Joshua 24:15 is a very popular verse used in evangelistic meetings to call people to “choose” God, to make a personal “decision” for Christ.
Joshua 24 tells us that Joshua gathers God’s people Israel at Shechem before his death for a renewal of God’s covenant with them. Going back just one verse sheds much light on verse 15. In verse 14, Joshua asks the people to make a vow of obedience to the Lord and put away pagan gods:
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.
He calls them to worship God only, and put away the gods their fathers served when they were still pagans: Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees (“beyond the River”) and their fathers in Egypt. But Joshua tells them that if they do not want to worship God, then they should choose another:
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.
He gives them two choices: (1) the pagan gods of their fathers from beyond the River; or (2) the pagan gods of the Amorites who lived among them in Canaan. Then Joshua declares to them his allegiance to Jehovah, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
So Joshua 24:15 is taken out of context when used to appeal to people to “choose God this day” and be saved; they are told, your salvation depends on your own decision. How could sinful human beings make such a decision by their own “free will” when they are unable and unwilling to come to God (1 Cor. 2:14–15)? Jesus flatly declared this, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you” (John 15:16). Paul emphatically denies this “decisional regeneration” when he says, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16).
Moreover, the choice is not even presented to unbelievers, but to God’s chosen people Israel. So it is a grave misuse of Scripture in evangelism to use this verse to tell unbelievers to make a decision for Christ. The right use of this text is within the context of a church, asking those who worship other gods to serve the Lord of Joshua and his house.
Rev. Malabuyo is an associate pastor of Trinity URC in Walnut Creek, CA, and serves as a missionary to the Philippines.