The Christian life is a journey. We see the theme of sojourning in a foreign land applied to the Christian life in a number of places in Scripture. John Bunyan also famously personified the Christian life as a journey in his classic work, Pilgrim’s Progress. As Christians, we are plodding along in a foreign land longing for our home in God’s presence.
In the course of this journey, God’s people will face countless obstacles and road blocks to our holiness and our happiness. Christians are not immune to temptation. While the penalty of sin is canceled and the power of sin is overthrown, the presence of sin remains. Our sinful natures continue to haunt us as we strive by grace to walk with Jesus. To deny the presence of sin and reality of temptation is to set yourself up for failure.
We are tempted every day to find replacements for God. This has been the story of God’s people since Eden. And God’s people have imaged the sin of our proto-parents rather than imaging the glory of God. We have failed to fulfill our creative purpose. God’s people in Egypt and the newly conquered Promised Land fell into idol worship. Rather than imaging God, they imaged the culture around them. Even today, we too are faced with a choice. Will we serve the Lord alone? Or, will something or someone else take his place? Will we fulfill the purpose for which we were created? Or, will we turn it on its head?
At the end of Joshua’s life and ministry, he challenges the nation of Israel to remain faithful to the God who has been nothing but faithful to them. Before calling the Israelites away from idols and to faithful service and worship, Joshua reminds Israel of God’s grace and gifts (Josh. 24:1–13, 17–18). By walking Israel through her history, Joshua shows God’s people how weak they are and how strong God is. Apart from God’s power and grace, the Israelites would still be in slavery. The land they now possess is the direct result of God’s unilateral power and grace on behalf of his people. The conclusion of the story is that no man or woman in Israel can boast in their conquest of Canaan. They are where they are by the grace of God alone.
After essentially showing the lunacy of idolatry by highlighting God’s grace in the past and present, Joshua soberingly commands, “Put away the gods that your fathers served” (v. 14). Most ancient peoples were polytheists. Polytheism infected the Israelites, who repeatedly tried to serve both the God of Israel and the “gods” of the peoples around them. If they choose the deadly path of idolatry, they can’t add the one true God into the mix. The Israelites are free to serve either the false gods of Egypt or Canaan, but if they do, they cannot also serve the Lord.
God will not play second fiddle. Nor will he be the first among many gods. As historic catechisms have put it, “God is the first and best of beings.” So, he alone is worthy of worship. You can’t serve God and anything else. Joshua makes it very clear where he stands: “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (v. 15). This is a message we need to hear. Like Israel, we tend to think, “Why not both?” We try to serve God and family, God and career, God and sports, God and school, God and prestige. But none of us can serve two masters. Even God’s wonderful gifts make puny gods.
Despite measures taken to help the people keep their commitment (v.18), they will prove faithless again and again. Our story would be the same. If staying in the favor of God was up to our faith, we too would fail. But in Jesus we have a seal that will never be broken. Jesus was perfectly faithful to God alone and died for all our unfaithfulness. His faithfulness in life and death empowers us to worship God alone, and eternally atones for our failures as we walk with him for the rest of our journey in this foreign land.
Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.