When They Can’t (or Won’t) Believe

You’ve probably wanted to give up a lot of times.

Monica wept and prayed for her son every day.  He was brilliant, though dismissive of spiritual things.  She tried to have local clergy talk some sense into him, but they were reluctant to get involved with the boy.  His sharp wit tended to befuddle and frustrate even the most experienced minds.

He longed to escape his Christian mother, who pestered him with doting love and hopes of faith in Christ.  At the first opportunity, he ran off, celebrating his adult freedom in various forms of immorality.  He eventually fathered a child out of wedlock, joined a cult, and kept rejecting Christ.  Monica was beside herself.

When it comes to predestination versus freewill, some of us go straight to debate, as though arguing philosophy in a college dorm room.

The rest of us, like Monica, go straight to the pain.

We love someone who seems hopeless, and wonder if they are actually one of the “vessels of wrath, prepared for destruction” (Rom. 9:22).  After all, nothing seems to dissuade them from their course of wanton sin.

God made human beings as vessels, or, containers.  Some were fashioned unto honor, to contain the glory of Christ (believers) and some unto dishonor (like Pharaoh).

You’ve got some dishonorable vessels in your home.  Your toilet, for one.  Though necessary, it is dishonorable precisely because of what it contains.

You’ve got some honorable vessels as well—like your drinking glasses and cooking pots.  Their honor is linked to containing your food.

It seems easy then, to make the call between honorable and dishonorable, like certain folks we’re sure are hopeless:

A Jew who hated Jesus and persecuted Christians.  A raging slave owner and blasphemer.  A committed atheist.  A pornographic film star. An angry, militant lesbian.  An indifferent, God-rejecting kid from Louisiana.

They all looked like vessels of dishonor.   Yet they all came to Christ.

Human forecasts are laughable.

“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.’” (Rom. 9:26).

This is the irony of the grace of Christ.  It transforms a toilet into a planter.

And what about those we assumed were vessels of honor—the religious, well-mannered, well-heeled, even-tempered, gentle, compassionate, and socially enlightened?    All of them look exquisite.  But without Christ, the most ornate vessel is only a bed pan.

Paul lamented his dignified fellow Jews who seemed to be the finest china on earth, saying, “Only a remnant of them will be saved” (v.27).  It grieved him deeply (v. 2).  But rather than submitting to fatalistic despair, he prayed and he preached.  He didn’t expect to change things that couldn’t be changed, but he did hope to “save some” (Rom. 11:14).

And as for Monica?  She lived to see her wayward son embrace the Christian faith and become one of the most prolific Christian minds in church history.

All appearances to the contrary, Augustine turned out a vessel of honor.      


(Yes, to be continued again…)


  1. The story of Augustine always gives me hope that prayer with ceasing is such a powerful tool to see enemies of God becomes His friends and inherit the sonship privileges … very well written. Hats off to those mothers who never give up on loving Jesus and their children.

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