In Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, He wrote “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” (Romans 9:21). To understand this verse clearly, let’s review the context of the chapter:
God’s conditional promises
In this passage, Paul may be alluding to Jeremiah 18:6 where the prophet declares the conditional nature of God’s promises (Jeremiah 18:7–10). God’s covenant to Israel was conditional on their obedience (Deuteronomy 28). Israel failed to obey. Although the gospel brings sure salvation to God’s elect, they were not found among the heirs of this salvation. Israel rejected the Messiah and crucified Him. They rejected “the righteousness which is of faith” (Romans 9:30 to 10:21). Although they failed, God’s promises didn’t fail (Romans 9: 6–13). God’s covenant was fulfilled to spiritual Israel or the NT church (Galatians 3:26, 29).
God gives humans the freedom of choice (Joshua 24:15). People are free to respond to His conditional promises as they wish. And the Lord simply respects their choices. God reserves to Himself the full liberty to deal with people according to His conditions, and not on theirs, yet without interfering with their opportunity to be saved. He is free to do what He wants as the potter is free to do what He wants with the clay (Romans 9: 14–29).
Some theologians misinterpret what Paul is saying in Romans 9:21. For example, Calvin interpreted this passage to mean that God arbitrarily created some people for salvation and others for destruction. Such a concept of God’s purpose is not in harmony with Paul’s own teachings elsewhere in this same book. For Paul declared that God has no partiality (Romans 2:11). And he taught that God judges each man according to his works (Romans 2:6–10; Romans 3:22, 23) and He will save everyone who calls upon Him (Romans 10:12, 13).
Further, the Scriptures don’t teach that God chooses some to be saved and others to be lost but that He extends His salvation to everyone equally (1 John 2:2; 1 Timothy 2:,4,6; 2 Peter 3:9). The Lord declared, “whosoever will” may come to Christ (John 3:15,16; 4:14; 12:46; Acts 2:21, 10:43; Romans 10:13; Revelation 22:17). God showed His infinite mercy and justice at the Cross. Therefore, no one should doubt His good will and love towards all. “ For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
What does Romans 9:21 mean?
Paul is simply saying that as the potter may choose to make one vessel for a noble purpose and another for a humbler use, God has authority over people, and will deal with them according to His own divine knowledge and purposes (1 Corinthians 12:11).
In working for the salvation of mankind, God sees fit to allow people to reap the consequences of their own transgressions. And that which He thus permits is often understood in the Bible as though directly acted by Him (2 Chronicles 18:18).
In His service,