Jeremiah 18 and Romans 1:1-15 powerfully show the contrast between lives of obedience and disobedience, not just for an individual’s salvation but also for the new creation that is to come.
The earlier passage displays God as being the “potter”, and his people as the “clay”. It is a powerful image as it runs contrary to human nature. We are not the centre of the universe, either individually or collectively! In fact, in every way we are created by God and he has known us for all time.
Romans then starts with Paul noting that he had been set apart for the gospel of God, who not only “moulded” him as the clay but delivered on His age-old promise to save many people through a King coming from David’s line of descent. This passage tells us (using the words of the ESV) that all who are called by God to believe in this gospel belong to Jesus Christ, and through him we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.
What a benefit for all believers, to receive such great free gifts from the Lord – including the obedience of faith. Faith leads not only to forgiveness of sin (which alone is monumentally great), but also belonging to an eternal purpose that has worldwide impact for the glory of His name. Contrast this with Jeremiah 18, where the people are clearly warned about the consequences of the clay acting in disobedience to the potter. Verses 11 and 12 are particularly striking – a call to repent, followed by people saying they will follow their own plans, and every person according to the stubbornness of his or her evil heart.
We know that at the end of all things, everyone will be judged whether or not they belong to Jesus. The former will ultimately be saved by virtue of having their names written in the book of life, while the latter will be eternally condemned (Revelation 20:11-15). John 3:35 confirms that obedience is a true marker of genuine faith – a distinction between the persons whose names are written in the book of life, and those who are not. Faith will lead to obedience, and therefore obedience is evidence not only of faith but also of the future life that is to come by virtue of that faith.
The question is how seriously do I/we take this? Is obedience to God I/our central value? Or do I/we take God’s commandments as guidelines only that we can act in judgement over, like the Jews of whom Jeremiah was writing? The consequences of being disobedient are stark – not that it is our obedience that saves us. Rather it is evidence of genuine faith that not only saves but will determine the extent of our status as a good and faithful servant in the judgement that is to come.
I take it from the contrasting passages that Jeremiah’s contemporaries got themselves into so much trouble because they did not grasp their status as God’s creation – but rather considered themselves the makers of their own destiny. In contrast, Paul did grasp his position of relative insignificance in comparison to God. This in turn brought about such gratefulness and obedience on the part of Paul in response to the grace shown to him. We can see from the book of Acts and many New Testament letters what great impact Paul’s obedience had for the gospel worldwide.
As a result, I am praying to more fully grasp how big God is as my maker and how small I am as his creation. Will you join me in hope that this can only make me/us more grateful for the grace that has been given without any individual merit whatsoever. May this in turn lead to greater obedience and greater impact for the gospel in our community and the new earth to come.
[Originally posted on 16/10/2015 by Mark Cottom]