(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 21, paras 1-4)
Face to face with the man He had formed from the dust of the ground, God breathed the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils. To be sure, we don’t know how God would have appeared when He brought Adam into being. But we do know that the very first time Adam opened his eyes he would have been looking into the very face of God. As a newly hatched duckling follows the first object it sees, God would have been imprinted on Adam.
Man is fearfully and wonderfully made and is designed to worship and serve his Creator. But, along came the subtle slivery serpent in the Garden. And speaking with forked tongue he managed to deceive Eve. Then through this Adam foolishly broke the covenant God had made with man, (Genesis 3:17; Hosea 6:7).
The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:2 refers to the serpent, the devil, as “…the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience…” And in 2 Corinthians 4:4 he refers to him as “…the god of this age…” Therefore, when Adam - as mankind’s representative before God - disobediently broke God’s covenant, he did so by forming a new covenant with Satan, who had set himself up as god. For the spirit of Adam, when he disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit, was of the same spirit as the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, i.e., the devil. So we see then that mankind in Adam, in the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:25, “…exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator…”
Though the devil is a creature he is ‘the god of this age,’ he is the father of lies. So, when man worships and serves sticks and stones and things made of his own hands, and even creaturely things made by God, man is essentially worshipping and serving Satan. Therefore, though people might not even acknowledge there is such a creature as Satan, by worshipping and serving things other than the Creator, they are demonstrating that they are of the same evil spirit as the devil.
The devil invited the replacement Adam, the new Man, Jesus Christ, to fall down and worship him! Why wouldn’t Jesus worship the devil? Every other man was a servant of Satan. But what did Jesus say to the devil? Matthew 4:10, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only shall you serve.’”
Therefore, religious worship and service is to be given only to God.
The Obligation of Worship
The light of nature, i.e., General Revelation, declares to all mankind that there is a God. For the things that God has made (including man himself), proclaim to all that the Creator is. The LORD is the “I AM” – He alone is the eternal One.
It says in Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” Psalm 19:1-4.
Everyone knows that the LORD God is the Creator. No one is ignorant of the fact that the LORD God is. Therefore everyone is obligated to worship and serve the Creator simply because He is the Creator. As the Apostle puts it in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…”
But the trouble is, as we’ve already noted, is that all men have become ‘sons of disobedience.’ Which is to say that we “…suppress the truth in unrighteousness…” Romans 1:18b. So, even though we have been made in the image and likeness of God, and even though we have the work of His law written on our heart, and even though all creation including our own soul testifies of the Creator, we will not worship and serve Him. Why? Because we are sons of disobedience, we suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
We worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. The light of nature shows that there is a God and that He is Lord and Sovereign over all. And it shows that He is good and that He does good to all. And in light of this God therefore ought to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted and served with all the heart, soul, strength and might.
However the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself. For not only is it written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only shall you serve,’ but God has also written down how we should worship and serve Him. Therefore the light of General Revelation is not enough to show us how the LORD God is to be worshipped and served.
This is where God’s Special Revelation comes in. For God will be worshipped and served only in the way He has laid down in Scripture. And He will not therefore be worshipped and served according to the imaginations of men. Nor will He be worshipped and served according to the suggestions of Satan, or by any visible forms or representations. He will be worshipped and served only according to His written Word alone.
So, we see then that Jesus wasn’t talking only to Satan when He said to him, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only shall you serve.’ He was also talking to all whom Satan represents. For Satan, by definition, is the leader of all the ‘sons of disobedience.’ For he is the spirit who works through them. In a word, he is their god. Therefore whether a man worships the sun, the moon, or the stars, sticks, stones, objects of his own making, sex, drugs, alcohol, football teams, pop stars, movie stars, self, in the final analysis, Satan is behind all false worship.
Therefore from the atheist to the pantheist and everyone in between, the devil is the god that this age worships and serves. But, though the serpent was biting at the heel of Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus crushed his head at Golgotha, which is the ‘Place of the Skull’ (Gen. 3:15; Matt. 27:33). Therefore just as God defeated Satan when He redeemed His people from bondage in Egypt by defeating all the false gods with the Ten Plagues, so He defeated the ‘god of this age,’ even the devil when He redeemed His people from their bondage to sin, self, and Satan. Therefore, since all the nations are obligated to worship the true and living God, God has sent His written Word out into all the nations to teach the nations how to properly do so.
The Gospel that is still sounding forth throughout all the ends of the earth reveals the true object of our worship – God in Jesus Christ, who is our Lord and Saviour. For the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, John 1:14a. Thus all men everywhere are obligated to worship and serve the Creator and Redeemer of the world. As the Apostle Paul says to the Athenians, “Truly these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:30&31.
The obligation to worship God is upon all men everywhere.
The Object of Worship
When Paul and Barnabas were spreading the Gospel among the nations, because of some of the miracles the Lord was doing through them, some people started to say, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Acts 14:11b. “But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out, saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.’ And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them.” Acts 14:14-18.
So, we see then that the Apostles were proclaiming the true object of worship, i.e., the living God who made heaven the earth, the sea, and all that is in them. And they are proclaiming the fact that God is good and does good in that He gives rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. Therefore the Apostles are calling the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them as witnesses of the living God and His goodness toward them. They are calling on the fruitful seasons, the times when their hearts were filled with food and gladness as testimony to the Creator.
But even so, those who heard them still wanted to worship the creature not the Creator. For they wanted to make sacrifices to Barnabas and Paul! Thus they continued to suppress the truth in unrighteousness, lest they repent and believe in the Gospel. But again, as Jesus says, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only shall you serve.’
Religious worship is to be given only to God. He alone is to be the object of our worship. And since God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we must worship and serve Him alone. Therefore we must not worship men, be they others or self. And we most definitely must not worship that old devil, Satan.
Nor are we to worship angels. John on the Isle of Patmos was ready to worship an angel. Perhaps he thought the angel was Jesus, we don’t know. But John in Revelation 19:10 says, “And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!’”
So we have saints such as the Apostles Paul and Barnabas telling us not to worship men but to worship only God. And we have an angel telling us not to worship angels but to worship only God. And we have the Lord Jesus Christ telling us, and the devil himself, to worship only God.
As Joshua said to the LORD’s people long ago, “‘And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.’” Joshua 24:15.
Joshua, as you know, was the commander of the army of the LORD at the time of the kingdom conquests. There was an incident recorded in Joshua 5, where he was confronted by a Man armed with a loaded sword. This Man was claiming to be the Commander of the Lord’s army. It turns out that this Man with the sword was none other than the preincarnate Christ. Therefore this was a temporary appearance of the Word who would permanently become flesh in the fullness of the time, (Malachi 3:1; Galatians 4:4).
The point I make is that Christ has been the Mediator between God and men right from the rebellion in the Garden. He is the Son that kings and judges were to kiss, i.e., pay homage to, in Psalm 2: “Now therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed you judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.” Psalm 2:10-12.
Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.” John 14:6&7. Jesus claims to be the Son of the Father. And He is claiming that if you have seen Him you have seen the Father. Therefore He alone is the Mediator between God and men. As the Apostle says in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus…”
Therefore those who pray to, and worship, dead people, such as the Mary, and those who pray to, and worship angels, are being disobedient to the clear teaching of Scripture. For God has written down how He wishes to be worshipped and served.
Since the Fall He is not to be worshipped without a mediator. Jesus Christ alone is Mediator. Therefore the object of our worship is God in Jesus Christ.
The Observance of Worship
There is a startling statement made about worship in ‘Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words’ that stops you in your tracks. It says under ‘Worship & Worshipping’: “The Worship of God is nowhere defined in Scripture.” It goes on to says, “Broadly it may be regarded as the direct acknowledgment of God, of His nature, attributes, ways, claims, whether by the outgoing of the heart in praise and thanksgiving or by deed done in acknowledgment.”
Could this be why there is so much chaos in worship services in some churches nowadays? Is it perhaps because some people don’t believe God has written down in Scripture what worship of God is, and, how He wishes to be worshipped? Is this perhaps why some people worship statues of Mary and other saints, and pray to her and other dead people? Is this why some churches just get together and have coffee, cake and a chat instead of what has been known for centuries as a ‘worship service’? Surely you can see from what we’ve looked at already that worship is defined in Scripture. Worship is a coming before God in faith, repentance and humility with no other mediation than Jesus Christ.
Perhaps worship as defined in Scripture can best be described by our understanding of prayer. In prayer we acknowledge that God is Triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore when we pray to God, we pray to the Father who represents the Trinity, through the Son who is Mediator between God and men, by the Spirit who is our Helper.
Prayer is a major part of religious worship. And if you were to apply the principle of prayer to all religious worship, whether personal and private individual, family, or corporate worship, you’d see the Biblical definition of worship emerge.
Worship is time set aside in which we consciously and humbly acknowledge that God alone is Lord and Sovereign over everything. And during this time we humbly acknowledge that He is good, and does good to everyone. Worship is a time when we consciously come before Him in reverential fear. Worship is the times when we consciously acknowledge our love for Him. Worship is when we consciously praise Him, and call upon Him.
To worship God is to consciously trust Him and serve Him with all our heart, soul, and might. Therefore worship is defined as those times we set aside and consciously engage with God. And prayer best defines and describes the actual act or observance of religious worship.
Do we consciously pray every single moment of every single day? No? Then religious worship consists of those set times when we consciously engage God. To be sure to worship is also to serve God, but we should again take note of what Jesus says to the devil: ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only shall you serve.’ Matt. 4:10. The word ‘worship’ in that sentence means to kiss, to do reverence to, or homage to, by kissing the hand, by prostration, or bowing one’s self in adoration. Therefore worship may best be described as a moment of humble prayer before God. Thus the Biblical definition of religious worship.
And notice Jesus says that we are also to ‘serve’ God. Yes, as already stated, we serve God even when we worship Him. But surely serving God includes those times when we are not consciously engaging God in acts of worship. Therefore we observe religious worship when we engage with God. Religious worship ends when we go about our ordinary daily business. However, God has set aside one day in every seven especially for worship. But we serve God by eating and drinking, and doing all things, including worship, to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
So, as we continue to define worship in terms of prayer, keep in mind that we are always and only to pray in accordance with God’s will, with the help of the Spirit. God has revealed His will in the Scriptures. To be sure we don’t always know if it is God’s will that He will, for instance, heal a sick person we are praying for, but we do know that it is His will that we pray for the sick. But we also know that it is not His will that we pray for the dead or to the dead, such as Mary.
And we also know that we ought to pray with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance. For we see all of this exampled in the Scriptures. Simply apply all of this to religious worship and you will see how it too ought to be observed.
And, of course, if we are praying out loud in company we ought to pray in a language known to the others. Otherwise those who are present won’t be able to understand unless there is an interpreter (1 Corinthians 14).
Now, on the subject of prayer, prayer is to be made for lawful or legitimate things. You ought not to pray for things God has forbidden. For that would be to pray against His revealed will. But prayer is to be made for all kinds of people living, and even those yet to be born, such as future grand children and future generations.
But again we are not to pray for dead people, because their abode is fixed. Just ask the dead Rich Man who looked up from his torments and saw Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom. You cannot help those who are dead and neither can those who are dead help you (Luke 16:26).
Scripture also mentions that we are not to pray for those who are known to have sinned the ‘sin leading to death’ as mentioned in 1 John 5:16. It’s difficult to know what that sin leading to death is. And it is even more difficult to know infallibly who may have sinned it. Therefore when we pray that God will heal certain people and convert them, we simply need to qualify our prayer with the words, “If it be Your will.”
We’ve seen something of the fact that all men everywhere are obligated to engage in religious worship. And we’ve seen that God alone is to be the object of our religious worship. And we’ve seen that God has laid out in His Word how we are to observe religious worship. I would urge you therefore to search the Scriptures to make sure that you understand what God requires of you.
May you be found to be one of those whom Jesus said God was looking for. For He said to the Woman at the Well in John 4:21-24, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”