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Worship & Idolatry

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Worship & Idolatry

By Mark Driscoll   

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Sadly, worship has too often been considered merely a style of music or event such as a Sunday church
service. And, while worship is big enough to include these things it is by no means reduced only to them.
In many ways, to speak of worship is to speak of all of life in its fullness lived to God’s glory and our joy.

Therefore, in my sermon on worship this week, which is part of the Doctrine: What Christians Should
Believe series, my hope is to give a comprehensive biblical understanding of this most important doctrine
by answering some of the more common questions related to worship. At Mars Hill Church this theology
of worship is the guiding ideology in both our worship and biblical living departments and therefore absolutely
essential for us as a church. As an aside, much of the content in this chapter is taken from Chapter 9 of the
book Vintage Jesus: Timeless Answers to Timely Questions that I wrote with my friend Dr. Gerry Breshears.

Where does worship originate?

In his magnificent book Unceasing Worship Harold Best states his thesis saying: “The burden of this
book develops the concept of continuous outpouring as the rubric for our worship. As God eternally
outpours within his triune self, and as we are created in his image, it follows that we too are continuous
outpourers, incurably so. ” (Page 10)

As we studied in the Trinity: God Is sermon, we saw that God is a community of ceaseless outpouring.
Although there is one God, the three persons of the Trinity continually exist with a ceaseless outpouring
of love, communication, and joy. And, as we studied in the Image: God Loves sermon we saw that human
beings are made in the image and likeness of God. As such, we too are ceaseless worshippers pouring
ourselves out for someone or something.

In the Fall: God Judges sermon we examined how through sin our worship is bent toward people and
things other than God who is our Creator in favor of created things. Subsequently, we need God to seek
us out as we studied in the Covenant: God Pursues sermon and Incarnation: God Comes sermon to save
us from sin and free us to worship as we studied in the Cross: God Dies, and Resurrection: God Saves
sermons. In many ways, these theme of worship is a major thread that weaves the entire storyline of the
Bible and our Doctrine series together.

Summarizing this thread Best says, “We begin with one fundamental fact about worship: at this very moment,
and for as long as this world endures, everybody inhabiting it is bowing down and serving something or someone—
an artifact, a person, an institution, an idea, a spirit, or God through Christ. Everyone is being shaped thereby and is
growing up toward some measure of fullness, whether of righteousness or of evil. No one is exempt and
no one can wish to be. We are, every one of us, unceasing worshipers and will remain so forever, for
eternity is an infinite extrapolation of one of two conditions: a surrender to the sinfulness of sin unto
infinite loss or the commitment of personal righteousness unto infinite gain. This is the central fact of
our existence, and it drives every other fact. Within it lies the story of creation, fall, redemption, and new
creation or final loss.” (Page 17-18)

What is worship?

“Worship is living our life individually and corporately as continuous living sacrifices to the glory of a
person or thing. This connection between glory and worship is clear in verses like Romans 11:36 –12:1,
which says, “To him be the glory forever. Amen. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of
God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual
worship.” …First, we hold a person or thing in a place of glory. Second, we then worship that person or
thing. Third, our worship of that person or thing we hold in glory is done by means of making sacrifices.
Glory means weightiness, importance, preeminence, priority, or that which is our greatest treasure,
deepest longing, and fountain of hope. Functionally, what we hold in the place of glory is in effect our
real god…Practically, worship is making sacrifices for what we are living to glorify.

Quoted from Vintage Jesus Chapter 9

The biblical word for worship is also sometimes translated “sacrifice.” This insight is helpful because
what we make the greatest sacrifices for reveals what we truly live to glorify and worship. For example, if
we eat and drink in excess, we are worshipping our stomach and sacrificing our health. If we sacrifice
relationships with God and people for a hobby (e.g., sport, music, craft), then we are worshipping that
hobby. If we are giving our bodies to sexual sin, we are worshipping sex and/or another person whose
glory is our highest aim, sacrificing holiness and intimacy with God in the process. In short, we give our
time, energy, body, money, focus, devotion, and passion to that which we glorify most and make
sacrifices to worship that person or thing. Because we were made for the express purpose of worshipping
God, everyone is a worshipper. The only difference is who/what we worship.”

Another definition is found from Harold Best who says, “I have worked out a definition for worship that I
believe covers every possible human condition. It is this: Worship is the continuous outpouring of all
that I am, all that I do and all that I can ever become in light of a chosen or choosing god” (Page 18,
Italics in original).

What is idolatry?

Idolatry is one of the most frequent and most frequently misunderstood themes in all of Scripture. When
thinking of idolatry, images of a primitive person bowing down to a statue or something akin to it come
to mind. But, when the Bible speaks of idolatry it does so in a broad manner so as to reveal it as
corrupted worship in contrast with true worship. Perhaps the most succinct definition of idolatry is
found in Romans 1:25 which says, “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and
served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” God is our Creator and our
worship is to be directed to him alone. But, as sinners we are prone to worship created things rather than
our creator God and that is by definition idolatry. In the context of Romans 1 , this idolatry can be things
God has made such as the human body and its pleasures (especially sexual), or things we have made
such as human ideas about God and life that dominate philosophy and spirituality.

How can I find my idols?

As a general rule, it is easier to see the idols in someone else’s life than our own. This is because our idols
tend to be seen by us as simply comforts, pleasures, habits, aids, and the like. Biblical counselor David
Powlision says, “Idolatry is by far the most frequently discussed problem in the Scriptures.” This is
because idolatry is the root that nourishes every fruit of sin. This also explains why the last line of 1 John
says, “keep yourselves from idols.” Why, because if we do then we will live in victory over temptations to
sin. Therefore, the following categorical questions are offered to help you seek out any idols in your life.

Who/what are your external idols?

· Who/what is my Lord that rules over my life determining how I live?
· Who/what is my Judge I am living to earn the approval of?
· Where do you give the firstfruits of your wealth?
· Where do you give the firstruits of your time?
· What people and things take the majority of your life?
· What do you plan and pray for?

Who/what are your internal idols?

· What false beliefs do you hold about God?
· Which parts of Scripture do you deeply doubt or even disbelieve?
· Deep down in your heart who/what do you love, cherish, treasure, long for the most?
· Deep down in your heart who/what do you despise and hate the most?
· Who/what makes you happiest? Why?
· Who/what makes you saddest? Why?

Who/what is your mediator between you and God?

· Who or what other than Jesus do you use to get closer to God?
· Who or what if taken from your life would cause you to not walk as faithfully with God?
· How do you define yourself, especially when introducing yourself to others?

Where is your functional heaven?

· When daydreaming about escaping this life, what does your functional heaven look like and how
is it different from the real heaven?
· On earth, where do you run for your safety or comfort as your hiding place (e.g. the fridge,
alcohol, the television, a person, a place, a hobby)?

Who/what is your functional savior?

· What is your picture of hell in this life (e.g. being single, not having children, being poor, etc.)?
· Who or what do you use to save you from what you fear (e.g. a relationship, children, money,
shopping, sex, etc.)?

What good thing has become a god thing?

· Which idols are in your life that when appreciated and/or stewarded correctly are means of
worship but have become objects of worship (e.g. work, family, health, friendship, pleasure,
leisure, hobby, etc.)?
· If you could obtain or change one thing/person in your life what would that be?
· What idols am I selling to others?

How can I nurture my worship?

The pattern for our worship is the redemption that occurred in the book of Exodus. There, God’s people
were enslaved for all of their lives and then redeemed and liberated to be free to worship God. The
picture of the Exodus is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus who is greater than Moses and conquered our
Pharaoh Satan and redeemed us from slavery to sin and death.

But, like God’s people in the Exodus we who have been liberated must walk with God all the days of our
lives trusting him by faith as a lifestyle of ceaseless worship if we hope to have our lives be lived for his glory
and our joy. Sadly, we often like the Israelites build golden calves of idolatry, grumble against God, and long
to return to our sin and slavery while walking around in a circle.

The key to getting out of this horrendous loop is found for God’s people at Mount Sinai where God gave
to them the 10 Commandments as the heart of his law. And, God begins the 10 Commandments by
declaring that he alone is God and that nothing and no one is to be worshipped in place of or alongside
him. The rest of the 10 Commandments go on to then illustrate how if these first two commandments are
obeyed it will transform the rest of our life into opportunities to worship God with our desires,
relationships, possessions, etc. Simply, if we worship God alone we will not worship sex and commit
adultery, worship possessions and commit thievery or coveting, worship people’s perceptions of us and
lie, worship unrighteous anger and murder, worship our job and never Sabbath etc.

In closing, the key to nurturing our worship of God is ongoing renewal. In a recent time I had with Pastor
Rick Warren in California he gave a very insightful talk for pastors on stages of renewal. I share it with
you because I find it helpful for this subject of worship. His point is that renewal happens in a pattern of
six stages and that without the first the others are impossible. And, people who do not have the first tend
to blame the others for their spiritual lethargy or dissatisfaction which is not the real source of their
troubles.

Stages of Renewal

1. Personal renewal (love God) – simply everything begins with a renewed passion for Jesus as our
greatest treasure and object of worship. Personal renewal occurs as we take time each day for
mini-Sabbaths to do such things as pray, read Scripture, and connect with Jesus as well as taking
a Sabbath day every week, day or days out of town unplugged from technology to renew every
month, and take non-working and spiritually renewing vacation every year. The key for personal
renewal is to unplug from all that drains us to plug into Jesus who renews us to be and do what he
asks of us in all of life by his strength. Personal renewal does not fix everything in our life, but it
sets our hearts and minds aflame with hope to press forward in life.

2. Relational renewal (love others) – once we have personal renewal with Jesus the first effect is that
we have new hope for people and pursue them in love. If married, relational renewal begins with
our spouse. And, if we are parents our children ensue. Relational renewal allows us to be
authentic around others, stop pretending and performing, and simply be in loving community
where we are known and know others thanks to the work of Jesus gospel.

3. Missional renewal (love the mission) – once we have personal and relational renewal, the result is
that God’s people want to be on mission together doing what God commands of the church.
Without personal renewal, a church cannot have relational renewal. And, without both a church
has no life or unity that allows them to press forward on mission with God together.

4. Church renewal (love the brothers and sisters) – the fruit of personal, relational, and missional
renewal is that a church that has a new culture of grace internally and new passion for lost people
externally. In a church this results in people trusting their leaders and one another more, wanting
to spend more time together, hanging out longer after services, and singing together more loudly
as they see themselves as a unified community.

5. Structural renewal – once the personal, relational, missional, and church renewals have been
established so much has changed in how a church operates and people interact that new
structures must be built so as to accommodate God’s renewing work. This includes new policies,
procedures, and ways of managing the affairs of the church so as to enable further renewal.

6. Institutional renewal – institutions (e.g. denominations, seminaries, publishers, record
companies, conferences, etc.) are always the last places of renewal because they function to
preserve and sustain the renewal of a previous move of God. Subsequently, they become the
equivalent of a trunk on a tree while new growth happens out on the ends of the newest limbs.

The key to a life of worship is ongoing personal renewal with Jesus. Without this, you will be prone to
accept mediocrity and even idolatry while blaming your state on the people in your life and church you
attend rather than repenting of your own failure to connect with God as he has made possible through
Jesus Christ. On this point Best says, “Authentic worship is a continuous outpouring of all that we are
and can ever hope to become in light of the saving work of Christ. It reaches into every quarter of our
living, informing all of our actions and safeguarding them within the arena of Spirit, truth and sacrificial
living.” (Page 111)

So, in closing, how is your ceaseless worship and what needs to change for you to begin with personal
renewal?

Copyright – Mark Driscoll

Last Updated on Sunday, 05 December 2010 21:18  

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