woman raising her hands

By Pastor Nate Green

How we worship God, or in other words, the “style” in which we worship God is an age old issue that we still wrestle with today. But God’s Word gives us clarity on what He desires from us.

One of the first Biblical glimpses we get of this is in Genesis 4 in the story of Cain and Abel.

“In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.  The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.’ ” (Genesis 4:3-7)

Hebrews 1:4  gives us additional insight into this story as well.

“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.”

The offering itself was not the issue here (fruit or meat). The issue was within the hearts of Cain and Abel. The hearts expressed their faith and obedience (or lack thereof) to God. God discerned their hearts and allowed their hearts to be tested. The Lord warned Cain that sin was crouching at the door of his heart and that he needed to rule over it. But instead of obeying God, Cain gave into sin and killed his brother Abel. Abel on the other hand was commended for his faith and it was counted to him as righteousness. 

Fixating on the quality of the offering, or style of worship, can be very dangerous if we miss the heart behind it. We could easily become idolatrous by placing our own preference above what God desires from us.

So what does God desire from our worship of Him?

Let’s lay the groundwork.  We must worship God on His terms, not ours. When we read through the four gospels we see a lot of religious people believing that they were worshiping God, but in actuality were deceived and not worshiping Him at all! In fact, Jesus called some of these religious people “sons of the Devil” (see John 8:44). Jesus harshly rebuked them because their worship was not based on truth and did not recognize God for who He is. We must realize that we are all in danger of false worship and have a tendency to focus on the external methods of worship and forget what true worship is. John Piper, pastor and theologian, says the following about worship in his book written to fellow pastors titled Brother’s We Are Not Professionals:

“The New Testament reveals a stunning silence about the outward place and forms of worship and a radical intensification of worship as an inner, Godward experience of the heart manifest in everyday life.”

The Bible has much to say about the dangers of external worship devoid of inward heart transformation expressed through obedience to Him. Here are a few examples from God’s Word:

“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” (Isaiah 29:13 + Matthew 15:8)

“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” (Matthew 23:25)

Reading these passages cause a check in my spirit. They are a healthy dose of questioning my fear of the Lord and my fleshly desire to look good on the outside. What is the condition of my heart worship before God? Am I seeking to please God or people?

We need to be very careful not to place too much emphasis on our worship environments or style! The early church was never commanded to build nice buildings and create beautiful settings for worship to take place. When the religious leaders of Jesus’ day asked Jesus for a sign, Jesus answered “destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in 3 days.” Jesus was speaking about His bodily resurrection, but they were fixated on their earthly temple. The point is this, Jesus should be the focus of our worship… let’s not glory in earthly temples or places of worship, or styles of worship.

Jesus said, “The day is coming when you will neither worship on this mountain or that mountain but God is seeking true worshipers, those who worship in Spirit and Truth.” (John 4:23)

God is seeking true worshipers, those who worship in Spirit and Truth.

How do we worship God in Spirit and Truth?

First of all, our hearts need to be transformed by Him, and that is something only He can do!

Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…” (John 6:44).

We must realize that we are all spiritually dead in our sins. We are born as enemies of God in need of reconciliation with Him.

“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (Colossians 1:21-23).

Once we receive grace from Him to know Him, we can then worship Him rightly – in Spirit and Truth. A huge factor of worshiping God in Truth is to “draw near to Him with a true heart in full assurance of faith.”

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,  by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  (Hebrews 10:19-25)

The Reformer Martin Luther loved music and introduced music within church worship services during the reformation as a way of declaring and internalizing Biblical truths. He loved the music of his day, pipe organs, flutes, trumpets, and choirs. Likewise, we use the prevalent forms of music in our day (drums, bass, electric guitars, pianos) to express our praise to God. There will always be people that have issues with the style we use. For example, Andreas Karlstadt, another theologian during Luther’s age believed music had no place within the church and told his followers to “relegate organs, trumpets and flutes to the theatre. The lascivious notes of the organ awaken thoughts of the world.”

Churches are still arguing about this stuff. There are people within the church that do not like electric guitars and drums and think they are “worldly”. Let us clear the air, instruments in and of themselves are not sinful! The person using the instrument is who God is looking at. He is looking straight into our heart, not the outward appearance! The Psalms encourage us to use a variety of instruments in our worship of God. As Psalm 150 so beautifully states:

Let Everything Praise the LORD

Praise the LORD!

Praise God in his sanctuary;

praise him in his mighty heavens!

Praise him for his mighty deeds;

praise him according to his excellent greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;

praise him with lute and harp!

Praise him with tambourine and dance;

praise him with strings and pipe!

Praise him with sounding cymbals;

praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!

Praise the LORD!

I’m so thankful that God allows us tons of freedom to express our worship and praise of Him! But, ultimately, He is interested in our hearts. He is interested in our obedience to Him.

Next time you have a conversation with someone about the musical style of worship, try bringing the conversation back to what God cares about. The heart.