January 12, 2017

Hebrews 13:21- True worship & the true church

by Jesse Johnson

Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus—the great Shepherd of the sheep– with the blood of the everlasting covenant, equip you with all that is good to do His will, working in us what is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever (Hebrews 13:21).

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Worship is a heart-felt attitude of thankfulness, love, holy fear, and submission to Scripture that magnifies the glory of God by rejoicing in who God is and what he has done for us through Jesus Christ. Worship takes God’s attributes (which can seem distant and are marked by the otherness of God—his holiness) and not only makes them personal, but magnifies them by the attitude of the worshiper towards them.

For an example, consider God’s sovereignty—which can certainly seem his most otherly attribute: when one who loves God understands how God’s sovereignty affects his own personal life, and he responds with thankfulness, fear, and submission (as well as joy, gratitude, etc.) then God is worshiped in the heart. Worship then is the result of a heart that has right information about who God is and what God has done, and then has the right response to that information. True worshipers respond in a way in keeping with God’s character and actions, as a response to his character and actions, and this has the effect of glorifying his character and actions.

True worship intersects with local church for a few reasons:   

Worship is only for those who love Jesus Christ:

While certainly every human heart worships something, the only worship that is pleasing to God comes from a heart that has been saved by Jesus. Worship is exclusively for those that love God and who have submitted their lives to Jesus.

This is why Jesus told the devil, “It is written: Worship the Lord your God, and Him serve Him only” (Luke 4:8). The heart of idolatry is the pursuit of satisfaction, joy and meaning from sources other than God. “The human heart is a factory of idols,” Calvin said, and that is seen in the heart’s pursuit of joy and worship outside of the Trinity. When a person is converted to Jesus, the Holy Spirit seals their heart, and they cease from striving after the wind. Instead, the new object of their worship becomes God through Jesus, with a specific focus on the gospel.

True worship is in Sprit and Truth:

A contrast between Old Covenant and New Covenant worship is the command that after Pentecost, all true worship must be done in Spirit and Truth. This refers to worshiping from a heart that loves Jesus, and is being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus tells the woman at the well that a time is coming when only those who worship through God’s Spirit and God’s truth will be pleasing to God (John 4:23-24). The woman rightly understood that this was a reference to belief in the Messiah (v. 25). The application is that all true worship has to be done by those who posses the Spirit of God, and whose worship is focused on God’s work in Jesus (who is the embodiment of truth). In other words, all worship is to Jesus, and done on his terms.

Later, Jesus repeats his declaration that worship must be filled with Spirit and Truth, and applies that to the church age. He tells the disciples that he will soon leave them, but that on the Day of Pentecost God will send “the Spirit of Truth” who will dwell in their hearts (John 14:17). With this statement, D. A. Carson says Jesus made the phrase spirit and truth “first and foremost a way of saying that we must worship God by means of Christ.”  Jesus thus made true worship the exclusive privilege of those that experience regeneration.

John repeats this same concept in 1 John when he says that “The Spirit is the One who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth” (1 John 5:6). And this Spirit not only brings salvation, but also the new life which results in sanctification—which of course serves to increase worship (as Paul says, “God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth” 2 Thessalonians 2:13).

Why does the NT not simply say that worship must be spiritual? Why does John (and Jesus) connect it to Truth? Because of the basic premise that true worship is always based on right knowledge of God. Jesus is filled with truth (John 1:14, 17), he points people to the truth (8:45), and he is the truth (14:6). Thus when the Holy Spirit saves a person, they are filled with the power of the Spirit and the knowledge of the truth (3:21).

Another way of saying this is that people can only worship what they know, and the more they know about God, the more they will worship him (if they love him). Thus, knowledge and love, or truth and spirit, combine to form the essence of worship, and the more a person knows, the more they love, and then the more they worship.

If a people’s worship of God is based on incorrect information about God, then it is actually worshiping a God in the image that they have made in their own mind. But when worship is directed towards Jesus, who is the way and the truth, then worship is rightly informed because Jesus is the incarnation of God. In other words, every single part of worship has to be defined and affected by Jesus and the gospel.

True worship is more than music, more than songs, more than church

If worship can be the most practical and personal way to magnify God’s glory in the human heart, then certainly everything the redeemed person does should have worship as its goal. So Paul writes, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Even the most mundane tasks should come from an attitude of worship.

Which makes worship in Spirit and Truth a New Covenant reality. Under the Old Covenant, those who refused to love God were commanded to worship him right along side those that did fear him. Of course the worship of the unsaved was not pleasing to God because it did not come from a broken spirit. Nevertheless, everyone in Israel regardless of their faithfulness was commanded to keep the festivals, the sacrifices, and the Sabbath—all of which were set aside for worship. This is why he Old Covenant was filled with “regulations for divine worship” (Hebrews 9:1). There were articles devoted to worship (9:21), as well as certain people/places that were especially designated for such (9:6).

But in the New Testament, all of this is set aside so that worship is through the hearts and lives of anyone who loves Jesus Christ. This is why instead of having a place for worship, in the NT worship happens when a heart presents itself in submission to God (Romans 12:1). Thus the blood of Jesus procures for his followers the privilege of doing everything with a heart that worships God: “Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus—the great Shepherd of the sheep– with the blood of the everlasting covenant, equip you with all that is good to do His will, working in us what is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever” (13:21).

Notice that Hebrews 13:21 combines all of the points so far: Worship is seen in all that a redeemed person does, is based on being saved by the Truth, wrought by the power working in us (the Spirit), and grounded in the blood of Jesus Christ.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Brian Morgan

    Brother this is so true and good. The “betterments” of the New Covenant should certainly be realized in our worship of Christ. I was struck last night in our prayer meeting that God would invite us into his presence, to hear us. Then he welcomes our expressions of worship and adoration…fueled by Himself…the very Spirit of God. Praise be to God!

  • Thanks Jesse! Very straightforward. Given what we know about what worship really is (cf. your last point), what do you think of the title, “Worship Pastor” as a reference to the one who leads the congregation in the particular aspect of corporate singing? I have to admit, it’s a title that’s kind of rubbed me wrong because I think we could rightly refer to any shepherd of the church as a “worship pastor” as much as any another. At the least, it might be a confusing title, but then, “Pastor of Music” might seem too narrow and also poorly convey the nature of his shepherding work. But I’ll consent that maybe I’m being overly scrupulous. lol

    • Yeah, I mean you can’t pastor “music.” you pastor people, not things.
      At the same time, all pastors have job titles that draw lines. I mean churches have “counseling pastor,” “discipleship pastor,” “worship pastor,” “membership pastor,” “Care pastor,” “teaching pastor” (my favorite), “education pastor” and so on. The reality is that every pastor counsels, disciples, worship, teaches, cares, educates and members. I like the way the South Africans navigate this: all pastors are all things, but different pastors have different “portfolios.” Sort of borrowing a banking/business term. I think that is an effective way to view it. So the job titles don’t bother me so much, because that’s just the reality of the portfolio.

  • tovlogos

    As the Spirit would have it, Jesse.

    “…submission to Scripture…” that’s actually everything.
    “when one who loves God understands how God’s sovereignty affects his own personal life, and he responds with thankfulness, fear, and submission (as well as joy, gratitude, etc.)
    “True worship is more than music, more than songs, more than church” — It’s worshipping spiritually as a result of the humility gained by “thankfulness, fear, and submission (as well as joy, gratitude, etc.)”

    When someone says, God Bless you! I see that as an affirmation to be characterized by God — the term is often thrown around a little too loosely.

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