What Is Worship

by Tim Shin

There is a common misunderstanding that worship is limited to a time of singing or to a specific gathering, such as church on Sundays. In a world that is constantly trying to segment religion away from the rest of life, the concept of worship has been confined to a specific time, place, or act. Religious pluralism, the belief that there is not an exclusively objective truth about creation or the Creator of the world, continues to become the social thought pattern displayed throughout the media, within schools, and businesses. This thought process is socially attractive because it allows room for the potential of God, but does not go as far to make him the one source of truth, so as not to be offensive to others. Contrary to what people think, they cannot segment the act of worship away from their day-to-day life, because true worship is an extension of how someone understands and interacts with the world. In Romans 12:1-2 Paul writes,

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God‘s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Notice that Paul does not mention going somewhere to worship, nor does he mention a time of singing. Paul appeals to the Church in Rome to offer their bodies as living sacrifices in response to the mercy of God, the indicative (which he explained in much greater detail through the first eleven chapters of his epistle to the Romans). Not only as living sacrifices, but sacrifices that are holy and pleasing to God. What Paul is writing here is the essence of gospel-centered worship. He presents the Romans with the gospel indicative (truth), then the gospel imperative (call, command). The imperative that Paul is urging his brothers to follow goes beyond a specific place, time, or act. In other words, Paul is writing that the heart is constantly at worship.

Our hearts are constantly searching for something to devote ourselves to and from this devotion we derive our sense of worth. Harold Best describes worship as “the continuous outpouring of all that I am, all that I do, and all that I can ever become, in light of a chosen or choosing God.” Worship is not just an aspect of who we are, nor is it a specified segment of life. In essence, all of life is worship. As a result, we are always worshiping. While the method of our worship may vary, the very act of worship is constant. There is always something that is gripping us at the core of our being—something that is deeply treasured. And whatever it is that is at the center of our heart is what motivates who we are and how we interact with the world. The average person may say, “I don’t worship anything.” However, nothing can be further from the truth. All of us bow down before something—a relationship, a reputation, a salary figure or occupation, a distinction or position, etc. The issue has never been that we fail to be worshippers. The issue is the object of our worship.

We are driven by our relentless pursuit of the idols we worship, and we pursue these false “gods” because we believe that in obtaining them we will be deemed worthy. The problem of sin is this: there is a battle continuously being fought over our hearts because we are experts at inventing “idols” for worship. However, God, through His grace in Jesus, gives us freedom from the power of our idols so that we can turn our hearts back to Him; the gospel reveals the character and work of Jesus—who labored on the cross so that His people can enter the cosmic rest of the Father in worship (Psalm 95). Jesus’ character becomes the record on which we find acceptance in the Father’s heart, and this truth frees us from the need to find self-worth through any other means. Our idols are shattered and our worship is restored.

True worship involves the active recognition of the character and work of Jesus, the only true, living God, then seeking to live accordingly. Scripture assures us of our soul’s deep satisfaction when we worship the only true and living God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Christian life is a daily battle to return to the gospel— to be reminded of its sufficiency and freeing power. Thus, it is critical that it is proclaimed and made “of first importance” in every personal devotion and corporate gathering.

Practical Implications of Gospel-centered Worship

Although we rely wholly and humbly on the Holy Spirit to transform us, we can do our best to make sure the gospel is always in focus because this is the way we live out our faith. Now that we have established that the question is not whether or not we are worshiping, we can address the main question at hand. How do we worship well? To help build a practical framework to God honoring worship let’s look briefly at the role music plays in the context of corporate worship.

The instrumentation and singing of songs that we do at church is more than just listening to and singing songs before and after a sermon each Sunday. The content that we sing plays a critical role in forming, shaping, expressing, and responding to what we believe. In the context of Metro the songs that we sing are selected to prepare our hearts and minds for the topic of the sermon. This is an intentional act done to help us as a church body to be ready to receive the word of God and then to be sent back into the world with renewed courage, hope, and wisdom. To apply this concept outside of church walls, we need to also be mindful of the role our environment plays in shaping our minds. How do you intuitively respond to day-to-day conflict? Such as your response to the person who cuts you off on the road. How do you react when you hear bad news? Good news? Although we cannot control what happens to us on a day-to-day basis, like we can control what music we play at church, we can use God’s Word, the guidance of godly wisdom to help us learn how to respond well to life.

Another aspect of worship is that it is also about recognizing the deep-rooted idolatries that we harbor in our hearts while simultaneously recognizing the wonderful grace, mercy, and sacrifice of a holy, perfect God. We cannot just consume and react to life; we must be thoughtful about how the world is shaping us, and then to be humble enough to allow the Spirit to reshape the areas that the world has molded us incorrectly. When these distortions are exposed our response should be to repent and prayerfully seek transformation. In our prayer we can ask the Spirit to remodel our hearts; to be rightly oriented to God’s truth so we can better worship him where we had failed to do so.

Internalizing the gospel produces a heart of humility, repentance, gratitude, and security. Humility because it shows us who we are apart from Christ. Without Jesus and the work of the Spirit we are people who vainly worship, constantly seeking for ways to glorify ourselves. Because of Jesus we are able to repent when we direct our worship horizontally instead of vertically. We are able to repent with hope and without shame because we know that we are not condemned, but are encouraged to return back to our heavenly father when we turn from his love (Romans 8:1-2). Because of this we are grateful because we are a part of a perfectly loving relationship, true love, that is seeking our good and the restoration of our hearts. Which gives us security because we are able to live a life that is not motivated by fear, or the endless pursuit of self-validation—we are truly free to love and pursue things that help us to love others well. Because of the gospel we are free to live a life that is reflective of God’s expectations instead of the world’s.

Our goal on this side of eternity is to be sensitive, and soft enough to allow the Spirit to reshape us. Let us not continue in hardening our hearts away from God, but instead let us encourage each other to turn to God with our hearts and hands lifted in praise.