What is Worship: Your Spiritual Act

What is worship - for the Christian? Is our approach to God mediated through sacrifices, as it was for Israel under the Old Covenant? Do Christians need to 'worship' in order to ‘approach’ God? How should Christians ‘draw near’ to God and maintain the ‘presence of God’ in their lives?

Old Covenant worship

The biblical concept of worship has its origin in the Old Covenant. Israel were redeemed from slavery in Egypt and brought before God on Mount Sinai. There he gave them his law and the sacrificial system; that is, he gave them the means by which they were to relate to him as his saved people. Obedience to his covenant law was the proper loving response to the God who had become their covenant king. The sacrificial system was the gracious means that he provided for them to maintain the covenant, since he knew that they could not keep his law. God had provided a way by which Israel might approach his holy presence, and it was on their part to come to him in worship by the obedience of faith in the sacrificial system, without fear of judgement.

This was how Israel worshipped God: by offering him sacrifices in faith – and not any sacrifices offered in any way (Look up 'unauthorised fire' in your concordance). They were to worship (approach him) only in the way perscribed by God in his law. By such worship - obedience to the sacrificial regulations set out in the law - Israel would show their commitment to the covenant, because by it they showed their faith in the God-given means for maintaining their God-given relationship him.

Worship, then, was a faith response of obedience to the covenant, whereby Israel applied the God-given means for maintaining their covenant relationship with God. Therefore the sacrificial system mediated Israel’s relationship with God; that is, they approached God through the sacrifices the law prescribed.

New Covenant worship

What then is worship for the Christian? Is our approach to God also mediated through sacrifices, but of a less bloody kind? God initiated worship took a cataclysmic change with the coming of Jesus. The New Testament presents Jesus himself as the once for all sacrifice who perfects worshipers under the new covenant. Jesus himself has become the priestly worshipper on our behalf of Christians (Heb 9-10).

Before this time worship was a faith response whereby Israel applied the God-given means prescribed in the sacrificial system to maintain their relationship with God. But now Jesus’ work on the cross has put and end to the sacrificial system, because it was the final God-given means for maintaining our covenant relationship with God. His blood was the perfect sacrifice, offered once for all time, that the Old Testament sacrificial system looked forward to. He has performed it (not us), and it is now finished (not ongoing). And he now forever lives in God’s presence as our perfect priest making intercession for us. Since Jesus has ‘entered into’ God's presence in heaven (the perfect tabernacle), once for all by his own offered to God on our behalf, Jesus is the perfect worship of God for us (Heb 7:27; 9:26). Because sin is the only thing that alienated us from God, and since Jesus has dealt with our sin by his cross, there is no longer any need for any sacrifice for sin ever again.

What Christian worship is not

Christians therefore do not need to 'worship' (make sacrifices) themselves in order to ‘approach’ God. And indeed they simply cannot ‘draw near to’ him through their own actions (effort/works). Christians cannot achieve (or maintain for themselves) the ‘presence of God’. This is what worship achieved under the old covenant, but that covenant has been finished by the work of Christ. The work of worship in that sense has since that time been fulfilled perfectly by Christ. There is no longer any offering of worship for sin (Heb 10:18).

Jesus has already approached God for us by his once for all worship on the cross. Those who have faith in him are permanently brought into God's presence (the heavenly realm) with him now. Those who trust in Jesus have a full and complete assurance that their covenant is maintained for them perfectly by Jesus who now intercedes for us in God's presence on our behalf.

The question is, therefore, do Christians worship at all? If so what is their spiritual act of worship? This is a question that the New Testament itself asks, and answers. It is related to the essence of what worship was under the old covenant, but with an important difference. We do have a sacrifice to offer, but it’s nature and purpose is very different.

Your spiritual act

Worship has always been a faith response whereby God’s people applied the God-given means for maintaining their covenant relationship with God. In the New Testament worship for the Christian still involves a faith response of obedience, except that we as God’s people no longer apply the God-given means ourselves for maintaining our covenant with God. Jesus has already done that for us. It is left to us only to have faith in him. Our worship is nothing more (though also nothing less) than continuing to display a faith response to Jesus who has permanently secured our relationship with God forever by his own perfect offering to God of his blood. We 'draw near to God' in worship with the offering of a 'sincere heart in full assurance of faith' (Heb 10:19-22); that is, we enter God's presence by putting our faith in Jesus, and we continue in God's presence by continuing to display our faith response to Jesus.

So what does a faith response to Jesus really look like? Since the gospel proclaims Jesus as Lord, it means treating him as Lord in our lives: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him (Col 2:6)”. And to live with Christ Jesus as Lord of ones life means nothing less than to submit to his Lordship in every area of our lives. Our offering to him is therefore our display to him of a holy life involving our obedient service to him. It is just as Paul commands us: “in view of God’s mercy, offer your body as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to him. This is your spiritual act of worship (Rom 12:1)”. | joe towns: christian discussion on pentecost, charisma, pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, the Bible and Jesus; including the origin and history of pentecostalism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, gifts and miracles, divine healing and word of faith, prosperity and wealth, praise and worship, guidance and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.