The Gospel 9: Eternal Worship
By: Deji Yesufu
A few months ago, I was in the vicinity of a Mountain of Fire and Miracle church here in Ibadan. As I sat in my car I could hear the prayers going on inside the church. The person leading the prayer session had just paused and was describing one of those scenarios meant to spur the congregation to pray. Afterwards, he urged them to prayer with those characteristic “…fire…” addendums. From where I sat, I could see a lady in the hot midday sun responding to the prayers. She probably found no seat in the overcrowded auditorium, so she stationed herself in the sun, without shoes, and just carried on “Oluwa… Oluwa… Oluwa… all my enemies… all my enemies…” She was sweating profusely but was oblivious of her surrounding, as she continued praying, shaking her head from side to side, repeating the same thing over and over again. It was a sorry sight to behold as it reminded me of the false prophets that contended with Elijah and needed so much gymnastics to attract the attention of their gods who had eyes but could not see and ears that could not hear. The religion that many practice in modern Pentecostalism can best be described as paganism, and not Christianity.
New Testament Christianity has the feel of response to it but very quickly it can degenerate to something like a talisman. We are either thanking God for his manifold grace in Christ or we are using God to fulfil the lusts of our hearts. Paul, as he concluded his discussion on justification by faith in his epistle to the Romans, could not but respond to the manifold grace of God in Christ with the following doxologies:
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)
The wisdom of God that brings salvation to men is unsearchable. We simply receive the grace of salvation; we cannot sufficiently describe it. No one can counsel God; no one can criticize him. No one can give him anything to spur him to actions. We are recipients of his manifold grace and rather than trying to get God to do anything through prayers, fasting, giving, or any means that are mostly recommended today to spur God to action, we simply worship God for all that he has done. For the truly converted Christian, God has done so much already. A heart that has received grace would usually return to God in thanksgiving and worship. Worship has always been the response of men and women who have had encounters with God.
When Abraham took his son, Isaac, to Mount Moriah to slaughter in obedience to God (Genesis 22), Abraham was not carrying a sacrifice with the hope of having more children afterwards. No. Abraham had encountered God in Genesis 20 when God brought the almost dying bodies of himself and his wife, Sarah, to have a child in their old ages. He probably could never get over the reality of that miracle. And having walked with God for those numbers of years, when God requested the child to be killed he did not argue. The Bible says he knew that the same God, who could give him that child, could bring the child back from the dead (Hebrew 11:19). Abraham’s obedience was a response to grace; Abraham’s obedience was worship.
In a similar manner, when the Israelites left Egypt and headed to the Promised Land, they had seen enough of God’s power to worship him. In fact the primary aim of their leaving Egypt was not to go to Canaan but to go out of Egypt to worship God (Exodus 5:3). God manifested all of his power to the point that the people of God could not but respond in worship. We should ask ourselves over and over again, can our Christianity be termed worship or a talisman – a means of getting things off God. If the religion you practice is the latter, you are not a Christian. You have not encountered the God of scriptures.
When Paul was done with these great doctrines of justification by faith in Romans, and had concluded it all with a doxology, he opened chapter 12 with these words:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)
God is not a hard taskmaster. God will not require us to do anything he has not sufficiently given us the grace to achieve. Acceptable spiritual worship is a response of a heart that has been inundated with the grace of God. It is a response to God’s manifold mercies. It is a “thank you” of some sort. Spiritual worship is like giving back a penny after we have been given a million dollars. If gospel obedience is difficult for you, you may want to find out whether you have received anything from the Lord. God gives us profound grace for the Christian life; it is from these resources that we offer up our obedience as a sacrifice to God.
Thus, spiritual worship does not begin with singing. It is even not about going to church. Spiritual worship begins with the renewing of our minds: a comprehension of how much grace we have received from God. If we have known the weight of sin hanging on our necks and we have experienced the blessing of not just temporal forgiveness but also eternal forgiveness; we would understand why we must be debtors to God’s grace and mercies. Whatever else we do in the Christian life is a feeble attempt at paying back this debt.
This is why obedience is not the first command in the Christian life. Our first command is to believe. We must understand the grace of God that we have found in Christ Jesus and we must have grace to believe these truths. If we do, we would be liberated in our obedience to God. We would forgive others because we ourselves have been forgiven much. We would give because we have been given so much. We would walk in holiness because we know that this is pleasing to our God and Savior Jesus Christ. Our Christianity would be a response to grace and never a means to getting grace off God. Our lives will be filled with gratitude to God for all the mercies he has shown us. We would never feel deserving of anything; for he who has given us his Son, has essentially given us everything. It is like being full and never hungry again. It is drinking spiritual water that quenches all thirst (John 4:13-14).
It is as our lifestyle is characterized by acceptable worship that we begin to appreciate worship in our churches. It is unfortunate that much of what is sung in churches today are these same pagan songs that come with a tag of Christianity on them – which are essentially designed to get things off God. True worship gives thanks to God for what he has done already. And because so much of modern worship songs are characterized by these pagan lyrics, some of us have had to resort to hymns from the 17th/18th century – where the gospel was taught and believed, and when God’s people sang to God in response to what he had done for them in Christ Jesus. Thankfully, more and more Christians today are recognizing the deficient worship songs of our day and endeavoring to produce Christian songs that are genuinely Christian at heart.
As we respond to all that God has given us in Christ Jesus through a lifestyle of worship and singing, we also look forward to the day when we would encounter eternal worship in heaven. The Christian hope is what it is because what we now see dimly as through a glass, we shall see clearly in heaven. Heaven would be a place of worship because even all of eternity will not be enough to say thank you to God for choosing us from the path of perdition and bringing us to his eternal kingdom. We would realize that we were saved not because we were better than those in hell but because he simply chose us to salvation. We would worship God for his manifold grace in Jesus Christ.
These discussions are very important because they go straight to the heart of whatever we may claim to believe. If God is only a means to getting food, drink, car, breakthroughs, or even going to heaven, the religion you are practicing is not Christianity. It is paganism. If, however, your religion is a response to the grace of God in Christ Jesus, you have discovered true life. God, again, is not a hard taskmaster. God will not require of us anything he has not given us. If God demands acceptable worship, it is because he has shown us through his word and through the revelation of these truths in our hearts that he is deserving of all our worship. Amen.