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by Dr. Robert Hymers

A sermon preached on Lord’s Day Evening, January 22, 2006
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:19).

“Decisionists” often say that their favorite text in Joshua is verse 15. They imagine that this verse tells the people to make a decision to choose God and serve Him. But a careful reading of verse 15 shows that this is not what it says. Listen to it with “new” ears:

“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” (Joshua 24:15).

They were told that they could choose between the idols that Abraham’s relatives had served in Haran, “on the other side of the flood” (or river) - or they could choose to worship the idols of the Amorites. But nowhere in verse 15 are they told they could choose to serve God! Sorry I had to take that verse away from the “decisionists,” for it is one of their favorites. But it just doesn’t say what they thought it said - when you read it carefully.

Now, four verses later, our text corrects the misconception of “decisionism” even more, for here Joshua very plainly and very pointedly tells the people they cannot choose to serve the Lord. Note carefully the first half of the verse.

“And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:19).

They could only choose to worship one set of idols or another set of idols, but they could not serve the Lord!

And you who are here this evening are in the same awful situation. You can choose one sinful way of life, or you can choose another sinful way of life, but,

“Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the Lord”
     (Joshua 24:19).

And what he said to them applies also to you.

“Ye cannot serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:19).

Concerning this verse, Spurgeon commented,

The people had said, “We will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” But Joshua knew them too well to trust them, and reminded them that they were undertaking what they could not perform. They did not believe him, but cried, “Nay, but we will serve the Lord.” But their [history afterwards] proved the truth of Joshua’s warning. [God knows] us better than we know ourselves…He who made man has the best knowledge of his condition and capacity. Let us dwell upon His verdict as to human ability (C. H. Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes, vol. 1, Baker Book House, 1992 reprint, p. 48).

“Ye cannot serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:19).

I. First, the certainty that unconverted people cannot serve God.

It is not a physical but a spiritual inability. It is not in the nature of unconverted people. It may be said that you could serve God if you wished to do so. But the word “if” shows your inability. Your inability lies in your lack of power so to wish.

The unconverted soul is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1); “dead in sins” (Ephesians 2:5); “they are all under sin” (Romans 3:9). You ought to serve God, and you are responsible for not serving Him, but you are utterly unable to serve Him acceptably.

“Ye cannot serve the Lord: for he is an holy God”
     (Joshua 24:19).

The law of God is perfect and far reaching. Spurgeon said, “If a look may commit adultery, who shall in all points keep the law? Matt. 5:28” (ibid.).

The unconverted person’s mind leans toward self-will, self-seeking, lust, enmity, pride, and all other evils.

“It is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7).

Try to be perfectly obedient to God. You will not even try it. You may argue that you are able, but you are too depraved to even try. If you tried harder to be perfect, it would humble you and bring you under conviction, and lead you to Christ for salvation. But you do not even try. If you did try, you would soon see that

“Ye cannot serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:19).

II. Second, the discouragement that arises when you see this truth.

“Ye cannot serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:19).

Spurgeon said,

“It is alleged that this will drive men to despair, and our reply is that the kind of despair to which it drives men is most desirable and salutary [helpful]” (ibid., p. 49).

Despair, loss of hope - isn’t that exactly what you need to feel? Isn’t that the hopelessness the Apostle felt when he said,

“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).

This is evangelistic hopelessness. This is true conviction! This is what we mean by awakening! This is a person enlightened by God’s Spirit, brought to the place of saying in his heart,

“[I] cannot serve the Lord: for he is an holy God” (Joshua 24:19).

A feeling like this is very helpful. It discourages you from being self-righteous, which is deadly, a proud refusal of mercy, and a rebellion against grace. Self-confidence of any kind is the enemy of the Saviour.

“[I] cannot serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:19).

This is a helpful feeling. It discourages you from every way of self-salvation. It shuts you up, and makes you see that you can only be saved by Jesus.

“But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith [in] Christ might be given to them that believe” (Galatians 3:22).

“Ye cannot serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:19).

III. Third, the necessity of being reminded of this truth.

Unconverted people, before you can serve God you need a new nature, which only God can create in you. You cannot serve God until you are born again from God.

Before you can serve God, you must be reconciled to Him. How can an enemy serve his king? Why, the way you are, you can’t serve God any more than a member of the Taliban could serve President Bush! You are the enemy of God. You cannot serve God until you are reconciled to Him. And only Christ can do that for you.

You must also be justified. Until you are justified, your service cannot please God. No one but Jesus can justify you. Only He can make you perfectly clean and righteous in the sight of God.

“Ye cannot serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:19).

So, you must come to Jesus, the Son of God. Only Jesus can take away your sin and make you clean. Only Jesus can make you righteous and holy in the sight of God. Only after you have been cleansed by Jesus’ Blood will you be able to serve the Lord in an acceptable way. Therefore,

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved”
     (Acts 16:31).

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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Joshua 24:14-22.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“In Jesus” (by James Procter, 1913).



by Dr. Robert Hymers

“And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:19).

(Joshua 24:15).

I.   The certainty that unconverted people cannot serve God,
Ephesians 2:1, 5; Romans 3:9; 8:7.

II.  The discouragement that arises when you see this truth,
Romans 7:24; Galatians 3:22.

III. The necessity of being reminded of this truth, Acts 16:31.