We sprinted through the book of Joshua yesterday in Bible study. With only one documented screw up (Joshua 9), Joshua was one of Israel’s most faithful leaders. He was big on Bible reading and made it a priority for his people to know the Word so they could obey God (Joshua 8:34-35). And Joshua led by example, quickly obeying the Lord anytime He spoke.
When Joshua’s run came to an end, he left the Israelites with this command, “Fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14).
Then Joshua warned, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living” (Joshua 24:15).
Joshua laid out the choices for the Israelites. He knew they would serve/worship something. It was just a matter of who/what.
We, too, each have a choice to make – what will we serve? Ourselves? Any number of gods? Our families? The Earth? What will we worship? Our money? Our pastor? Our intelligence? Our kids? Love?
We will worship something. That’s human nature. But we get/have to choose what that something is.
The Israelites responded to Joshua like this, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord because he is our God” (Joshua 24:16-18).
The Israelites were on a spiritual high. They had seen God do a lot of great things recently (Joshua 24:2-13). And they were gung ho about serving the Lord. I believe they were totally sincere. They wanted to worship God; they intended to serve Him only; and they were convinced they could do it.
And Joshua, wonderful leader that he was, offers this reality check, “‘You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you'” (Joshua 24:19-20).
This reality check isn’t just for the Israelites. It’s for us, too.
You and I are not able to serve the Lord.
As much as we may want to, as committed as we may think we are, His standards of holiness and perfection are too high for any of us to reach consistently.
And when we finally admit this – that we cannot be good enough to please Him – we are ready to admit that we need help.
What can give you and me the ability to serve the Lord? What balances this equation:
Me + ________ = ability to serve God
Good intentions? No.
Going to church? No.
None of those things are enough to satisfy a holy, jealous God. Nothing in the natural realm can help us. We need something supernatural.
Joshua is basically saying, “You are not able to serve the Lord because you are not able to keep yourselves from committing idolatry. And He will not put up with that.”
And we are just as idolatrous today as the Israelites were then.
If we can’t keep ourselves from worshiping things that are not God, then we need a way to deflect God’s punishment for our waywardness.
“Give me the wrath they deserve,” Jesus says to God, “and delight in them as if you are delighting in Me, the sinless One.”
And God agreed.
If we want Him to, He pours out the penalties we’ve earned on Christ and the love He’s earned on us.
That is amazing grace.
But that doesn’t enable us to serve Him. It just gets us off the eternal hook for not serving Him.
Enter the Holy Spirit, or, Part 2 of amazing grace.
When we choose Christ, the Holy Spirit enters us and completes the equation above.
Me + the Holy Spirit = ability to serve God
The Holy Spirit is that missing supernatural part that miraculously enables us, in whom there is nothing good or pure or holy, to worship the Lord. The Holy Spirit helps us do that which we are unable to do apart from Him.
You are not able to serve the Lord. But the Holy Spirit can help you. Just ask.
I’m not able, I’m not able, I’m not able (think, Wayne’s World, “I’m not worthy”). This is a beautiful example of how the Old Testament was clearly teaching that salvation was not by keeping the Law but by grace.