Calvinism and Joshua 24:15?

Question
An offer of a choice implies total freedom and ability to choose, therefore a person has absolute free will to choose Christ at anytime in his life! Joshua 24:15 is the lynchpin of Arminianism argument. Calvinism is wrong!
Answer

Total Depravity

In your question, there seems to be some misunderstanding of the meaning of Total Depravity or Total Inability.

Total Inability affirms that unregenerate man, being totally depraved, is unable to obey or please God unto salvation. It is a doctrine concerning salvation. Christians are in a different state after salvation called sanctification. See "What is the Fourfold State of Man?" below. Christians do not suffer from total inability (Rom 8:9). They can please God (1 Thess 4:1; Heb 11:6) and therefore should not be considered totally depraved.

In addition, the doctrine of total inability does not deny man's ability to make choices. That is, it does not deny that man has free agency to make choices according to his nature. However, total inability does assert that when it comes unto salvation, man is dead in his trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-2) - that he is a slave to sin (Rom. 6:16, 20). As slaves, depraved man lives in the passions of the flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind (Eph. 2:3). Individuals with depraved natures, left to themselves, will always choose to reject God unto salvation because he does not appeal to them (Rom. 1:18-24). Paul informs us in Rom 8:7-8, "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." Note our depraved condition:

  • We are hostile to God
  • We don't submit to God's law
  • We can't submit to God's law
  • We can't please God

In salvation, when God, by his grace (Eph 2:8), changes the nature of his elect (John 3:1-8; Rom 8:9), then, and only then, can they choose to come to him because they now desire him (i.e. 1 John 4:19).

Please see "Do human beings have free-will?" below for more details.

Joshua 24:15

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.

Joshua 24:15 has a larger context. Proper biblical exegesis examines verses within their entire context. What does Joshua 24 mean in context?

First, it is important to understand that the overall context of Joshua 24 deals with covenant faithfulness and renewal (Josh 24:25), not salvation. So, total depravity is not an issue here. Second, Joshua 24:14 begins with the words "Now therefore" sending us back to the context of Joshua 24:1-13. It briefly describes Israel's history, including their deliverance from Egypt and God's kind provision.

Israel, the OT church, was in a state of idolatry (Josh 24:14). We read, "And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord" (Josh 24:15). This reveals the spiritual condition of the Israelite heart. It identified the distorting nature of their sin. It is as though, what is right is wrong and what is wrong is right (cf. Isa 5:20).

Then we read the oft quoted phrase, "choose this day whom you will serve" (Josh 24:15). But the verse does not end there, it continues and says, "whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell." So, the choice of Joshua 24:15 was not whether Israel will choose between God or other gods (idols), but rather between which false god they are going to select: (1) the idols Abraham left behind (Josh 24:2-3) or (2) the gods of the Amorites (Josh 24:12).

So, in context, the absolute free-will some assert to choose Christ unto salvation from Joshua 24:15 is not true, as the choice was between two evils; false gods. This is the lynchpin of Arminianism?

Then Joshua says the convicting words, "But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Josh 24:15).

In reading the entire chapter, we discover that after the Lord initiated an assembly by Joshua (Josh 24:1-2) and Joshua by the Spirit shared God's Word (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:20-21; cf. 1 Cor 2:4; Isa 11:2; Mic 3:8; Acts 10:38; Rom 1:4; 15:13, 19; Eph 3:16, etc.), Israel repented of their sin - a gift from God (Rom 2:4; Acts 11:18; 2 Tim 2:24-26). Israel repudiated their other gods (Josh 24:16), acknowledged God's acts in the exodus and other conquests (Josh 24:17-18, 7), and submitted to God himself (Josh 24:18). However, note Joshua's words "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. 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" (Josh 24:19-20). Tragically, after the death of Joshua his words came true (Josh 24:32; Judg 2:7, 10-13; 2 Kings 17:7-23, etc.). God's people need ongoing proper leadership, accountability, and discipline (Matt 18:15-20).

So, this text has nothing to do with salvation, but deals with covenant faithfulness and renewal. Joshua 24:15 deals with a choice between two evils, not between God and evil. God's assembly and his Word made Israel examine their sin-life. Israel repented because of God's mercy and grace.

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Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).