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What is worship?


Thank you for your question about worship. It is a question on which countless books have been written, and many sermons preached, so this brief answer cannot fully do justice to such an important topic, but I will do my best to be as helpful as possible to you in these few words.

Firstly, let us define what the word worship actually means. There are a number of words in the Bible that can be translated as worship, and the most common definition is this: ‘to fall down, or prostrate oneself before someone, or something’. It basically means to demonstrate the honour and the glory that a person or an object is worthy of receiving.

The Bible makes it clear to us that all true worship flows towards the throne of God - the first of the ten commandments tells us that we should worship God only, and have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3). As the source of all life, and the author of all that is good, God is the only one who is truly worthy of our worship. We may chose to give honour to things which are not God, and there are certainly things in this world that are worthy of praise, yet all of these things should lead us to ultimately worship God as the creator of all things, and therefore the source of all that is worthy of praise. When we give honour and reverence to someone, or something else, and are not led to worship God through it, this is what the Bible calls idolatry.

False worship, or idolatry can take all kinds of forms. In a western culture, we tend to worship people (pop stars, footballers, actors etc.), money, sex or possessions, and give our lives over to these things. In more eastern cultures, they give themselves to idols, and different deities who they believe can help them through life - a practice we see so often in the Bible.

Ultimately though, the biggest problem that we as human beings suffer with is self-worship. Sin causes us to be self-centred, selfish, and that simply leads us down a road where everything we do will be for our own good, and effectively place ourselves as the primary object of worship in our lives. This self-worship dishonours God, will usually lead to us despising, and mistreating others, and is ultimately deserving of the judgement of God as the attitude that is at the heart of all sin.

The remedy to idolatry and self-worship that every human being suffers with is the Gospel.

The Bible tells us that despite our self-centred sinfulness, and our complete rejection of Him as our Lord and King, God still loves us. Though we separate ourselves from Him and want to live independent lives doing whatever we want to do, God longs to draw us back into a relationship with Him - the relationship we were always created to have.

That is why, 2000 years ago Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, came into this world. Though He was equal to God, He became a man - the fullness of God in human form. He lived the perfect life of worship to His Father - a life that we could never live, and went all the way to a Roman cross, where He was executed despite His innocence of any crime. He did so to remove the sin barrier that was between us and God - Jesus bore the punishment that we deserve for our sin, so that those who put their faith in Him could be forgiven of their self-worship, and could be given a new start, a new life lived in relationship with God.

This is the point at which true worship starts - if a person has not put their faith in Christ, then they cannot hope to overcome their selfish heart and worship God as they ought to - they must come to Jesus, and He alone can set them free from their sin, and begin to enable them to live a life which honour and glorifies God.

We should now ask the question then, how should we go about living a life of worship? In the Old Testament there was a whole system of worship, involving the Tabernacle, or Temple, the priesthood, and the law which God gave to Moses to govern feasts, sacrifices and the conduct of God’s people in many aspects of their lives. The demonstration of a life of worship for the Israelites was that through faith in God, and in His promises they would obey the rules and regulations that God had given to them as a people.

However, it will be obvious to us that this system of worship no longer continues into the New Testament period - we no longer have a temple, sacrifice lambs and goats, or have to go to priests to perform our worship for us. So much of the Old Testament worship had to do with pictures of the Messiah who was going to come to restore true worship, and pointed forward to the life of worship that Jesus' death released His people into. We have no space to go into these things here, but we will look to one simple, and yet profound verse in the New Testament:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (Romans 12:1)

The Apostle Paul, writing to Christians in Rome, borrows his language from the Old Testament practice of sacrifices to God as a prominent part of the Israelite worship. He tells us that to live a life of service (or worship as it could also be translated), we must not sacrifice animals to God, nor must we even just sacrifice the things that we own, but we must sacrifice ourselves. A life that brings glory to God, a life of worship, is one where we give everything we have and are into His control. We allow Him to order and direct how we conduct ourselves in every part of our lives, how we relate to our family, friends, and others, how we deal with our money, how we go about our work. Everything should be brought under the control of God, and lived out in accordance with His word - then our lives will bring Him glory.

That may sound far too radical for some, but it's exactly what our creator deserves, and notice this also, Paul doesn't give this call to worship without setting it up with something powerful. He opens the verse by saying 'by the mercies of God'. Paul has just finished writing some of the most incredible words ever written. For the first 12 chapters of the book of Romans he opens up for us the amazing love that God has shown sinners in saving them, justifying them, freeing them, adopting them into God's family, giving them peace with Him, and bringing them into a relationship with Him that nothing can ever sever. As Paul glories in the love of God, and the blessings He has poured out on His people, he is led to worship, and effectively says 'what else could we do for such a God than to lay down our lives for Him, as He has done for us'.

God doesn't want our worship to be something forced on us, because we feel we have to do it so God will be pleased with us. He wants our worship to flow from the realisation of all that He has done for us in Jesus. We don’t worship to become part of God’s family, but we worship because we are already part of His family. We don’t worship to earn ourselves some kind of righteousness, but we worship because we have been made righteous in Christ. God wants us to worship, not because we have to, but because we love Him, and the Bible says that we love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

So in summary, I want to first urge you to make sure of your relationship with God in Jesus Christ. Make sure that you have made that first step of giving your life to Him, and have that assurance that you belong to Him. Then ask yourself the question, what do I worship? As we look at our lives and see how we spend our time, money and energy, it will give us a good idea of what is really important to us. I'd encourage you to repent of any idols in your life - things that may be, or have become far more important to you than God - remember the guilt of this idolatry is all removed by the blood of Christ.

Then, I would exhort you, as Paul does to the Roman believers, that you commit yourself to living this life of worship, sold out for God. Give Him all your hopes and dreams, give Him your future, and make every effort you can to live all of your life according to His word. Whatever you do, make sure you don't end up trying to worship God out of duty because you will fail. Remind yourself often of the 'mercies of God' that your worship would be out of love for Him, empowered by His Spirit living in you, and full of life and joy, so that others would see your faith and they too would be drawn to the God who you worship with all or your being.

Here are some more Bible Verses for your further consideration:

  • Romans 1-11
  • 1 Peter 2:1-12

I hope this answer helps you to find peace with God through Jesus Christ. If you want to know more about what Jesus has done for you please watch the video on the main part of our site: Watch the video

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*All Scripture references are taken From The New King James Version of the Holy Bible unless stated otherwise

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