“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
God gave humanity something he didn’t give the rest of his creation: the dignity of moral choice. When we make decisions that go beyond mere animalistic survival, decisions based on principle, we reflect God’s image and glorify him in a unique way. God designed all of creation with an instinctual and irresistible impulse to “fulfill his word” (Psa. 148). Birds sing. Stars shine. Flowers bloom. They do what they are created to do. But God desires humans to choose to fulfill their purpose. Obeying a natural compulsion is one thing but weighing a decision and choosing obedience is a deeper and more profound action. It’s an action of love and it’s what we’re made for (Deut. 6:5).
After reading the Law to Israel before entering Canaan, Moses prophesied that future generations would fail to keep their promises to God. But after the curses of disobedience fell upon them, they would return and God would restore them (Deut. 30:1-14). In the shadow of this prophecy, Moses put the choice before his own generation between “life and good, death and evil” (Deut. 30:15). After conquering the land, Moses’ successor, Joshua, put the same choice before Israel (Josh. 24:14-15).
But this choice is not exclusive to the Jews. Today, the same choice is put before all people in the form of the good news of Jesus (Acts 17:30-31). There are three facets to our choice:
This is a personal choice. “Choose for yourselves…” Joshua said. In other words, no one else can make this choice for you. Even though Joshua decided how he was going to lead his family, he couldn’t force his wife and children to obey the Lord. All he could do was give them the best opportunity to choose for themselves (Eph. 5:25; 6:4). We are all personally accountable to God for our response to the gospel.
The is a daily choice. “Choose for yourselves today…” Though we may grow in our understanding on either side of that choice, there is a critical moment in which we make our determination to obey the Lord known. For ancient Israel, it was crossing the Red Sea or the Jordan River. For us, it means crossing over from death into the life of Jesus through baptism. We signify that death by being buried in a figurative grave of water and rising out of the water as Jesus rose from the tomb to “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:1ff; Col. 2:12; Acts 22:16). Our new way of life must continue to reflect that choice everyday. Joshua could have said, “Choose for yourselves today and everyday afterward whom you will serve.”
This is a choice of loyalty. In the words of the recently deceased Neil Peart, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” We all serve a master (Rom. 6:16-20) and we prove to be in the grip of the evil one either by putting off this choice for the future (Acts 24:25) or by believing we are our own master (Jn. 8:34; 2 Pet. 2:19). The truth of Jesus sets us free from this self-deception (Jn. 8:31-36) as we voluntarily come under his liberating and loving rule (Mt. 11:28-30).
Though this choice to serve the Lord, whether in the words of Moses and Joshua in the Old Testament or in the words of Jesus in the New, may sound like an ultimatum (“Serve God or else!”) it is much more of an appeal of grace. While it is true we will be held accountable for our choice it is still a choice nonetheless. The amazing thing is not that God would send those who have already rejected him away but that sinners could have the choice to live with him at all. God loves us and desires us to live (2 Pet. 3:9) but the choice is ours.