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How to Worship

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
April 24, 2024 12:01 am

How to Worship

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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April 24, 2024 12:01 am

The Lord commands us to worship Him according to His Word, not our own preferences. Today, R.C. Sproul exhorts us to order our worship after the revealed will of God.

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R.C. Sproul (1939-2017) was known for his ability to winsomely and clearly communicate deep, practical truths from God's Word. He was founder of Ligonier Ministries, first minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew's Chapel, first president of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine.

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Nathan W. Bingham is vice president of ministry engagement for Ligonier Ministries, executive producer and host of Renewing Your Mind, host of the Ask Ligonier podcast, and a graduate of Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. Nathan joined Ligonier in 2012 and lives in Central Florida with his wife and four children.

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The only God that we are to worship is the God who reveals Himself in sacred Scripture, and true worship focuses on the whole counsel of God, not on isolated aspects of God with which we are comfortable. There may be some discussion, some debate about the text that you're studying, but one area where almost every Christian has an opinion, where the debate can sometimes heat up a little bit, is when the topic of worship is brought up. Welcome to the Wednesday edition of Renewing Your Mind, as we spend this week considering areas where all Christians have room to grow. And today we're considering worship. Throughout Scripture, we see debate and error on this subject, from those worshipping the golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai, to the woman in John 4 who asked Jesus where we should worship. So foundationally, how should we think about worship, and what do we need to remember so that we don't fall into idolatry, and so that we're actually worshipping the God of the Bible?

Here's Dr. Sproul. We continue now today with our study of the five things every Christian needs to know to grow up in the maturity in Christ. And those five things of course are how to study the Bible, how to pray, how to worship God, how to serve God, and how to be a good steward.

Now these of course are not the only considerations that we have in our spiritual growth, but we've isolated these five as critical things that every Christian needs to understand in their Christian life. And we've already seen the matter of studying the Scriptures and prayer, and so today we're going to begin our consideration of worship. Now I ought to preface this by saying that we're living in a time of great upheaval and confusion about the whole subject of worship at a time unprecedented in American cultural history with respect to experiments that are taking place with worship, and perhaps the most creative period of our history. And when we look at this subject of worship, we go back of course to the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century and realize that even though front and center in the dispute that arose at that time that divided Christendom so severely, that though the dispute focused and centered on the doctrine of justification by faith alone, lurking right underneath the surface was a strong growing opposition to the mode and the way in which worship was taking place in the medieval Roman Catholic church. And so many of the magisterial reformers of the sixteenth century put their focus of attention on the Reformation of worship. And we know that the Protestant Reformation spread from Germany and throughout the continent of Europe and into the British Isles and so on. If you would look, for example, at the English Reformation, you will see at the heart of the struggles that were going on in England the consideration of the proper mode of worship was at the center, not only between the traditional Roman Catholic mode of worship and the new Protestant church that was established under Henry VIII when England was then declared Protestant and the Church of England was founded. But then, as you know, at the end of Henry VIII's reign, the nation returned to the Roman Catholic faith under Queen Mary, who was known as Bloody Mary, and many of those who had been part of the Protestant Reformation were put to death under her regime.

Well, then she died at an early age and was replaced by her sister. Of course, in between Henry and Mary was Edward VI, and I left him out. But in any case, then under Queen Elizabeth, the sister of Queen Mary, then the Protestant faith was restored to England.

But that was not the end of the controversy in the English-speaking world because you saw the rise of non-conformity in England, which was headed up by that group of people who were given the name derisively Puritans. And the whole conflict between the Church of England and the Puritans focused on worship, and so we see that out of the Reformation grew this very strong concern that God be worshipped properly. And so here we are today where none of the traditions in our culture have survived intact, and it's as if everything is now once again up in the air as to how God may and should be worshipped. Well, let's go back into the Scriptures for our initial cues for understanding the importance of proper worship, and let's start with the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments in its first four laws, which is called usually the first table of the law, concentrate on our responsibilities toward God. The very first commandment says, Thou shall have no other gods before Me.

Now let's pause for a second. We've all heard the Ten Commandments. Maybe we've recited them and memorized them and so on, but I want to ask this question now. Why is the first commandment the first commandment?

Why does the Decalogue start with this particular law? Now at this point I'm trying to read the mind of God. These are God's laws, and when God gives this list of Ten Commandments, this is where He starts. Now the fact that He starts there would indicate to me that there is some level of priority, some level of supreme importance given to that very first commandment. And what does God say? Thou shall have no other gods before Me. Now that before is critical. He's not saying that you can have all kinds of other deities that you are engaged with as long as that they don't rank ahead of Me. I want to be judged to be first in importance, and you can have many other gods and goddesses.

No, no, no. The statement, Thou shall have no other gods before Me means in My presence. And God's presence is ubiquitous.

It's everywhere. And so what God is saying is I will not tolerate any other gods. So that the first principle of the law is a principle that guards against all forms of idolatry. Because what idolatry does is that it misdirects worship from the true God, from the living God, to some kind of substitute, fraudulent deity that is replacing the God who is. Now many times I've made reference to Paul's teaching in the first chapter of Romans, where there the apostle declares that from the beginning of creation that God has revealed Himself in nature plainly, clearly, and that this revelation that He gives of Himself to every human being that is manifest, according to the book of Romans, reveals His eternal power and Godhead, or His eternal power and deity.

Now what does that mean? What that is saying is that Paul is declaring that in nature from the very beginning, every moment of our existence, we are walking in a theater in which God is running past our eyes, a revelation of His nature and of His character, of His Godness, so that we as His creatures, both from nature and in chapter 2 of Romans, from within, we have this knowledge of who God really is, what true deity involves. But Paul goes on to say that the universal sin of fallen humanity is to take that knowledge that God has plainly revealed of Himself and to suppress it, to bury it, and then to exchange that truth which God has made plain about Himself to us, trade in that knowledge, exchange it for the lie, as the apostle said, and serve and worship the creature rather than the Creator.

And the fundamental sin of the human race, according to Paul, is what? That knowing God, because God reveals Himself to us plainly, men do not honor Him as God, but they engage in idolatry. So, at the very beginning of the law, God pronounces a commandment to guard against this most basal human tendency to substitute an idol for the truth about God. Now, that is so important that any time that we're interested in the question of worship, we have to keep before us all the time this understanding that God is a jealous God, that God absolutely requires that He be honored and glorified and worshipped in a way that He commands, not according to the way that we prefer.

Let me say that again. If anything comes screaming out of the pages of sacred Scripture, it is that the Lord God Omnipotent, who has made us, commands us to worship Him according to His law and not according to our own preferences. And that's the first principle of worship we need to know, because if left to ourselves, given our universal behavioral pattern as fallen creatures, we will not only gravitate toward, but we will be swept into some form of idolatry. And what is the second commandment? Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.

Again, the second commandment strongly reinforces the first commandment so that the very first two commandments of the Decalogue protect worship, and they give us guidelines for that worship. After we read the biblical account of the law in Exodus chapter 20, and we get through the tenth commandment, we get this little narrative text in Exodus 20, verse 18. Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking. And when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. And they said to Moses, You speak with us and we will listen, but let not God speak with us lest we die.

Do you hear what's going on here? When God gives His law at Mount Sinai and He descends from heaven, He descends in that cloud of smoke with the thunder and the lightning. And this is a dramatic moment in human history when God descends to the top of Mount Sinai and invites only Moses to come up into His immediate presence to receive the law. And He puts certain laws at the bottom of the mountain saying, Don't come near to the people. Well, then the people, after they hear the law, and they've seen from afar off the lightning, and they've heard the thundering, and they see this cloud descending upon the mountain, they come to Moses and they said, Moses, you speak to us and we'll listen. But whatever you do, don't let God speak to us because we will die. And the people made distance between themselves and the real presence of God. Now, here's what I want you to understand.

That was not an isolated moment in human history. It's in our fallen nature. It is our preference to listen to men rather than to God.

We don't want to enter too closely into the presence of God because to enter into the immediate presence of God is to enter into that place of holy terror where the creature trembles and fears for his very life. Now, just a few pages later, we get another historical record for us where in chapter 32 we read in verse 15 these words. And Moses turned and went down from the mountain, and the two tablets of the testimony were in his hand. And the tablets were written on both sides, and on the one side and on the other they were written. And now the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God engraved on the tablets. And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, there's a noise of war in the camp.

Now you get the picture. Moses is coming down from the mountain with the two tablets of stone, and Joshua meets him as he descends. And then in the distance he hears this enormous roar of people screaming and shouting. And Joshua says, Moses, it's the noise of war.

You know, while you've been gone, a battle must have broken out because we hear this kind of yelling and screaming and shouting. Now, the sound of the singing that Moses and Joshua heard coming from the distance was so lusty, so loud, so enthusiastic that it was mistaken for the sounds of war. What Moses and Joshua were hearing from a distance was arguably the most well-attended worship service in the history of the planet, where every single person from the camp of Israel came out to worship. And the choir was singing with greater enthusiasm. The whole multitude was singing with such enthusiasm.

Their music was so popular that everybody joined in. Now, if you've ever been to church on Sunday morning, and watch what happens when the hymn is being sung. I stand up there in front of my congregation.

I look back there, and I've watched the congregation during the singing of hymns. And there are some people who look transfixed. They're enraptured as they sing the hymns, and they're just singing out with all of their hearts. There are others who stand there and sort of move their lips and kind of mumble, and they're not really much engaged. And there are other people who will stand throughout the whole hymn with their lips tightly sealed, never singing a mumbling word.

And so not everybody enters into the corporate singing, no matter what the hymn is. But on this day, everybody was joining in this happy chorus. Not only that, but in this worship service, there was dance.

This may be the biblical basis for the entrance of modern dance into contemporary worship, because here in the Bible, we see in this worship service that the people were dancing as well as singing. And everybody was in attendance. Nobody went fishing. Nobody played golf.

Nobody stayed home in bed that day. They all came out to worship a golden calf, because this is the biblical record of Israel's radical degeneration into idolatry. While God Himself had come down to reveal His law to Moses, the people wanted something else. They didn't want the true God. They wanted worship that was relevant and meaningful to them. They wanted worship that would be like the people around them, that would communicate to their culture, that would draw people into attendance, that people would get excited about.

And boy, they found it. They found a way to worship that everybody was engaged in, and it was a kind of worship that was utterly blasphemous and was completely opposed to the very first two commandments God had just given. And while Moses is coming down holding the tablets of stone, there they are having another God before God. There they are with their graven image. There they are with false and blasphemous worship. But you see, we stand from the vantage point of the 21st century, and we look back at those people, and we say, how could those people be so corrupt?

Because they're just like we are. What happened that day at the foot of Mount Sinai was not an aberration, but it was doing what comes naturally for fallen human beings. And that episode is something that we need to keep engraved in our minds forever lest we succumb to the temptation, the temptation of the idols of our own time. The problem with idolatry is not in making deities out of stone or wood, but the issue of idolatry is producing a substitute for the true God. Now, we don't make idols of stone and wood anymore, but the kind of idolatry that pervades the church today is that idolatry where we take the biblical revelation of God, and we look at those attributes of God that we find distasteful, such as His sovereignty, His holiness, His justice, His wrath.

And we say, oh, we don't like those. We like the love of God, the mercy of God, the grace of God. And we construct a God who is all love, all grace, all mercy, no sovereignty, no justice, no holiness, no wrath. And we create a God with our own mind who is not God.

That God is an idol. The only God that we are to worship is the God who reveals Himself in sacred Scripture, and true worship focuses on the whole counsel of God, not on isolated aspects of God with which we are comfortable. And I want to look at the positive side of the coin on how we are to be engaged in worship that is pleasing to God. And to do that, I want to turn your attention to the gospel according to St. John, to chapter 4, where in this chapter we have the record of Jesus meeting with the Samaritan woman, sometimes called the woman of Sychar and also sometimes simply referred to as the woman at the well.

And in the midst of this discussion that Jesus has with the woman at the well, she says to Jesus after He's exposed her history of having had so many husbands and so on, in verse 19, the woman said to Him, Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship. Now again, this woman is a Samaritan, and the Samaritans were estranged from the Jews, and the Jews had their central sanctuary established in Jerusalem. And that's why on festival occasions and so on, the people would come from all over the nation into Jerusalem for the purposes of worship. But the Samaritans who had no dealings with the Jews had their own central sanctuary, which was on Mount Gerizim, which overlooked Jacob's well.

If you've ever been to Palestine and visit the ancient site here in Sychar, you can stand by the well and just lift up your eyes and you see Gerizim there right in front of you. And so this woman takes advantage of her new understanding that she's talking with a prophet to settle an ancient controversy between the Samaritans and the Jews. And so she says to Jesus, our fathers worship in this mountain, and the Jews worship in Jerusalem.

Now which is it? Which is the proper place to worship? Now notice that the question this woman is asking Jesus with respect to worship is the where question. But Jesus takes the conversation to a different dimension. He's not satisfied to simply answer her question of where, but He directs the conversation now not so much to the where question as to the how question.

So let's see how He answers her. Jesus said to her, woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem worship the Father. You worship what you do not know. We know what we worship for salvation is of the Jews.

Now this is a strong rebuke against the departure of the Samaritans from classical Jewish faith because the reason why the Jews hated the Samaritans in the first place was because the Samaritans intermarried with the pagans, and they developed a religion of syncretism where they blended pagan elements together with the elements of Jewish worship. And Jesus is saying the time is coming where both of these sites are going to be removed, and presumably He's giving a thinly veiled hint here of what He specifies later of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem as well. But He now says you worship what you don't know. You don't know what you're doing in your worship.

You're engaged in a worship that is grounded in ignorance or in falsehood. Do you remember Paul when he confronted the Athenians at Mars Hill in the book of Acts when he came into Athens and Paul first set his eyes upon this magnificent city? Instead of being impressed with their high culture, we read in the book of Acts that he was moved because he saw the whole city was given to idolatry.

And then he goes up to the Areopagus, to the temple that was dedicated to Ares, who was the god of war corresponding to Mars, and that's why he's sometimes called Mars Hill. And there when he went to Mars Hill, he confronted the people for their idolatry, and he noticed that they had a monument there inscribed to the unknown god. And he said, what you worship in ignorance, I now declare to you in power, the God who made heaven and earth and so on. And so the Athenians received the same rebuke from the Apostle Paul that the Samaritans received from the lips of Jesus here in this conversation because he said, you people don't even know who it is that you're worshiping because at the heart of your worship is ignorance. And so let me just say by way of application, whether it's in Athens or in Sychar or in the United States, God is never pleased with ignorant worship, with worship that is not grounded in the knowledge of God. So then Jesus says to her, you worship what you do not know. We know what we worship for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.

Let me just stop there for a second. Jesus announces a time of impending crisis, a time where the kingdom of God is being made manifest because the King is here. And one of the things that the King is concerned about is true worship. And now it's time for true worship, Jesus is saying.

The hour is coming and now is when the true worshiper will worship God in spirit and in truth. Now, when Jesus qualifies the word worshiper by the word true, why do you suppose He does that? Obviously, there is a difference between true worship and false worship.

Let me say it again. When our Lord talks about the moment has come for the true worshiper to do something, He's obviously distinguishing the true worshiper from some other kind of worshiper, and the obvious antithesis to true worship is what? False worship. And so now Jesus sets before us the norms, the ultimate criteria that defines true worship. And He gives two normative considerations, and those considerations are spirit and truth. And before I define what that means, let's read the rest of the narrative where Jesus says, the hour is coming and now is when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, semicolon, for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.

Isn't that a strange thing? We usually think about people seeking God, but here Jesus speaks about God seeking people. And what is it that God is searching for? God is seeking, God is searching for people who will worship Him correctly. God is searching for people who will honor Him as God. God is searching for people who will put aside all forms of idolatry and worship Him the way He commands that He be worshipped, in spirit and in truth. And again, Jesus repeats this when He says, God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.

Now again, the word here that is operative is the word must. That means we have an obligation given to us by God Himself to worship Him in spirit and in truth. The true worshipper must worship in spirit and in truth. Now, I think it's not going to be too difficult for us to understand what Jesus meant when He said we must worship God in truth.

I'll consider that in a moment, but that should be the easier of the two. The difficulty is found in understanding this somewhat cryptic reference that Jesus makes to worshiping God in spirit. Because remember that the discussion here focuses initially on the where question. The woman is saying, where should we worship God, Jerusalem or Jerusalem? And one of the things that Jesus is teaching her and us, by extension, is that God's presence cannot be confined to some physical location. It's not like if Jesus says that if God is in Mount Jerusalem, He can't be in Jerusalem, or if He's in Jerusalem, He can't be in Jerusalem, because God is on the present. And so there's one sense in which because God is everywhere, we can worship Him everywhere.

We're not restricted to one particular place. And so since there's having this discussion about the nature of God, His being a spirit and not a body, you would think that what He is saying is, well, therefore we shouldn't worship God with our bodies, but rather we should worship God with our spirits. Well, I don't think that's what He means. I think that that's part of what He's getting at, that because God is spirit, what God wants is spiritual worship. Now, that doesn't mean that we're not supposed to have our bodies with us when we go to church and we send our souls and our bodies sleep in or our bodies go to the golf course. That's not the point of what Jesus is saying.

But what He's getting at is that the way we are created as a unity of body and soul, that we can do things in an external, physical way that are in fact distanced or divorced from our minds or our souls. And the great problem in Israel in the Old Testament that the prophets addressed on many occasions was the people would show up physically for worship. And they would go through the rituals. They would offer the sacrifices, which you could see. They're physical.

They're tangible. They would go through the rites in the corporate worship, stand up when everybody else stood up, sang when everybody else sang, and so on. Their lips were moving. And Jesus said of these people, this people honors Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. And what happened in the worship of Israel in the Old Testament was it degenerated into externalism or formalism, just outward activity. People knelt whenever they were supposed to kneel, you know, and did all the physical things while their souls were somewhere else, while their minds were engaged in wool gathering.

They weren't participating from the depth dimension of their characters, from their heart or from their soul or their spirit. And what Jesus is saying is that I want people who, when they come to worship Me, come with their hearts fully engaged with what they're doing. That worship that pleases God is a worship that is not given grudgingly out of a mere sense of duty to show up at church on Sunday morning, but it is motivated and driven by a soul that delights in the presence of God. What does the psalmist say?

I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord. You see, spiritual worship is worship that is offered by a person who takes delight in honoring God, in praying to God, who listens to the Word of God with his mind fully engaged. In the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 21 that deals with prescriptions for worship talks about how worship services should contain the sound preaching of the Word of God, but also the conscientious or diligent hearing of the Word of God.

That the true worshiper, whose heart is engaged, is involved, body and soul, in the entire experience of worship, listens attentively to the reading of Scripture, to the proclamation of the Word of God, pays attention to the words of the hymns, doesn't just move his lips and sing the tunes, but he is engaged inwardly in his spirit. We read in the book of Hebrews, in the roll call of the saints, that by faith Abel offered a more perfect sacrifice to God, an acceptable sacrifice to God, where Abel's sacrifice was pleasing to God and Cain's was not pleasing to God. And some people think that the reason why Abel's sacrifice was acceptable was because it was an animal sacrifice and Cain's was unacceptable was because it was not animal. I don't think that has anything to do with it, because the Old Testament had provisions for both. And what the author of Hebrews is saying is that the difference is that one sacrifice was offered in faith and the other one wasn't. And I can only say to me that when Abel brought his gift to the altar, he brought with it his heart and his soul.

His was a spiritual act, whereas Cain was merely physically there with a physical offering, and his soul was far removed from it. So God is seeking people whose souls are aflame, who can't wait for Sunday, who love the worship of God. And finally, worship that is pleasing and acceptable to God is worship that is in truth. People today say it doesn't matter what doctrine is. All that matters is human fellowship and relationships, and that I can worship God and make Him happy even if the rest of the time I'm opening my mouth and disseminating heresy.

No, no, no. God wants to be worshiped in truth, according to truth, not according to falsehood. And why is truth so important? As we saw in our last message, because what truth is getting at is who God is. And ultimately, the most important thing about truth is understanding the truth about Him. Who is the one true God and Christ, His only begotten Son, who is the incarnation of truth? Now how can somebody say they love Jesus and not care about the truth when Jesus is the truth?

That doesn't make any sense at all, and yet I hear that every day of my life. Doctrine divides. Of course doctrine divides.

It is always divided. But doctrine also unites. It binds together the hearts of God's people who celebrate the truth of God together when they come for worship. And God is seeking people who love the truth, who love His truth, who love His Word, and will worship Him not according to heresy but according to the truth that He has revealed, that their thoughts, that their attitudes, that their understanding of Him is true. You know, today we hear all about this new thing about open God, open theism, this God who doesn't know the future in advance. I worry about people who worship a God like that because that's not the true God. That worship is idolatry.

That's a God who's stripped of His omnipotence, stripped of His omniscience, stripped of His immutability, stripped of His very deity. But God wants people who will worship Him from the heart and from a mind that is informed of who He is by His Word. One of the most moving treatments of prayer I've ever read in my life is the section of the chapter on prayer that was penned by John Calvin. In fact, when I have my students in seminary read the Institutes, I will make them read the chapter on prayer first because they have such a negative view of Calvin going in.

He's been painted, you know, portrayed as this diabolical, stern, mean, nasty old guy from Switzerland and so on. If you want to know Calvin's heart, read his chapter on prayer and you will see a man who was consumed by affection for God and for Christ. And in that business of prayer, when he talks about prayer, he talks about how even in the lives of the greatest saints that while they're in the midst of prayer, their minds will wander.

They'll start thinking about temporal concerns, about the tasks that lie before them for the day, or all kinds of things other than the one to whom they're speaking. We all have to face those normal frailties and weaknesses in our lives, as I mentioned that with respect to our time on prayer, but that's also true with the whole experience of worship. We need to prepare ourselves for worship and to remind ourselves when we walk across that threshold from the secular to the sacred, from the profane to the holy, from the common to the uncommon, when we enter into the courts of God with praise and thanksgiving, we need to enter there prepared to focus our attention on what it is we're about so that we can engage the heart and the mind, because God's looking for people who will do that.

That was R.C. Sproul reminding us, as Jesus said, that we are to worship in spirit and in truth. Today's message is from Dr. Sproul's series, Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow. It's a 10-message series, and you can own it for yourself when you give a gift of any amount at In addition to access to the series and study guide, we'll also send you R.C. Sproul's companion book so you can consider more deeply the study of God's word, prayer, worship, service, and stewardship.

Call us today at 800-435-4343 or give your gift online at When we're saved, we are not saved to be lone ranger Christians. We become part of the body of Christ, and in our service to God, we also serve one another. Be sure to join us tomorrow as we continue this study of Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow, here on Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-04-24 02:15:53 / 2024-04-24 02:29:07 / 13

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