True Spiritual Worship

We noticed earlier the Lord Jesus’ tender dealings with the heart and conscience of the Samaritan woman in John’s gospel, chapter 4. While He reveals more to her about true worship than to others, and although she is faithful in her testimony to her neighbors, we don’t really find her worshiping there. But it is the Apostle John, elsewhere in his gospel, that in his own intimate manner gives us further insight into that supreme Christian privilege: worshiping the Father. After all, John’s gospel gives us the Lord’s teaching on the transition from the “hour” that then was to the hour that was to come (John 4:21-24), from the earthly to the heavenly things (John 3:10-13), and from Judaism to Christianity (John 15:24-27).

In chapter 1, we read of John the Baptist seeing Jesus coming, and then commenting on the Lord’s work relative to his own. But later that day, when he gazes upon Jesus, we find John to be more in the role of a worshiper, and his words become few: “Behold the Lamb of God!”  The blind man instructs us further in chapter 9, when he utters but two words (in the Greek) before it is said that “he worshiped Him” (John 9:38).  Mary’s act of adoration in chapter 12 was completely silent, but the “house was filled with the odour of the ointment”, picturing for us the effect of true worship, from a devoted worshiper, on all those near the Lord Jesus. Again, Mary Magdalene speaks but one worshipful word to the Master in chapter 20, after her broken heart was healed in an instant when He tenderly called but her name. Mere hours later, because of Mary’s faithful testimony, ten of the disciples were more prepared than she for Jesus’ revelation of Himself to their hearts. None of their words are recorded, but would you suppose there was much chatter and show in their worship of Him there? No, for the Scripture tells us simply of their collective worshiping spirits in John 20:20: “Then were the disciples glad (they rejoiced), when they saw the Lord.”

A lovely picture of corporate worship appears at the very end of Matthew, the only gospel to reveal by name the church (the assembly), whose united worship our God so highly values. The disciples went to “a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him.” Perhaps at another time we will meditate upon what is pictured in the mountain and in His appointing them to go there, but for now, let us simply mark that assembly worship is the adoration of believing hearts toward the Lord Jesus, with Him the center and object, whether or not a word is uttered.

Dear Christian, how are you seeking to practice your priestly privilege in collective worship? Might it be by listening to a sermon on how to be a better person? Is it in being entertained by music or dance led by a human “worship leader”? Or is it through a ritual administered by a clergyman?  I have no desire to offend or to provoke a defense. Rather, I hope to stir up your heart and mine to better enjoy and practice what true, spiritual, corporate worship really is, according to the New Testament pattern:  a sober yet joyful adoration of God, perhaps punctuated with words and hymns of praise, at the table of the Lord with Him in the midst, where saints bless the cup and break the bread, in fellowship together with the Father and the Son.  (I Corinthians 10:16-21; 11:23-26; 14:15-19)

Does God Accept Your Worship?

While the question in the heading above may seem unnecessarily provocative to some who read it, perhaps it is because we are not accustomed to thinking of God as discriminating with regard to how He is properly worshiped by His creature.  There was a time in the days of the judges in Israel that “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25), and sadly, this same attitude pervades human religion and even the Christian profession.

The God of love and grace, the “living and true God”, has revealed in His Word some important principles regarding worship, and in order to have the confidence that God accepts our worship, we are morally bound to submit to His revealed desires as to the manner in which He seeks to be worshiped.

When the Lord Jesus tenderly opened the heart of the woman at Sychar’s well in John 4, He revealed to her, and so as well to us, that God seeks worshipers who do not worship any longer in Jerusalem, nor in Mount Gerizim. “The true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth . . . God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”  Note well the words “true” and “must”, and that Jesus’ reiteration (v. 24) is even more exclusive than His introductory statement (v. 23).  He leaves no room for natural or worldly religion and worship, which marked Judaism, nor of false and contrived worship, which describes that of the Samaritans.

True worship, Christian worship, must be “by the Spirit of God” (Philippians 3:3, JND and ESV) and spiritual, and not according to Jewish rituals practiced by natural man “in the flesh”. The Law was given by Jehovah to test man in his natural state, but it can never make a man spiritual or bring him into fellowship with God, who is Spirit.  True worship must also be according to the triune God’s full revelation of Himself to man by means of the written word of God, and in the fullness of time, by the Living Word made flesh, the Son of God. It cannot be contrived according to man’s thoughts, as the Samaritans’ worship was; it must be according to truth, according to God.

But we must take a step back to establish the fact that the first prerequisite for true worship of God is to have the sin question dealt with to the satisfaction of God, and to the satisfaction of the worshiper, who by nature begins his course as a sinner.  Under the Law, sacrifices were to be brought by the worshiper, as a provisional remedy for the barrier that sin has brought in between God and man (Leviticus 1-7). Now that the “better thing” of Christ and Christianity has been revealed, a purged conscience in a believing soul is required for the true worship of God as Father, and so that the Christian may “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:1-22). This purging (purifying) of the conscience comes only by genuine faith in the perfect sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, and the shedding of His own blood after His atoning sufferings. There is no short-cut to true worship; it must be in virtue of the shed blood of Christ.

Lord willing, we will continue next time with more of what characterizes worship “in spirit and in truth”.

The Choices of God

It has been interesting for me to watch the rise and fall in popularity of some of the candidates for the U.S. president who are running for election this year. I refer in particular to a few candidates who have appealed to evangelical Christians for support, with more or less success. As one who is convinced that Daniel’s words to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:25 are still applicable during these “times of the Gentiles” (namely, that “the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will”), I believe it is futile for believers to be supporting and defending candidates for political office. Not only is the visible and vocal support of one’s favorite candidate in social media or in the office break room a questionable use of a Christian’s time and energy, but it is almost embarrassing to see hearty support for a candidate wane in a few short weeks as he or she falls out of favor with “evangelical” voters.  One feels compelled to ask:  “Has God’s mind changed as to the viability of this candidate?”

Some of God’s choices are what we might call “provisional”, and have to do with His government of His earthly people, and of the nations. His choice of Saul as Israel’s first king is an example of that, for it was really in response to their rejection of Jehovah as their king that He served them thus (I Samuel 8:7). But then, ought we not to agree with those choices of God, who is infinitely wiser than we, and who is able to give a nation what it deserves in a leader? Is it an act of faith in God to make a choice when He has declared His competency and prerogative to choose our rulers provisionally? I am confident that God’s choice is always the right one for a given time and a given moral condition.

We can be quite certain that God’s mind never changes, though He may set up rulers and put them down according to His own will. Furthermore, His election of men, or the choice He makes to bless some from among a lost human race (for choice and election are translated from the same Greek root word), is for at least “as long as the sun and the moon endure” (Psalm 72:5), as in the case His choice of Israel through Abraham. In the case of the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, that election by God was made completely outside of time, and will never change or lose its effect when the sun and moon are but a distant memory (Ephesians 1:4; I Peter 1:2).  What assurance this can bring to the heart of a believer who enjoys the import and effect of God’s choice!  With Him, there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17), and “God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: Hath He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19)  My encouragement to each dear believer in Christ is to distrust our own competence in choosing where God has already chosen, and to trust Him implicitly as to His choices, His election, for in that confidence there is great blessing.


Conscience Toward God (Cont’d)

In the first installment of this topic, we covered in a few words what the Scriptures mean by an “evil conscience” and a “purged conscience”. But what is meant by the concept of a “good conscience before (or toward) God” in Paul’s testimonies and in Peter’s exhortations? Let’s look at these passages one at a time.

“And Paul, earnestly beholding the council (Sanhedrin), said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1). Many believe that Paul meant this introductory statement to refer to his past life as an observant and zealous, though yet unconverted, Jew. Likely he sought to appeal to their consciences, as to Jews who had the “oracles of God”, for their hatred toward him. The synopsis of Paul’s past in Philippians 3:4-6 is convincing enough in showing us that he did the religious things he did, including persecuting the church, while following the dictates of his conscience. From this, we can see the fallacy of the adage: “Let conscience be your guide.” To live with a good conscience before God is a commendable thing for even the natural man, but it is only a pure (purged) conscience that brings life and peace, and that is the result of believing on Him who is the “Light of men” (John 1:4). “In Thy light, we shall see light” (Psalm 36:9).

Again before the Jewish high priest and elders, during an answer to Felix, Paul says: “Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men” (Acts 24:16).  We have noticed that Paul’s life was marked by having a good conscience before God, but it took spiritual exercise to maintain that good conscience, and it will take “exercise unto godliness” for you and me as well, in order to profit and make progress in the Christian life (I Timothy 4:7-8).

Sometimes a good conscience toward God brings grief and reproach in the Christian life. Peter speaks of this when he writes in his first epistle: “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully” (I Peter 2:19) at the hands or mouths of the ungodly. But the reward for following in the steps of Christ, who once suffered for us, is to have fellowship with Him now (Philppians 3:10) and to reign with Him when He reigns over the earth in power and glory (II Timothy 2:12a).

Finally, there are things that a devoted Christian will do, steps that he will take, because he desires to obtain from God a good conscience as he walks through this corrupt world, of which Satan is the prince politically (John 14:30) and the god religiously (II Corinthians 4:4).  I believe that is the sense of I Peter 3:21: “Baptism . . . now saves you . . . as an appeal to God for a good conscience” (ESV). Baptism may not have as much meaning to the masses, nor be so risky of an act of faith, as it was in the early days of Christianity. Then it had undiluted significance to all as that which separated a Christian and his household, and saved them outwardly, from this world and its religion. May we have the faith of Noah, who built an ark for the saving of his house, condemning the world by it, of which baptism and its implied separation to God speaks (Hebrews 11:7, Romans 6:1-7). It is in this manner, knowing and practicing that which our baptism signifies, that a good conscience may be obtained from our gracious God.


Conscience Toward God

The Apostles Peter and Paul use the phrase “conscience toward God”, or “before God” several times in the Scriptures. Paul speaks this way when testifying before the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:1) and before Felix (Acts 24:16), and Peter does so twice in his first epistle (I Peter 2:19 and 3:21) as he encourages Jewish believers who were suffering the attacks and roars of those around them motivated by their adversary, the Devil. So what does “conscience” mean in these contexts?

We often hear that Adam gained a conscience when he sinned in the Garden of Eden and came to know good and evil, and this is certainly true in part. The Pharisees who brought the woman taken in adultery to the Lord Jesus in John 8 were convicted by their own conscience and went out from His presence, because they knew good and evil, and that knowledge of their own sinfulness condemned them, in spite of their self-righteous legalism.

However, conscience is more than simply that knowledge. It is also an innate sense of responsibility toward one’s Creator, for man was created a moral agent of whom obedience is expected implicitly. For the unbeliever this is in itself a condemnation, for he knows he is responsible to obey God, but has no desire or motivation to do so. He has, therefore, an “evil conscience” (Hebrews 10:22) which can only be cleansed by the blood of Christ. A true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ now has his conscience purged (Hebrews 9:14), and has “no more conscience of sins” (ch. 10:2), meaning that he lives in the full enjoyment that every claim of a thrice-holy God against himself for his disobedience has been met by the perfect sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ. He has fully met our responsibility before God, and our conscience is purged (purified) once for all, bringing us into the supremely blessed position of worshipers.

But we began with the phrases in Acts and Peter, which refer more properly to the believer’s sense of his responsibility to his God on a practical level, and speak of a life of faith and sensitivity to the claims of God upon himself. We will continue with this line of truth in the next installment.