Having just worshiped yesterday, I thought I would begin a few posts on the only real reason to worship the One, True, and Living God (see 1 Thessalonians 1:9). I’ll begin with a couple posts on spiritual distractions to worship (one per post), both of which are issues all Christians deal with at some level. Then I’ll conclude with the only real reason to worship.
So, what is the first spiritual distraction to worship? Legalism. Here’s how I’m using that term: legalism is anything we do with the goal and expectation of earning God’s favor apart from Christ. In this sense, it refers more to our motivation than to specific rules. We can use even good, biblical things, like worship, legalistically. Typically, this legalistic motivation in worship manifests itself in legalistic attitudes. We think: “God owes me His favor because my worship attendance record is flawless. At least, it’s better than those other people whose attendance is sporadic, or that couple that is always tardy. And when I come to worship, at least I dress in a way that is more respectful to God than these other people. I mean, is he going to the beach? Is she going clubbing? At least I know my worship is going to be accepted, because clearly I honor God with my attendance and my dress.” Ok, so maybe you don’t think exactly like that. But, if we are trying to earn God’s favor in worship, it makes us feel closer to that goal when everyone else around us is falling short of it. This is comparative legalism. We might also call it Pharisaic legalism. (See Luke 18:9-14.)
There is another form of legalism: a legalism of spiritual insecurity. Have you ever hesitated to go to worship because of sin in your life? Maybe you had a spiritually terrible Saturday night. Maybe you’ve been struggling in your spiritual life for a while. Maybe you have been engaging in a particular sin habitually, and you feel guilty and hopeless. You don’t know how you could show your face at church after that! Have you ever felt any of these things? The temptation at this point might be to go to church to try to repair your relationship with your Savior, to try to win back His favor. This temptation can be rather poignant, since we often confuse God’s favor or disfavor with our current emotions. “I feel so guilty. God must be mad at me!” Actually, guilt and sorrow over sin are a gracious thing from God, and therefore rather prove His favor than His disfavor with you. So does His Fatherly discipline (see Hebrews 12:5-11). Nonetheless, our attempts to mend our relationship with God by coming to worship is another form of legalism.
Whether it’s comparative or insecure legalism, both are missing the cross. The comparative legalist needs to be reminded there is absolutely no way to earn God’s favor. In fact, comparative legalists only earn God’s disfavor (again, see Luke 18:9-14). On the other hand, the insecure legalist needs to be reminded there is no need to earn God’s favor. “Jesus paid it all,” as the hymn says. Your sin did not bring you out of God’s favor; it could not, because God loved you and placed His favor on you when you were still an unrepentant sinner.
But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 5:8, ESV
So, here’s a hint at the answer to the main question (what is the only real reason to worship God?): you cannot earn God’s favor, nor do you need to earn His favor. You need, and must, only look to Jesus, Who alone earned God’s favor for you.