“And if it seems evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15)
There is an old debate which still rages in the Christian community concerning the will of man, and the sovereignty of God. Strong statements have been made by those on both sides of the issue, which tends to generate more heat than light on the subject. If I might offer some simple observations, I would say that the Bible teaches that there is a God in heaven who works all things after the council of His own will. He does whatsoever thing He chooses, and no one is able to stop Him. The highest of all angels, Lucifer, has tried to frustrate the plan of God, only to find himself cast out of heaven, and destined for a Lake of Fire.
The haughtiest of all men have tried to frustrate the plan of God. Proud Pharaoh said he would not let God’s people go, but he did. Mighty Nebuchadnezzar said he would not worship the God of the Israelites, but he did. It seems that only the animal kingdom has not rebelled against its Creator. The evidence is clear. The Word of God is true. The Lord God omnipotent reigns supreme.
Some students of the Bible, and religious historians, become uncomfortable with the strong statements about the sovereignty of God, and feel a need to limit God in His attributes. It seems that man can indeed frustrate the will of God by rebellious acts of sin. According to reason, if the foreknowledge of God makes all things certain, than man is a mere puppet, an actor upon the stage of human history. The will of man becomes a cruel mockery.
I wish I could solve all the problems of the old controversy today. Perhaps the best that can be said, is that the Bible teaches parallel truths. God is supreme, and He is not surprised by any attitude, or action. His foreknowledge is based upon His foreordination, or as Jonathan Edwards put it, God is the author of all things, but not the actor. He wrote the script to human history beginning with Adam and ending with a redeemed heaven and earth.
The Bible also teaches that man is a responsible creature before God, depraved in his nature because of sin, and desperately in need of a Savior. Man needs to return to the God of creation, and that requires a choice.
Like Adam, and Eve, those who came under the sound of the gospel are commanded to make a choice. In the Old Testament the story is told of how Israel had been delivered out of the land of suffering. Led first by Moses, then by Joshua, national Israel had experienced the joy of serving God, and the harsh hand of divine discipline when they stopped serving God.
A critical time faced Israel when it became certain Joshua was about to die. The strong, fearless leader, gathered the people before him to speak as a dying father might still do.
Briefly, Joshua reviewed all that God had done for the children of Israel, and it was much. The Lord had made the hurting stop, brought the people to a beautiful, prosperous land, defeated Israel’s enemies, and allowed the nation to enjoy peace.
“Now therefore,” said Joshua, “fear the Lord, and serve Him in sincerity and in truth…” There are two commands here. First, God’s people are to fear Him. It is an amazing thing that men do not fear God. So bold does sin make men, so blind does it make people, that otherwise intelligent men now proclaim God is dead.
This is what makes evolution such a dangerous teaching. The argument is not merely about whether or not man came from a common ancestor with the animals or not. The argument is much deeper, and much more serious. The controversy is whether or not man is made in the image of God.
If man is merely a product of time, plus space, plus chance, then God does not exist. If God does not exist then we do not need to be accountable to Him. Right and wrong, truth and justice is not what the Divine Lawgiver decrees, but rather what mortal creatures determine.
No wonder the young people of yesterday, who are leaders, and parents today, do not fear God. It has been grained into the subconscious that God does not exist. The accepted liberal theology is that God is like the shadows a child sees on his bedroom wall at night. The imagination runs wild, and there is fear, but turn on the light, and the shadows disappear.
So today, turn on the light of the modern science, which, says man is not the special, direct creation of God, and God vanishes. We do not need to fear Him anymore. He does not exist. That is what is being taught now in school age children and young people in countries around the world. God does not exist. The question comes, “How can we reverse the direct and indirect teaching that God does not exist?” Joshua tells us how,and that is, “Fear God.”
To fully explain what it means to fear God would take, literally, about three hours. For now, let it be said that Biblical fear of God is something that is taught in both the Old and New Testament. It has three main characteristics.
First, fear of God involves a sense of dread and terror. It is that feeling which gripped the hearts of the inhabitants of Jericho when they heard that the Lord and the people of the Lord had come to occupy the land (Joshua 2:9-10).
Second, fear of God produces a majestic awe. In 1885, Carl Boberg was walking home from church near Kronobäck, Sweden, and listening to church bells.
A sudden storm “appeared on the horizon, and soon lightning flashed across the sky. Strong winds swept over the meadows and billowing fields of grain. The thunder pealed in loud claps. Then rain came in cool fresh showers. In a little while the storm was over, and a rainbow appeared.” (J. Irving Erickson) Carl Boberg was inspired to write in awe.
“O Lord my God,
When I in awesome wonder
The world Thy Hand hath made,
I see the stars,
I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy pow’r throughout
The universe displayed;
Then sings my soul,
My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art!
How great Thou art!
Then sings my soul,
My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art!
How great Thou art!
When through the woods
And forest glades I wander
I hear the birds
Sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down
From lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook
And feel the gentle breeze;
And when I think,
That God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die,
I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross,
My burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died
To take away my sin.
When Christ shall come,
With shouts of acclamation,
And take me home,
What joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow
In humble adoration
And there proclaim,
“My God, how great Thou art!”
1859 – 1940
Third, fear of God is that horror of holy shame that floods the soul when we anticipate the frown from our Father’s face. Al Martin says, “to be devoid of fear of God is to be devoid of true religion.” We can add to that the thought that to be devoid of fear of God is to be devoid of spiritual growth.
In June 1982, I wrote these words: “The desperate need of the Church of Jesus Christ is not more games, or social programs. It is for biblical teaching, and personal study that will instill, and inspire afresh a fear of God.” The words are still valid for 2017.
Now notice the second command, “and serve Him in sincerity and in trut.” It is not enough to serve God. While religious acts are valuable and proper in and of themselves, God wants more. He wants the heart.
Some people come to church and find the music dull, the sermons stupid, and the whole affair rather silly. Others come to the same service with open eyes, a soul on fire, and ears eager to hear every word that falls from the preacher’s lips, whether he is a good public speaker or not.
The difference between the two groups is one of the heart. Let a person fall afresh in love with the preaching ministry of the Word of God, and he shall move to the front of an assembly with an eager heart to catch every syllable, and every gesture, of those who come to feed Him the Word of Truth.
Over and over again we read in the New Testament how the crowds literally pressed upon Jesus. They wanted to hear. They came to Jesus in sincerity, and in truth, or expectation.
Notice, Joshua did not say stop serving. That is a wicked reaction to being lovingly rebuked. There is a better reaction. Change. In the attitude of the heart, change. If it is evil to serve the Lord, if it is evil to attend church, study the Bible, witness, pray, fast, hold family altars, memorize the Scriptures, go soul winning, if it is evil to serve the Lord as a humble Sunday School teacher, or youth worker, then choose whom you will serve.
But, if it is right to fear God, if it is right to serve Him, then we need to serve Him in sincerity and truth.
All across the world today, Christians need to get serious about serving God again. Many have grown careless. Private lives are not what they should be. The Internet, the iPhone, the cable TV, the late night movies make it easy to sin in the comfort and privacy of our homes where the shame and guilt can be suppressed as we fill our hearts with inappropriate lusts, and wicked impulses.
Some have grown spiritually cold. Harsh, unkind, and cruel things have been said without much trauma. In fact, there is a perverted sense of power in being harsh, critical, and judgmental.
Some people need to repent of unloving attitudes and actions. They have pulled away from expressions of love.
When God is served in sincerity and in truth, several things, wonderful, beautiful things begin to happen.
First, there is a mental relaxation, because a single decision has been reached.
Commit yourself to doing God work, God’s way, and the pressure is off. Sincerity brings release. Say sincerely, “I will do what is right. I will schedule my day to serve the Lord.” Say this. Do this, and find mental relaxation.
Second, to serve the Lord in sincerity and truth brings inner joy. Just as a Person, Jesus Christ is delightful company. Our Father in heaven is delightful company. By spending time with the Lord, an inner joy will be experienced, and then you will find more joy in obeying His directives.
Third, to serve God in sincerity and truth brings a sense of security. It seems to me that a lot of Christians are always testing the rule and reign of God. By attitude and action, many in the Christian community want to know “how close to the world can I come and not be too sinful?”
It is time to pull back, to find the boundaries of the Scriptures, and live within them. If the Bible says honor the first day of the week, let us do it. If the Bible says greet one another with a holy kiss, let Christians do it. If the Bible says to prefer others better than ourselves, let the Church do it. If the Bible tells us to be gentle with each other, let us do it. If the Bible commands us to flee from lust, let us do it. God’s Word gives us boundaries, and when we operate within them there is security.
God looks and sees what His people are doing, and He says, “There are men and women and young people who serve me in sincerity. They do not call me Lord and then challenge the boundaries I have established. They enjoy the boundaries I give them.”
Finally, to serve God in sincerity and in truth means to put away the false gods. I do not know what your idol is, if any. It may be music, or money, it may be material possessions, or power, it may be immorality, or secret lustful sin, whatever it is, this day, determine to put it away forever. Smash it, destroy it, and denounce it for Jesus’ sake. Choose this day whom you will serve, and then, if you choose the Lord, serve Him in spirit, serve Him in sincerity and in truth.
God did not have to give Israel a day of choice, but in grace He did.
Today, God is giving you and me a day of decision. In one sense, this day is like many others. The sun is shining. The birds are flying.
However, while the world marches on, God’s people are faced with a serious choice, this day.
Joshua warned Israel of the seriousness of their decision. Joshua said unto the people, “Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he is a holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. 20 If ye forsake the LORD, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good.” (Josh. 24:19-20)
Still, the people responded in a positive way, and heaven records their decision. “And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve the LORD.” (Josh. 24:21)
Today God is making this a day of choice. I wonder if there is someone reading this who has not made a fundamental decision to trust Jesus Christ as personal Savior. You can do that right now by calling upon the name of the Lord.
I wonder then if there is someone who would like to say, “I want to serve Jesus in sincerity, and in truth, from this day forward. Let heaven bear record, I choose Jesus. I will clean up my life. I will put away my gods. I will be different.”
If that is the testimony of your heart, go and tell someone and bear witness to the grace of God.