True Worship, Part 5
Key Scripture: John 4:20-24
I believe there’s a very serious problem in the church today. Little emphasis is given to the matter of worship. Today’s church doesn’t focus itself on true worship. A.W.Tozer, of a past generation, said, “Worship, is the missing jewel in the evangelical church.” If that was true in his time, it is equally or more true in ours. America’s twentieth-century church doesn’t know how to worship. For this reason, we’re looking at the subject of worship and calling the people of God to commit themselves to acceptable, true, spiritual worship.
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF WORSHIP
II. THE SOURCE (BASIS) OF WORSHIP
In our last lesson we ended in the midst of discussing the third major point in our outline:
III. THE OBJECT OF WORSHIP
Who is it that we worship? It’s not enough to just worship. The object of our worship must be clearly understood. There are people all over the world who worship-and have been throughout all of human history. They do not, however, worship the right object. Our Lord, in John 4, clearly instructs that there is only one object of worship. He says, “Worship the Father” (v. 21b),”Worship the Father” (v. 23b), and “Worship Him” (v. 24b). So we are to worship the Father. Also, in verse 24a Jesus says, “God is a Spirit.” The One we are to worship, then is defined to us in two terms: Spirit and Father.
Spirit speaks of His essential nature, and Father speaks of His essential relationship.
A. God as Spirit (His Essential Nature)
1. The spirituality of God
a) He cannot be reduced to an image
b) He cannot be confined to a place
(1) Mt. Gerizim/Jerusalem
(2) The Tabernacle/Temple
We left off last time discussing the misunderstanding that many people have in believing that God lived in and was confined to the Tabernacle and, later, to the Temple. Well, in a unique sense God’s presence was in those places-but not in a limiting sense. Although His presence was there, He was also everywhere else. The Temple, the Tabernacle, the holy place, and the Holy of Holies were all symbols. In fact, the whole ceremonial system was symbolic and existed in order that man might perceive God in the symbol. It was to be the starting place of their perception of God, not the ending.
They were to see beyond the symbols to the reality of the living God.
Let me give you some scriptural illustrations.
(a) Acts 7:46-50 – In Acts 7, Stephen preached a great sermon in which he recited much of the history of the people of God. In verse 46, he says that David “found favor before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob. But Solomon built Him an house.”
Now, the fact that Solomon built God a great Temple did not mean that God was confined to that Temple as we might be confined to a house. This is confirmed by verses 48-50: “Nevertheless, the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands, as saith the prophet,’Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool. What house will ye build me?’ saith the Lord. ‘Or what is the place of my rest? Hath not My hand made all these things?'”
Only an ignorant Jew would have perceived that God was limited to the Temple. An understanding Jew knew that the Temple was only a symbol in the midst of the people as a reminder of the eternal presence of the eternal omnipresent God. In fact, they knew that from the very beginning. In Deuteronomy 6, they were given the most basic truth of their religion: “The Lord our God is one Lord” (v.4). God then told them to teach it diligently to their children and to speak of it continually, “When thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (v.7b). In other words, no matter where they were, or what they were doing, they were to be aware of the eternal, living, one, holy God. The Temple was only a reminder. The ceremonial sacrificial system was only to be a prodder of their conscience, causing them to turn their hearts toward the true and living God. The symbol was to produce in them the reality of a life committed to worshiping God. It was never intended to be the end, only the means.
(b) Acts 17:24-25 – Paul, speaking to the philosophers in Athens, said, “God, who made the world and all things in it, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands, neither is worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” In other words, the God who extends through all of time, space, infinity, and eternity cannot be confined or limited. Therefore, He is to be worshiped at all times, in all places, by all people. The Pagan Perspective of Limiting God The Syrians called the God of Israel “gods of the hills” (1Kings 20:23). This reflected their own idolatrous perspective, because their gods were the gods of the valleys. They had built groves for their gods in the valleys and felt that they were confined to those groves. This pagan perspective of God being confined to a specific place may have influenced the confused worship of the Samaritans who thought that God was confined to Mt. Gerizim. But the truth of the matter is that God is Spirit and is to be worshiped in the fullness of His spiritual presence.
Outward Symbol Versus Inward Reality
In Jeremiah 7:21-23, the Lord gives Jeremiah a message to speak to His sinful people: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Put your burnt offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat flesh. For I spoke not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the Land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices.” In other words, “Put that away. That wasn’t what I was after. That was only a symbol of the reality!” Verse 23 continues, “But this thing commanded I them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people; and walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.'” The sacrifices weren’t an end in themselves, they were only symbols, visible reminders of God’s presence. But all that was in the old covenant. The new covenant ended the ceremonial symbols and the symbol of the Temple. Why? Because the new temple became the believer in whom the living Spirit of God dwelt, and that Spirit of God became the prodder of true worship. Worship was no longer prodded by an outward symbol, it became an inward reality. We who are of the new covenant possess the Spirit of God and together form the living temple of God. The external reminder to worship, which occurred when the Israelites camped around the Tabernacle, now occurs internally through the prompting of the Holy Spirit in the life of every believer.
So, God is to be worshiped as a living Spirit – anywhere, everywhere, at all times,by all people. And when it’s said that the basic feature of Christian living is a worshiping life, that’s exactly what is meant. Worship is the bottom line. “For we are the circumcision,” said Paul, “who worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3). Now, if we are to worship God as Spirit, then we must define His nature. It’s important for us to worship the God who is Spirit in terms of how He is revealed in Scripture. And I believe the one attribute which most sums up the nature of God is:
2.The holiness of God
God is holy, and He must be worshiped as holy. His holiness can be defined as “His unique otherness” or “His unlikeness to the human creature.” He is flawless, without error, without sin, without mistake, and fully righteous – utterly holy. The basic comprehension for true worship is that God is holy. There’s a lot of well-meaning effort today and a lot of supposed worship going on that does not regard God as holy – and thus falls short. There are a lot of nice songs being sung, nice feelings
being felt, nice thoughts being thought, and nice emotions being expressed – but not in terms of the holiness of God. So these “nice” things may be little more than emotional exercises that make one feel good. God must be worshiped as holy, and the perception of His holiness produces:
a) A response of godly fear
(1) Psalm 96:2-9 – “Sing unto the Lord, bless His name; show forth His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. God the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols; but the Lord made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the peoples; give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts.” After all of this worship and praise, we come to a key statement in verse 9. Here is the attitude or perspective of worship; “Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; fear before Him, all the earth.” Holiness can never be perceived apart from fear. Why? Because if you perceive God as utterly holy, you will in turn perceive yourself as utterly unholy. This will produce a sense of fear, because a holy God has a right to a holy reaction against an unholy creation. So, the true spirit of worship is an overwhelming sense of unholiness in the presence of a holy God. Just so you don’t think the concept of worshiping God with holiness and fear is just an Old Testament concept, look at:
(2) Hebrews 12:28b-29 – “Serve [or ‘worship’] God acceptably with reverence and godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire.”
(3) Isaiah 6:1-8 – Isaiah went to the Temple to worship the Lord. King Uzziah had died after fifty-two years on the throne, and the Northern Kingdom was about to go into captivity as a judgment for their sin. Isaiah saw the demise of his people, and he sensed the problem in his nation, so he rushed into the presence of God to worship. In verse 1, we find that he had a vision of God in which He was majestically lifted up and surrounded by seraphim – the guardians of God’s holiness. Two of the seraphim’s wings were used for service, and four of them were used for worship (v.2). In verse 3, the seraphim are worshiping God and crying back and forth to each other, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” As Isaiah worshiped God, he perceived His holiness – holiness that causes God to react against sin – and he responds in verse 5, “Then said I, Woe is me! For I am undone [i.e., disintegrating, falling apart, going to pieces], because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” He was overwhelmed with his sinfulness. All he could see was his sin. Even though he had the cleanest mouth of all of them, when he saw himself as compared to God, he couldn’t see any goodness in himself. What caused this stark comparison? “For mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
Now, you may not have a vision like this, nor may I, but, nonetheless, the lesson is true that when we enter into the presence of God, if we truly see God, we see Him as holy, holy, holy. We are then faced with a sense of our utter unholiness. If you have never worshiped God with a broken and contrite spirit, then you’ve never really worshiped God. That’s the proper response when entering the presence of a holy God.
Holiness inspires fear, and Isaiah was afraid. Why? Because he knew that a holy God had every right to react against an unholy sinner. He knew that God had every right to judge him and to take his life on the spot. My heart is concerned that there’s a lot of flippancy going on in Christianitytoday in entering into the presence of God. God has become so casual in our thinking – so human, so buddy-buddy – that we don’t understand the whole perspective of His utter holiness. We don’t understand that God is a consuming fire and that He has a holy indignance against sin. We must consider that if we flippantly rush into His presence with lives unattended to by repentance, confession, and cleansing by the Spirit, then we are vulnerable to the holy reaction. It is only by His grace that we breathe another breath, is it not? He has every reason to take our life! Why? “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom.6:23a). So Isaiah had the only reaction that a true worshiper could ever have in true worship – humble, broken contrition. He saw himself as a sinner. In the midst of his repentance and confession, an angel came with a coal and purged him (vv. 6-7).
Then God told Isaiah that He would send him in His place (v.8) – revealing a marvelous communion, comradery, and union that takes place between God and a true worshiper through the confession of sin. That’s really the spirit of true worship – seeing the holiness of God and becoming overwhelmed with your own unholiness.
(4) 2 Timothy 2:22 – In 2 Timothy, Paul is writing to Timothy and instructing him about being a godly man and a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. He tells him what is necessary to guard his life for usefulness, talks to him about being “a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and fit for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2:21), and then in 2:22 he says, “Flee also youthful lusts, but follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” This last statement is a marvelous insight into true worship – calling upon the Lord out of a pure heart. Now, our hearts are not made pure by our own designs or by our own devices, they are made pure by the confession and the repentance that is experienced when we face a holy God.
What happens when men encounter God’s holiness?
In the Old Testament, whenever the people of God encountered God, they usually had a terrifying reaction – they felt afraid, intimidated, and that their lives were in danger. Why? Because they knew they were sinners in the presence of a holy God. For example:
Abraham – In Genesis 18:27, Abraham entered into God’s presence and confessed that he was nothing but “dust and ashes.”
Job – When Job, who was a righteous man (Job 1:8), came to the end of his amazing pilgrimage, he saw God as the sovereign, holy Lord of the universe, and said, “Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).
Manoah – When Manoah, the father of Samson, saw the angel of the Lord, he said to his wife, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God” (Judg. 13:22).
Habakkuk – When Habakkuk heard the voice of the Lord, this was his reaction: “When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice; rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself” (Hab. 3:16a).
The restored remnant – When the holy words of God were spoken by Haggai to the restored remnant of Israel, “The people did fear before the Lord” (Hag. 1:12b).
Ezra – In the ninth chapter of Ezra, Ezra goes before the Lord with a broken and contrite heart in the spirit of true worship, and says, “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God; for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up into the heavens” (v.6). And then he said, “Behold, we are before thee in our trespasses; for we cannot stand before thee because of this” (v. 15b).
A true worshiper comes into the presence of God with fear – knowing that God has a right to take his life. Even though we are His children and have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, God still has a right to punish us for sin. Hebrews 12:6 says, “For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.”
In the New Testament, when men encountered the holy God in human flesh, they too reacted in fear. For example:
The disciples – In Mark 4:41, after the disciples saw Jesus still the wind and the sea, it says, “And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” You see, they realized that having God in their boat was far worse than the storm outside their boat. Why? Because they had to face His holiness in the power that had been displayed.
The people of Gerasa – When Jesus cast a multitude of demons out of a man and into a herd of pigs, which all ran violently into a lake and drowned, the people of the country of Gerasenes ran out and “besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear” (Luke 8:37b).
Peter – In Luke 5, Jesus comes up to Peter, who had been fishing all night without catching anything, and said, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught” (v.4). Grudgingly, he obeyed. But when he caught so many fish that his nets broke, verse 8 tells us, “He fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” All Peter could see, when confronted with the reality of a holy God, was his own sinfulness.
The Pharisees – I believe one of the reasons that the Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus was because they were so afraid of Him. They were astonished at what He taught and at what He did. They panicked when they saw His power and heard His wisdom.
Jesus traumatized people, because when they knew that God was in their midst, they were immediately confronted with the evil of their hearts.
A true worshiping life is a life of brokenness and contrition – a life that sees sin and confesses continually. You can’t live a life of sin throughout the week and then go to church on Sunday thinking you’re going to worship the Lord. If God is a spirit and is everywhere at all times, He is to be worshiped that way. And if He is holy, we are to worship Him with a sense of fear. Why? Because He has a right to chasten our unholiness. Just to keep the balance, however, the perception of God’s holiness also produces:
b) A response of thanksgiving
You say, “Why does God’s holiness cause us to live a life of thanksgiving?” Because He doesn’t give us what we deserve – He hasn’t rendered to us according to our sins. But even His mercy causes us problems. According to Romans 2:4b, “the goodness of God leadeth…to repentance.” But we get so used to sinning and getting away with it that we just keep sinning. We’re so used to God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness that we abuse them.
(1) His mercy extended
God is a holy God. If He wanted to enforce His holiness, all of us would be dead, because Romans 6:23a says, “For the wages of sin is death.” Originally, God told Adam that if he disobeyed Him, he would die (Gen. 2:17). God only gave Adam and Eve one prohibition, and if they violated it, they would die. But when they did disobey, God was merciful and spared their lives. In the beginning, any sin was a capital offense, but by the time of the Mosaic covenant, only thirtyfive sins had a capital punishment assigned to them. And in many instances, God acted graciously toward the violators of those sins. For example, David committed sins that had been given the death penalty – over and over again – but God was gracious and merciful and forgave him. Now, there were consequences, but death wasn’t one of them.
Another example is the sin of adultery. According to the Mosaic law, if a partner committed adultery in a marriage, the punishment was death. But God in His grace, because of the hardness of men’s hearts provided divorce to spare a life. God has shown Himself gracious, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t care about our sin. It doesn’t mean we can run into His presence with sin in our lives, and it doesn’t mean we can abuse His mercy. The day may come when He acts in righteous indignation against sin in our lives. And if He does, He has every right to do so. You see, we get so used to mercy, that when God does what is just, we think He is unjust.
(2) His justice exemplified
When somebody dies prematurely, people often say, “How could God let that happen?” When problems arise and life becomes difficult, people say, “How can God allow that to happen?” Well, the question is How can God not allow those things to occur when we are sinful people? You see, we look at it backwards!
Many people look at the Bible and ask, “What kind of God sends two bears out to tear up forty-two little children, just because they yelled, ‘Baldy, baldy,’ at the prophet Elisha (2Kings 2:23:24)? What kind of God slays two young men, Nadab and Abihu, on the day of their ordination, just because they got a little drunk and fooled around with the Temple incense (Lev. 10:1-2)? What kind of God slays a man who touches the ark to try to keep it from falling off a cart (2 Sam. 6:6-7)? What kind of God gives a man leprosy when he’s been a faithful king for fifty-two years – just because he got a little proud (2 Kings 15:1-5)? Why does God punish some and not others? Why did God slay Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10)? After all, they gave a gift to the Lord – it just wasn’t what they said they’d give. Why did they have to die for that? Well, the question isn’t, for example, Why did Ananias and Sapphira die? The question is, Why didn’t you die when you failed to give the Lord something you promised Him? The question isn’t, Why did God take the life of someone who committed adultery? The question is, Why doesn’t God take the life of everyone who commits adultery? You see, it’s never a question of God’s being unjust, it’s only an issue of God’s being merciful. Sometimes, when He does do what is just, He does it as an illustration, or signpost, to remind men of His holiness and to warn them of His judgment against sin (see 1 Cor. 10:5-12). So, as we look through Scripture and see the times when God acted in a holy way against unholiness, it shows us what God has a right to do. The question isn’t, How can God be so unjust? The question is, How can God be so merciful when His holiness is violated? That’s the issue!
I’ve heard people say, “Isn’t it awful that some Corinthian Christians actually died because they were coming to the Lord’s Table with a sinful life (1 Cor. 11:27-32)?” Well, that’s not the issue. The issue is. Why are we still alive when we’ve come that way so many times? It’s only by His grace. People say, “Why did God turn Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt (Gen.19:26)?” That isn’t the question. The question is, Why doesn’t He turn us into pillars of salt when we act in a similar worldly fashion and lust after the things of the flesh? You ask, “Why did He swallow up Korah, Dathan, and Abiram in the ground for being disobedient (Num. 16:23-33)?” That isn’t the question. The question is, Why doesn’t He swallow us up in the ground when we’re disobedient? We have to see things from the side of God’s holiness. God is gracious, but don’t let His grace sell short His holiness.
In Luke 13:1-5 some people come to Jesus and tell Him about the Galileans who went into the Temple to offer sacrifices. While they were offering the blood of their sacrifices, Pilate’s men came in, sliced them up, and mingled their blood with the blood of the sacrifices. Then the people asked Jesus, “Why did God let that happen? Were they worse sinners than anybody else?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, Nay. But, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (v.3). In other words, “You better get your lives straightened up, or the same thing could happen to you!” Then the people said, “Well, why did God let that tower in Siloam fall over and kill eighteen victims? What did they do? Were they worse than anybody else?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, Nay. But, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (v.5). You see, the question wasn’t, Why did those Galileans get slaughtered? or, Why did those eighteen people get crushed under a falling tower? Jesus showed them the real issue and said, “You had better get your life straightened up, or the same thing could happen to you.” This is all summed up in Hebrews 12:28b-29, which says that we must worship God “acceptably with reverence and godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire.” This means that we are to live holy lives before God. We are to live lives of confession and repentance, so that our worship is pleasing and acceptable to God. And we must never go rushing into His presence to worship with unholiness in our lives, lest we receive our just deserts at His hand. While we are thankful for His grace, and we understand His love, we have somehow, in twentieth-century Christianity, missed His holiness-the heart of worship.
God is a living, eternal, glorious, holy, merciful Spirit – the object of our worship. And we must come to worship Him in the contrition, humility, and brokenness of sinners who see themselves against the backdrop of His utter holiness. F.W.Faber, who has written so many beautiful words, wrote this hymn of praise:
My God, how wonderful Thou art, Thy majesty how bright!
How beautiful Thy mercy-seat in depths of burning light!
How dread are Thine eternal years, O everlasting Lord!
By prostrate spirits, day and night, incessantly adored.
How wonderful, how beautiful the sight of Thee must be,
Thine endless wisdom, boundless power and awful purity!
O how I fear Thee, living God, with deepest, tenderest fears,
And worship Thee with trembling hope and penitential tears!
Yet I may love Thee too, O Lord, Almighty as Thou art,
For Thou hast stooped to ask of me the love of my poor heart.
No earthly father loves like Thee; no mother, e’er so mild,
Bears and forbears as Thou hast done with me, Thy sinful child.
Focusing on the Facts
1. Why was the ceremonial system established?
2. What was the most basic truth of Judaism that was to be continually brought to mind (Deut. 6:4)?
3. What were the symbols of the ceremonial sacrificial system designed to produce in the people?
4. What was the reality that God sought from His people, according to Jeremiah 7:23? What would be the result of that?
5. Explain the realities of the new covenant that replaced the symbols of the Old Covenant.
6. What is the one divine attribute that most nearly sums up the nature of God? What does it mean?
7. What does the perception of God’s holiness produce in man? Why?
8. In the vision of Isaiah 6:1-8, how did Isaiah see himself as compared to God?
9. Describe the flippant attitude that is common in Christianity today. What must such Christians understand? What reaction should a true worshiper have as a result of that understanding?
10. Name some people in the Old and New Testaments who encountered God’s holiness and describe a typical reaction.
11. Even though Christians have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, does God still have a right to punish us for sin? Support your answer with Scripture.
12. How does the reaction that the Gerasenes (Luke 8:37) and the Pharisees had toward Jesus differ from that of the other people?
13. In a positive light, what does the perception of God’s holiness cause us to do? Why?
14. What would happen to men if God wanted to enforce His holiness? Why?
15. Explain how God had been gracious to David.
16. Under Mosaic law, what punishment did adultery incur? What did God allow so that a life could be spared? Does this mean that His mercy can be abused?
17. When might we think that God is being unjust? Why? Give and example.
18. How does the demonstration of God’s justice serve as a signpost (1 Cor. 10:5-12)?
19. The question isn’t, “How can God be so __________?” Rather, the question is, “How can God be so ______________ when His ______________is violated?”.
Pondering the Principles
1. Although our finite minds can’t comprehend how it is possible, the Trinity resides within every believer. With whom does God make His abode,according to John 14:23? What does God give to those He indwells, according to Romans 8:11? What is the mystery that has been revealed, according to Colossians 1:27? Knowing that God has graciously chosen to dwell in those He has redeemed and has empowered us to live a righteous life and promised that we will someday be glorified, offer to God a prayer of thanksgiving. Make a commitment to viewing everything in your life – temptations to sin against God as well as opportunities to glorify Him – from the perspective of realizing that your body is the temple of God. Meditate on 1 Corinthians 6:17-20 and Ephesians 3:14-21.
2. Most people today have overemphasized God’s love to the point of excluding His holiness. But there must be a balance between the two. Those who see only a God of love falsely assume that God would never punish sin. They fail to recognize that God, who is merciful, is also just and must punish those who sin against His holiness. Consider the two great sins of David: his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband (2 Sam.11: 14, 15); and the census of Israel ( 1 Chron. 21:1-4), which demonstrated his reliance on his army rather than on God. Though David confessed his sins (Ps. 51: 1 Chron. 21:8, 17), what were the consequences for them (2 Sam. 12:17-18; 1 Chron.21:9-14)? In spite of those heinous crimes that were met with divine justice, David recognized the mercy that God had graciously bestowed on him. Do you willingly accept the consequences for your own sin? Are you able to see – like David was – God’s mercy in the context of His justice?
Meditate on his words in Psalm 103:6-14.
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