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Unacceptable Worship

If sacrifice defines acceptable worship, then what is it that defines unacceptable worship? The gospels give us a clue. In John’s gospel, Jesus told the woman at the well that those who worship God must do so in spirit and in truth (John 4:6-30). This important statement leaves us with the interpretive challenge of asking what are the meanings of spirit and truth. Afterall, since we are fleshly beings, how does a person worship God in spirit? Or since our hearts are deceptive, how do we worship God in truth (Jeremiah 17:9)? Knowing the answers to those questions is essential if we want to avoid unacceptable worship, because unacceptable worship will be characterized by a lack of spirit and truth.

Defining the term spirit is as elusive as the shifting wind. And yet our spirit is a real thing that is central to who we are. Perhaps the best place to start for a definition is Genesis 2:7 where God breathes life into the man he created and thereby gives him a soul. In this sense, the spirit is the innermost part of our being. It is the part of us that is alive and that should align with the God from whom it came. Defining truth is much easier. Truth is that which conforms to reality, as well as that which conforms to the word of God.

Isaiah 1:10-17 is one place that can give us some insight into what is unacceptable worship. It is there that God speaks to the Hebrew people through the prophet Isaiah and tells them that their worship disgusts him, that he won’t listen to their prayers, and that their sacrifices are meaningless. God goes on to cite evidence that their worship is neither in truth, nor in spirit. Their lives are marked by blood, oppression, and wickedness (verses 15-16). And their solemn assemblies are marked by iniquity and falsity (verse 13). In essence, their worship was only outward in appearance, and also completely false. It was about them, and not the worth of God.

Worship that is acceptable to God is the kind that comes from the inside out, and that takes pleasure and joy in his goodness, that is enlivened by communion with him, that is open to the movement of his spirit, but that also reverences his power, majesty, and glory. It is above all genuine, and conforms to his word. This kind of worship motivates the proclaiming of his truth, and moves people toward sacrificial good deeds. It also works to build his family, and strengthen his community.

How do you get that kind of worship? Love God with all of your heart, all of your strength, and everything you have, then join together with others who do the same.

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