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Today's Bible Q&A with John MacArthur

True Worship, Part 8

John 4:20-24 February 28, 1982 2011


Recently, I have been greatly concerned about the matter of worship. Wondering whether this concern was unique to my own era, I began reading the works of some of the more ancient scriptural commentators and saints of God. What I found out was that they faced similar periods of time when the church had lost its perspective on worship. In fact, throughout church history there seemed to be a rather constant cry, calling the people of God to a worshiping life. For example St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) said this: "Up, slight man. Flee for a little while thy occupations. Hide thyself for a time from thy disturbing thoughts. Pass away now thy toilsome cares, and put away thy burdensome business. Yield room for some little time with God and rest for a little time in Him, and through the inner chamber shut out all thoughts save those of God and such as can aid thee in seeking Him....Speak now to God saying, 'I seek Thy face. Thy face, Lord, will I seek.'" And thus did he call his people to worship.



In our look at worship, we've tried not to exhaust the theme, but rather to just touch the edges of it so that the Spirit of God might begin to teach us. So far, we've looked at a definition of worship (see p. 8) and discussed:





In our last lesson we began a look at:


A. The Deviations of Worship in Spirit and Truth

B. The Discussion of Worship in Spirit and Truth

1. Worship in spirit

a) The meaning

b) The method

(1) Possession of the Holy Spirit

(2) Thoughts centered on God

(3) Discovery and meditation on God's Word

(4) An undivided heart

Many times in the Old Testament, God indicted His people for worshiping Him externally while their hearts were far from Him (Isa. 29:13; Jer. 3:10; Ezek. 33:31). In fact, the Lord indicted the religious people of His day for the same thing. For example in Matthew 15:7-9a He says, "Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth near unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me." You see, God desires an undivided heart.


Now we'll pick up where we left off.

(a) Psalm 86:5-11

(b) Psalm 108:1-3 - "O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise....Awake, psaltery and harp; I myself will awake early. I will praise thee, O Lord, among the peoples; and I will sing praises unto thee among the nations." In other words the music of praise rises out of a fixed, undivided, settled heart-a heart focusing only on God.

(c) Psalm 112:7b-8a - This psalm starts out, "Praise ye the Lord," and then continues as a psalm of praise. How is it that the psalmist's heart can praise? Because "his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord" (v.7b)and because "his heart is established" (v.8a).

Praise, then, arises out of a heart that is fixed, established, and focused on the wonder of God.

(d) Psalm 57:7-11 - "My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise. Awake up, my glory; awake psaltery and harp. I myself will awake early. I will praise thee, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing unto thee among the nations. For thy mercy is great unto the heavens, and thy truth unto the clouds. Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; let thy glory be above all the earth."

So to worship in spirit we must possess the Holy Spirit, our thoughts must be centered on God, we must be in the Word of God with discovery and meditation, and then we must also have an undivided and fixed heart. Fifth, we must have:

(5)   An open and repentant spirit

In Psalm 139:23-24 David says, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." David was admitting here that he couldn't fully understand his own heart. So he asked God to show him anything in his life that he needed to repent of.

As we approach God in worship, we need to come with an open and repentant spirit. We must come to God with a willingness to say, "God, turn on the searchlight and expose whatever You find in the corners." If you have found it difficult to worship, and there's little sense of the nearness of God, it may well be that there are areas in your life that you have long overlooked and are only known about by God. If that's the case, you need to plead with Him to search those areas out and expose them to you. Then you need to willingly confess them in a broken and contrite spirit.

In order to worship, our sins must be dealt with. When Scripture talks about worship, it also talks about cleansing, purging, purifying, confessing, and repenting. Why? Because the only person who can utterly enter into communion with an utterly holy God, is one whose sin is utterly dealt with. We can't go rushing into God's presence in our impurity, thinking that all is well! We, like Isaiah, must confess our sin before God and allow Him to touch that live, burning coal to our lips to purge us (Isa. 6:6-7).

When the Spirit of God resides within us, when our minds are focused on God, when we're in His Word discovering and meditating with an undivided heart, and when we have given God full access to uncover whatever stands between us and Him - that is worshiping in spirit.

Many years ago, Stephen Charnock wrote these words: "Without the heart it is not worship; it is a stage play; an acting a part without being that person really...a hypocrite. We may truly be said to worship God-though we lack perfection; but we cannot be said to worship Him if we lack sincerity....." That's so true! We may worship imperfectly, but we cannot worship insincerely. When we come to God to worship in spirit it must be from the depth of all that is within us-a sincere worship of God.

Now, lets look at the second (and balancing) element of the nature of worship.

2. Worship in truth

All worship is in response to truth. It is not an emotional exercise with "God words" and induced feelings, it is a response that is built upon truth.

Pilate asked Jesus a very important question: "What is truth?" (John 18:38a). Well, the answer to his question is found in John 17:17b, where Jesus says to His Father, "Thy word is truth," or in Psalm 119 where the psalmist says, "Thy law is the truth" (v. 142b), "Thy word is true" (v. 160a).

Now, if we are to worship in truth, and the Word of God is truth, then we must worship out of an understanding of the Word of God. If we're going to truly worship God, we must understand who He is, and the only place He has fully revealed Himself is in His Word.

a) Romans 1:18-19, 25

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness, because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shown it unto them." God has disclosed Himself, first of all, in terms of conscience and creation, or what is called general revelation. But men suppressed that truth and "exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator." (v.25).

First of all, God revealed Himself in creation and conscience, and then He revealed Himself clearly in the pages of the Word of God. If we are to worship in truth, then we are to worship God as He is defined in the Bible, because only the Bible explains the God of creation and conscience.

Everything we know about God is in the Word of God, so He can't be worshiped apart from His revelation.

b) Psalm 47:7b

All worship must be based on truth. This is seen in Psalm 47:7b, where the Psalmist says, "Sing ye praises with understanding." Worship is not simply holding hands and swaying back and forth or having ecstatic experiences that have no meaning or content. Worship is not even a good feeling, as good as feelings are. Worship is an expression of praise from the depth of the heart toward a God who is understood through His Word. There's no virtue in saying you're worshiping God if you don't comprehend what you're doing. Why? Because there's no true worship apart from a true understanding of God. Any group that does not understand truth about God does not worship God - cannot worship God - for He must be worshiped in spirit and according to truth.

c) 2 Corinthians 4:2

Paul says, "But [we] have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." In other words, Paul says, "We will never deceitfully misuse the Bible, nor will we ever be dishonest with anybody to gain our own ends. All we desire to do is to manifest the truth and to therefore commend ourselves in the sight of God." All response in worship is a response to the Word of God.

Why is expository preaching important?

People often ask me, "How can you have a worship service when you preach such a long time? When do the people have time to worship?" Well, I'm so committed to expository preaching because God cannot be worshiped apart from an understanding of who He is as He is revealed in Scripture. I'm committed to the systematic teaching of the Word of God - week in and week out - because God must be worshiped in truth. Now I could give clever sermons that would move the emotions and attitudes by filling them with a lot of stories. And I could make it all very interesting, fun, and exciting. However, when it was all said and done people might say, "Boy, John MacArthur can sure preach!" but they wouldn't be worshiping God. It's a far greater challenge for me to teach the Word of God and let it command men to respond to God as God is revealed in His self-revelation.

I strongly believe that any young person going into the ministry who is not committed to expository preaching is ultimately cutting his own throat. Why? Because people must respond, in every dimension of their lives, to the truth of the Word of God. We have to worship in truth - truth that is revealed in His Word. That's why I'm so totally committed to the fact that we must teach the Word of God.

d) Acts 2:42a

When the early church met together, they "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine." What was their doctrine? The revelations of God about Himself that were manifested through the apostles' writings and teachings. They were the substance of the truth on which the early church worshiped.

e) 1 Timothy 4:13

Paul told Timothy, "Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine." In other words, "Read the text, explain the text, and apply the text." Timothy was to stay in the text and teach sound doctrine - the truth about God.

f) Colossians 3:16-17

When the early church worshiped, they used "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" and had times of praise and thanks. But before all these things are listed in verses 16-17, it says, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly [Gk., plousios, "abundantly, fully"]." In other words, when the Word dominates us, our praise is regulated, and our worship is conformed to the divine standard.

g) Acts 17:23

When Paul went to Mars Hill in Athens, he saw the people worshiping--but their worship was unacceptable. Look at his indictment of them: "For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom, therefore, ye ignorantly worship...." You see, they were worshiping in ignorance, and their worship was unacceptable.

So what is the nature of worship? It's offering God worship from the depths of our inner being in praise, prayer, song, giving, and living - but always based on His revealed truth. It's difficult to keep the church conformed to that because on one hand it tends to get cold and lifeless, but on the other hand it gets emotional, fanatical, and feeling-oriented. The balance is in the middle because God is to be worshiped in spirit and in truth.

A loss of true worship is seen in cold orthodoxy where ritual, formality, routine, and tradition have become a mindless, meaningless, activity - that is just as much a loss as the ecstasies of the other extreme. So I submit to you, if you're going to worship God, there must be faithful commitment to the Word of God. It isn't going to happen by some "zap" out of heaven. Worship must come from the overflow of an understanding of God's Word. As you study it, discover its truths, meditate on it, focus on God, have an undivided heart, and have an open and repentant spirit - the result will be an overflow of worship.


A. God is Glorified

Psalm 50:23a says, "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me." When we praise and worship God, He is glorified. In Leviticus 10:3b, the Lord tells Moses, "I will be sanctified in them that come near me, and before all the people I will be glorified." God wants to be set apart and glorified among His people. And as we come to Him in worship, He is glorified. The supreme purpose of life is to glorify God - and when we worship Him as He is to be worshiped, He is glorified.

Second, when we worship God as He desires to be worshiped:

B. Christians Are Purified

In Psalm 24:3-4 David says, "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place? He who hath clean hands, and a pure heart." A worshiping church is a pure church. Why? Because as we enter into God's presence there is recognition of our sinfulness and a willingness to abandon that sinfulness. There is a consuming desire to be pure and clean, the closer we draw to God. And the nearer we come to Him, the more overwhelmed we become with our sinfulness and cry with David, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me" (Ps. 139:23-24a).

The reason the Lord's Table is so important in the worship of the church is because it causes us to regularly face the reality of our sinfulness. In fact, that's the reason the early church so frequently engaged in it - so that they might come face to face with the need to be pure.

Where true worship occurs, not only is God glorified and Christians purified, but third:

C. The Church is Edified

In Acts 2:47 we read that when the early church was worshiping they not only found favor with God, but they also found favor with all the people. Then it says, "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." They filled the city with their doctrine (Acts 5:28b) and turned the world upside down. They were winsome, attractive, and dynamic.

I believe that a worshiping church is a church that is built up-edified. Now I'm not talking about people feeling better; I'm talking about people living better and becoming transformed. As we come together to worship the Lord, we become built up, strong, and transformed.

Let me say that another way - True worship changes people. If you're not changed after you worship, you haven't been worshiping. No one can draw nigh into the presence of God without changing - It can't be done! If worship doesn't propel you into greater obedience, call it what you will, but it isn't worship. It isn't worship unless you come out of it with a greater commitment to obedience. As worship begins in holy expectancy, it ends in holy expectancy-or it isn't worship.

The results of worship are that God is glorified, Christians are purified, the church is edified, and fourth:

D. The Lost Are Evangelized

The profound testimony of a worshiping community probably has a greater impact than any single sermon does. In 1 Corinthians 14:23-25 Paul basically says to the Corinthian church, "If you'll just get your worship shaped up and do it the way it ought to be done, the unbelievers that come into your midst will fall on their faces and worship God." Worshiping people have a great impact on the lost.

I'll never forget the Jewish lady who went to the temple down the street from our church to get counsel for her marriage, which was breaking up. She hadn't paid her temple dues, so they wouldn't counsel her. Well, it happened to be on a Sunday, and as she left the temple, she got caught in the crowd coming to church and wound up in the worship service. I baptized her a few weeks later, and she said to me, "I don't remember anything you said that morning. In fact, I couldn't tell you what the sermon was about. But I was in awe of the joy, the peace, and the love that was going on among the people of the congregation as they worshiped. I had never seen anything like it before." As a result of seeing worshiping people, she became a Christian.

So the results of worship are that God is glorified, Christians are purified, the church is edified, and the lost are evangelized.

Now, some of you are saying to yourself, "John, I understand that the importance of worship is that God seeks worshipers; I understand that the source of worship is my salvation; I understand that the object of worship is God; I understand that the sphere of worship is everywhere at all times, especially in the corporate assembly of redeemed people; I understand that the essence or nature of worship is that it must be perfectly balanced, between spirit and truth - the heart and the Word of God; and I understand the results of worship. What do I do now? How do I really prepare myself to worship?"



When you go to church to worship, the issue is not how well prepared the choir or the preacher is. The issue is, How well prepared are you to worship God? I believe that one verse, Hebrews 10:22, is the greatest summation of the preparation of worship anywhere in the Bible: "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water."

A. The Call

"Let us draw near."

This is a call to worship. Who are we to draw near to? God. The writer of Hebrews is saying, "Come on, it's time to worship. Let's draw near and move toward God."

You say, "That's what I want to do, I want to draw near. But what do I do now?"  Well, there are four checkpoints:

B. The Checkpoints

1. Sincerity - "with a true heart"

Are you really sincere? Is your heart fixed and undivided? Are you worshiping with your whole heart?

2. Fidelity - "in full assurance of faith"

The Hebrews, to whom this Epistle is addressed, were still trying to hold on to the old covenant. But because the new covenant had come in Jesus Christ, they had to say no to the old covenant in order to worship God. There were no more ceremonies, sacrifices, symbols, pictures, or types. The old was gone, and a new and better covenant had come. So they had to be willing to say, "I'm coming to God in full confidence and assurance that I am no longer under a system of works or ceremony but that I come fully by faith in Jesus Christ." That's fidelity.

So, not only are you to worship with sincerity, but you are to worship according to the truth revealed in the New Testament, in full assurance that it is saving truth. You're not to hang on to any of your own works, any of your own worthiness, any of your self-righteousness, or any of your rituals. You're to be fully assured that you can come to God simply and only through faith.

3. Humility - "having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience"

We must come to God with the knowledge that we're unworthy to be in his presence because our hearts are filled with an evil conscience. We must also realize that the only reason we can come to God is because we've been sprinkled by the blood of Jesus Christ, which was shed for us on the cross to take care of our sin and cleanse our evil hearts. So as we worship, there's a sense of humility and unworthiness - knowing that we have no business being in the presence of God, except for the fact that the Lord has sprinkled us clean from the evil that is in us.

So to worship God you must pass the test of sincerity, fidelity, humility, and fourth:

4. Purity - "and our bodies washed with pure water"

This is not the same as the cleansing of our hearts at the cross, this is the daily washing. Before we can worship, we have to deal with the sin in our lives through confession. Even though our hearts were cleansed at the cross, our feet still pick up the dust of the world. So, there must be a confessing of sin.

Every time you worship, prepare yourself by asking these questions:

1) Am I sincere? Is my heart fixed? Is my whole heart devoted to God? Am I focusing on Him? Am I seeing Him in the Word, through discovery and meditation, so that my hungering desire is to draw nigh unto Him?

2) Am I assured that I can come simply and only by faith, having the full assurance that it is sufficient?

3) Am I coming to God with the knowledge that the only reason I am here is because of what Christ has done for me?

4) And am I coming in purity - having dealt with any sin in my life?

I dare say that if you would just take a little extra time on Sunday morning to open your Bible to Hebrews 10:22 and go through the checkpoints, you would do more to prepare your heart for worship than any other thing I know.

Are you sincere? Are you committed to the truth of the new covenant? Are you placing all of the rights to your access to God on the finished work of Christ? And are you pure - having dealt with the sin in our life? If you are, you can "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you" (James 4:8a).

Some of you have been attending church for years, but you've never really drawn nigh unto God, nor have you ever sensed His nearness - even in your own private devotion and prayer. If that's the case, your worship is probably being hindered.


A. The Worship of Repentance

If  there is sin in your life, you have to accept the responsibility for it and confess it. In 2 Samuel 12 we find David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba, after he had had her husband murdered, and after he had seen the child born of that union die. After all of that, verse 20a says, "Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord, and worshiped." That is the worship of repentance.

You say, "What do you mean by that?" Well, David was in the midst of a tragic situation - the loss of his baby son - and yet he worshiped God. Why? Because he knew he was receiving what he deserved. In the midst of his chastening he worshiped. The worship of repentance means that even in the midst of chastening you are able to pour out your heart to God, confess your sin, and say, "I'm getting what I deserve."

Some of you can't worship because you've never dealt with your sin and poured out your heart in repentance to God. You may even be angry or bitter over some of the things you've been chastened by. If that's the situation with you, the barrier you have to first overcome is repentance over your sin.

B. The Worship of Acceptance

In the familiar words of Job, when he heard the news that everything he loved was gone - his children, his possessions, his animals - the Bible says, "Then Job arose, and tore his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshiped, and said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:20-21.) That is the worship of an unquestionable acceptance.

Some of you have never been able to worship God because you're still unable to accept some of the circumstances God has brought into your life. They've made you bitter, and you can't worship. And until you get to the point of acceptance, you're never going to be able to worship God.

George Mueller put it like this: "There came a day when I died; died to the praise and the criticism of men; died to everything except the will of God for my life." And may I suggest, that was the day he began to live? Job has said, "But He knoweth the way that I take; when He hath tested me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:10).

The worship of acceptance is to be willing to accept your circumstances - your place in life, your job, your career, your partner, your children - and be willing to say, "God, You know all of the things that are happening to me (the loss of your loved one, the loss of your child, the loss of your job, the pain of illness), and yet in the midst of it all, I will worship You."

You see, sin, as well as bitterness and an inability to accept what God has brought into your life, will keep you from worshiping.

C. The Worship of Devotion

In Genesis 22, Abraham took his son Isaac to Mount Moriah because God had told him to slay Isaac and offer him as a burnt offering (v.2). Look what is says in verses 4-5: "Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you." The fact that Abraham was willing to take the life of his own son and still see it as worship is incredible. You see, that's devoting oneself  to worship, no matter what the cost.

Some people can't worship God because they can't bother to get out of bed! How far is that from being willing to stick a knife in the chest of your own beloved son because that's what God told you to do?

Some people can't be free to worship until they overcome some barriers. Either they're not willing to deal with their sin, or they're not willing to deal with their circumstances, or they're not willing to pay the price.

Are we losing our "Oh!"?

A. W. Tozer said this: "Are we losing our 'Oh!'?...When the heart on its knees moves into the awesome presence, and hears with fear and wonder things not lawful to utter, the mind falls flat, and words, previously its faithful servants, become weak and totally incapable of telling what the heart hears and sees. In that awful moment, the worship can only cry 'Oh!'"

Are we losing our "Oh!"? I pray not!

Focusing on the Facts

1. How did the hypocritical Jewish leaders worship, according to the prophetic indictment spoken by Jesus in Matthew 15:7-9? What type of heart did they lack?

2. Why did David ask God to search his heart in Psalm 139:23-24?

3. What is one thing we should do if we lack a sense of nearness to God? Why (Isa.6:6-7; cf. Ps. 66:18)?

4. We may worship God ______________, but we can't worship Him __________ .

5. Is worship purely an emotional response? What must it be based on an understanding of? Why?

6. How did God reveal Himself in a general sense (Rom. 1:18-20)? What did man do with the revelation of truth (Rom. 1:18b, 25a)?

7. Why can't God be worshiped apart from His written revelation?

8. Worshiping is an expression of ______________ from the depth of the heart toward a God who is understood through His ____________ (Ps. 47:7).

9. Why is expository important from the standpoint of worship?

10. What was the substance of truth upon which the early church worshiped?

11. Why was the worship of the Athenians unacceptable (Acts 17:23)?

12. What are four results of worship?

13. Why is a worshiping church a pure church?

14. Why is the Lord's Table so important in the worship of the church?

15. Explain the statement "True worship changes people"?

16. What can have a greater impact than a single sermon?

17. What are the four checkpoints to determine whether you are properly prepared for worship (Heb. 10:22)?

18. Identify some barriers to worship. Give some scriptural examples of men who overcame them.

19. How was David able to worship in the midst of divine chastening?


Pondering the Principles

1. If we are to worship God, we must understand who He is. Most people will admit to belief in a superior being, but often they will have their own self-styled concept of who He is. How would you go about trying to direct someone from his own subjective speculations about God to the truth of the Bible? Consider the following approach: Ask him how he knows what God is like and how God demands to be worshiped. If he will agree that God has revealed Himself, ask him where He has been more fully revealed than in the Bible. Demonstrate that it claims to be an objective source of truth (Ps. 119: 160; John 17:17), but that men have rejected truth (Rom. 1:18-25, 28, 32).

Determine if he thinks it is logical to worship in ignorance, regardless of how sincere he may be (Acts 17:23). Assuming that he recognizes that the worship of an almighty being is a serious issue, ask him if he is willing to pay the consequences if, after a life of self-styled worship, he were to discover that his worship had been unacceptable to God. Share with him the consequences delineated in Scripture for rejecting the truth (John 8:24; 14:6; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; 2:8-12). Stress that his eternal destiny rests on whether he has offered acceptable or unacceptable worship. Make sure he knows that Christ offers eternal life to those who believe in Him (John 3:16; 17:3). Don't forget to pray that the Spirit would open his blinded eyes and to keep the doors open for future discussions with him (2 Tim. 2:24-26).

2. Are you preparing for worship any differently than before, now that you have completed this study? Before you worship on Sunday, go through the four checkpoints listed in reference to Hebrews 10:22. Are you worshiping God with your whole heart? Are you trusting in the truth revealed in the New Testament for your salvation? Do you come to God in humility, recognizing that you are unworthy to enter His presence apart from the righteousness bestowed on you through Christ's death? Are you constantly confessing your sin as the Spirit convicts you of it? Lastly, are there any barriers of bitterness from chastening or difficult circumstances, or of apathy that are preventing you from worshiping God in spirit and in truth? If so, strive to resolve them that your worship might be acceptable to God.