Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24:14-15)
To understand God’s heart toward mankind, we must understand His deep respect for human choices. Throughout scripture, we can see a general principle of God treating human free will as sacred. As the objects of His love, He constantly pursues our hearts, but never forces Himself on us. Though the consequences of a wrong choice is utter destruction, and though He loves us deeply and wants the best for us, He still allows us to make our own decisions.
Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.
Here, Joshua, speaking God’s word to the Israelites, exhorts them to put away their false gods and serve only the Lord, the one true God, who redeemed them from their covenant of bondage to Pharaoh and delivered them from Egypt.
Is this an exhortation, or is it a command? Is this a “thou shalt” or a strong recommendation? Is there even a difference between a commandment and a strong exhortation?
I recall once, when my children were much younger, telling my two-year-old child, “Yes, you will pick up that mess you made!” This edict eventually led to a scene in which my child’s hands were held in mine, as each scrap of shredded paper was retrieved from the carpet and deposited in the trash. As a young father, I understood the importance of teaching a child to obey their parents, and was determined not to overlook my child’s defiance.
Whether or not this was a wise parenting tactic can be discussed another time. My point, now, is that this is NOT a good picture of how God interacts with us. Yes, God speaks instruction…call it an exhortation, an edict, a commandment, an order, a directive…whatever we call it God has told us what we must do. However, the choice of whether or not to do it, is up to us. God does not force our following His exhortation, nor our obedience to His commandment.
If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living…
The choice is ours. Yes, there is a very clear-cut right choice and wrong choices. God, in His grace, uses His written word, examples and advice of others, and even our own consciences to help us see the difference between the right choice and a wrong choice. Yet, He still leaves the choice up to us. He really does respect our right to choose.
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. (Deuteronomy 30:15-18)
Here, we see that God clearly defined, for the Israelites, not only their choices, but also the consequences of their choices. As the consequences of a wrong choice are devastating, it is important for them to understand, so God laid it our very clearly. Yet, He still left them the right to choose. Even when the very lives of His children are at stake, He still honors the sacredness of our free will.
We see the same principle in how God dealt with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:15-17)
God gave Adam clear instruction of what he should and should not do, as well as a clear explanation of consequences of choosing the wrong course of action. Yet, God still allowed Adam the right to choose. Knowing that a wrong choice would result in Adam and all of Adam’s descendants being separated from God and the whole Earth being placed under the dominion of Satan; knowing that redemption from a covenant with evil would necessitate the death of Christ on the cross, God still honored Adam’s free will.
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36)
Today, God still honors our free will. Even with our eternal souls at stake, to be either eternally in relationship with our loving God or eternally separated from His presence, still God honors our free will and allows us the right to choose.
What tremendous respect God shows toward us, His creation! And what an awesome responsibility we carry in making our choices!
…choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD!
What would life be like if God removed our free will?