"Ye Cannot Serve The Lord"

Joshua 24:19

Don Fortner


     With these words Joshua teaches us the doctrine of human inability. It is a doctrine most displeasing and offensive to proud flesh. But it is one that we must understand. The Word of God teaches both the total depravity of all men (Jer. 17:9) and the total inability of all men (Jer. 13:23). Total depravity speaks of the original sin and heart corruption of all men. It declares that all men since the fall of Adam are sinners, vile, corrupt, wicked and loathesome at heart. Total inability speaks of man's moral, spiritual helplessness. Total depravity declares that man is a justly condemned sinner. Total inability declares that he cannot change his condition.

     When the Bible speaks of man's inability to serve the Lord, it is not speaking of a physical, mental, or emotional inability. Man's inability is a moral, spiritual inability. "Ye cannot serve the Lord," because you have no heart to serve him. But what if a sinner wills to serve him? That is just the problem. The sinner's heart and will is opposed to the Lord. In order to serve God, the sinner must be given a new heart that wills to serve him. This is what our Savior says concerning fallen man, "Ye will not" (John 5:40). No man can serve the Lord, precisely because no man will serve him. So your inability does not excuse your sin, rebellion and unbelief. Because your inability is itself a moral evil, it only increases your responsibility. Your inability to serve the Lord is your own fault!  You cannot serve the Lord, because you are not disposed to serve him. Like Joseph's brothers, who could not speak peaceably to him because of their hatred for him (Gen. 37:4), the natural man cannot serve the Lord because his heart is enmity against God. He is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can he be (Rom. 8:7).

     Why write or preach upon such a despairing subject with such emphatic clarity? Precisely because man must be driven to utter despair in himself, so that he may be shut up to Christ alone. The only hope for helpless sinners is the all-sufficient Savior, Christ Jesus, the sinner's Substitute. We can only serve God by trusting him who served God in our place (John 6:29).