Ever sat down, put pen to paper, and designed a detailed strategy concerning all it would take for you to become a 100% complete phony? Ha! We’ve all been pushed to adopt some audacious goals for ourselves in the New Year, but this might take the cake.
Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution to be Luke warm? You know, where you were really committed to working at it this time?
Ever decided to set a goal to avoid at all costs practicing what you preach? With the hopes of fooling everyone around you into thinking you’re super spiritual, evident by your super spiritual lingo?
Before you were married, did you concoct a wild scheme to stay married for 25 years, have 3.5 kids, a dog, and a white picket fence, and then leave them all for a young lover?
Ever set out to be a Pharisee?
Not likely. Nobody sets out to be any of these things. To be unauthentic, to be fake, to be religious, to fall away from God, to have an affair, to become an addict, or to lose their faith. Yet somehow some of us still arrive at these places.
Frustrating right? This is the human condition. Without God.
So… what can we do to guard against these things in our lives? Since no one ever plans for these things, it seems we’d better make a plan to stand against them before we fall victim to the same old schemes.
It should, of course, come as no surprise that we aren’t the only ones who don’t particularly enjoy this human tendency to talk the talk without walking the walk. God is in full agreement. Like us, he is looking for those who will love and walk with him with all of their heart. With actions and with words. Actually, with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
John 4:23 is a prime example. “But the time is coming and is already here when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for anyone who will worship him that way.”
That little four-letter word before the word worshipers says it all. Just think, Jesus didn’t have to use that word in this sentence. He could have just said, “But the time is coming and is already here when worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” But he realized something that is still true today. The people of his time had a skewed understanding of what worship is. The word worship all by itself was not enough. He was forced to add a qualifier to keep them (and us) from assuming they knew what he was talking about, when he knew they really didn’t.
When he adds the word true to the word worshipers, it changes the meaning entirely—or at least makes it much more precise.
Adding true suggests a couple of things. One. That this is very important to God—authenticity. It says this literally in the second half of the verse. That authentic worship is something God is “looking for”. Something he is seeking. Something that is foundational to his relationship with us.
Second. It suggests that there is more than one type of worshiper. We can assume if there are true worshipers, there must also be false worshipers. Here again, as always, Jesus is pushing our buttons. He isn’t giving us the easy out. He’s choosing to make us uncomfortable.
But surely he isn’t saying we are not true worshipers? Surely he isn’t suggesting we are a bunch of fakes? Certainly he isn’t questioning our integrity?
Hmm. Then again, maybe he is asking us to consider questioning ourselves.
Some people get super freaked when someone starts looking under their hood. As soon as we take a peek at what’s beneath the surface, they start screaming, “Who died and made you my judge?” But of course, Jesus is our ultimate judge (John 5:27). And yet, he isn’t pushing our buttons to tick us off. He is attempting the important work of helping us grow into beautiful sons and daughters as part of his Body. To him, becoming an authentic worshiper—an authentic follower of Christ, in and out of the public eye—is one of the most foundational issues in the Kingdom.
Solomon wisely asserts in Ecclesiastes 5:1, “As you enter the house of God, keep your ears open and your mouth shut. Don’t be a fool who doesn’t realize that mindless offerings to God are evil.
Mindless offerings? Woah.
Do we do this? Do we offer worship to God without thought, without meaning, at times? Rashly, without contemplating its true significance? Flippantly, in the tradition of man rather than to cultivate genuine relationship with God?
It is true. In fact, one of the great frustrations of our God concerning his people is that we honor him with our lips but not with our lives. “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. Their worship is a farce, for they replace God’s commands with their own man made teachings.” Matthew 15:8-9
I heard someone say once, “Christians don’t tell lies. They sing them.” Ouch.
This is a little scary, honestly. How often do we sing, “You’re all I need,” or “Nothing compares to you, Lord?” All the while we cozy up to our little vices that satisfy so temporarily.
We are not so unlike the Israelites. In fact, we are them. The stories. The scripture verses. They’re all about us. They aren’t tales of some far off rebellious people we cannot relate to. They are tales of our people. Our families. Our friends. Our rebellion. And they do reveal our desperate need for a Savior.
It’s not that Israel needed saving. Those people. The ones in the ancient Bible stories. It’s that we need saving. For without God, we, like the Israelites, are destined to repeat every corrupt act. We need God to save us from ourselves. From our rebellion. From our traitorous hearts.
How is it that seemingly five minutes after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt—delivering them from the most hellish bondage—they were already melting down gold jewelry and molding it into a calf to worship, declaring it to be the god who delivered them? Exodus 32.
How is it that five minutes after a powerful Sunday church service we are so quickly engulfed in gluttony, sinful anger, and worldly pleasures? Are we so different when left to ourselves?
Psalm 78:36-37 sums it up. “But they followed him only with their words; they lied to him with their tongues. Their hearts were not loyal to him. They did not keep his covenant.”
In his book, The Air I Breathe, Louie Giglio reminds us that the words we speak are very important to God. “But God isn’t honored by words alone. Like any of us, He’s moved by words that are authenticated by actions. When it comes to worship, it’s the total package that matters—what you say, how you say it, and whether you mean it. And our words mean most when they’re amplified by the way we choose to live our lives...”
Isaiah 1:12-17 takes it up a notch by condemning not only Israel’s false tongue but also their false religious activity. “Why do you keep parading through my courts with your worthless sacrifices?” [Think worship songs, prayers, and tithe offerings, in our day.] The incense you bring me is a stench to my nostrils! Your celebration of the new moon and the Sabbath day, and your special days for fasting—even your most pious meetings—are all sinful and false. I want nothing to do with them. I hate all your festivals and sacrifices. I cannot stand the sight of them! From now on, when you lift up your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look. Even though you offer many prayers, I will not listen.”
“For your hands are covered with the blood of your innocent victims. Wash yourselves and be clean! Let me no longer see your evil deeds. Give up your wicked ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the orphan. Fight for the rights of widows.”
This is the essence of authenticity. Doing what we say we will do. Obedience.
But of course, obedience does not produce godliness. It simply reveals whether a heart is truly submitted to God or not. Obedience is not the way to righteousness. It is the fruit of righteousness, through faith.
Just a few chapters before, in Exodus 24:3, the Israelites said this; “We will do everything the Lord has told us to do.” But they did not. And so often, we do not. Why? Because, when left to ourselves, we are often choose corruption over uprightness. Rebellion over submission. Sin over holiness. Death over life.
But now, God has given us something the Israelites didn’t have. Forgiveness? No. The Old Testament is full of stories of the God who forgives. What then? Access to God. Through the blood of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the blood of Jesus that cleanses—once and for all—washing us white as snow and ending the need for tireless animal sacrifices. And it is the Spirit of God that fills us with power to walk in righteousness. Holiness. Freedom from sin. Freedom from rebellion. This is something the Israelites did not have. The power to obey, as the fruit of an authentic relationship with God.
Philippians 2:13 offers this great hope concerning the power to obey that God provides; “[Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight.” (Amplified Bible, Classic Edition)
God is working inside us—as we allow him to—reworking things in our lives so that we now have both the desire and the strength to bring God pleasure through obedience. This is what it means to be a new creation in Christ.
God clearly recognized our inability to become the authentic worshipers he designed for us to be, yet he has now made a way for us to be that which we could not be in our own strength, through the supernatural power and work of his Spirit.
So now we no longer need be afraid when God declares in Amos 5:23, “Away with your hymns of praise! They are only noise to my ears. I will not listen to your music, no matter how lovely it is.” For we know that the way we live our lives sings much louder than all of the songs we could ever sing in church combined.
Does God hate music? Is he opposed to worship songs? Church meetings? Solemn assemblies? No. But he knows what we often miss. That singing lovely songs alone won’t produce for us the godly lives we are meant to live, but that living godly lives—lived by faith, in the power of the Spirit—will produce the most beautiful songs that we as authentic, true followers of Christ, could ever sing.
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