There is a stark difference between childlike faith and childish folly. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him” (Prov. 22:15). “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3). Likewise, there is a massive difference between the high-octane praise of nursing infants (Ps. 8:2) and infantile vain repetitions (Mt. 6:7). And the difference is between hope and despair. Childlike faith and praise is rooted in the greatness and goodness of God, but folly and infantilism despair of growing up into any greatness and goodness and settle for momentary gimmicks and games and emotional highs.
As we consider Christian maturity, we really have to begin at the center all human endeavor, which is worship. It might be easy to react to certain forms of childish worship by lurching into what looks to us like “grown up” worship, but we really must remember that the worship wars go back to Cain and Abel. It’s not enough to just find something older. We want our worship to actually please God, and by His grace, we want it to be a potent force in our lives and world.
“… Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may worship God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:18-29).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Christian worship is not gathered at Mt. Sinai – where the mountain could be touched and burned with fire – where Moses and the people shook with fear (Heb. 12:18-21). Christians are lifted up to Mt. Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to myriads of angels and redeemed men, to God the Judge and Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant (Heb. 12:22-24). Therefore, Christian worship is not less authoritative or potent but more since it originates from heaven and shakes both heaven and earth, until nothing remains that can be shaken (Heb. 12:25-27). Worship is one of the central means by which we receive this unshakeable kingdom, and therefore our worship must be reverent because God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:28-29).
Acceptable worship takes place in the presence God and under His blessing. It is not acceptable worship where people say God-words and sing God-songs, where God is not present. And it is not acceptable worship to summons God and then do and say things that do not please Him. Nor is it acceptable to do things that God has commanded merely as a way to buy Him off for all the ways you are disobeying Him elsewhere (Is. 2). The only way a finite sinner approaches the holy and infinite God is by the gift of evangelical faith. Evangelical means “gospel,” and what we mean is that the only way into the presence of God is by the blood and righteousness of Jesus covering all the worship and all of the worshipper. The storm of God’s fiery presence is far more glorious in Christian worship than at Mt. Sinai (Heb. 12:25). The blood of Christ, the blood of the New Covenant, speaks better things than that of Abel, but it is still like Noah riding in the storm, Israel walking through the Sea, the fire falling on the water-drench altar of Elijah. It is joyful and solemn. And faith is what holds all of this together: faith in the person and work of Jesus. God is a consuming fire. The question is not whether you will be burned; the question is only whether you will survive.
COVENANT RENEWAL AND SACRIFICIAL WORSHIP
When Israel met with God at Mt. Sinai, they did so in order to renew the covenant that God had made and renewed with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex. 2:23-24, 3:16, 6:3-8, 24:6-8, 15-18). That covenant with Abraham was a renewal of the covenant that God had made with Noah (Gen. 9:1-17), which in turn was a renewal of the covenant that God made with Adam and Eve after the Fall (Gen. 3:15-24). The covenant needed renewing not because it expired, but Paul says to think of the Old Testament as the time when Israel was in school under tutors (Gal. 4:1-4). So think of the covenant renewals of the Old Covenant like convocations. God was teaching, training, and graduating His people in the school of preparation for Christ. The sacrificial system was a “memorial” system meant to constantly remind Israel that they were God’s people, and at the same time it was a standing reminder to God to remember His promises to His people. Every sacrifice was a mini-covenant renewal (cf. Ps. 50:5). Just as couples go on dates and continuously pursue one another romantically, renewing the marriage covenant as they do, so too God has always been pleased when His people gather together to renew covenant.
GROWING UP IN WORSHIP
Christian worship shakes everything that can be shaken (Heb. 12:26-27). This includes the United Nations, the Supreme Court, the Oval Office, Wall Street, our businesses, families, marriages, all that we are. The Church is the light of the world, the salt of the earth, and as the Church goes, so goes the world. Another way of getting at this same principle is that you become what you worship (Ps. 115:8). Part of the theological lesson of all the blind, deaf, mute, and crippled people in Israel when Jesus came in the gospels is that Israel had been worshiping idols (and there were demons in many of the synagogues, Mk. 1:39). However, when the whole Christ is preached, we all with open face behold the glory of the Lord and are changed into the same image – whole humans, from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18). This is the maturity we aim for.
The New Testament speaks of this transformational communion with God sacrificially: “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable [worship]. And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Rom. 12:1-2). The cross was the final and complete bloody sacrifice, but the New Testament teaches that Christian worship is still sacrificial (Heb. 13:5, 16, 1 Pet. 2:5). The main Old Testament sacrifices were the sin offering, ascension offering, and peace offering, and when they were offered together, they were offered in that order (Lev. 9, cf. Num. 6, Ez. 45:17, 2 Chron. 29). In Christ, we are Called, we Confess, we are Consecrated, we Commune, and we are Commissioned. And we trust that the fire of God’s presence will fall and burn everything new.
THE WHOLE OF CHRIST
It’s not enough to say that we did worship correctly, or we did the liturgy. There is a way of being grown up that is actually very childish. What we want to see and enjoy is real fruit. We want to offer Biblically mature worship with a childlike faith in Christ, hungry for the fruit of the Spirit, “proving what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2).