What is Acceptable Worship?

We live in a culture of hyper grace.  To be intolerant of anything is social suicide and it seems as though there’s nothing society views as shameful except intolerance itself.  Our culture preaches that truth is subjective.  How often do you hear and read truth being described as “his truth” and “her truth”?  Most of the time it is singularly characterized (and therefore validated) by sincerity.  As long as we are being truly sincere to ourselves and not hurting anyone around us, we are told that most things are acceptable and permissible.

Dangerously, this same kind of mentality has slipped into the church and how we view worship.  In some gatherings, worship is a “free for all” with worship leaders suggesting congregants to “worship however you feel led” as if God didn’t have an opinion on how He is to be worshipped.  The casual, “you be you” approach to worship may be indicative of increasing biblical illiteracy among church leadership.  

Like secular culture, many in the church have adopted “sincerity” as the guiding characteristic of true worship.  Their credo is, “As long as someone is sincere in their worship, God will accept it”.  Such thinking is not only unbiblical but it seeks to place “self” as the authority on the matter.  Some things never change.  Ever since the Garden, we’ve been trying to usurp God.

While I believe God wants our sincerity in worship, sincere worship in the wrong way is still unacceptable to God.  Likewise, insincere worship in the right way is equally unacceptable.  Perhaps you’ve never thought of worship in the terms of what God accepts and rejects.  The Old and New Testament are full of examples of acceptable and unacceptable worship:

  1. Cain’s offering was unacceptable because it was offered without faith (Genesis 4:7, Hebrews 11:4)
  2. Uzzah’s’s disobedient worship cost him his life because he showed disregard for God’s holiness (2 Samuel 6:7)
  3. Paul writes that the offering of our bodies as living sacrifices is acceptable worship (Romans 12:1)
  4. The author of Hebrews notes that acceptable worship is marked by reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28-29)

So if sincerity alone is not the nature of acceptable worship, what is?  What is God’s favorite kind of worship?  

God’s Favorite Kind of Worship Has Little to Do With Music

For some of us, when we think of this question our minds may immediately jump to music and creative expression.  You may be surprised to know that when Jesus talked about worship, He said nothing about music.  In fact, the Bible is fairly silent on musical style with the exception of God’s love for new songs that express the new things He is doing among His people (Psalm 33).

The hallmark passage for God’s favorite kind of worship is in John 4.  Undoubtedly, this is the clearest teaching on the nature of worship in the whole New Testament.  In John 4 we meet the woman at the well, a Samaratin whose life was radically changed by her conversation with the Savior.  In her interaction with the Messiah she is concerned about the location and geography of where God can be found and worshipped.  Her inquiry prompts the God-man to define what true worship is and where it takes place.

Up until the time of Christ true, acceptable worship was concerned with sacrifice and location.  The sacrificial system was designed to temporarily stave off the wrath of God.  Christ was God’s permanent solution to this and His atoning death of the cross made the sacrificial system and the specific location of worship obsolete (Hebrews 10:12).  One of the most powerful images to illustrate this is the supernatural top to bottom tearing of the temple curtain that restricted access to the Holy of Holies (where the presence of God dwelt) the moment Christ died (Matthew 27:51).

Christ declares in John 4:23-24 that God is seeking true worshippers.  The fact that God is looking for anything highlights the value He places on a type of person.  His use of the adjective true eliminates any sense that God can be worshipped in any way.  If there’s a true, acceptable way to worship God, it must follow there is a false, unacceptable way as well. Jesus only emphasizes this further when He makes an imperative statement saying, true worshippers must worship the Father in spirit and truth.

Next Week: God’s Favorite Type of Worship


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