) In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,

God works all thing, not some things, after the counsel of His will. Now I know that people have paroxysms when you say that God decreed sin, and I hesitate to say it, but it is clearly what the Bible teaches. Is murder a sin? Was it a sin for that boy to kill his mother and classmates? Yes! Was crucifying Jesus Christ a sin? Yes, it was. Was Jesus' murder decreed by God? Yes!

Luke 22:22 (NKJV) "And truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!"

Who determined it? God, of course. Just in case you question that, I can prove it, look at:

Acts 2:23 (NKJV) "Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;
Acts 4:27-28 (NKJV) "For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28 "to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.

People have a problem when you say that it was God's will for someone to be murdered. But what was the worst crime of murder ever committed? Who was the only innocent person ever murdered? Jesus Christ! You might say, "Well that's a special case that had to do with our redemption." Really? Well, what will you do with the case of Absalom? Absalom polluted his father's bed by an incestuous union, committing a detestable crime.

2 Samuel 16:22 (NKJV) So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the top of the house, and Absalom went in to his father's concubines in the sight of all Israel.

God declares this to be caused by Him. Look at what God said to David:

2 Samuel 12:11-12 (NKJV) "Thus says the LORD: 'Behold, I will raise up adversity (the Hebrew word used here is ra'. It often means "evil.") against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12 'For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun.'"

When men sin, God had decreed that they should perform the acts they did, but in the carrying out of these deeds, they were guilty because there own purposes in the doing of them was evil only. Men are responsible for their sins.

Genesis 50:20 (NKJV) "But as for you, you meant evil (ra') against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.

The jealous brothers had considered murdering Joseph, but they changed their minds and sold him into slavery. Their intentions were evil, but God had controlled their wills. They could not have killed Joseph, because God had decreed to send Joseph to Egypt for the purpose of later saving that family from starvation. The brothers decided to sell Joseph, God controlled their decision. They were not free to will his death, nor to let him go either.

Augustine said, "That men sin proceeds from themselves; that in sinning they perform this or that action, is from the power of God."

Proverbs 16:1 (NKJV) The preparations of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.
Proverbs 16:9 (NKJV) A man's heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.

God is holy and sin is contrary to His holy nature, yet the existence and operations of it are according to His will. His eternal counsels determine sin's course. It's really clear that this is what the Bible teaches, but I'm not real comfortable with it in my humanness.

Why did God decree sin? To display his wrath; "Make his power known." How does God make His power known? By the judgement of sin. Sin provides a means for God to be glorified. "Vessels of wrath"- they are objects of God's wrath. "Fitted for destruction" -The word "fitted" means prepared for destruction.

Reprobation includes two acts. 1. Passing by those who are not elected, leaving them in their natural state of alienation from God. 2. The act of condemning, on account of their sin, those who have been passed by.

Romans 9:23 (NKJV) and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory,

Why did God save you? God saved you to display his mercy and grace. God prepared beforehand our glory.

2 Thessalonians 2:13 (NKJV) But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth,
Romans 9:24 (NKJV) even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

Believers are the called of all nations. God's covenant promise finds its fulfillment not in Abraham's physical seed but in the called, the elect of all nations.

Had sin never entered the world, how could the justice of God be displayed in punishing it? How could the wisdom of God have been manifested in so wondrously over-ruling it? How could the grace of God have been exhibited in pardoning it? How could the power of God have been exercised in subduing it?

Romans 9:19 (NKJV) You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?"

How can we be responsible for sin when we can't resist God's will? Man is responsible because God calls him to account; man is responsible because God can punish him for his disobedience. God, on the contrary, cannot be responsible for the simple reason that there is no power superior to Him, no greater being can hold Him accountable, no one can punish him. There is no one to whom God is responsible; there are no laws which he could disobey.

The sinner is responsible for his own sin and he will be held accountable for his sin by the sovereign Creator of the universe.

Scripture teaches that God is the sovereign Creator and ruler of all things, sin included. Scripture also teaches that as Judge, He holds every man responsible for the choices he makes and the course of action he pursues.

It bothers us that God is absolutely sovereign, we don't like that. I think this is the truth about God which men dislike the most. We are having to face the fact that God is a sovereign being. He is not responsible to, or answerable to anyone. He is totally, absolutely sovereign. We don't like that, because to us, sovereignty is always connected with tyranny. To trust anyone with that kind of power is to put ourselves into the hands of someone who might destroy us, and we instinctively fight that.

We fight it in our national life, we fight it in our family life, we fight it in our individual relationships. We do not trust anyone with absolute power over us. The very Constitution of the United States is based on that presumption. No one can be trusted with absolute power. We have checks and balances built into our government. We divide it into three divisions and put one against the other, so that they all watch each other. We do not believe that even the best of us can be trusted with absolute power.

It is no wonder, therefore, that when we come to the Scriptures and confront the fact that God has absolute power, we become uneasy and troubled by this. What we must do is get rid of the idea that his sovereignty is going to be destructive to us. It isn't at all. As I hope you see, his sovereignty is our only hope!

Nothing can separate us from the love of God because He is sovereign (Romans 8:38-39). All things work together for good for those who love God, because God is sovereign (Romans 8:28). The most comforting assuring blessed truth in all this is that the sovereign God loves us.

1 John 4:9 (NKJV) In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.

Since God loves us and is on our side, what could we possibly fear; who can harm us?

Romans 8:31 (NKJV) What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

What is our response to this? Submissive humble Worship.

Romans 11:33-36 (NKJV) Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! 34 "For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?" 35 "Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?" 36 For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.

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