What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,
“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” — Romans 9:22-26
Corporate Grace and Saving Grace
I want to step back for a moment, and address a question raised by our study of Hosea. Reading through this book, as God chronicles in relentless detail the sins of Israel, their pathological forgetfulness of his mercies, and his impending judgements, the lines between corporate grace and saving grace may become blurry. The condition of Israel during the time of Hosea raises many troublesome questions, at the heart of which is: “How is it possible for a people, saved corporately by grace, to lose their relationship with God?”
It’s tempting to read the apostasy of Israel and think that I, as a believer in Christ and, though saved, still capable of sinning, may also be capable of falling away from God’s mercy and becoming subject to his judgement. I often hear believers, sincere Christians, speaking of themselves as if they too are incapable of faithfulness, steadfast love, or the knowledge of God. After all, we’re all just worthless worms, right?
The author of Hebrews gives us insight into the difference between national Israel of the Old Testament and believers today, recounting the promise of Jeremiah 31, that the New Covenant will be:
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people. — Hebrews 8:9-10
God delivered Israel from Egypt and established his covenant with them through Moses, giving them the Law written on tablets of stone. Though his choice of them to be his own people and their deliverance from bondage were entirely of grace—in that they deserved neither God’s favor nor his deliverance—the grace which he gave them was “not accompanied by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit,” and therefore not the same as the saving grace that God gives through faith to those who believe on Jesus Christ for salvation. “It was an administration of the covenant of grace, and yet the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant concerning the viability of the nation, and in that respect it was based on the principle of works.” As Moses warned them:
You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess. — Deuteronomy 5:32-33
“Despite all the blessings and all the grace displayed by God to Israel, their national heritage could not take the place of a new heart that is joined in faith to Jesus Christ. If anything proves the utter necessity of saving, regenerating grace—the new birth—so that God’s covenant is written on our hearts— the very provision he gives through his Son—nothing proves it like the fall of Israel and its abandonment by the LORD.”
The greatness both of the price paid for our salvation and the love which motivated the payment of the price suggest that the value which God places on each of his beloved redeemed people and on the church as a whole is very high indeed. So, before we engage in any more talk of being worthless worms, let us remember that to our Lord Jesus Christ we are treasures worth the humiliation of the incarnation and the horror of the cross in order to save us to himself.
Our sin and wickedness were our plight, and we were fully responsible before God and deserving of his holy and just wrath. He saw nothing in us that was worthy to earn his favor or to stay his judgment. But at the same time, for reasons entirely within himself, and to the praise of his glory, he looked upon us with the deepest love and determined to rescue us and call us to himself in an eternal bond of fellowship; we are united to him so intimately as to abide in him and he in us.
These truths stand together in Scripture and are indeed an incomprehensible mystery: that I was a wretched, wicked, and foolhardy sinner to the very core of my being, and yet I was and am loved and therefore valued with an eternal, holy, God-sacrificing, and redeeming love. Therefore I am no longer wretched, wicked, and foolhardy to the core of my being, but I am now a new creature, counted to be righteous, called to be holy, and being transformed day by day by the inner working of the Holy Spirit and the power of the word of God into the image of Christ.
In today’s passage, Paul points to this mystery, calling us “vessels of mercy, which [God] has prepared beforehand for glory.” We were not God’s people, as were the nation of Israel who turned their collective backs upon their merciful God, but because he patiently endured generations of their apostasy, waiting for the fullness of time to bring the Promised Deliverer, we are now not only called “his people,” but we are his Beloved Children.
Pray With Me
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom of your knowledge! How unsearchable are your judgments and how inscrutable your ways!
“For who has known your mind, Lord,
or who has been your counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to you
that he might be repaid?”
For from you and through you and to you are all things. To you be glory forever. Amen.
— adapted from Romans 11:33-36
 Richard D. Phillips, Glory, Gone!, sermon preached on Hosea 9:10-17, 9, 8, 2019, https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=99191353397712
 Ibid., I am indebted to Dr. Phillips for his clarification of the difference between the gracious administration of the Mosaic covenant, and the saving grace that God gives through faith to those who believe on Jesus Christ for salvation, as explained in his sermon on Hosea 9:10-17.