Nothing defines you more than what you most love.
The late Henry Scougal once wrote, “The worth and excellency of a soul are to be measured by the object of its love.”
When the young wife of the missionary John G. Paton was dying from a brief illness, some of the last words she spoke were, “I do not regret leaving home and friends. If I had it to do over, I would do it with more pleasure, yes, with all my heart.” She died for a people she did not know long, in a land that was far from her homeland, yet she had no regret.
Her soul was great because as Henry Scougal suggests, the object of her love was great. The object of her love was Christ, and she desired to make His name known by evangelizing the native people of the New Hebrides Islands. (John Piper, The Pleasures of God, pg. 270)
Unfortunately, the battle for one’s chief love is not without competing affections.
Exploring Misplaced Love
“The impulse to worship is universal. If there is a race or tribe anywhere in the world that does not worship it has not been discovered.” (A.W. Tozer, Tozer On Worship And Entertainment)
There is a natural, heartfelt desire to find joy, peace, identity, and fulfillment through setting our affections on something or someone beyond us. Only by worshiping Christ will we ever satisfy these natural longings. Sadly, we too easily misplace our affections with false saviors–in other words–idols.
John Calvin once said, “The human heart is a factory of idols… Every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.” As the old hymnist Robert Robinson penned long ago: Our idol-making hearts are “prone to wander and leave the God [we] love.”
This is most evident in the simplest of people’s daily habits. However, small habits leading to idolatry are not small sins but rather full-fledged betrayal.
“For they exchanged the truth of God for falsehood, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who blessed forever.” (Romans 1:25)
Inauthentic vs. Authentic Worship
“We all gravitate towards idolatry: it’s like the charismatic who wants to make the day of Pentecost central to the Christian faith. Or the Calvinists who want to make TULIP central. Liberals want to make social justice the center. Fundamentalists want to make moral behavior the center… But the cross screams out ‘done!’” (Matt Chandler, The Explicit Gospel)
As humans, we naturally worship that which we “love” such as actors, celebrities, influencers, football teams, politicians, and more. In our modern world, the worship of “Self” is often at the forefront… or perhaps always was; then, of course, there’s a whole host of other idols we gravitate towards. Idolatry is first and foremost an issue of inauthentic worship.
What is inauthentic worship and how does it contrast to authentic worship?
Inauthentic worship, idolatry, is worship applied to anything other than the God of the Bible. It is empty and misplaced. This “worship” is a grossly diminished and re-defined version, subjected to the ever-evolving cultural dogma of our moment. Ultimately, “right” and authentic worship is inseparable from the rightful and true God.
Albert Mohler writes in his book, He Is Not Silent, that “True worship begins with a vision of the God of the Bible- a vision of the one true and living God.” He goes on to write, “True worship requires seeing the true and living God, and then seeing ourselves as we actually are in our sinfulness.” (He Is Not Silent, pg. 32, 34)
In the act of authentic worship, we see and recognize the glory of God and in turn, see and recognize our sin and unworthiness. In comparison to God and his glory, all idols become irrelevant and distasteful.
The fight for authentic worship is a fight for a clearer vision. This is a battle to cultivate eyes that see past the temporal to the eternal.
The Puritan John Owen understood this and wrote in The Glory of Christ: “On Christ’s glory I would fix my thoughts and desires, and the more I see of the glory of Christ, the more the painted beauties of this world will wither in my eyes and I will be more and more crucified to this world.”
In pursuing right, authentic worship of the one, true God, you must understand this:
Authentic worship begins first out of an accurate view and knowledge of God, and then, an accurate view and knowledge of yourself. (He Is Not Silent)
This is not unlike an unbeliever’s act of confession; the unbeliever comes to a realization of who God is and what this means for him–a sinner in rebellion to a Holy God. He cannot for one, hope to be “good enough,” and he cannot hope to hide as he will suffer the full punishment for his sins lest he repents and trusts in Christ as his only hope for salvation and restoration.
The faithful Believer will realize that this is not simply a one-time confession, but a daily confession and lifeline for him. A daily confession because he is sinful and deeply in need of Christ always. And a lifeline because Christ is his only hope, sustainer, and means of salvation (John 14:6) and has promised to save forever those who are His children:
“He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)
While our secular culture advocates that we all look inwardly for truth, happiness, and satisfaction as the “end all be all,” Believers must look inwardly only as a means to an end: looking inward to then look upward once again.
There are many examples of this to be found throughout the Bible. Consider Mary, who when dwelling upon God’s plan for her to give birth to the Messiah, joyfully begins singing “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant” (Luke 1:46-48). Mary’s high view of God compelled her to recognize her personal existence and estate as humble in comparison. Culminating in a resounding song of praise and worship!
Another example is found in the man, Job, whom God said of him, “There is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8). Job modeled this behavior after God allowed calamity to strike him. He had questioned as to why his lot would be to suffer, and God responded by showcasing his power and omnipotence, all of which sufficiently revealed God’s providence, sovereignty, and goodness in all things (Job 38-41). Being confounded by his many limitations in comparison to the greatness of God, Job repents:
“Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know… I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:3, 5-6).
In this passage, Job recognizes a disparity between him and God. This then compels him toward repentance and worship.
Likewise, after the Christian sets his mind upon his sinfulness and unworthiness, it is then his greatest pleasure and need to move from inward reflection to upward reflection by gazing upon the beauty, glory, and riches of God through Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3), “immeasurable riches of His [God the Father’s] grace and kindness” (Ephesians 2:7), and through which we inherit the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:21-24).
As the late pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne once wrote: “With every one look at yourself, take ten looks at Jesus Christ.”
All in all, we should–without reservation–pursue a more accurate understanding of who God is and then who we are in comparison to who God is. That way we may have a greater understanding of God’s holiness and glory and of our sinfulness and brokenness.
This is what’s known as “sanctification” (the process in which we become more like Christ) and this–and only this–will lead to true, authentic worship in both “spirit and truth”. I want to end by sharing the words of Paul in Ephesians 2:1-9:
“You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
As we come to more accurately understand who God is and more clearly see ourselves as dead in our “trespasses and sins,” but made “alive together in Christ,” we will be compelled towards true, authentic worship. I have no doubt that Paul was summoned to worship when he penned those words.