Any worship we participate in, without engaging the good news about Jesus Christ and what He has done, is false worship. It is idolatry. It is self-justification. My friend and up-and-coming pastor, Nathan Hoag, brought back from the Gospel Coalition Conference the April 2011 edition of TableTalk, which contained a wonderful little article by Donald Whitney on “The Gospel & Worship.”1 Here are some choice quotes which work really well as stand-alone reflections on how the good news relates to corporate worship. The third quote is my favorite:
There may be nothing in the realm of religion by which people vainly attempt to establish their acceptability to God more than by acts of public or private worship. As a result, worship can degrade into one of the most legalistic activities a person can pursue. In the minds of many, you are right with God if you go to church…Though perhaps they do not expressly state it, they believe that because they discipline themselves to regularly attend an event where the gospel is proclaimed, they have sufficiently participated in the gospel.
The gospel takes the natural, worldly view that worship is a person justifying himself by reaching up to God and corrects it with the truth that worship is a person responding to the God who has reached down through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
People do not decide to become worshipers of God; rather the gospel produces worshipers.
God made our hearts, and He made them to find their greatest joy and satisfaction in Himself. So when, through the gospel, we “come to know God, or rather be known by God” (Gal. 4:9), our hearts turn to God and open in worship to Him like flowers turn and open to the sun. Thus it is that worship begins with an understanding of the gospel.
We also need the gospel during worship in part because of the sins we commit in worship. We may sing, speak, or pray thoughtlessly or hypocritically in various moments of worship. The application of the gospel to our minds and hearts in worship encourages us that our sins during worship are forgiven and that the Lord receives us even though our worship is imperfect.
Love of the gospel and love of worshiping the God of the gospel are inseparable. A true grasp of the former leads to devotion to the latter.
1Donald S. Whitney, “The Gospel & Worship,” in TableTalk, 35.4 (April 2011), 58-59.
It's amazing how easy it is to lose sight of God in our worship. Thanks for the helpful post, brother.
Agreed, Peter. I do it every week. I'm thankful for Jesus!
It's interesting, or rather sad, that worship today seems to be based on good feelings for God. We get the feeling that God is nice and accommodating and lives to make our lives as easy as possible.
But I love how in Romans, Paul goes on and on about gospel, gospel, gospel, and then at the end of chapter 11, after talking about the salvation of Israel, it's like the response of gratefulness and awe overflows inside of him and he breaks into this glorious doxology. (Great is the depth….)
Worship is a response to the gospel, the whole part of it, from the transcendent, omnipotent God to the birth of sin, to the baby in the manger to the final steps in the redemptive work of Christ. It actually begins with knowledge, which increases our love and desire for communion with the King. Worship, in return, brings us closer to him.
So, in short, you're exactly right. There is no true worship (of course, everyone worships, but not everyone worships the one true and living God) without the gospel at the center. I believe it was R. Kent Hughes who said that if Christ is not at the center of Christian worship, "it cannot be Christian."
Please tell Joel Osteen about this. Millions would benefit!