November 24, 2007

True vs. False Worship

The author of Recalling the Hope of Glory makes what seems at first an odd statement. He says, “. . . the people of God must be able to distinguish true worship from the worship of the world. And this is not always easy to do because so many of the religious acts in pagan religions seem similar to, if not identical with, biblical acts of worship.”

I guess I don’t know much about what the pagans do because this comparison surprises me. How can the activity of idol worshiping ceremonies be anything close to what I do as I worship God?

As I think about it though, I realize my view comes from the perspective of my own heart. I know what is going on inside of me. How about if I evaluate what I do from the perspective of someone who cannot see my motives? Someone who cannot perceive why these actions are part of my life? How would my zeal for Jesus Christ be measured by someone who measures the value of a person’s religion by their zeal and sincerity rather than by the object of their worship? Or how would my actions be measured by someone who evaluates religiosity by actions alone?

For instance, if a person gets up early in the morning to bow before an idol in a shrine, how is that different from me getting up in the morning to read the Bible and worship the God who wrote it? Isn’t the greatest difference in the object of our worship?

Romans 1:21-25 come to mind. “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

While not all idolatry falls into the sexual perversion described here, the principle is clear: God made us with the desire and capacity to worship and if I don’t worship Him, I will worship something else. Obviously, that something else will be something less.

Clearly, worship is not about method or actions; it is about the object of our worship. I could absolutely adore a small stone statue and trust it for good weather and the control of my life. Would the God of the universe call that true worship? I don’t think so!

I’m not sure where this book will go with this idea, but it takes my thoughts to a distinction that I have observed first-hand. There are denominations that would call themselves Christian who have deteriorated in the way described in this passage and described by the author of my book regarding pagan worship. These denominations have “abandoned the truth” even though they claim to serve the living and true God. They are serving their own ideas because their salvation is not based on what the Bible says—“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast.

Instead, theirs is a salvation based on their goodness, good deeds, acts of kindness, having a charitable attitude, and so on. Because these things are the results of believing in Jesus Christ, and the evidence of a changed life, onlookers could easily assume that there is no difference between those who worship by doing good and those who worship by realizing “that in me there is no good thing.” In fact, the do-gooders might look much more appealing than those whose lives belong to Jesus and are in the process of change.

Those who are being transformed tend to be transparent. God has a way of making the life of a true worshiper an open book with flaws exposed rather than hidden. We may even appear to the world as false because of that exposure, while those who major on their own goodness may appear to be true.

All of this dismays me. The reality of being misread and misunderstood is sad, yet it happened also to Jesus. People called Him names and even said He was “of the devil” because they could not see beyond their own ideas of what they expected in a Messiah. It is no wonder that those who follow Him suffer the same ridicule.

What can I do about this? My book says, “While there are a number of ways that worship will be a proclamation to the world, the most immediate and effective way is through the spoken word.”

God’s people include those gifted in speaking and conveying the truth. These must call the rest of us again and again to think about sin and about God—exactly as the Bible tells us to think. If the preacher in my church stopped talking about those unwelcome but basic and necessary aspects of true worship, repentance and confession, then it would be time to call him to do that very thing himself. If that didn’t work, then I would have to find another preacher whose heart is more concerned about true worship than being popular and looking good to those who think they are already good and don’t need a Savior.

But I am also responsible to make sure that I am worshiping God, nothing and no one else. I’m to “keep the faith” by diligent study so I know what God says, and by “rightly dividing the Word of truth” rather than twisting it to suit myself. Then I must obey it, whether others misunderstand me or not, for obedience is the test of true worship.

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