Acting Religious or Worshipping?

Acts 17:22-23

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

One of the biggest problems facing Christianity today is that it is ok to be religious.  Don’t misunderstand this; it’s a good thing that we don’t live in fear for our lives because of our faith.  But by making religion acceptable, Christianity is viewed with disdain.

Today anything goes and it is ok to have some sort of faith in the supernatural.  But it is entirely inappropriate to tell someone that your faith is better than theirs.  It is sort of an agnostic worldview that everyone should believe as they want because there is no true way of knowing who is right.

Of course Christianity claims to be the only way to God.  It’s not inclusive and it’s not popular but if Christianity is right, then all other religions must be wrong.

Fortunately, we can do as Paul did.  We can tell others about the God that they are missing out on in their vague spirituality.  What sets Christianity apart from all other religions is Jesus.  Sure, other religions have their own central figure but only one religion deals with the issue of sin.  Other religions rely on living a good life (which has laws that we can’t follow) and attempting to make atonement for sin.  At best no one can know if they lived a good enough life and made enough atonement.

Paul declared who was the unknown god that the Athenians were worshipping.  We can declare that Jesus is the only answer to the problem of sin.

God Speaks in Worship

Acts 13:2

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

I have never had an instance when I felt that God was telling me in no uncertain terms to do something.  But there are many times that I have felt the urge to do something and looked back upon it and realized that God was likely at work during the situation.

Many people view worship and prayer as one way avenues to God.  This is not the case however.  We are in a relationship with God.  Just like any other relationship, it won’t be a strong one if it is one sided.  We wouldn’t like it if our best friend or spouse insisted on hogging the conversation every time.  Neither does God.

While worship is directed to God, we should use this time to build our relationship with Him.  That means not just singing or studying or praying, but listening for God to respond.  We can become so wrapped up in praying for a solution to something that we don’t hear God reminding us of a Bible verse in the back of our mind that will give us comfort if not an immediate resolution.

Or perhaps we are too focused on singing instead of actually listening to the words.  We probably like many of the songs that we do because they are familiar and we enjoy the tune.  Listen to the words next time.  Are they taken from scripture or remind you of Bible passages?  God doesn’t need to speak in an audible voice to give us comfort or instruction.  He’s given us 66 books to speak to us and sometimes we just need reminded of them.

Spirit and Truth

John 4:24

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.

Jesus was speaking to the Samaritan woman as He said this statement.  The Samaritans had a problem.  They were very vibrant in their worship but they were off-base on who or what they were worshipping.  It doesn’t matter what our intention is or how spirited our worship is if it is pointed in the wrong direction.

The Jews of Jesus day had just the opposite problem.  They had the truth but no spirit.  The Pharisees had reduced their religion into a bunch of rules: do this, don’t do that.  The leaders were off base in their understanding of the rules but even if they weren’t they had sucked the joy out of worship.

Although this is admittedly an oversimplification, the church has fallen into one of these two camps.  There are churches where everything is a party and feelings are emphasized.  The truth in the Word of God is not the central part of a worship service.

On the other hand, some churches emphasize strict Bible teaching and doctrine and have no joy in their salvation.  Yes they are saved but you wouldn’t be able to see the difference in their lives by how excited their salvation makes them.

As individuals and churches we need to emphasize balance.  There is a place for joyful singing and dancing and there is a time for solemn biblical reflection.  We should worship in both spirit and in truth.

Worship and Doubt

Matthew 28:17

When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

Poor Thomas is forever associated with doubt.  Peter denied Christ three times but we don’t remember him just for that act.  Belief is difficult and we should recognize it as such.

Christians shouldn’t doubt the existence of God but we do have other doubts at times. Jesus claimed to have risen from the dead but some did not believe.  Even today people make excuses that either Jesus never really died or that His resurrection was a lie.  Trusting in what God says is important to our worship.  The people couldn’t worship Jesus if they felt that His claims were false.

Every time I sit down, I believe that the chair is going to hold me.  This is not something that I ever worry about and it never crosses my mind that the chair will fail to do its duty.  Ideally, this is how our belief in God should be.  We should trust Him so completely that there is just no thought that crosses our mind that He would fail us.

When we worry, and yes we all worry and doubt, we’re ultimately telling God that we don’t believe He can do what He said He would do.  This hinders our worship.  We worship the God who created the heavens and the earth, the God who sent His son Jesus to die for our sins, but who can’t handle our problem.  That’s what we are essentially saying when we don’t trust God.

God has made many promises and told us many things to believe in.  When we have no doubt, we shouldn’t have any trouble worshipping.  We can praise God for all of the things that He has done and has promised.

A Villain Turns to God

Daniel 3:28

Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.

Nebuchadnezzar is one of my favorite characters in all of the Bible.  He was not only the king of a great empire; God tells him that he is the most powerful man in the world both currently and ever to come.  This doesn’t mean that he was the best man however.  God needs to humble him and prove that as powerful of a man as he is on earth, the Lord of all the earth is infinitely more powerful.

Previously Nebuchadnezzar implied that no god could rescue someone from his hand.  Of course the Lord shows his power and humbles Nebuchadnezzar.  This passage shows his repentance as he recognizes the power of the true God.

Although Nebuchadnezzar’s transformation seems incredible, it is really just the start of his journey.  Just like many Christians, there is still plenty of work to do.  He will still mess up many more times.  He will have other proclamations that sound similar to this one until he is ultimately humbled and trusts completely in God.  But this is the start of his journey.

Some Christians can point to the exact date and location when they were saved.  Their transformation was dramatic and complete.  Others can’t point to a day but were gradually exposed to the gospel and one day they woke up and realized that they got it.  Just because there wasn’t a dramatic transformation or a person falls back from where they started doesn’t discount their salvation.  Our journey isn’t as important as our final destination.