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What is True Worship?

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In the book of John, Jesus makes an interesting statement about worshiping God. He says, "But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to be his worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:23-24 WEB)

Who are true worshipers and what is true worship?

According to the Bible's definition of worship, it is more than just praising God. In fact, while praising God is a form of worship, it is only a small part of a larger concept.

We will discuss the various parts of true worship, followed by a concluding definition of what true worship really is.

True Worship and Sacrifice

In the Old Testament, sacrifice is described as a form of worship. However, what exactly is sacrifice? The reason why burnt animal sacrifices were offered to God, is because sacrificing something was viewed as equivalent to giving it to God.

This is why Paul describes Christians as living sacrifices, saying, "Therefore I beg you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. Don't be fashioned according to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God." (Romans 12:1-2 WEB)

And what does it mean to be a living sacrifice? Paul speaks of "spiritual service" and being "transformed," as well as doing the "will of God."

Being a living sacrifice means giving ourselves to God and living for him, rather than ourselves. Essentially, it means obeying God's will.

And in fact, Samuel confirmed this idea in the Old Testament. "Samuel said, 'Has Yahweh as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of Yahweh? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.'" (1 Samuel 15:22 WEB)

As Samuel explains, obedience is better than sacrifice. And in reality, as Paul explains, obedience is becoming a living sacrifice by giving ourselves to God.

This reveals that there is a connection between true worship and obedience to God. Becoming a living sacrifice is our "spiritual service" and is our true worship.

This means that obedience is true worship, as we will continue to reveal from the Bible.

Worship and Service

In the Old Testament, the people of God were instructed to serve (obey) God, as opposed to worshiping false gods. "Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:14 NIV)

In the NIV translation above, the ancestors are described as worshiping these false gods, whereas in the WEB translation (as well as several other mainstream translations), they are described as serving these false gods. "Now therefore fear Yahweh, and serve him in sincerity and in truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, and in Egypt; and serve you Yahweh." (Joshua 24:14 WEB)

This difference in translation is because many of the Hebrew words used to indicate worship also mean service/obedience, and likewise words used for service can also mean worship. The overall concept is the same in Hebrew. To worship is to serve and obey.

The following verse highlights this connection between service and worship:

"It shall be, if you shall forget Yahweh your God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish." (Deuteronomy 8:19 WEB)

In this verse, "walking after", serving, and worshiping are all communicating one overall concept: obedience. To say it more simply, "If you obey other gods, you shall surely perish."

Similarly, Jesus says, "If any man desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Matthew 16:24 WEB) Again, denying self, taking up the cross, and following Jesus all basically mean the same thing: obedience to God.

Following Jesus means taking up the cross, which means denying ourselves in favor of God's will. And this is exactly what Jesus did: He denied himself and obeyed God, even to the point of death (Philippians 2:8).

Additional verses that show this concept of worship and service include:

"But if your heart turn away, and you will not hear, but shall be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them..." (Deuteronomy 30:17 WEB)

"Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them." (Deuteronomy 11:16 WEB)

"...and lest you lift up your eyes to the sky, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, even all the host of the sky, you are drawn away and worship them, and serve them..." (Deuteronomy 4:19 WEB)

Worshiping False Gods

God says, "I am Yahweh your God...You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourselves an idol, nor any image of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." (Exodus 20:2-4 WEB)

What does it really mean to worship a false god, and why does our God Yahweh have a problem with it?

As we have revealed from the Bible, worship is defined by our obedience to that god, which is similar to bowing to a king in subjugation to their will. When we worship a false god, we are subjugating our will to theirs. Likewise, when we obey the true God, we are worshiping him.

Likewise, disobedience to God is connected to serving false Gods. "...whose heart turns away this day from Yahweh our God, to go to serve the gods of those nations..." (Deuteronomy 29:18 WEB)

So part of the reason why "worshiping" or "following" other gods is a problem is because the expectations of the false gods opposed the expectations of the God. Meaning, obedience to the false god meant the people were disobeying the true God.

Jesus confirms this when he explains, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other." (Matthew 6:24 WEB)

While Jesus is speaking about money in this particular verse, the overall concept still applies.

Consider the example of the worshipers of Baal, who cut themselves as an act of worship. Referring to the worshipers of Baal, it says, "They cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them." (1 King 18:24-29 WEB)

Why would they cut themselves? Because they believed it was required of their god. Essentially, they cut themselves because they were choosing to obey and serve their god, being under the delusion that this was pleasing to their god.

Likewise, to follow false gods is equated to rebelling against the true God. In 1 Samuel 12, all these concepts are interconnected. The fear of the lord, service, and obedience all are being used to communicate one overall concept: "If you fear the LORD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God—good! But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your ancestors." (1 Samuel 12:14-15 NIV)

Again, worship is service to a god, which means obeying that god. True worship of the true God is service and obedience to his will. While "praising" God in a Church service (or even on a daily basis) is a part of this obedience, it is nothing compared to God's desire for us to not sin.

Just as Samuel said in 1 Samuel 15:22 that sacrifices and burnt offerings were nothing compared to obeying God's will, likewise praising God is worthless without living a righteous life. (Keep in mind that burnt offerings were a part of God's will, yet Samuel says to obey is better.)

"Samuel said, 'Has Yahweh as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of Yahweh? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.'" (1 Samuel 15:22 WEB)

Jesus makes a similar statement to the Pharisees, saying, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law - justice, mercy, and faith. But you ought to have done these, and not to have left the other undone." (Matthew 23:23 WEB)

True Worship and Fear of the Lord

There are a lot of verses that speak of the topics of praising, worshiping, obeying, serving, and fearing God because these topics are all one overall concept in the Bible. And yes, the fear of the lord is also a part of this overall concept of true worship:

"Yahweh commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear Yahweh our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive..." (Deuteronomy 6:24 WEB)

"For great is Yahweh, and greatly to be praised: He also is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols: But Yahweh made the heavens." (1 Chronicles 16:25-26 WEB)

"Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man." (Ecclesiastes 12:13 WEB)

"The fear of Yahweh leads to life..." (Proverbs 19:23 WEB)

"And the covenant that I have made with you you shall not forget; neither shall you fear other gods: but Yahweh your God shall you fear; and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies." (2 Kings 17:38-39 WEB)

Consider the fact that all of these verses would still communicate the same concept if we replaced the word "fear" with "worship." Try it out above.

The only reason why this works is because both the words "worship" and "fear" of the Lord are a part of the same general idea in the Bible.

And in fact, we can see how different Bible translations may replace "worship" with "fear." Consider how the verse above in 2 Kings is slightly different depending on the translation. The NRSV translates it as follows: "You shall not forget the covenant that I have made with you. You shall not worship other gods, but you shall worship the Lord your God; he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies." (2 Kings 17:38-39 NRSV)

Notice that the previous version above says fear instead of worship, whereas this NRSV translation says worship instead of fear. Both translations are equally valid, because the Hebrew word used here for fear/worship contains the concept of both.

Additional verses that reveal the connection between fear of the Lord and worship/service include:

"Fear God, and give him glory; for the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and the springs of waters!" (Revelation 14:7 WEB)

"You shall fear Yahweh your God; him shall you serve..." (Deuteronomy 10:20 WEB)

Fear of the Lord and Salvation

The Bible also reveals a strong connection to fearing God and salvation.

Jesus says, "But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him." (Luke 12:5 NIV)

And Isaiah says, "He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure." (Isaiah 33:6 NIV)

"The fear of Yahweh leads to life..." (Proverbs 19:23 WEB)

Why does this matter? Because just as true worship is actually obedience to God, by not sinning, there is also a connection between obedience to God and salvation. As we will see, all these concepts are connected.

Fear of the Lord and Obedience

How is the fear of the Lord and obedience connected? Moses tells us, saying, "Don't be afraid, for God has come to test you, and that his fear may be before you, that you won't sin." (Exodus 20:20 WEB)

Furthermore, the Bible says, "Assemble the people, the men and the women and the little ones, and your sojourner who is within your gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear Yahweh your God, and observe to do all the words of this law." (Deuteronomy 31:12 WEB)

Fearing God is a primary motivation for obeying him, because disobeying the creator of life means death – this is consequential. Death is a natural consequence. Death is not just God being mean; rather, sin opposes his very existence, making it impossible to be in his presence.

To be sinful in God's presence results in death because he is holy, and likewise being completely separated from God's presence is death, because he is the source of life.

Death is a natural consequence to sin, which is why sinners cannot and will not inherit the kingdom of God. Paul says, "Or don't you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Don't be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor extortioners, will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 WEB)

The fear of the Lord is essential to salvation, because those who do not fear God will not respect God. Anyone who understands the full weight of the consequences of our disobedience will naturally fear God. "The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread." (Isaiah 8:13 NIV)

Yes, as Isaiah says (who met and spoke with God), "he is the one you are to dread" because God holds our lives in his hands, and he has told us the consequences of our decisions. Jesus says, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. He who overcomes won't be hurt by the second death." (Revelation 2:11 WEB)

Jesus bluntly explains that those who truly repent will not die eternally.

Additional verse that discusses the Fear of the Lord and salvation include:

"The fear of the Lord - that is wisdom." (Job 28:28)

"Peter opened his mouth and said, 'Truly I perceive that God doesn't show favoritism; but in every nation he who fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.'" (Acts 10:34-35 WEB)

"This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live..." (Deuteronomy 30:19 NIV)

Fear of the Lord, Obedience, and Love

While it may seem contradictory to some people, the ideas of fearing God, obeying God, and "loving God" all go together.

Moses states this connection, saying, "Now, Israel, what does Yahweh your God require of you, but to fear Yahweh your God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep the commandments of Yahweh, and his statutes, which I command you this day for your good?" (Deuteronomy 10:12-13 WEB)

Also, Jesus says, "If you love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15 WEB)

Furthermore, just as we are told to fear God, we are also told to love him absolutely with our entire being.

"...and you shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." (Deuteronomy 6:5 WEB)

"...if you shall obey the voice of Yahweh your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law; if you turn to Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul." (Deuteronomy 30:10 WEB)

Similarly, just as it is our duty is to fear God and keep his commandments, it is also required of us to be righteous, love mercy, and walk in humility with God:

"Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man." (Ecclesiastes 12:13 WEB)

"He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, To love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8 WEB)

However, the connection between fearing God, obedience, and love does not stop at us loving God. It also includes our love for others and God's love for us.

The following verse is an instruction to love our neighbors, with the fear of the Lord being our motivation. "Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 25:17 WEB)

And the fear of the Lord and obedience are also connected to God's love for us. God expresses the desire for us to obey him, so that he can be with us. "Oh that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever!" (Deuteronomy 5:29 WEB)

God wants to be with us, but he will not force us to be with him. If we choose to disobey him, it is equivalent to choosing not to be with God. By sinning, we are runaways, with the ultimate destination of eternal death. By sinning, we choose to not be with God, instead choosing to please our own selfish evil desires (James 1:13-15).

Obeying God is also connected to loving God in the following verse: "It shall happen, if you shall listen diligently to my commandments which I command you this day, to love Yahweh your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul." (Deuteronomy 11:13 WEB)

Obedience and Salvation: The Connection to True Worship

As should already be evident, there is a strong connection between obedience and salvation. God first told the Israelites to obey and receive life: "This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live..." (Deuteronomy 30:19 NIV)

Jesus Christ also reveals the importance of our actions in salvation by saying, "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and don't do the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46 WEB)

And Jesus also says, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21 WEB)

James also confirms the importance of obedience by saying, "But be doers of the word, and not only hearers, deluding your own selves." (James 1:22 WEB)

And Paul confirms this truth as well, explaining, "They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions." (Titus 1:16 NRSV)

True worship, which leads to salvation, is obedience to God, which is the requirement for salvation. Obedience does not earn salvation (Matthew 19:25-26; Ephesians 2:9), but repentance has always been the requirement to be covered by the blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:19).

"Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that so there may come times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord..." (Acts 3:19 WEB)

Praise vs True Worship

Now that we have discussed the connection between worship, sacrifice, service, obedience, fearing God, and salvation, we will consider the difference between praising God and true worship.

Why does this distinction matter? In modern times, many people equate worship to be praise. To many believers, praising God once a week is equivalent to worshiping God. However, this common assumption is incorrect and dangerous.

While praise is a part of worship, the opposite is not true. Worship is not equal to praise, and just because we praise God does not mean we are truly worshiping him. God says, "Because this people draw near [to me], and with their mouth and with their lips to honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of men which has been taught [them]" (Isaiah 29:13 WEB)

The concept of "praise" is what most people imagine when they think of the word worship. And oftentimes the word "worship" is used to communicate praising God. For example, this example from the Bible sounds like worship to many people: "Stand up and bless Yahweh your God from everlasting to everlasting; and blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. You are Yahweh, even you alone; you have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all things that are thereon, the seas and all that is in them, and you preserve them all; and the host of heaven worships you." (Nehemiah 9:5-6 WEB)

However, as the Bible reveals, worship is much more than praising God. True worship is also obeying God, fearing God, respecting God, and loving God – with all of these ideas being one concept, rather than separate pieces.

True Worship Defined

So what is true worship? True worship is obedience to God, by not sinning. True worship is becoming a living sacrifice, by giving ourselves to God, and being transformed into Christ's image (Romans 12:1-2).

True worship is repentance, turning away from our own selfish desires and returning to obey only God's will. According to Jesus, those who fail to truly worship God, by repenting, will see their names blotted from the book of life: "Remember therefore how you have received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If therefore you won't watch, I will come as a thief, and you won't know what hour I will come on you...He who overcomes will be arrayed like this in white garments, and I will in no way blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels." (Revelation 3:3;5 WEB)

Note: Jesus is speaking to believers in this passage of Revelation 3:3-5, telling them to truly repent or they risk having their name removed from the book of life.

True worship is fearing God, who has the power to send us to the second death, even after the body has died. "But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him." (Luke 12:5 NIV)

Please note that it is Jesus Christ who makes this statement in Luke 12:5.

True worship is also obeying God's commandments. "Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man." (Ecclesiastes 12:13 WEB)

True worship is living as a Christian should live, living as Jesus lived in complete obedience to God's will.

"...he who says he remains in him ought himself also to walk just like he walked." (1 John 2:6 WEB)

"And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross." (Philippians 2:8 WEB)

Verses of the Week

"Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man." (Ecclesiastes 12:13 WEB)

"He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, To love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8 WEB)

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