“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)
Why Bother with A Definition?
What is Christian worship?
As Christians we acknowledge that this thing we call worship is, as one theologian put it, “the supreme activity of the Church.” And yet many in the church aren’t serious about giving due consideration to their worship. As a result, a great many Christians are much too careless in the way we talk about, think about, and go about worshiping the living God. However I believe that if we will theologically define worship, it may provide the people of LifePoint with a deeper understanding, which may, in turn, enrich our worship as a church.
So with that in mind, here’s a modest attempt to define worship that is distinctly Christian:
To worship in the Christian sense is to ascribe supreme worth to the triune God with one’s entire being, and in conformity to what He has revealed in His Word.
Four Components of Biblical Worship
To me, that definition seems accurate, but a bit wordy. So let’s break it up into four easy-to-remember words. All starting with the letter ‘A,’ each word summarizes the essential components of this definition. And they are as follows.
Action (ascribing supreme worth…)
I once heard it said that “worship is a verb”—something you do. More precisely, it’s something you are doing all the time.
Now-deceased author David Foster Wallace—who was not a Christian, mind you—remarked in a speech he once gave that “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships.”
That’s a deeply biblical statement.
You see, because we’re created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27), human beings are worshipers by design. This reality infuses all of life with the impulse to ascribe supreme worth to something or someone. Our thoughts, behaviors, and words are little acts of worship, expressing our devotion to what we perceive as being of ultimate value in our lives. In other words, there are no passive worshipers. No, worship, by its very nature, is action.
Aim (…to the triune God…)
Having answered the question of whether we worship, we now ask, Who then should we worship?
The Scriptures teach that all true and right worship is initiated by the God of the Bible. Apart from God’s intervention, we cannot possibly worship as we ought. No, He must first reveal Himself to sinners and bring them into a right relationship with Him. And through His incarnate Son and the outpoured Holy Spirit, He has.
Now fully reconciled to God, the church has come to worship Him as He truly is—the Trinity. The word Trinity is a term coined by early Christians to express the biblical reality that there is one God who has eternally existed in three distinct Persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As the Athanasian Creed states, “…we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.”
God’s triune nature is revealed throughout the pages of Scripture, but is made explicit in the New Testament (e.g. Mat. 3:16-17; Jn. 16:26-27, 17:5, 20:21-22; 2 Co. 13:14; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 1:3-14; 1 Pt. 1:2; Jd. 1:20-21). Because of this, we can be certain that God, as Trinity, has delivered us from darkness, made us a new creation, and disclosed to us His true nature in order that our worship may have Him as its rightful and exclusive aim.
All (…with one’s entire being…)
If God is who He claims to be, we must devote all of life to worshiping Him. Which means that we do not have the right to withhold parts of ourselves from Him.
Just consider Deuteronomy 10:12-13, which says, “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD…?”
This passage indicates that God is worthy to be worshiped with our entire being. In other words, Christian worship is holistic. It cannot be confined to Sunday mornings. No, it has significant implications for everything we do on a daily basis. How we raise our kids, how we treat our spouse, how we drive to work, how we use the Internet, what we do on the Lord’s Day—all of it is meant to bring glory to the triune God. He deserves our all.
Does that truth define the way you live?
Authority (…in conformity to what He has revealed in His Word)
Finally, God cannot be worshiped rightly apart from knowledge of His Word. Therefore, when it comes to the church’s worship, the Scriptures are our authority. Just listen to how pastor and author Joe Thorn explains this, “The reason God’s Word is so integral to and essential for . . . worship is that by it we know God, see ourselves as we truly are, and rightly understand our circumstances in light of both of these truths.”
Thorn therefore concludes, “God reveals His character [in His Word] so we might properly respond to Him in faith, love, and obedience.” For this reason, we must align our worship with the revealed will of God as it is stated plainly in His authoritative, inerrant, all-sufficient Word. Or to quote one of the songs we’re singing this Sunday,
How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word
What more can He say than to you He has said
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
So as we prepare for the upcoming Lord’s Day, let us bear in mind what God’s Word has to say about the nature of true worship. And as we do, let’s ask ourselves, Is what the Word says about worship true of my life? Is it shaping how I talk about, think about, and go about worshiping the Lord? Asking ourselves such questions will help us to take worship seriously. Moreover, I believe that, by defining worship biblically, we will be better positioned to answer them prayerfully, honestly, and theologically. And, as history as shown, wherever God’s people are getting serious about worshiping Him, there His greatest blessings will reside.