15 May 2012

Decisions, decisions: choosing to serve the Lord

by Dan Phillips

I've remarked before (notably here, and in all these posts) that I think some highly-caffeinated Reformed types don't help The Cause much when they pick apart just about every word that comes out of most Christians' mouths.

Another example is the use made of Joshua 24:15 — "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."

Popularly, two clauses are singled out from this verse: "choose this day whom you will serve," and "as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." The popular use is to call people to decision, to call them to decide for Christ, to choose to serve Him.

Hypercaffeinated Calvinists (imho) retort with a sneer that this is "decisional regeneration," or "decisionalism," or something like that. Forced to expand, they point out that Joshua is not saying "Choose whether or not you will serve Yahweh." Rather, he is saying, "If you will not serve Yahweh, then choose what false god you will serve."

Fair enough, as far as it goes. That is what the verse says. And anyone who's read the whole eighth chapter of TWTG, which is devoted to the Biblical doctrine of regeneration, knows that I don't see the Bible as teaching that new birth is caused by a human decision.

But don't humans make a decision? Is it helpful simply to dismiss the whole thought? I mean, dude, bro — what is repentance, if it doesn't involve a decision? What is faith? Don't we say that it has a volitional element? And what is the volition, if not the faculty that chooses? Don't we teach that we're all born heading south, and we have to do a 180? Isn't a reverse direction — though enabled by a work of sovereign grace — a decision?

Even putting all that aside, I don't even think the exegesis of this text stands up as a hypercaffeinated Calvinist critique.

Isn't context an important element of exegesis? Hypercaf critics do do a better job that popular Christians, in that they go back to verse 14, read all of 15, and note that the specific words are not a call to choose whether or not to serve Yahweh. Fair enough, as far as that goes.

But.

Keep reading. Read verses 16-27, and what do you see?
16 Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, 17 for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed.  18 And the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God."

 19 But Joshua said to the people, "You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.  20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good."

 21 And the people said to Joshua, "No, but we will serve the LORD."

 22 Then Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him." And they said, "We are witnesses."

 23 He said, "Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel."

 24 And the people said to Joshua, "The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey."

 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem.  26 And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD.  27 And Joshua said to all the people, "Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God."
The people retort that they will serve Yahweh. Joshua replies that they won't be able to, because of their fickleness. They insist that they will serve Him. So Joshua formalizes this declaration, indicating his approval — first saying "you have chosen the LORD, to serve him" (v. 22).

In other words, they did choose Yahweh, in response to Joshua's challenge. They did choose Yahweh.

And, in conversion, so do we.

Dan Phillips's signature

52 comments:

dac said...

plus 1 (in the modern vernacular)

SammyBoy said...

Not really an argument with you here, but it seems to me you went the long way around. 24:15 DOES refer to a choice about Yahweh being made - - "...if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord..." - - but it presumes that the choice has already been made. Having chosen against the Lord leaves another choice to make, as you point out. But the choosing or not choosing about Yahweh is already done.

Lynda O said...

Good point, Dan. Just one of those "little things" that would be cleared up if we paid attention to the full text and what it says. As far as the hypercaffeinated Calvinists, I've heard that emphasis at a few "Sovereign Grace" churches that go too far in emphasizing God's sovereignty and neglect man's responsibility, pointing out the part where Joshua tells them that they're not able to serve the Lord. These churches similarly emphasize and repeatedly teach Romans 9 -- but neglect Romans 10, the human responsibility side of the matter.

DJP said...

I've heard (and thought) more than once, after these hypercaf barrages, "So then... what must I do to be saved?"

If you leave anyone in doubt on that basic question, seems to me you're doing it wrong.

Mike Westfall said...

Verse 15 has to be taken in context. Look at verses 1-14. God has just explained (through Joshua) all the great things He has done for the tribes of Israel. Verse 15 is more of a rhetorical than an actual serious call to choose something.

Kind of like, "I have porterhouse over here, and over there is some stale green bologna. You choose what YOU would like to eat, but as for ME, I think I'll go with the porterhouse."

So yes, the people did choose, but the choice was rather obvious.

Danny said...

I wish you would come up with something other than hypercaffienated. So hard to spell. This post is interesting. Dan, would you disagree with all the "scandalous grace" talk coming out TT's "Jesus+Nothing=Everything"?

Robert said...

Well, just lokoing at Acts 2:37-38 tells me that people have to make a decision and do something:

"Now when they had heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brethren, what shall we do?"' Peter said to them, 'Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'"

Peter didn't tell them, "Don't worry...God will take care of it for you!" or "Let go and let God take the wheel". He told them to repent, which involves making the decision to stop following one's heart and start following the Lord Jesus Christ. And just to pick at another nit, we don't make Jesus Lord over our lives...we don't decide that He is. We can choose to acknowledge and follow our Lord or to rebel against Him, but we should not fool ourselves into thinking that we make Him our Lord. God the Father has already made Jesus Lord over all the earth and its inhabitants.

Michael R. Jones said...

Yes, Dan, just, YES! I get so tired of these YRR parading around to different churches, parsing and criticizing every word. They seem to be practically hyper-c__________ rather than simply hypercaffeinated. They seem t think they have been appointed to examine every pastor and see if he's "Reformed" enough.

Terry Rayburn said...

Dan,

Well said.

As a sovereignly regenerated person, divinely by grace alone given a new heart which loves Jesus and hates sin, and in which has been revealed the Son of God as Savior and Lord, and which not only believes in, but can't NOT believe in Him...

"I have DECIDED to follow Jesus,
No turning back, no turning back;"

Of course the unregenerated person, dead in sins and trespasses, his will in bondage to his nature a la Luther, has decided NOT to follow Jesus, just as I have decided not to eat ground glass, the thought being abhorrent to me.

Terry Rayburn said...

This seems a good place to put in a plug for one of my all-time favorite books, Decision Making And The Will of God by Garry Friesan.

For the non-reader-of-books, it's basic premise is that much of the will of God is already clear in Scripture (e.g., love, forgive, don't steal, etc.).

But things that are not clear in Scripture (e.g., whom to marry, where to live, etc.) should be just DECIDED, trusting God through prayer, the seeking of WISDOM, being filled with the Spirit, and sometimes the input of others.

Those DECISIONS become the leading of God, with even "bad" decisions worked together for good to those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose.

For Friesan fans, feel free to elaborate on or correct my "take" on him, since it's been a while since my last re-reading of that terrific book.

Kerry James Allen said...

"If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind, and tender, yea lavish and superabundant in love, you always find it in Him. His service is life, peace, and joy. Oh, that you would enter on it at once! God help you to enlist under the banner of Jesus Christ." Spurgeon's last words at the Tabernacle

Daryl said...

Dan,

Excellent post. It seems that too often it is forgotten why "Total Depravity" is best termed "Total Inability".

Total inability to what? Even the term indicates that there is something to be done that can't be done.

So, as you say, if you don't end up with "What must I do to be saved?" (a question N.T Wright has trouble with...)then we're in trouble.

As Spurgeon pointed out in a Team-Pyro post a week or so ago, repentance and faith are each a grace, not a work. We are given the grace or repentance and faith to what end? To use them as they are intended.

So yes, we must repent and trust in Christ, but the graceness of it makes those things not a work towards salvation, but a reaction to it.
Perhaps like a chemical reaction. We don't cause foam so that we can mix vinegar and baking soda. The mixing causes the foam.
But it is still correct to say "If you don't make foam, you can't tell me you're mixing those two things."

Perhaps we ought to say something like: Decisional regeneration is a fallacy, but non-decisional repentance is an impossibility.

Jared Queue said...

The issue I've had with some of the proof texting of this passage is when it is used to argue for the doctrine of free will. That we choose our salvation apart from God regenerating us first.

When witnessing to unbelievers I do not tell them, "If God has regenerated your heart, then choose to trust Christ today." I simply invit them to trust in Christ for salvation and repent from their sins. But when I used to have these discussions more with free-willers they have frequently sited this as proof that we choose our salvation apart from God. Which is unbiblical, and I have used the "out of context" line as a counter-point.

Do you think that is unhelpful?

Sir Brass said...

Well said, Dan. It does involve a decision. It's just that to the over-caffeinated calvinists, just using the word "decision" is like sneaking up behind Martin Luther and yelling, "Pope!" :P

We do indeed decide, but that decision is the result of the Holy Spirit regenerating us.

We as Calvinists must affirm that man has a will, and than men are free creatures (note I did not say "free will"). Thus, when the free creaure's will is freed from sin and death and been regenerated, he must, as a free creature, choose what is right, that is, to repent and trust in the LORD.

Robert Warren said...

So, it's being "hypercaffeinated" to point out to someone who quotes 1/2 of 1 verse of a 28-verse pericope as a proof-text for autonomous free-will that they didn't really pay much attention to the other 27 1/2 verses?

OK ^^

Daryl said...

Jared,

I wouldn't say "out of context" I'd say "incomplete".

Simply because the context of that text, and the whole Bible, is that indeed, we must choose to follow Christ, choose to repent, choose to believe.

The question is, how is it possible that a non-believer can do a thing (or choose to do a thing) that pleases God?

Similarly, it is true that "whosoever believes in Him shall not perish", and the question there is "who can do such a thing?".

greglong said...

To give you a real-life example of this Dan...

Before my current ministry I served in a church as a Pastor of Children's Ministries. While I was there we began using the Children Desiring God curriculum that comes out of Piper's church for the "children's church" lessons. It is great stuff that is God-focused, Bible-saturated, and all the other hyphenated words. But one of the few problems I had with it was this very thing.

For example, the series To Be Like Jesus (which is designed for fourth graders) has a lesson entitled "Salvation - The Gospel Call." It discusses both the General (Gospel) Call and the Personal (Effective) Call. You would think the application would include calling the children to repent and believe on Jesus, correct? But instead it suggests questions like, "Do you feel Jesus calling you?" (I don't have the exact lesson in front of me; I'm going off of my notes.)

Instead I told teachers, Be sure to emphasize that while it is true that Jesus calls people to salvation, the Bible doesn’t say that people are to wait until they “feel Jesus personally calling” them to believe. Paul told the Philippian jailor to “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Acts 16:31), not “Do you feel Jesus calling you?” or “Wait until you feel called.”

Citation Squirrel said...

Whenever I stop to ponder on Joshua 24:15, I always like to emphasize the word "serve."

Nash Equilibrium said...

Hypercaffeinated - that's a Mormon term, no doubt! :-0

We choose, no doubt. The only question is who enables us to choose? Ourselves or the Lord?

Johnny Dialectic said...

I like this post. Let's hear it for decaf.

Morris Brooks said...

In Mark 1:15, Jesus started his ministry with the call to repent and believe, which is the same message that John the Baptist had been preaching.

Wonderful post, Dan. When interpreting a biblical passage, verse...context IS king!

Phil said...

I agree, faith does have a volitional aspect in closing with Christ. And thereafter. Love binds. Faith works by love. Though I would say it is lead with a response instead rather than choice, per se. Not because of monergism/synergism per se, but because of the quality of faith that obtains grace. This Jonathan Edwards quote explains well for me;

"We can do nothing but only receive Christ and what he has done already. Salvation is not offered to us upon any condition, but freely and for nothing. We are to do nothing for it; we are only to take it. This taking and receiving is faith. ... Faith cannot be called the condition of receiving, for it is the receiving itself."

On a somewhat side-note, as I understand it (which may not be so accurate because I haven't read thoroughly on it in the past), Luther's "bondage of the will" is not entirely the same as (some) Calvinists' version, because faith is stressed as having a different quality. Faith is a receiving of something substantial and free. Not so much an active decision of will, as it is a response to good news, with consequences.

Back to Joshua, then, it would require a choice to serve God..but the over-arching point of the Law was that no man can attain to righteousness, and be delivered from the flesh, and there was deliverance coming which brings "service in newness of Spirit".

It seems to me that Joshua's remarks highlight that there was a distinct weakness of the Law to deal with man's fickleness, on account of His sin..something which the promise of the New Covenant in Jeremiah would deal with - with a covenant cut and established unto it's recipients in the character of "I will - receive what's finished".

It's really not the issue of election, monergism/synergism that upholds salvation and it's life as being by grace, but the quality of faith that is "not of works" (Rom4v16) from which "newness of spirit" flows.

Nonna said...

I wish you would come up with something other than hypercaffienated.

Dan,

How about maddog Calvinists? They get their teeth in and don't want to let go. Regeneration precedes faith. If you don't believe that, you're clinging to false doctrine and need to repent!

I've been on the receiving end of those maddog types.

Nonna said...

"Jesus+Nothing=Everything"

How about "Religion says DO, Jesus say DONE!" Both of these slogans are so ambiguous as to have no meaning at all.

Nonna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nonna said...

But when I used to have these discussions with free willers they have frequently cited this as proof that we choose our salvation apart from God.

Those who are non-Calvinists and Arminians, who I assume you are referring to here as "free willers", and who understand (that is key) the nature of salvation, would never say such a thing. These free will folks you speak of are misguided and furthermore, such a belief is full-blown Palagianism.

I am not a Calvinist and I would never say such a thing as "we choose our salvation apart from God." Salvation is by grace through faith and grace is the very life of God revealed in His attributes. John Wesley, an avid Arminian, taught that prevenient grace was necessary in the work of salvation. And that topic is a whole 'nother post.

Think about it...salvation by its very nature must include a direct object and a subject. I don't really like boiling it down to grammatical terms, but I hope you understand my point. Jesus Christ is THE SAVIOR and we are the ones being saved. Salvation is not an independent process that can be done apart from God. Well-informed, knowledgeable non-Calvinists acknowledge that God is necessary in the work of salvation - otherwise it isn't salvation, but something else entirely.

Sir Aaron said...

Now this sounds familiar. Where did I hear this before?

Calvinism doesn't deny choice. Calvinism merely says that man's choice is always affected by his nature. Because his nature is a slave to sin, he will never choose God without having first been regenerated, that is having his nature changed.

Sir Aaron said...

Nonna:

No, Arminians don't say salvation is apart from God. In fact, they don't say they deny total depravity. They simply say that Jesus' sacrifice didn't effectually accomplish anything. It merely made it possible to be saved. In order to complete the circle of salvation, it requires man's free will choice. That free will choice is made possible by prevenient grace which is made available to everyone. But the bottom line is that there is something inside the believer that makes it possible to be saved and that is why two people, who are otherwise equal, choose different roads.

As a total aside, I can't even make out these check words half the time.

Daryl said...

And...for every rabid Calvinist (and there are many) there is an equally rabid Arminian.

We are all, after all, people. And people can all be jerks. I'm sure the nice lady down the street is a jerk from time to time.

So lets permanently drop that lame little line, shall we?

yankeegospelgirl said...

Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

So that means Jesus x Nothing = Nothing.

Or wait... I'm so confused.

Slogans make me itchy.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Yikes.

No, Arminians don't say salvation is apart from God. In fact, they don't say they deny total depravity. They simply say that Jesus' sacrifice didn't effectually accomplish anything.

Whoa. Where do you get your talking points? This is a superficial and utterly uninformed canard. It's like someone saying, "Calvinists don't believe in human responsibility." You'd cackle about that, wouldn't you? And rightly so: because not all Calvinists believe that. There are different views, and disagreements even within your camp.

Thus, your characterization that Jesus' sacrifice didn't "effectually" accomplish anything runs afoul of numerous respected theologians, Wesley among them. Consider also Jack Cottrell's explication of original grace (at least be conversant with it before you dismiss it, and by that I don't mean clicking on a few blogs. Take time to study what you so easily castigate, and your cred will increase).

DJP said...

Nonna: as usual, no.

DJP said...

Johnny, had you meant to come to a point of actually responding contentfully to Aaron? Or had you just wanted to vent?

Nonna said...

Nonna: as usual, no.

DJP: I honestly have no idea what your response means. It's quite vague.

DJP said...

Really? I've always thought "no" pretty specific.

How many questions did you address to me in this meta, prior to my answer? I only see the one.

Jeremiah Greenwell said...

Proverbs 16:1: "The plans of the heart belong to man"- man is responsible for his own thoughts and desires -"But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD"- God is still ultimately Sovereign.

To deny God's Sovereignty in any area is to make Him subject to the creation. To deny man's responsibility in very real, difficult situations makes Jesus prayer in the garden for an event that had been predicted in great detail look irrational and unnecessary. We aren't robots and we were not free, but we were bought with a price for good works that we should walk in them, a choice that is still ours daily.

Nonna said...

Ok, DJP. It must be with regard to using the term maddog Calvinist. BTW, the Dan I was addressing was actually Danny, not you. I first heard the term from a Calvinist Pastor friend of mine. He states on his blog, "I'm a kindly Calvinist, not one of those maddog types." And indeed he is very kindly, much like a Mennonite.

donsands said...

Good post. OT saints looked ahead for their Messiah, and so wasn't there still a vagueness when it came to understanding the grace of God?

We have the benefit of looking at the NT, and back to the Cross, where we see the grace of God. And we have all those epistle's from Saul, who became Paul.

And yet it is the same human heart in all of us that needs to cry out to the Lord for mercy, and see Him in His truth.
Peter, when he kneels before his Lord in the boat, and says, "Lord depart from me", is such a revealing portion of Scripture for me.

And I love what Paul said for us all to hear:
"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed."

Carl C. said...

Dan,

Thanks for this post. It's only been a few years now since I became convinced that Reformed doctrine most closely lines up with the whole counsel of Scripture. Since then I must say it's been a rocky road for me in the area of terminology, and I overcorrected initially. For example, I hesitated in prayer to make sure I never said anything theologically shady. I winced at every mention of words like 'decision', 'choice', 'free', 'whosoever/all', etc. I balked at anyone ever quoting only one verse or - forbid the thought - part of a verse.

I guess you could say that w/o any course correction, I would have ended up a caffienated Calvinist curmudgeon. Credit goes to God alone for helping me keep my trap shut and not lancing these critiques at others... at least not often. :-) I'm convinced there aren't many more gracious & forgiving souls than my wife!

So, these kind of corrective teachings and forays into exegesis are so very welcome. They both help eliminate my fear of difficult or oft-misused passages (driving me INTO and not away from them) and gradually build a sense of ease in rightly employing terms the Scriptures use. It's a work very much in progress.

So, keep 'em comin'!

mike said...

Good post. As Joshua's warnings foreshadow, some decisions aren't genuine. There will always be tares among the wheat until the Lord returns. But the farmer keeps sowing the wheat and we should keep calling people to repentance.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Dan, my comment was a simple, specific correction to a simplistic, ill-informed throw-away. Short and sweet, rather DJP-ish, I thought (e.g., your comments of 7:48 AM, May 15, 2012 and 4:58 PM, May 15, 2012, etc.)

If you would like me to go further on the doctrine of the atonement and original grace, it will require some work and some length. I would be happy to post with your permission.

DJP said...

I think we all know you have issues with what the Bible teaches about God's sovereignty in salvation, Johnny, and you never tire of reminding us.

My point was not "Oh, please, tell us more about this sub-Biblical construct!"

My point was that a wail is not an argument. Aaron's right about Arminianism. You may like or dislike it, but that changes nothing.

Johnny Dialectic said...

So you're really not serious after all. You castigate for content and I offer to give it, and your vibe is just more dismissal.

Nice.

You and Aaron can't seem to wrap your heads around the fact that there might be actual substance on the other side of the theological fence that is more than "Jesus' sacrifice didn't effectually accomplish anything."

I merely tried to offer it, as you seemed to demand, and I get junked with "you have issues with what the Bible teaches...." ?

Yeesh. Not cricket, as they say.

DJP said...

While your emotional level remains high, Johnny, your content level stands at zero.

Johnny Dialectic said...

OK, Dan, I'll make a pledge. I won't read any more of your posts. I'll stick to Phil and Frank. That will save me time and you consternation.

DJP said...

As you wish.

Content still zero, Aaron's point stands.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Sure it does.

You call for content then don't allow it.

You dismiss with invective and don't recognize it.

You ignore correction and claim something without any substance "stands."

I'm retiring to Bedlam now, and thinking up ways to use all my new free time.

DJP said...

Bluster-count now is at 4, one offered after you said you were done.

Content, still zero.

Nonna said...

Jesus sacrifice didn't effectually accomplish anything.

The Reformed think that Arminian, and non-Reformed (I'll include Lutherans in that mix since they don't hold to TULIP in the Reformed sense) doctrine boils down to Jesus sacrifice accomplishing nothing because of the Reformed teaching on double-predestination. Double-predestination requires a certain hermeneutic, which in essence, nullifies man's free will.

Of course, these matters have been argued ad nauseum over the years by proponents on both sides of the aisle. Only in Christ's Heavenly Kingdom will the debate cease, and there the divisions will no longer exist. Former Calvinists and non-Calvinists will dwell side by side in peace.

donsands said...

"...doctrine boils down to Jesus sacrifice accomplishing nothing because of the Reformed teaching on double-predestination."

I don't know about that so much, but I came to an understanding that Christ specifically died for me, personally. Wow. It makes me humble beyond any other humbleness I may have.
Why would Christ and God the Father elect me?
I have no idea.
In fact, I think, and feel, like I am one who is least among any sinner whom God has had mercy on by the death of Jesus, His Son.

Yet, I also bow my heart, and thank Him for His passion, and for shedding His blood for me.

I wish God would save all sinners, and I pray he will.
But, he knows who He will save, and why, and all the other unfathomable reasons why God should give Himself for rebels like us.
And after saving us, and quickening us, He sanctifies us with His love and truth, until He takes us home, or returns for us.
What a gracious Lord and Savior!

Tom said...

"But the bottom line is that there is something inside the believer that makes it possible to be saved and that is why two people, who are otherwise equal, choose different roads."

You can also ask what makes one born-again believer respond to God's grace in the sanctification process and what makes another believer (or the same believer at a different moment) choose to indulge the flesh.

Sir Aaron said...

@Nona: To be fair, double predestination is not a doctrine held by most Christians who hold a Calvinist view of God's Sovereignty. And I agree with you. There will be Arminians and Calvinists in heaven singing praises to God together.

@Tom

The problem with that is that you confuse regeneration with sanctification. Although Calvinists have different views on sanctification, I believe strongly that sanctification is also monergistic and God's grace is what explains the difference between the two men.