Seeking satisfaction in the wrong wells and harboring unconfessed sin prohibit the worship that honors God and replenishes our souls. So, too, does ignorance. Jesus confronts and corrects this problem in the life of the Samaritan woman:
“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4:20–22 esv)
Most of us find the God of the Bible to be a bit too edgy for modern sensibilities. So instead of submitting to Him, we’re drawn toward creating a “God” we like better, choosing to be ignorant of who He really is. We pull back on the wrathful, vengeful stuff, for instance— the God who’s angry toward sin every day (Ps. 7:11). We feel that Jesus needs better PR—something along the lines of an “extreme makeover.” Make Him friendlier, a bit whiter, give Him a happier disposition. He’s not going to flip tables over anymore. He’s not coming back with a tattoo on His thigh (Rev. 19:16), wielding a sword and filling the streets with blood. People don’t want that kind of stuff—maybe in their movies, but not in their Maker. For many, Jesus is more like a masculine Tinker Bell, sprinkling pixie dust of love on everyone He meets. And who doesn’t feel safe with Tinker Bell?
The problem, however, is that if we strip Jesus of His deity, we also strip Him of His authority and power. If we change our perception of who He actually is, we cannot be free to worship Him genuinely. We end up missing out on real depth of relationship with Him. Our churches end up with a God who is safe, but weak; domesticated, but limited.
So why do we do it, then? Why do people choose to be ignorant of the one true God, even at the cost of authentic, grateful worship?
The underlying motivation in creating a God other than the One we see in Scripture always boils down to the same, wishful falsehood: “I’m not as bad as the Bible says I am; besides, God would never really judge anyone because that would be wrong.” And, sorry, that’s just not gospel.
Worship always suffers when man is exalted and God is belittled. If you remove the fact that you’re a sinner, if you elevate yourself to a more righteously entitled place, if you exalt yourself and think, “I’m not really all that bad; I’m kind of a good person,” then your worship is going to suffer. If your church doesn’t understand the nature of their sinful condition, they will be stunted in their adulation of salvation. By stripping away aspects of His power, we worship a God who isn’t real. Every time we stray from the revealed Word of God—from the Mississippi River that fuels our spiritual power—we attest that we actually believe some aspects of these foolish statements.
Yet here’s the paradoxical reality: you are a rebellious, wicked sinner, and God has loved you in Christ. In the gospel, these opposites go together. You retain no secrets from Him, and yet He has still pursued and saved you.
The people we serve need to be constantly reminded of that.
Jesus confronted the woman at the well with the fact that secrecy is a myth. God knows and yet has still chosen to extend mercy and grace in the cross. Worship flourishes when people know this—when we know who we are, know who He is, and then stare into that massive, terrifying gap that Jesus has filled with blood-bought grace and forgiveness. As Thomas Merton powerfully writes, “When sin becomes bitter, then Christ becomes sweet.” Worship explodes from the nucleus of that reality, when the gospel truly informs our worship. It compels us to put no other god before Him . . . to magnify Him to the extinction of all rivals.
The more we hear and receive the gospel, the more the Spirit sanctifies us from empty wells, unconfessed sin, and deceptive ignorance. The more we become worshippers of the one true living God.
Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and I are posting questions each month for church leaders to discuss with their teams. The content and questions are based on our book Creature of the Word. You can get the book here and access the monthly audit here.