The qualifications given by Jesus Himself in the New Testament for worship are that our worship is to be offered in “spirit and truth.” To understand this we need to first look at how worship is often the opposite of these requirements.
Worship that Displeases God
In Amos 5:21ff, the prophet proclaims a word from God regarding the acceptability of worship. Have you ever stopped to ask if the worship you offer is acceptable to God? He does not want us to simply go through the motions. That, in fact, is not worship.
In Amos 5 God says that He wants justice and righteousness. He desires worship given in spirit and truth. Instead the Children of Israel were mixing the worship of God with other pagan festivals and religions. They were polluting the worship of the Most High God. They defiled worship by offering God what they wanted, or what they thought He wanted instead of what He demanded. They did things their way instead of His.
In the text, Amos writes as God speaks,
I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Can you imagine? God HATED their worship. It was self-centered and self-serving. They tried to keep proper form (feast days, singing, sacred assemblies) but had an improper motive. They approached God with unclean hands and an impure heart and as a result He rejected their worship. We must come before God on His terms, prepared to worship acceptably – and if we come any other way (rushed, with little thought or preparation) then He will likewise reject what we have to offer.
So in order to understand our duty in worship, in order to truly know what God expects and commands of us as His worshippers, we must first grasp the characteristics of worship that displeases Him. Take the time to meditate on these verses and examine these topics as we search the Scriptures for a brief outline of worship that God hates.
Charactersistics of Worship that Displeases God – Ex 20:1-11
A. Worship of Anyone or Anything Other Than or Together with God
Ex. 20:3; Ps 86:10; Rom 1:18-25
B. Worship that involves Disobedience
Ex 20:4-6; Ex 32
C. Worship that Takes God’s Name in Vain
Ex 20:7; Malachi 1:6-14; Matt 15:9
D. Worship that is not Holy
Worship that is not holy can be further noted to be:
1. Void of Faith
Heb 11:6; Rom 14:23
2. Full of Hypocrisy (Lips vs. Heart)
Isaiah 29:13; Jeremiah 12:2; Matt 15:8
3. Based on Lies (False Doctrine)
John 4:24; Psalm 17:1
4. Worship that is not Separated from the World
Rom 12:1-2; 1 John 2:15-17
5. Worship that Profanes
Worship that Pleases God
We see what God rejects when it comes to worship, so what is acceptable to Him? What pleases Him? In John 4, Jesus tells us what is expected and necessary if we are to worship God in an acceptable manner. The account reads:
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.” 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. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”
True and acceptable worship is to render to God respectful spiritual service. This is the definition of “reverence.” Reverence is to be the main characteristic of our worship. Reverence finds us focusing on God instead of self. We do not just do whatever we feel. We do what honors God.
The two characteristics given here by Christ let us know that worship is not about “when” or “where”, but it is all about “how.” It is not a building, location, event, or time of the day or week that qualifies our worship as acceptable to God. It is how we worship. We must worship God in spirit and truth.
To worship God in spirit is to worship from the heart, not simply with outward form! It originates internally, not externally. If the inside (the heart) is not prepared for worship, then no matter what we say or do to worship, God will reject what we offer. He even tells us in the Word that if we come to offer God a gift (worship) and there remember that we have something against our brother or sister in Christ, we are to leave and make things right with others before we come near to God. Our heart has to be ready to worship – we have to be prepared. We have to have our relationships in order and come with a clear conscience or our worship is not acceptable.
To say it is from the heart means that it does not matter what we know or what we claim to believe that qualifies our worship. It is how we express our hearts in love and obedience to Christ! What is in the heart, after all, will come out the mouth. And if our heart is not clean and right and we attempt to worship God, we are lying. That’s right. If what is coming out of our mouths does not match the thoughts of our heart, we are hypocrites of the worst sort, and just pretending to worship.
Worship in Spirit
How do we worship in spirit with a right heart condition and attitude? Let’s expand our study of the Scriptures on this point. Open your Bibles and read these verses and then read how I have summarized worshipping God in spirit into the following seven points:
1. Philippians 3:3, 7-11
Worship in spirit is offered with no confidence in the flesh. The true believer views his flesh as sinful without any merit or capacity to please God without the intervention of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
2. Revelation 4:10-11
Worship in spirit is focused wholly upon God with no thought of self.
3. Psalm 95:6-7
Worship in spirit must be reverent, not loud and obnoxious, with disharmony or showmanship.
4. Psalm 96:9; 5:7
Worship in spirit must be characterized by fear and trembling. We are worshipping a thrice holy God and cannot ever enter His presence with little thought or frivolity.
5. Psalm 29:1-2; Psalm 99
Worship in spirit must be holy. To be holy is to be set aside or separated from the world. We should not worship God like the world worships its false gods. Worship should be distinct from the world and not mixed with worldly values and practices.
6. 2 Chronicles 20:18-20
Worship in spirit must overflow with humility. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less. Again – the focus is GOD.
7. Psalm 51:15-17
Worship in spirit is worship with brokenness. We must come expressing a total dependence upon God for everything we need.
Worship in Truth
Jesus also said we must worship in truth. This means that our worship must first meet the above-mentioned requirements of worship in spirit, and then added to that, it must also be consistent with Scripture and centered on Christ. Here are a few more verses to read as we look at five ways we worship in truth:
1. Revelation 14:7
Worship in truth gives God honor, reverence, glory, and expresses His worthiness.
2. Psalm 45:11
Worship in truth is based in the truth that we worship Him because He is our Lord. We don’t make Him Lord. He is Lord. Forever. The question here is whether or not we obey Him as Lord since He is Lord?
3. Psalm 66:4
Worship in truth offers praise to His name. We worship Him, not His provision or creation, not His works or ways. We worship HIM, as He is characterized by His many names revealed in Scripture.
4. Psalm 138
Worship in truth is worship in lowliness. We must have a proper opinion of ourselves, a low opinion of self. We are sinners and but for His grace we would not be able to approach Him at all. Our worship of Him is all based on His doings – His salvation, forgiveness, and grace.
5. Psalm 148, 149, 150
Worship in truth is worship in ways of which God approves.
Meditate on these verses of Scripture that tell us more about what God expects from us in worship, and remember, next time you gather together with other believers to praise and worship God, be prepared, and keep this simple truth in mind – worship will either please or displease God. Take the time to be ready to worship and please Him!