In John 4:24, the Lord told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and truth.”
It is often the case that people put so much emphasis on worshiping God in spirit, that they have no care whatsoever for worshiping Him in truth. However, with many others, it is just the opposite: we are so worried about worshiping God in truth (i.e., according to His commands and prescribed manner), that we neglect the equally necessary element of worshiping in spirit.
Perhaps this habit exists because we struggle to truly worship God in spirit! It would do us well to realize: if we don’t worship God in spirit, it really doesn’t matter how “truthful” our worship is.
However, there is another, even more neglected teaching regarding acceptable worship to Jehovah: something that is almost never preached—yet something that every Christian desperately needs to hear.
In Genesis 35:2, Jehovah calls to Jacob and tells him to go up to Bethel and worship Him. In answer to this command, Jacob goes to his family and gives a grave declaration of pre-worship exercise.
These three exercises resonate in the New Testament, and they are absolutely necessary in order to worship God acceptably—even if we worship God 100% in spirit and 100% in truth at every opportunity.
1. PUT AWAY YOUR IDOLS
What is an “idol”? Too often we limit “idols” to literal, physical golden images to which men and women of antiquity would literally bow down (e.g., Dan. 3:1-7). But, in reality, an idol is simply “an object of extreme devotion.”
- “Idolatry is not limited to the worship of false images, but it is placing anything or anyone before God as the object of allegiance and devotion.”¹
In Rom. 1:22-25, idolatry is “traced to a lack of acknowledgement of God and of gratitude to Him.”²
“For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and
stubbornness is as idolatry…” (1 Sam. 15:23).
“Put to death therefore your members which are upon
the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire,
and covetousness, which is idolatry…” (Col. 3:5).
“Wherefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14).
Let those of us who are members of the New Testament church of Jesus Christ reflect mournfully that some of our brethren have come up with the idea that Sunday night and Wednesday night services are nothing more than the traditions of men—and thus completely and totally miss the point.
But there is just no getting around the fact that neglecting the assemblies of the church is idolatry! You are taking the time that has been dedicated for the church to assemble together to worship Jehovah, and you, instead, take that time to worship yourself! The vast majority (if not all) of Israel’s idolatry in the Old Testament was attempted to be done while still worshiping Jehovah! What Jehovah would have them know is that such is an utter impossibility.
In the time of the former covenant, the Jews were “profaning” (i.e., “to make common”—somewhat the antithesis of keeping something “holy”) the worship of Jehovah by offering pathetic sacrifices. Today, Christians profane the worship of Jehovah by not loving Him enough to give him even 4 hours out of the 168 He has given them each week.
“‘You say also, “Behold, what a weariness it is!” and
you have snuffed at it,’ says Jehovah of hosts…” (Mal. 1:13).
If we choose to give our time to idols on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights, then Jehovah will by no means accept our worship on the Lord’s Day morning.
“You cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of
demons: you cannot partake of the table of the Lord,
and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the
Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than He?”
In order to worship God acceptably, we must first put away our idols—once and for all! Let those who think they can come and worship God acceptably on the Lord’s day morning while worshiping idols from Monday – Saturday “think on these things,” and “take heed” (cf. Matt. 7:21-23; Php. 4:8; 1 Cor. 10:12).
2. PURIFY YOURSELVES
In the words of the apostle Paul:
“…put away, as concerning your former manner
of life, the old man…” (Eph. 4:22).
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the
gospel of Christ” (Php. 1:27).
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer
I that live, but Christ living in me…” (Gal. 2:20).
The life of a child of God is to be a life “set apart” (i.e., “holy”), consecrated to the service of Jehovah. That means I need to think as Paul did in the passage above, or, as he told the Christians in Colossæ:
“For you died, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (3:1).
When a person obeys the gospel, they have “purified [their] souls in [their] obedience to the truth” (1 Pet. 1:22). Henceforth, they are to live purified lives—free of worldly habits, behaviors, and even thoughts. Paul told the Christians at Corinth that Jesus died so that those who live in Him might “no longer live for themselves, but for Him” (2 Cor. 5:15).
A failure to do this—to live purified lives, ever dedicated to His service and in compliance with His commands and instruction—will have a negative impact on the divine reception of our worship. Otherwise, why would the Lord say something like this:
“If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar,
and there remember that your brother has something
against you, leave your gift before the altar,
and go your way, first be reconciled to your brother,
and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23,24).
Or why did Paul warn against partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner” (1 Cor. 11:27)? In fact, have you ever thought about or wondered what it means to partake of the Lord’s Supper in an worthy manner? Of course, it includes the idea of focusing on the death of Jesus Christ—but that is not all it means. What determines the “worthiness” of the manner in which we partake of the Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s Day is the manner in which we live from Monday to Saturday!
Do we ever stop and consider just how serious this command really is? These seldom discussed inspired words of an apostle of Jesus Christ are sufficient to relate to us just how serious it is to observe the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner”:
“For this cause many among you are weak
and sickly, and not a few sleep” (1 Cor. 11:30).
Sleep is a common euphemism for death (cf. Acts 7:60; ); in fact, in the Scriptures, “sleep” more often refers to death than literal sleep! As Albert Barnes commented, “…God had sent among them bodily distempers [even unto death—SM] as an expression of the divine displeasure and judgment for their improper mode of celebrating the Lord’s Supper.”³
But here’s the thing: contrary to popular fancy, not one other aspect of worship is the slightest bit less important than the observance of the Lord’s Supper! The fact that Luke recorded that he, Paul, and other Christians at Troas had gathered together “to break bread” (Acts 20:7) does not indicate that it was the only, or even the most, important thing they observed in that gathering. In fact, “to break bread” was not really the reason why they gathered altogether—”to break bread” was the reason why they gathered together then. In other words,
If we live our lives however we want to live them, ignoring or neglecting God’s commands Mon. – Sat., and then expect to be able to come in here and worship Him acceptably, we are kidding ourselves!
In fact, God told the Jews that if they weren’t going to “put away their idols” and “purify themselves” before they worshiped Him, He would prefer that they wouldn’t even come to worship Him at all!
“Oh that there were one among you that would shut the
doors, that you might not kindle fire on My altar in vain!
I have no pleasure in you,’ says Jehovah of hosts,
‘neither will I accept an offering at your hand’” (Mal. 1:10).
3. CHANGE YOUR GARMENTS
Not only is it appropriate for us to put on our “Sunday best” in order to come and worship God, but it also necessary for us to “change our garments” spiritually. We do that in one of two ways:
- Firstly, we must become a child of God by obeying God’s plan of salvation as found in the NT.
“Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature:
the old things are passed away; behold, they are become
new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
“Except one be born anew…of water and the Spirit,
he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:3,5).
“We were buried therefore with him through baptism
unto death: that…we also might walk in newness
of life” (Rom. 6:4).
- Secondly, if we, having done this, revert to our former manner of life, we must repent of the error(s) of our ways, confessing and forsaking those choices, and asking God’s forgiveness. At that point, we are once again in God’s favor, and then—and only then—can we worship Him acceptably!
“Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may
have the right to the tree of life, and may enter in by
the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:14).
¹ William D. Mounce. Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006. p. 351. Print. Emp. added.
² W.E. Vine. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville: Nelson, 1993. p. 317. Print. Emp. added.
³ Albert Barnes. Barnes’ Notes on the Bible. via e-Sword X. Ver. 2.0. Franklin, TN. Ed. Rick Meyers. Accessed