by Rick Pidcock
A few years ago, God gave me the opportunity to help a local church choose members for their worship team. Each prospective member chose a song to play for us. And after they played, we would ask them a few questions to get to know them.My question, of course, was, “What is worship?” And as you might guess, most of the answers included various church-related activities such as singing and prayer.
Then there was Andy. He played us a song from a secular rock band. And when I asked him if he could play any Christian songs, he said, “I don’t know any.” So I asked him to give me his definition of worship. He replied by saying, “I don’t know. I guess it’s singing songs on Sunday morning.” I then asked him why he would like to join the worship team. And he said, “I’d just like to get better at learning my guitar chords.”
To my complete dismay, the rest of the worship team panel decided to try to make Andy the worship leader.
So what is worship? Is it merely singing songs and praying one morning each week? Is it simply reading your Bible for ten minutes every other day?
Romans 12:1,2 say, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
1. Worship is motivated by the gospel.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God…”
Paul uses this verse as his transition from the theology of the gospel to life in the gospel. He says that the motivation for worship is the gospel that he had proclaimed to the believers in the first eleven chapters of Romans.
He began in Romans 1:7 by saying, “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.” Oftentimes, we tend to think that unbelievers are the ones who need the gospel. And yet, every one of Paul’s letters on the gospel are written to believers.
Continuing in Romans 1:15-17, Paul says, “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith.”
Then, over the next eleven chapters, he begins to unpack the glorious hope of the gospel. In chapter one, we see that God’s wrath is revealed against all unrighteousness. In chapter two, we learn that we can have no hope of eternal salvation by adhering to the law. Then chapter three reveals that God is perfectly righteous, that we are completely unrighteous, and that we can receive the righteousness of God by faith in Christ. Chapter four begins to explain that we can be justified by faith. The next chapter shows how we can have peace with God by faith. The sixth chapter tells us that we have been made dead to sin so that we can be alive to serve God. Chapter seven says that we are free from the law. Chapter eight explains our life in the Spirit, our inheritance with Christ, and our future glory that we will receive because of God’s everlasting love. In chapter nine, Paul illustrates God’s sovereign choice of His people. Then in chapters ten and eleven, he proclaims that salvation is available to all peoples.Finally, when we reach the end of chapter eleven, Paul bursts forth with a song of praise to God in verses 34-36. He proclaims, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
And it is then that we come to Romans 12:1 and read, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” We are called to and compelled by the gospel of Christ to offer our lives to Him as worship.
2. Worship encompasses all of life.
“…to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…”
Unlike what many people think, worship is offered in every moment of life. It is not merely something that we do once or twice a week. Every thought, desire, word, and activity is done to magnify something or somebody to be of utmost supremacy in that moment. Whether we are singing “Amazing Grace,” or playing an X-box, we are worshipers.
I love the phrase, “acceptable to God.” Oftentimes, Christians use this as an excuse for their own personalized form of moralistic legalism. They think that God is more pleased with us based on our adherence to or abstinence from certain activities. And yet, while their intentions may be good, they are missing Who this phrase is ultimately pointing to.
Our worship is not made acceptable to God based upon the fervency of our dedication, the quality of our performance, or the style of our expression. It is only made acceptable to God as it is offered by faith in Christ. 1 Peter 2:5 says, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
I love what T.F. Torrance says in his book The Meditation of Christ-“Thus in all our worship and prayer, private and public, informal or formal, we come before God in such a way as to let Jesus Christ take our place, replacing our offering with His own self-offering, for He is the vicarious worship and prayer with which we respond to the love of the Father” (T.F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, p.88).
3. Worship is a transformation of the mind.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
What amazes me about worship is that it is not something that comes from within ourselves. But rather, it is something that God does in us through the transforming power of the gospel.Gospel transformation is the exact opposite of worldliness. There are many false perceptions about what worldliness is. However, 1 John 2:15-17 reveal that worldliness at its very essence is self-centeredness. Whether playing the guitar in church, or playing football at home, everything that is done for the glory of self is worldliness. Worldliness cannot be confined to certain styles of music, dress, or anything else as if the opposite styles are Christ-like and acceptable. No matter what the style or activity may be, if it is done in a self-centered way, it is displaying a love for the world.
Gospel transformation begins with a renewal of our minds by the gospel. Before God gave us the transforming work of salvation in the gospel, we were enslaved to self-centeredness. And in that self-centeredness, we were hopeless. But through the transforming power of the gospel, God has given us a new nature, by which we can freely magnify Him to be supreme, and not ourselves.
Finally, Gospel transformation gives us the wisdom to worship God with our whole lives. There are many instances in life where we do not know specifically from God’s Word which decision would magnify Him to be supreme. And that is why we need to be able to “discern what is the will of God.” The wisdom that we need is found only in the transforming power of the gospel.
Worship is not merely doing things to try to make God happy. But it is motivated by the gospel. It is not simply practiced at certain times of specific days. But rather, it encompasses all of life. And it is not something that happens through self-determination and discipline. But it is something that God does in, for, and through us by the transforming power of the gospel.
It is my prayer that God will use Living Worship to be an encouragement to you to point your hearts to hope in Christ, and to help you think through on a practical daily level how we can live our whole lives as worship to God in every area of life.