Rightly responding to worship begins in the mind and heart. We hear and receive the Word of God as the Spirit of God works in us to help us understand and apply truth. As God’s Word brings conviction of sin, we respond with confession and repentance. As it reveals the promise of salvation, we respond with faith and hope. And as it reveals the beauty and glories of Christ, we respond with joy and praise. Worship begins with the Spirit stirring our hearts and drawing our thoughts to Christ. But worship is not complete if it stays only in the mind and heart. Worship must be lived out. Faith, repentance and joy must be expressed. They must be evident in the choices we make and the things we do. We rightly respond to worship when we respond with active obedience.
When we come to worship, we want to come with eager submission, ready to hear and ready to learn from God’s Word. But our eagerness must not be for hearing and pondering truth only. We must aim for living and doing. God does not give us His Word just to inform us. We want to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). Our goal, as we take in the Word, should be obedience. More than praise on our lips, God desires to see praise lived out in our lives. It must reach our hands and our feet.
The prophet Samuel admonished Israel in 1 Samuel 15:22—
And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.”
“To obey is better than sacrifice.” Obedience from the heart trumps performance on display. ” An obedient life is a better offering than our best sermons, our most eloquent prayers, and our most beautiful songs.
An obedient life is evidence of a life anchored in Christ. Jesus compared a life of obedience to a house built on a strong foundation. And He warned those who called Him Lord, but did not obey His Word.
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great” (Luke 6:46–49).
An obedient life is an expression of our love to God.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:2).
Obedience is not something we do to gain God’s favor or make ourselves fit for His presence. In ourselves we do not have the power to do what is right. Without Christ, we are dead in sin. Without Christ, we would not seek Him or want to obey Him.
This was true before we came to Christ, when there was no light in us, no desire or understanding of spiritual things. But it is also true today for those of us who are now in Christ. We would have no hope of seeing spiritual fruit or progress within our souls, were it not for Christ and His abiding presence with us. Left to ourselves, even our best efforts would condemn us.
Without Him we can do nothing, but with Him, Paul tells us—
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Obedience is only possible through Christ. It can only come from a heart changed by grace and enlivened by the Sprit. We do not obey in order to be right with God or stay right with God; our obedience cannot save us or sustain us. We obey out of love and gratitude because Christ has made us right with God. He has saved us. He sustains us. His atoning death has paid for our sin and failure. His perfect obedience has clothed us in righteousness. Outside of Christ God’s law can only condemn us, but in Christ it is our delight (Romans 7:22).
If we are to rightly respond to worship, we must respond with active obedience to the Word of God. We must lay hold of His promises and follow His commandments. May God strengthen us to trust and obey His Word. And may our obedience always be anchored firmly in the love of Christ.
See a Table of Contents (thus far) for this series: Gathered Worship in the House of God
(Scripture quotations are from the Holy BIble, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway)