George Orwell likely never said it, but he should have: “In a time of universal deceit — telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” Whatever its source, is there a popular dictum more apt for the state of things in 2019?
On a daily basis, twenty-first century society tees up circumstances fairly pounding the table for the facts; or some outbreak of commons sense or ground-level decency. All you would-be “revolutionaries”? Provide any of the above and you’re practically there!
Twenty-three-year-old actress Madeline Carroll was churning along nicely in the mid-2000s, landing “family-friendly roles” in film and television. Then she hit her teens and — no surprise — lascivious Hollywood decided the young starlet’s career trajectory needed to change. Performing opportunities became increasingly objectionable to Carroll who, as a Christian, had adopted the radical — revolutionary? — perspective that her work choices ought to please the One she claims to follow.
“I was going to be the … teenage girl that wanted to sleep with everybody in the school” she recently admitted to the National Religious Broadcasters. “[I]t was really devastating for me, because I had [gone] from so much happening to literally nothing happening.”
Her agents were miffed at her for declining these shots at money and fame, but her mother reaffirmed:
“It’s better, Madeline, to err on the ways of righteousness than err on the ways of the world.”
At age nineteen, a big screen part arrived — but nudity was required. She rejected the offer.
“You know, you’re crazy,” chided her agent. “if you don’t want to do nudity, I don’t know what to tell you. Because that’s literally all there is in this industry.”
An exaggeration from an exasperated handler, perhaps. Still, I’m reminded of reading somewhere that first-century Christians simply forswore any involvement in the theater of their day: sexual depravity flatly saturated every aspect of it.
“I laid it down before God and I let my dream die,” confessed the Los Angeles native. “And I truly didn’t think that I was ever gonna pick it back up again,”
Then, 2018 … another head-snapping reversal: Carroll won a major part in the religious-oriented film I Can Only Imagine. The movie opened in that week’s Top 5, wrapping it’s run with an imposing $83 million haul. She’s now collaborating on launch of a “new faith-based studio, Kingdom Studios”. “It’s time for Hollywood to wake up,” presses Carroll, “that there are people out there like me … that want to do something for His glory.”
Nice denouement to her personal drama — practically deserving silver
screen treatment. But before the inspiring third-reel of her story rolled, an ambitious young girl first had to refuse to go along with Tinsel Town’s status quo: No, I won’t disrobe in living color before audiences full of men so they can rush home and masturbate to my mental image. Not gonna be a part of that.
To libido-obsessed modern minds, them’s earthquaking words! And from a woman who pledged she wasn’t going to supinely go-along-to-get-along; at potentially disastrous professional cost. If the entertainment machine is hurtling toward the hot place, looks like it’s going to do so without Madeleine Carroll’s complicity.
Prospective revolutionaries, call your office.
Speaking of imperiling one’s career track: over the past three years upwards of eighteenintrepid souls have quit their positions with Britain’s National Health Service over concerns children are being misdiagnosed as transgender and administered harmful hormone treatments in the process. Each of these former NHS-employees were operating with teams tasked with determining whether kids as young as three should be prescribed puberty-blocking drugs, the effects of which are irreversible.
One staffer worried, “This experimental treatment is being done on not only children, but very vulnerable children.”
Carl Heneghan of Oxford University’s Centre of Evidence-based Medicine concurred, slamming the therapies as an “unregulated live experiment on children.”
These erstwhile NHS clinicians apparently arrived at the same conclusion — enough so that they determined to take attention-grabbing action.
In the span of a few dizzying years, transgender orthodoxy has become an inexorable steamroller before which nearly any cultural resistance, even mere reluctance, obsequiously yields. Count the “NHS Eighteen” as those comparatively few professionals modeling the courageous exception: they’ll no longer have a hand in medically trendy-but-ghoulish hazarding little one’s lives.
It’s the same noteworthy spirit driving a piece over at nationalreview.com where Graham Hillard lately admonished “Conservatives Shouldn’t Use Transgender Pronouns”.
“He”, “she” swapped out for “ze”, “zir”? Someone’s birth certificate specifying “male”, but collectively we’re obliged to fake he‘s “female”? And now humanity has to say grace not only over men’s and women’s willingly disfiguring their bodies, but over the disfigurement of language on behalf of their mental/emotional confusion, as well?
Hillard takes outspoken exception. “Renouncing” such balderdash “may come at a price,” he contends, “[but c]onservatives should pay it.”
While conceding transgender zaniness has become pandemic, he maintains sensible people “are to blame … if our conciliatory language impairs our ability to declare that this is wrong. It is not real. We have to stop it. … [I]f the central transgender assertion is a lie … then God forgive us if we utter a word in its favor.”
Hillard is candid about the risks involved:
To be sure, conservatives will pay a price for their stubbornness. … Jobs may be lost or friendships ruined. Our own children may one day condemn us. What is at stake, however, is the irreplaceable right to say of one thing, “true,” and of another, “false” — to define the basic realities from which our politics proceed. A man is a man. A woman is a woman. Let us not pretend otherwise.
If those embracing Judeo-Christian principles and valuing America’s founding ideals truly believe what we so snappily profess, how can we co-operate, even on the margins, with the demented, reality-disdaining forces assailing this age? Civilization-engulfing fecklessness impacts persons in the most jarringly practical ways: how they conduct themselves, the decisions they take. Civilization-preserving wisdom ought to inform our responses against the same.
Shrugging at the omnivorous fithifying of our culture, at LGBTQ depredations of troubled children or the common understanding of words isn’t an option, either. Hey, it’s just the way things are! is nothing less than a dodging-responsibility card for the culturally passive; the bleat of those complacently drifting along the Leftist-secularist lazy river swamping every front.
Meanwhile, nowadays, those enunciating unfashionable but society-preserving truths should, properly, be labelled revolutionaries. And those moving beyond what their mouths sell, actually walking out its implications? For them, Mr. Orwell, or whoever coined the original adage, should have formulated an even loftier encomium.
Crosses and other Christian symbols have been publicly displayed in the West for centuries; no religious minorities objected in the slightest. Now, all of a sudden, in a staggering coincidence, millions of hate-filled liberal lefties think that the cross is offending everyone!
And it seems that the left in Europe is very similar to our Democrats!
The crosses on graves in an Italian cemetery have been covered up to avoid offending those from other religions.
The sheets went up during renovations taking place at the chapel, in case any workers of different faiths were offended.
According to Giorgia Meloni the leader of the Conservative-populist Brothers of Italy party (FDI), “Using the excuse of respect for others, they lack respect for our Catholic culture and our traditions. Now the Left is beyond fanaticism. This is ideological delirium.”
Breitbart reports: The cemetery, which is located in Bologna in a town of around 7,000 people, has also installed motorized blackout curtains in a local chapel following renovations to hide Roman Catholic symbols during ceremonies involving other denominations, Il Giornale reports.
Following the reports of the coverings of the symbols, many have expressed criticism including Forza Italia (Forward Italy) deputy Galeazzo Bignami who denounced the move saying those looking not to offend were disrespecting Christian values and he added, “even more so the memory of our dead, hiding them behind ‘motorised tents’ in a cemetery to avoid offending other religions.”
“If the administrators are ashamed of our tradition and our culture, they should go and hide themselves and not just behind a motorized tent. If they are not able to bring respect for the living at least they have the decency to leave the dead alone and not involve them in foolishness,” he added.
“Tolerance” and its associated virtues can only be extended by “something”. These things do not emerge from a vacuum or arise from an empty space. They are, instead, characteristics of an “entity” or a “presence” – such as Christianity or of Italian (in this case) culture as animated or inspired by Christianity.
Deny that “entity” and there can be no “tolerance” for there is nothing to “be” tolerant. What’s left when you remove or deny it is not “tolerance” or an aversion to causing offense (much the same thing), but a wasteland of renunciation and potential nihilism that offers nothing except license and uninhibited, destructive permissiveness. A desolate badland.
The cross-concealers or maskers of the crucifix that cover up or stifle the Christian well-spring of tolerance are treading a very dangerous – and deluded – path indeed.
“Today’s Church wants to be raptured from responsibility.” -Leonard Ravenhill
Have you ever noticed that the age demographic of those who promulgate the “end time” message are, for the most part, a bunch of “free love” hippies from the 1960s and 70s who have lost hope in God, love for man (1 John 5:2) and love for their country?
These hippies are continuously magnifying, through their lack of love (Matthew 24:12) though they talk much of it (Matthew 15:8), fear; a fear of the consequences of their dereliction of duty (1 John 2:4) in reaping the curse (Leviticus 26:14), a fear of man which paralyzes and, in the end, a snare (Proverbs 29:25). In fact, it is a fear in which the Lord did not give (1 Timothy 1:7).
They continuously magnify lawlessness (Proverbs 28:4), magnify crimes against God and man, which merely exposes their hate and rebellion toward God and man presenting a message to the people that is a blatant failure to love God enough to actually obey Him (John 14:21).
Remember, it is the church’s obligation to deal with the wicked (Psalm 94:16) in keeping His commandments unto judgment in establishing peace (Deuteronomy 4:6; Isaiah 51:4) because they love.
These hippies have learned well from the world and the mainstream media in submitting to the wicked. This is the world of which they have been commanded to come out (2 Corinthians 6:17).
These are also the same group of hippies that have convinced many in America to separate God’s law from His love, when love is the fulfilling of that law.
“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:10; Leviticus 19:17
These same hippies have also attempted to abrogate that which Jesus did not come to abrogate but to explain!
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” -Matthew 5:17-18
They want to create, out of thin air, terms like “legalism” and “legalistic,” As if to suggest that when you obey God’s government that is somehow legalistic. This mentality is brought to you exclusively by the hippies (Antinomians with no regard for law) that are responsible for the anarchy which you see today in America.
On a Personal note, I obey because I see what Christ did for me on Calvary (John 3:16) in covering my sins through His blood (Revelation 1:5) in living for Him who died for me (2 Corinthians 5:15).
What did He magnify in His incarnate life? The Law (Exodus 20), which drove me to the foot of the cross to meet my Savior from my sins (Matthew 1:21; John 16:8; Acts 20:21).
Jesus magnified the law of God. Just look to the Scriptures.
“The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable.” -Isaiah 42:21
“Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” -Psalm 40:7-8
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:” -Hebrews 8:10
Jesus clearly came to establish the law through faith.
“Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” -Romans 3:31
After all, the law is the schoolmaster to bring men unto Christ (Galatians 3:24).
“The Law detects, grace alone conquers.” -Augustine
Scripture also warns of those who speak not accordingly.
“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” -Isaiah 8:20
“Scripture is also clear that “Faith worketh by love.” -Galatians 5:6
Let me ask you, is it then love to withhold the faith which brings about the works? No, it’s just the opposite.
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does It profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. Somehow or another these hippies seem to overlook the scriptures that clearly expose their hypocrisies (Matthew 16:6) and inactions (James 2:14-17, 26).
“For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God. The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle. They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law;” -Psalm 78:5-10
However, the hippies of today gather in the thousands and have become nothing short of a bunch of fear-mongering cowards (1 Timothy 1:7; Revelation 21:8) that capitulate and continue to spread nothing but what’s in their reprobate hearts, and that message is “gloom and doom.” How contrary to that of Scripture and the examples set forth?
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” -2 Timothy 4:3-4
They can only give what they have received, and what they have received is what they have to offer- and what is that? Hopelessness! It shows you what these hippies are feeding upon. It is the blind leading the blind, and it is why they are leading their followers, who should be following Jesus (John 14:6), into the ditch (Matthew 15:14).
These are the same unrepentant hippies (2 Corinthians 7:10) hippies that are fueling fear, which only oppresses the up and coming generations, in which they have, in so many ways, forsaken decades ago, twice as much the sons and daughters of hell (Matthew 23:15), just like themselves (Psalm 9:17).
These hippies do not preach Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23-30). They preach “Get ready fearful flock, Jesus is coming back soon, come buy your new bunker from me.”
Gloom and doom, gloom and doom is what they proclaim, failing to lift a finger in obedience to the Lord or to help of their own posterity. How contrary to Scripture!
These hippies then wonder why they are a reproach, why they are despised by the younger generations and others that see through their facade of heretical teachings Let me tell you why that is. They have been subjected to everything and protected from nothing and these people do nothing but offer an unsettling fear (1 John 3:18).
Friends, these hippies are dead in their sins (1 Corinthians 15:17), they preach a false grace that is pushed as an occasion for the flesh to succumb rather than an empowerment that overcomes (Romans 8:37; 1 John 4:4, 5:4).
“But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” -Romans 5:20
They know not the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Jesus Christ. They know death not life, and they desire all that listen to their messages to embrace the same (Matthew 23:27).
“He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” -1 John 5:12
Where do you see or hear these hippies living in union with Christ (Romans 8:17), boldly proclaiming in power “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you”? (Luke 10:19)
When speaking of the revelation given unto the Church, Jesus said, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
Scripture tells us in 1 John 2:6,
“He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.”
Well then, what did Jesus do? He said, “Follow Me” (Matthew 4:19).
In following Christ, what is it that we see the Christ doing? Occupying! The Church is to emulate what Christ did and is doing today (1 John 4:17)!
Jesus said “Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13).
It was Jesus that said, “Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (John 4:35).
It was Jesus that said “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28: 19-20).
I cannot find Jesus telling His followers to sit down and do nothing, that God is on His throne and He will do for them what they are unwilling to do for themselves, nowhere!
Furthermore, the Church is not to limit the Holy One of Israel (Psalm 78:41)!
But I do find promises to those who disobey the Lord.
“And it shall come to pass, that as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you; so the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you, and to bring you to nought; and ye shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it.” -Deuteronomy 28:63
And the reason why…
“I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright.But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments;And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant: I also will do this unto you;” -Leviticus 26:13-16
These are the same people, in their unregenerate state, who look for another opportunity to capitalize on those who are foolish enough to listen to their heretical and unscriptural theology of eschatology.
Of course, they cannot pass by the opportunity as to why they should write a book every year highlighting when Jesus may be coming back. They want to tell what Jesus Himself said that He did not know (Matthew 24:36).
Yet, these are the same “do nothing” hippies who are trying to convince you that you are going to be raptured from responsibility. You can’t find that in the Bible either.
The good news is that you can find NO WHERE in Scripture where the Lord EVER failed a faithful man or a faithful woman of God, NO WHERE (1 Kings 8:56).
Finally, can you imagine our forefathers back in the 1700s saying, “This is it. It is all over with. Jesus is coming back to get us out of here”?
No, our forefathers, along with the Black Robed Regiment, 13 colonies and with less than 3% of the population, responded to God’s commandments. They took heed unto the Lord and He bestowed upon them the victory throughout the War for Independence. Remember our national motto, “No King but King Jesus” with the flags flying, “Appeal to Heaven.”
They saw their responsibilities and answered the call.
America, when we call upon the God of our fathers even now, in Jesus’ name, He will answer. Yet, we must all meet Him on His terms (Jeremiah 29:11-13). Our forefathers did not lay down, they stood up and played the men that God created them to be. They fought the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12) and secured their posterity’s future. They did not fall to circumstance, they sought the Lord, He heard, answered, and set the record straight that He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8).
The Lord showed Himself strong on their behalf. With this, our forefathers pledged the high cost of their lives, fortunes and sacred honor, and paid with their blood to redeem us (in the natural-1 Corinthians 2:14) through their sacrifice (John 3:16; 1 Peter 3:18) and yet, we call them blessed.
The second President of the United States John Adams said, “Posterity, You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve its freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the pains to preserve it.”
The way in which we express our gratitude to those who gave so much is to honor them with our actions in living for what they died to give us (2 Corinthians 3:17).
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land. In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The Lord our righteousness.” -Jeremiah 33:14-16
During the 33 years that I was preaching regularly in the worship services of Bethlehem Baptist Church, I resisted with all my might any reference to the one half of the service as worship, and the other half as preaching or teaching.
No! I insisted that the way we talk about it be the way it is. In the one part of the service, we worship through song and prayer and confession and affirmation; and in the other part of the service, we worship through preaching and hearing preaching. It is all worship.
Which meant that the aim of my exposition in the sermon for those 33 years of preaching was in that moment of preaching to fuel in myself worship — to awaken worship, to experience worship — and at the same time draw my people into the experience of worship over the word — in response to the reality shining out of the word.
Preaching’s Highest Priority
The aim of preaching was only secondarily that marriages might hold together, or that our people might be honest and just in all their business dealings, or that they might witness with boldness to unbelievers, or that they might pray with fervor, or that they might give themselves to the cause of global missions, or that they might be generous so that the church budget can be met, and all the ministries carried out. If any of those things ever became the primary goal of my preaching, I believed I had ceased to preach biblically.
“My primary task, week in and week out, was to handle the Scriptures in such a way that I laid open the reality of God.”
And, of course, I longed for and prayed for the health of their marriages and their honesty in business, and their boldness in witness, and their fervor in prayer, and their zeal for missions, and their radical wartime lifestyles and sacrificial generosity. All of that is essential to the Christian life. But many pastors are so burdened by the urgency of these precious, practical things, that they subtly — or blatantly — make those things the primary aim of their preaching. And I think that is deadly.
I think all of those things — and the thousand other beautiful, practical fruit of biblical truth — flourish in the soil of worship. So, my primary task, week in and week out, was to handle the Scriptures in such a way that I laid open the reality of God and his work in Christ and in the human soul and in the world, so that hearts — first mine and then the people’s — might be enflamed with worship. Heart’s aflame with worship of God, kindled by a sight of the glory of God through the word of God — that’s the soil in which all God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Spirit-dependent fruit of righteousness grows. And if it doesn’t grow there, it’s probably not Christian fruit at all.
Reality Demands a Response
So, what I want to persuade you of is that biblical preaching — the kind that Paul commands in 2 Timothy 4:2 — is worship. Or to say it more fully: preaching is expository worship. Or the phrase that I like to use for biblical preaching: expository exultation.
The text is opened so that the true meaning — the author’s intention in these words and clauses — and the reality communicated through that meaning, can be seen for what it is; that’s exposition.
And as it is opened, the preacher is responding to it — with his mind and his heart and his body — in a way that signals its proportionate worth and beauty; that’s exultation.
What I mean by the preacher’s signaling the proportionate worth and beauty of the reality behind the text is that the preacher’s response — with his heart and mind and body — should be fitting, suitable, proportional to the kind of reality seen through the text. So, for example, if the reality in the text is heavythe preacher is not lighthearted. If the reality in the text is sweet he’s not sour or dull. If the reality in the text is tender, he’s not harsh. If the reality is harsh, he is not tender. If the reality in the text is glorious the preacher is in awe.
And believe me, brothers, this can’t be faked. Spiritual people can tell if you are an actor playing an emotional role. Unspiritual people — you can fool them. But not real Christians, who have the Holy Spirit.
If every truth in the text elicits from the preacher the same pitch, the same tone, the same spiritual intensity, or if majestic realties find him in the same casual, chatty mode he uses for the illustration about his dog, or if the tender embrace of the prodigal by the Father finds him in a hard, condemning tone, the preacher is just not in touch with reality — and his people know it. Many of them are so used to that kind of preaching, they have lost a sense of how tragic it is and assume it’s normal.
So, here’s where we’re going. First, I will try to define what the inner essence of worship is. Then I will make try to show why biblical preaching not only aims at this worship in every message, but also is this worship in every message.
The Inner Essence of Worship
Let’s define the inner essence of what worship is. The reason I focus on the “inner essence of worship” is that the New Testament, unlike the Old Testament, is stunningly silent on the external specifics of what corporate worship should look like.
To Every Culture
I think the reason for this is so that the New Testament will be a relevant book of faith and life for all the cultures of the world. Old Testament Judaism was mainly a come-and-see religion. And New Testament Christianity is mainly a go-and-tell religion. And that means we are to take God’s word and incarnate it in every culture. So, there are hundreds of cultural outworkings of the inner essence of worship that are not prescribed in the New Testament.
It doesn’t tell us whether to worship in a building or under a tree, with two songs or ten songs, with or without worship leaders, with or without instruments — let alone which ones — with singing before or after or in the middle of preaching, in a thirty-minute service or a five-hour service, sitting or standing, with babies present or not, with pulpits or not, with banners or not, with men and women on the same side or separate, with casual clothes or formal, with a set order and flow or a different one each time, with congregational prayer or only from leaders, and on and on.
Worship by the Book
Worship in the New Testament is radically oriented on the experience of the heart, and is freed from specified forms and places. Jesus set the trajectory when he said to the woman at the well in John 4:21–23:
Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. . . . The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
You see the shift in categories: worship will not take place only in this mountain or in Jerusalem, but (shift in categories) in spirit and in truth. Spirit and truth replace mountains and cities. So, the external, formal, geographical dimension of worship diminishes and the inner essence of worship is foregrounded. To many people’s surprise John Calvin put it like this:
[The Master] did not will in outward discipline and ceremonies to prescribe in detail what we ought to do (because he foresaw that this depended on the state of the times, and he did not deem one form suitable for all ages) . . . Because he has taught nothing specifically, and because these things are not necessary to salvation, and for the upbuilding of the church ought to be variously accommodated to the customs of each nation and age, it will be fitting (as the advantage of the church will require) to change and abrogate traditional practices and to establish new ones. Indeed, I admit that we ought not to charge into innovation rashly, suddenly, for insufficient cause. But love will best judge what may hurt or edify; and if we let love be our guide, all will be safe. (Institutes, 4.10.30)
And Martin Luther, as you might expect, put it like this:
The worship of God . . . should be free at table, in private rooms, downstairs, upstairs, at home, abroad, in all places, by all people, at all times. Whoever tells you anything else is lying as badly as the pope and the devil himself. (What Luther Says, 1546)
What Happens in the Heart?
In my effort to define worship biblically for Christians, I am not focusing on the external, but asking: What is the inner essence of it? What happens in the heart when the heart is worshiping? Of course, God intends for there to be outward acts of worship — spoken prayers and songs and affirmations of faith and so on. And of course, Paul says in Romans 12:1 that our entire bodily life of obedience is to be “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
“Worship in the New Testament is radically oriented on the experience of the heart.”
So, I’m not discounting or minimizing the necessity of external expressions of the worth of Christ. What I want to know is this: What must happen in the heart so that any of those external things are not just muscular movements, but real expressions of something authentic in the heart?
The Pharisees did many external acts of worship, but Jesus said that inside there were dead men’s bones and hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:27–28).
Whether by Life or Death
The text that has crystalized the inner essence of worship for me most helpfully is Philippians 1:20–23. I’m going to streamline the argument here so we can get to preaching, but I hope it will be compelling. Paul says,
It is my eager expectation and hope that . . . Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.
CHRIST BE WORSHIPED
Now I am assuming that worshipping Christ is virtually the same as magnifying Christ. So, this is really a text about Paul’s eager expectation and hope that Christ be worshiped in or through his body in life and death. Then he gives the basis for how his death would magnify Christ — or be an act of worship.
For to me . . . to die is gain.
And then he explains in verse 23 that the reason death would be gain for him is that death means departing and being with Christ, which he says is far better.
MAGNIFIED IN DEATH
So here’s his argument: My dying will be a magnifying — an honoring of Christ, a worshiping of Christ — if in my dying I experience Christ as a treasure that is more satisfying than everything I am leaving behind. That’s what “gain” means. Death is gain because I get Christ.
But that’s only true if I experience Christ as a treasure that is more valuable, more satisfying to my soul, than everything I am losing in death. That is what turns my death into an act of worship — because the inner experience of my heart is to value him, treasure him, cherish him as more satisfying than everything I lose in death. That is what makes death worship.
And this is confirmed if we see how Paul later unpacked the other half of verse 21, “to live is Christ.” He said in Philippians 3:8,
I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
So, death is “gain” because it brings us closer to Christ who is a more satisfying treasure than everything we lose in death. And life is Christ because, even before death, Paul had already resolved to count everything as loss compared already to the surpassing value of knowing Christ.
EXPERIENCE THE TREASURE
So here’s my conclusion about worship: Experiencing Christ as a more satisfying treasure than everything we lose in death, and everything we have in life, is the inner essence of worship. That heart-experience of being satisfied with Christ — and all that God is for us in him — is the inner reality and essence of what Paul called magnifying Christ in life and death.
Let me clarify again: I’m not saying this inner essence is the totality of worship. Worship includes the outward expressions of that essence: We sing, we pray, we confess our sins, we affirm our faith, we sit, we stand, we kneel, we bow in silence, we lift our hands, we may even leap for joy — all that is worship, if it comes from this inner essence. And none is worship if it doesn’t. As Jesus said,
This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me. (Matthew 15:8–9)
So to say it again, the inner essence of worship is the heart’s experience of Christ — and all that God is for us in him — as a more satisfying treasure than everything the world can give or death can take.
CAN YOU GET SATISFACTION?
You may ask: Why do you use the word “satisfying”? Why don’t you just say, “The inner essence of worship is having Christ as a greater treasure than everything in the world”? Why do you have to insert this word, “satisfying”?
First, being satisfied with Christ really is implied in saying Christ is your greatest treasure, and I want to push it into people’s consciences that that’s what they’re saying when they claim to be Christian: to have Christ as their treasure. Because I fear that many people say he’s their treasure when in fact he doesn’t satisfy their souls. Money satisfies their souls. Earthly security and comfort satisfy their souls. Being married satisfies the soul. Or success or sex or sports or movies.
“I fear that many people say Jesus is their treasure when in fact he doesn’t satisfy their souls.”
I want to slam the door shut on the assumption that you can have Jesus as your greatest treasure, and yet have all your heart and emotions and affections cleaving to another reality for satisfaction. That’s not true. To have Jesus as your supreme treasure is to have him as your supreme satisfaction. And I think more preachers need to make this explicit, so that we help people not deceive themselves that they are Christians when they’re not.
Here’s the second reason I define the inner essence of worship as experiencing Christ as a “satisfying” treasure, not just a treasure. Jesus said in Matthew 13:44,
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
I use the word “satisfy” because of that little phrase “from his joy” (apō tēs charas autou) he sells all that he has. This man did not just sell all that he had to get the treasure in the field. You can imagine doing that, oddly as it seems, with a dour disposition and under some kind of external coercion where he has no real delight in that treasure, but is driven by some ulterior motive. But Jesus utterly rules that out with the words, “in his joy” he sells all that he has.
The most essential inner mark of reality in closing with the treasure of the kingdom is that we don’t just sell everything else as less valuable, we feeleverything else is less valuable. We sell it all in joyful abandon in order to have the all-satisfying Christ.
Where Righteousness Grows
So I’ll say it again: the inner essence of worship is experiencing Christ — and all that God is for us in him — as a more satisfying treasure than everything the world can give or death can take.
To be a Christian is to be born again into that. That experience of the inner essence of worship is the mark of the new creature in Christ. To live the Christian life in all of its practicalities is to continually act out of that. That experience of worship in the heart — the treasuring of Christ — is the soil where all the fruits of righteousness grow.
The Ultimate Aim of Preaching
And, therefore, the inner essence of worship must be the ultimate aim of preaching in every message, no matter the text, no matter the topic.
And my argument is that preaching that would awaken such worship in the hearts of the people, must strive, by the Spirit, to experience such worship inpreaching. Preaching that would awaken worship by the Spirit, must seek to be worship by the Spirit. Preachers that aim for the people to be awed by the glory of Christ in the word of God, must stand in awe of what they have seen of Christ in the word of God.
Therefore, as we preach the treasure, we are treasuring. As we hold up the pearl for all to see in exposition, we are prizing the pearl. As we invite people to the banquet, we are savoring the feast. If, week in and week out, we are not awed, not treasuring, not prizing, not savoring, not worshiping over the word — we are hypocrites, and unfit for this great calling of expository exultation.
The Devil Can Do Exposition
Remember, the devil can do exposition of Scripture. He can take it and explain. And up to a point, he can even explain it accurately. And empty-headed, irrational people can exult over a biblical text when they have no idea what it means or what the reality is behind it. But neither the devil nor empty-headed, irrational people can exult over the glory of God revealed in a true exposition of Scripture.
“If you have some years left in the sacred privilege, don’t waste your pulpit.”
In other words, the devil cannot preach. Irrational, emotional people cannot preach. That is, they cannot do expository exultation. They cannot see the glories of Scripture for what they are, and love them, and exult over them for their true spiritual beauty.
But that is what preachers do. Preaching is a peculiar kind of worshiping speech designed by God for bringing the glories of his word to the people of his favor for the awakening of worship. And that peculiar kind of speech is captured in the New Testament by the two Greek words that “preaching” translates. It translates euangelizō and kērussō.
Heralds of Good News
Euangelizō is the speaking of one who brings good news of great joy. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news (euangelizōmai) of great joy (Luke 2:10). Kērussō is the speech of one who heralds the weighty message of a great authority — like a town crier representing his king. Which is why Paul says in Romans 10:15, “How are they to preach (kēruxōsin) unless they are sent” — that is, unless they have some great authority behind them?
So, preaching, in bringing those two kinds of speech together, is unique. It’s not just teaching, it’s not conversation, it’s not discussion. Preaching is a unique kind of speech: It is heralding of the best news in all the world, from an infinitely powerful and glorious authority. It makes clear the meaning of biblical texts, and opens them so all can see the beauties and the glories of Christ in the good news; and it manifestly loves the goodness of that good news; and it feels the weight of God’s authority in it all. The King did not send his messengers to get the words right while the heart is wrong.
There is no speaking in the world like Christian preaching. It is utterly unique. And if the herald of this King, and the proclaimer of this news does not exult in this King and in this news, he is an unworthy herald. And he is not preaching.
A Constellation of Glory
The Christian preacher is never dealing with a mere body of facts to be clarified. He is dealing with a constellation of glories to be treasured. Paul calls them “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8). And the preacher’s aim is that the people would experience these riches as a more satisfying treasure than everything the world can give or death can take.
And he knows — you know — that the pathway to their worship throughpreaching, is his own experience of worship in preaching. And I bear witness from decades of preaching that God in his mercy loves to show up behind the pulpit and turn exposition into exultation. And when he does, the joy is unsurpassed.
If death did not mean a closer, deeper, sweeter communion with Christ, I could wish to be young again. And if I were, I would preach. There is nothing like it in all the world. The weight of God’s authority. The unsearchable riches of Christ. The privilege of showing them to God’s people. The pleasure of seeing them yourself. And, by the Spirit, the awakening of worship in the hearts of God’s elect. O brothers, there is no greater calling. If you have some years left in the sacred privilege, don’t waste your pulpit.
Exult over the glorious realities of biblical truth, make them plain, and draw your people into your worship over the word.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
The question we will tackle today is how do people who have experienced the miracle of the new birth deal with their own sinfulness as they try to live in the full assurance of their salvation? That is, how do we deal with the conflict between the reality of the new birth, on the one hand, and our ongoing sin, on the other hand? How do you balance the danger of losing assurance of salvation and the danger of being presumptuous that you are born again when you may not be? How can we enjoy the assurance of being born again, and yet not take lightly the sinfulness of our lives that is so out of step with being born again?
John’s first letter, more than any other book in the Bible, seems to be designed to help us in this practical, daily battle. Consider 1 John 5:13: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” This book is written, he says, to help believers have the full assurance that they have been born again—that is, that they have new, spiritual life in them that will never die. John wants you—God wants you—to experience something in this letter that makes you profoundly confident that you have passed from death to life.
First John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life.” Jesus says in John 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” So John and Jesus are jealous for us believers to know that judgment is behind us, and death is behind us, because our judgment happened when Jesus was judged in our place, and our death happened when Jesus died in our place. And therefore, new life is in us and this life cannot perish and cannot be taken away. It’s eternal. That’s the assurance John and Jesus want for you. “I write these things to you . . . that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
The Folly of the False Teachers
But something is going on in the churches that John is writing to that concerns him deeply. Whatever it is, it threatens to destroy this assurance. There are false teachers who are saying things that may give the impression of good news and strong assurance, but will have the very opposite effect. In dealing with these false teachers, John shows us how to deal with our own sin in relation to fighting for assurance. What were these false teachers saying?
First, they were saying that the pre-existent Son of God, Jesus Christ, had not come in the flesh. They did not believe in the full union of the pre-existent Son of God with a fleshly human nature like ours. Here is what John says about them in 1 John 4:1-3: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”
Disconnecting Christ and the Flesh
There is a lot we could go into about this early Christian heresy, but I only want to focus on one thing. These false teachers disconnected Christ and the flesh. See that in verse 2: “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” They did not like the idea of the pre-existent Christ being united with human flesh.
Now here is the reason that’s relevant for our question today. This view of the person of Christ not being united to physical, bodily, flesh evidently had a practical, moral effect on the way these false teachers viewed the Christian life. Just as they disconnected the person of Christ from ordinary physical life, so they disconnected being a Christian from ordinary physical life.
Disconnecting Christians and the Flesh
One of the clearest places to see his is here in our text: 1 John 3:7. John says, “Little children, let no one deceive you [so he has the false teachers in view]. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” What’s he saying? He is saying beware of the false teachers because what they say is that you can be righteous and not practice righteousness. “Let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous.”
In other words, John opposes not only their view of Christ, that they disconnect his person from his ordinary bodily life of doing things, but he also opposes their view of the Christian life when they disconnected our person from our ordinary bodily life of doing things: “The flesh didn’t really matter for Jesus; what mattered was that somehow, in a spiritual way, he was the Christ and there was no real union of the pre-existent Christ and the physical man Jesus. And our flesh doesn’t really matter either; but somehow, in a spiritual way, we are born again, but there is no real union between that new creation and our physical life that does righteousness or does sin.” Which led directly to the error that John points out in 1 John 3:7, that you can berighteous in some spiritual way, and yet not do righteousness in your ordinary physical life.
Now John has three responses to this false teaching.
Christ’s Incarnation Lasts Forever
First, he insists that the flesh of Jesus and the person of the pre-existent Christ are inseparable. First John 4:2: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” Notice it does not say “came in the flesh,” as though that union with flesh and bones happened for a while and then stopped. He says “has come in the flesh.”
This incarnation lasts forever. The second person of the Trinity will forever be united with human nature. We will always know him as Jesus, one like us, and infinitely above us—the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29). God did not, and does not, despise the physical creation that he made. He has comein the flesh. And the Son of God remains in the flesh forever. So John’s first response to the false teaching is to set straight their view of Christ. His physical being is not a mirage. It’s not secondary. It’s not unimportant. That he has a body marks and identifies him forever.
Christian Doing Confirms Being
John’s second response to the false teaching is to deny emphatically its teaching that spiritual being can be separated from physical doing. John, in fact, insists that spiritual being must be validated by physical doing, or else the spiritual being is simply not real. That’s what we saw in 1 John 3:7: “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” The deceivers were saying: You can be righteous and yet not practice righteousness. John says: The only people who are righteous are the ones who practice righteousness. Doing confirms being.
That is what John says over and over again in this letter. For example, in 1 John 2:29, he says, “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.” In other words, the doing of righteousness is the evidence and confirmation of being born again.
Not Practicing Sin: Evidence of the New Birth
Or consider 1 John 3:9: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” The practice of sin is the evidence and confirmation that one is not born of God. Doing confirms being. Not practicing sin is the evidence and confirmation of being born again.
And the reason the new birth inevitably changes the life of sinning, John says, is that when we are born again, “God’s seed” abides in us, and we “cannot keep on sinning.” That’s how real the connection between the new birth and daily physical life is. The seed may be the Spirit of God or the Word of God or the nature of God—or all three. Whatever it is specifically, God himself is at work in the new birth so powerfully that they cannot keep on practicing sin. God’s seed cannot make peace with a pattern of sinful behavior.
These false teachers who think they can separate who they are spiritually from who they are physically do not understand either the incarnation or regeneration. In the incarnation, the pre-existent Christ is really united with a physical body. And in regeneration, the new creation in Christ has real, inevitable effects on our physical life of obedience.
Rejecting Any Notion of Sinlessness in the Born Again
John’s third response to the false teaching is to reject any notion of sinlessness in born-again people. Evidently, the way this false teaching was working was that, by disconnecting “being righteous” from “doingrighteousness” (3:7), they were then able to say, “Well, even if your body does some things that are sinful, that’s not really you. The real you is the born again you; and that real you is so above daily physical life that it’s never defiled by sin.”
So this disconnection that the false teachers made between who you are and what you do had led them, evidently, to say that Christians never really sin. How could they? They’re born of God. They’re new creatures. They have the seed of God in them. So John levels his guns at this error three times. It’s important that you see them.
1) There Are No Sinless Christians.
First John 1:8: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” We! We born-again Christians. In other words, don’t let the deception of these false teachers work its way into your own self-deception. There are no sinless Christians.
2) The Born Again Have an Advocate.
First John 2:1: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” In other words, John does not assume that if you sin, you are not born again. He assumes that if you sin, you have an Advocate, Jesus Christ. And only those who are born again have this Advocate.
3) There Is Sin That Does Not Lead to Death.
First John 5:16-17: “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.”
Notice that last clause: “There is sin that does not lead to death.” This is why you can see your brother committing sin. He is your brother. He is born again. And he is sinning. How can this be? Because there is sin that does not lead to death. I don’t think he has particular kinds of sins in view, but rather degrees of rootedness and habitual persistence. There is a point of confirmed sinning which may take you over the line of no return and you will be like Esau who sought repentance and could not find it (Hebrews 12:16-17).
How Do the Born Again Deal with Their Sin?
Now we come to the question we raised at the beginning: How do people who have experienced the miracle of the new birth deal with their own sinfulness as they try to live in the full assurance of their salvation? My answer is: You deal with it by the way you use John’s teaching. John warns against hypocrisy (claiming to be born again when your life contradicts it), and John celebrates the Advocacy and Propitiation of Christ for sinners.
The question is: How do you use these two truths? How do you use the warning that you might deceive yourself? How do you use the promise, “If we do sin, we have an Advocate”? The evidence of your new birth lies in how these to truths function in your life.
Here’s the way they function if you are born again:
1) Fleeing Presumption, Flying to the Advocate
You are slipping into a lukewarm, careless, presumptuous frame of mind about your own sinfulness. You are starting to coast or be indifferent to whether you are holy or worldly. You are losing your vigilance against bad attitudes and behaviors—and starting to settle in with sinful patterns of behavior.
When the born-again person experiences this, the truth of 1 John 3:9 (“No one born of God makes a practice of sinning”) has the effect, by the Holy Spirit, of awakening him to the danger of his condition so that he flies to his Advocate and his Propitiation for mercy and forgiveness and righteousness. He confesses his sin and receives cleansing (1:9), and his love for Christ is renewed and the sweetness of his relationship is recovered and the hatred of sin is restored and the joy of the Lord again becomes his strength.
2) Fleeing Despair, Flying to the Advocate
You are sinking down in fear and discouragement and even despair that your righteousness, your love for people, and your fight against sin are just not good enough. Your conscience is condemning you, and your own deeds seem so imperfect to you that they could never prove that you are born again.
When the born-again person experiences this, the truth of 1 John 2:1 has the effect, by the Spirit, of rescuing him from despair: “My little children [he wants to be tender with their consciences], I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
John’s warning of hypocrisy calls you back from the precipice of presumption. John’s promise of an Advocate calls you back from the precipice of despair.
The Redemptive Power of God’s Word
New birth enables you to hear Scripture and use Scripture helpfully, redemptively. New birth doesn’t use the promise “We have an Advocate” to justify an attitude of cavalier indifference to sin.
New birth doesn’t’ use the warning “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning” to pour gasoline on the fires of despair. New birth has a spiritual discernment that senses how to use John’s teaching: The new birth is chastened and sobered by the warnings, and the new birth is thrilled and empowered by the promise of an Advocate and a Propitiation.
May the Lord confirm your new birth by both of these responses to the word of God. May he grant you to embrace both the warning and the comfort and put them to proper spiritual use in preserving the full assurance of your salvation.