Worship in Spirit and Truth

When Jesus was walking the earth, going around doing good and performing signs and wonders, they said these miracles were not from God, and instead accused him of doing them by the power of the devil [see Matt 12:22-32].

I wonder if He wouldn’t have the opposite problem today; that signs and wonders are attributed to God that would seem more likely to be from the devil instead?

I raise this question because I have seen far too much go on in Christian worship services – and celebrated as evidence of the anointing of the Holy Spirit – that looks to me to be anything but Holy Spirit led.

Some would be quick to point the finger at me, warning that I am doing exactly what the Pharisees were doing in Jesus’ day. I’ll admit, that is a possibility. So I approach this carefully.

These last few weeks, we’ve been looking at what Jesus said to the woman at the well in John 4 about worship. And I came to a number of conclusions: 1. Worship can be offered to people or things other than God. 2. Singing is not necessarily worship. 3. Worship is an attitude of humility before one we consider to be superior, and an acknowledgment of their worth. 4. Therefore, worship can – and should – be a way of life that shapes everything we do, whether family relationships, work, shopping, holidays… the list goes on.

Certainly, singing can be part of worship. But tragically, it can also be part of the wrong sort of worship. The first instance of singing connected with worship in the Bible is where the Israelites sang and danced around a golden calf, descending into such uncontrolled debauchery that even their idolatrous enemies were shocked [see Exo 32].

We should take that as a warning. This is a holy – and dangerous – God we are approaching in worship. Would we dare to approach Him casually, flippantly, in whatever way that makes us feel good?

Jesus said that the Father is seeking true worshippers, who will worship Him “in spirit and in truth.” Not “in spirit OR truth,” but “in spirit AND truth.”

That means that our worship must be more than mere words, lest we are guilty of the accusation “This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” [see Mk 7:6]. It must spring up from the depths of our being, like that living water bubbling up from within [Jn 4:14].

And it must be more than mere emotion and frenzy. It must also be in accord with truth that God has revealed to us in the Bible.

And this is the part that disturbs me, especially in this day of “anything goes; if it feels good do it; I’ll decide my own truth, you can’t tell me what to believe.’

Because I see nowhere in the Bible that people who are offering up true worship bark like dogs, writhe like snakes on the ground, laugh uncontrollably, fall over backwards in waves, or all the other bizarre manifestations that are passed off as ‘the anointing of the Holy Spirit.’

If this was the sort of stuff going on at the foot of Mt Sinai, it’s no wonder they became “a laughingstock to their enemies. [Exo 32:25 NIV].

Rather, I see in Scripture people healed instantly, usually without any manifestation. I see demons cast out and people returned to their right mind. I see order, not chaos, for “God is not a God of disorder” [1Cor 14:33]. And I see that precious fruit of the Spirit, self-control [Gal 5:22].

And neither do I see ‘prophetic words’ that are so vague they may as well be plucked out of the horoscope in the daily newspapers. Too much of modern Christian worship seems to be shaped by what makes us feel good, rather than what brings glory and honour to a holy God.

When we come before the Lord, we are standing on holy ground, so to speak. Surely, that means we should come in humility, with reverence and awe, being careful that we don’t offend Him. As Nicole Nordeman sang, “Let me not forget to tremble” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vt-MRp1Q3BI

Give Him no reason to say to us “Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps” [see Amos 5:21-23]. Or worse, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” [see Matt 7:21-23].

Sam Storms says, “Our worship must be rooted in and tethered to the realities of biblical revelation… Worship is not meant to be formed by what feels good, but by the light of what’s true… To worship inconsistently with what is revealed to us in Scripture ultimately degenerates into idolatry.” The story of the golden calf attests to this.

John Piper agrees, “Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full… of artificial admirers. On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought. But true worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship.”

Brothers and sisters, let us worship our Lord in both spirit and truth. For He is worthy of our true worship.

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