-What Is Acceptable Worship?

True worship is simply acknowledging who God is and what He does.

True worship is simply acknowledging who God is and what He does.

What Is Acceptable Worship?

Picture Frame Do you worship God, or do you just know some things about God? The Bible teaches that God is looking for worshipers. What an amazing fact! That the God who created and controls the universe should be actively seeking people to worship Him is truly incredible. However, it further teaches that God is not looking for just any worshipers or any expression of worship. John 4:23-24 informs us that true worshipers of God must worship the Father in spirit and truth. This is the only kind of worship which qualifies as acceptable worship of the true God.

Before we expand on the meaning of “spirit-and-truth” worship, which is acceptable to God, let us talk briefly about worship that is not acceptable to God. There are several examples of unacceptable worship in the Old Testament. The worship of false gods was obviously unacceptable. We are referring here to the worship of the true God, but worship which was offered in ways that were unacceptable.

Cain’s Worship: Unacceptable
“And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his face was downcast.” Genesis 4:3-5 NASB

The first example is the unacceptable worship by Cain in Genesis 4. Cain’s worship was unacceptable because he brought the wrong offering. Evidently God had communicated that acceptable worship was to be by means of sacrifice, because Hebrews 11 states that Abel’s worship was by faith. Cain decided to bring an offering of his own choosing, and then was extremely angry when God wouldn’t accept it!

According to Jude 11 there are people today who “have gone the way of Cain.” Their worship is unacceptable because, like Cain, they insist on bringing offerings of their own choice. Offering our own good works to God as the means of our salvation is an example of bringing the wrong offering to the Lord. This is unacceptable worship, regardless of how noble or sacrificial or religious those good deeds or actions may be.

Nadab And Abihu’s Worship: Unacceptable
“Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron … offered strange fire before the Lord … And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.” Leviticus 10:1-2

In Leviticus 10 we read of Nadab and Abihu who had offered “strange fire before the Lord.” As a result, the Bible says that they “died before the Lord.” Their worship was unacceptable because of wrong procedure. They either used fire that was from the wrong altar, or they burned incense at the wrong time or place, or they did something else that was out of line with God’s prescribed procedure of worship.

So what? Is God so narrow that He won’t accept worship that is out of line with His set standards? Right! However, this does not mean that there can be no variety in our worship of God. Just as Old Testament believers had freedom within the limits God had set up, so believers today have freedom of worship within limits. As long as our worship is Christ-centered and Christ-focused, there is considerable freedom in procedure.

For example, God does not restrict the forms and instruments for our music, or whether we sit, stand or kneel when we sing or pray. He does not define the time or length or schedule of our worship services. Whether it be individual or corporate worship, there is room for considerable variety in our worship. But worship that is not Christ-centered is “strange fire” and unacceptable. The worship of groups that deny the deity of Christ is unacceptable to God because they dishonor the very One who God desires be the focus of our worship.

Uzziah’s Worship: Unacceptable
“Uzziah … was unfaithful to the Lord his God, for he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.” 2 Chronicles 26:16

Uzziah was one of the good kings of Judah. But his worship in 2 Chronicles 26 was unacceptable because he assumed the wrong role. Uzziah went into the Temple and offered incense before the Lord. According to the Law, only priests were allowed to enter the Temple, and Uzziah was not a priest. Even though he was the King of Judah, he usurped the God-given role of a priest and his worship was unacceptable. Uzziah’s motives were probably not evil but he was severely judged because, as king, he should have known better.

Assuming a role that is not God given is just as serious today as it was in Uzziah’s day. The creation of extra-biblical roles does not receive God’s stamp of approval. First Peter 2:5 tells us that as “a holy priesthood,” all Christians should “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Making distinctions between clergy and laity in worship is not implied in the New Testament. Drawing dividing lines in the priesthood of all believers is as serious a mistake as the sin of well-intentioned Uzziah.

Three Characteristics of Acceptable Worship
“But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” John 4:23-24

“Worship The Father”
According to the Lord, acceptable worship before God has three characteristics. First, we should recognize and enjoy the Father-child relationship: “An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father” (Jn. 4:23). The concept of God as our personal Father was not revealed in the Old Testament, although God did reveal Himself as Father in the sense of the Creator and Preserver of His people, Israel (Mal. 2:10). With the coming of the Lord, however, the intimate relationship that is possible between God and the believer of any nationality was revealed and established. What position and privilege we have as the children of God! True worshipers recognize and enjoy this relationship with our heavenly Father. To visualize God as impersonal and distant is not a characteristic of acceptable worship. Let’s work at recognizing the intimate personal presence of our heavenly Father. We can bring Him great joy by being the worshipers He’s looking for!

“In Spirit”
A second characteristic is that acceptable worship is “in spirit.” It is not limited by certain locations or outward forms, ceremonies or material aids. Does this mean that for worship to be acceptable we must do away with church buildings, stained glass windows, organs and liturgies? No, but it does mean that true worship should not depend on these “helps” and should certainly not be defined by them.

True worship is simply acknowledging who God is and what He does. It is a response made by God’s people to God Himself. The lives of all Christians should be characterized by true worship – every day and in every situation! Because God is spirit (Jn. 4:24), true worship must be in the sphere of the spirit. In the context of the conversation with the Samaritan woman, Jesus put the inner sphere of the spirit in contrast with the external geographical locations of Jerusalem, where the Jews worshiped in accordance with the Law, and Mount Gerizim, where the Samaritans worshiped according to their traditions (Jn. 4:21-22).

With the coming of Christ and His sending of the Holy Spirit to indwell the hearts of believers, the focus of true worship would be the hearts of believers located anywhere in the world. It is important to notice, however, that although “in spirit” worship is from the heart, it is not characterized merely by emotional feelings. Worship “in spirit” is characterized by actions, thoughts, attitudes and desires of hearts that have been made alive by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Is your worship of God “in spirit” – every day and everywhere?

“In Truth”
Finally, acceptable worship must be “in truth.” That is, it must be in accordance with what God has revealed to be truth. False worship is not only worship of false gods. It can actually be worship of the true God that is offered in ways that are out of line with the truth of God’s revealed Word. It doesn’t matter how sincere one is. If sincere worship is not “in truth,” it is just as unacceptable as insincere worship. Remember our Old Testament examples: they were all seeking to worship the true God, and they were all sincere – but they offered up unacceptable worship because it was not done “in truth.” The Samaritan woman of John 4 came from a community of sincere worshipers. The Samaritans were not hedonistic pagans. They were sincere religious people who had the Scriptures which Moses had written. They were seeking to follow the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But their worship on Mount Gerizim included a number of unscriptural additions. Jesus said that the Samaritans didn’t know what they worshiped (Jn. 4:22), because their worship was not in accordance with the revelation of God’s truth. Is our worship of God “in truth?” Is it in line with the truth that God has presented in Scripture?

Obviously, “in-truth” worship must be Christ-focused because He is the Truth, the ultimate revelation of God to man. To worship in truth further involves a thankful response to God that is scripturally intelligent. To thank the Father for dying for our sins, for example, is not intelligent worship because God the Father did not die on the cross. Jesus, God the Son, died for our sins. To praise the Lord Jesus for becoming man at the great sacrificial cost of giving up His Deity is not “in truth” worship, no matter how emotional the worshiper becomes. The eternal Son of God did not cease being God in any way when He took on humanity at Bethlehem.

God looks at the motives of our hearts and can overlook our theological shortcomings as we grow in the faith, but this does not take away from the fact that acceptable worship is intelligent “in-truth” worship. And we should strive to become more familiar with the Word so we will be able to worship “in truth.” God is overjoyed when we lift up loving, grateful worship to Him. He is looking for worshipers. And He is seeking those who will worship Him as Father “in spirit and in truth.” We should ask ourselves, “Am I working at becoming a true worshiper?”

By David Reid

With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.



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