For much of my Christian life, I thought sin was primarily fought on the flesh-level, where battleships fire their guns and jets launch their missiles. Recently, I’ve come to realize that the true action is where submarines do warfare. I used to think that, to defeat sin in my members, I must engage things like spiritual disciplines to in a sense “suffocate” the sin out of my flesh. Lust problem? Fast a bunch to teach yourself how to deny cravings. Mouth problem? Practice silence to bridle your tongue with some self-control. And while those things aren’t without merit, I began to realize that sin goes much deeper; that it is the “fruit” of the deeper “root” of idolatry and unbelief. Our sin problem is, primarily and essentially, a heart problem. Therefore, it makes sense that the most tactical and strategic warfare against sin shouldn’t take place on the level of the flesh but on the level of what Jonathan Edwards called “the affections.”
It’s at this point that Timothy Lane has a valuable insight about worship as it relates to sin:
We do not behave ourselves into sin; we worship ourselves into sin. If I am angry, then I have already been worshiping something that is not God for many moments, minutes, hours, days, or weeks. Perhaps I’ve been worshiping my comfort and my “right” to feel good. When you get in the way of my comfort, you are not witnessing an impulsive response of anger. Instead, you are impeding a heart that has, over time, given itself over to something other than God. This is the very nature and dynamic of remaining sin in every believer. This is the same process by which someone becomes addicted to drugs, gambling, or pornography. It is not merely our behavior that has to be corrected, but a heart that needs deliverance from its sinfulness. We worship our way into sin and we must worship our way out of sin.*
When we think about all of this from the vantage point of the worship leader, we begin to realize that the worship leader has a powerful pastoral card to play in the church’s mission of disciple-making. And this actually goes to the core of how true Christian growth happens. We don’t ultimately grow by doing or striving, but by beholding Jesus. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV):
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Growth is the work of God, and it happens by our beholding Jesus’ glory. If we desire the growth of our brothers and sisters; if we long for the unshackling of our addictions and unburdening of our sin in increasing measure, the best thing we can do for the people of God is plan worship services that climax at the moment of beholding the Lord Jesus in His incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended, and seated splendor. We ask questions like, “How can I shape the music and liturgy to climax, theologically and emotionally, at the moment where the good news of Jesus Christ is sung, remembered, preached, and proclaimed? How do I shape contexts for beholding Jesus in worship?” These are the questions a worship pastor asks.
Three concluding tips to help the people of God worship their way out of sin by beholding Jesus:
- The gospel shines brightest when it is set against the dark backdrop of our sin, so find places in your worship services to sing, speak, or pray your confession. And give the people words to help expand their vocabulary of confession beyond the superficial (the Book of Common Prayer’s most common confession prayer is a wonderful guiding tool).
- One step before that: Our sinfulness is amplified when God’s glory and holiness is made much of. So begin your worship services, more often than not, with Calls to Worship and songs that highlight God’s glorious attributes. In this way, we open up the people of God to hear God’s important “first word”—the Law. And when the Law is heralded, it crushes, kills, and prepares the soil for the most honest confession.
- See how you can assist in making the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism more dramatic in their proclamation and illustration of the gospel. Lend your aid to the baptism musically, either before, after, or during, in ways that guide the people of God to cherish Christ in the moment. Explore the ways that the Lord’s Supper can be practiced to enhance how the gospel is felt and apprehended.
"We worship our way into sin and we must worship our way out of sin.*
Very compelling stuff, Zac. I will share this with my worship team today. Intrestingly, one of the things we have come to 'worship' above Christ alone is our form of worship or our preference of music. So then the very thing that has the most potential to aid us in our victory over sin becomes an enabler of it. May God allow us to see that ALL creation points to Him, not just the parts that we like!
You haven't just given a theology of worship here, but a philosophy as well, with wide-ranging ramifications. It's also distinctly Reformed.
For instance, I know your post wasn't about this, but in a related way we could say sanctification IS worship. If that's true, then it has an impact on our philosophy of preaching as well. Preaching isn't fundamentally about having people remember it (ie big idea), or doing whatever was preached on (ie "relevant" preaching), but actually beholding Christ in his beauty. The evangelical assumption is that preaching is for something else (ie "living the other six days") when preaching is for what it is: a chance to behold Christ right then and there. Evangelicals don't typically think that they can't get more sanctified right there on the spot, but so they can.
I should also note, along with your Lord's Supper exhortations, this Reformed distinction is simultaneously more mystical than the typical evangelical approaches.
Really great thoughts, Dave!
So powerful, man. I love how this inspires us as worship leaders to not just leave people entertained, inspired, or encouraged. We are to leave them beholding, gazing, and seeing the Savior. While this may be a bit idealistic, I love to think that people are more amazed by God at the end of our worship services than they are a great worship team.