Throughout the Old Testament, we see God expressing deep disgust with some of the empty gatherings and routine worship offered to Him. At one point, He tells His people He hates their religious feasts and won’t listen to their showy, insincere offerings of worship (Amos 5:21–24). In another place He asks His people to quit lighting worthless fires on the altar (Mal. 1:10). In each case, the Lord knew He didn’t have the full hearts of His people. They were going through motions of worship without hearts melted by His grace, without being filled with awe by His greatness and His goodness.
Only the gospel can grip our hearts with this kind of ongoing, unending awe. Only the gospel can cause grateful praise to flow, and keep flowing, and never stop flowing from our lips. Therefore, your gatherings must be soaked in the gospel. Everything from the music, to the teaching, to the observance of the ordinances—all of it must unashamedly, explicitly, point people to Jesus and what He has done. Otherwise, the Creature suffers.
Music. As you consider selecting songs for your worship services, consider them in light of the truth of the gospel. Imagine the songs as teachers—because they are! If your people could understand your doctrine only through the music you sing, what would they know about God and His pursuit of us? If your people could understand your church’s beliefs only through the music, what would they know? These are good questions to ask yourself in order to stay Jesus-centered.
Too often the songs we sing in many churches are bold declarations of what we can do for God, of what we have that we can offer Him. And while the character of God and His work on our behalf does demand an active response from us, we must be careful not to teach people unintentionally that the Christian faith is about our personal resolve and commitments. Choose songs instead that remind people about the greatness of God. Choose songs that boldly remind people of the gospel—how He found us in the hopelessness of our sin and redeemed us for His own pleasure and glory—because only the gospel can stir the Creature to worship authentically and live. Without consistent reminders of the gospel, our worship services quickly become empty religious feasts that (according to Scripture) disgust the Lord.
Teaching. I will address this in further detail in a later post, but as you prepare the teaching moments of the worship service—both the sermon and other instructive elements—be sure the gospel is the foundation for all that is said. Connect the imperatives of Scripture (things to do) with the indicatives of Scripture (what Christ has done). Don’t mention the gospel only at the end of your messages, when you speak to those who are not yet Christian, accidentally teaching that the gospel is only for unbelievers. Instead, show how the gospel impacts all of life. Help your people feast on the gospel throughout the whole message, throughout the whole service.
Ordinances. As you prepare and lead people through the ordinances of communion and baptism, aggressively apply the gospel to the hearts of your people. These two ordinances were given to the Creature to remind her that she is alive because of the gospel.
Baptism is a visual statement of the gospel, a reminder that our sins were buried with Christ and that we have been made alive because of His resurrection. Communion, too, is an opportunity to surround ourselves with the powerful realities of gospel truth—the unleavened bread, a symbol of the purity and holiness of Jesus; the cup, the blood of the covenant, reminiscent of His great sacrifice as the pure and faultless Lamb of God.
We come together each week from our individual modes and manners of life to unite in shared worship not only of His majesty but also of His deep love—a love wholly undeserved and yet lavishly given. We don’t just celebrate God; we celebrate His gospel. And, we celebrate as a community.
No other worship will satisfy.
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.