Joy in the Truth
In order for a Christian to live a life of God-glorifying worship, he or she must grow in the knowledge of God’s word. In other words, he or she must study doctrine.
Let’s look at three reasons why sound doctrine is essential to true worship.
1] Doctrine provides a right understanding of God’s person and character.
At its core, worship involves our response to God’s self-disclosure. However, we can only respond rightly to God if our perception of Him is true. Sound doctrine shapes in us a true vision of God and curbs our sinful tendency to reshape our view of God to suit our self-interests.
Imagine that a man living in conscious, willful, unrepentant immorality walks into a church service. He gets caught up in the beautiful sounds of the voices and instruments, he sings and raises his hands, and thinks, “I’m really alright with God. God loves me, and I love Him, too.” Then he leaves and continues to pursue his immorality, completely unaffected by his “worship experience.”
Has that man worshiped? Perhaps. Has he worshiped the true and living God? Absolutely not. He has worshiped a god of his own making, a god who winks at sin, a god who is not holy. This man came to church, and sang worship songs, and felt good, but he worshiped a false god that looks suspiciously like himself.
To grow in our worship of God, we must first grow in our knowledge of God. Far from intruding into worship, sound doctrine makes true worship possible!
2] Doctrine enables us to respond appropriately to God. Do you ever find your mind drifting during corporate worship? You begin to think God won’t accept your worship if you can’t stay focused, so you struggle to corral your thoughts, hoping to purify your worship. Or maybe you are burdened by your sin, and feel unworthy to come before God. You hope that maybe this week you’ll sin less. Then next Sunday, you can really worship!
The point is that wrong thinking about God produces wrong responses to God. In these examples, your ideas about why God accepts you influence your responses to Him. A grasp of sound doctrine, however, adjusts our responses.
Let’s apply the doctrine of justification to these examples. Justification tells us that our standing before God depends wholly-completely! entirely! , on Christ’s substitute death on the cross on our behalf. This frees us to come boldly before the throne of grace. Then, we can rejoice in our Savior rather than “working our way into His presence” or continually striving to maintain His favor. That’s just one way in which sound doctrine transforms legalism into true worship.
3] Doctrine produces true and vigorous affections for God. To experience true worship, sound doctrine alone is not enough; one must also have a passionate heart for God. Both must be present: head and heart.
We must not see the study of God’s word as merely some sort of intellectual exercise. Scripture is not given simply for the sake of our intellects. It holds out the promise of producing passion for God. You don’t have to choose one or the other-God meant for them to go together! Truth and spirit. Knowledge and passion. Thinking and feeling. Doctrine and life. The Word of God, ignited by the Spirit of God, becomes kindling for a passionate heart for God.
So, for the Christian who desires to worship God in spirit and truth, where does this discussion leave us? Right here: As worshipers, as Christians, we must not be content with mere doctrine or mere emotion. True worship is not only doctrinal precision, nor is it merely raw emotional power. Rather, true worship is wholehearted adoration and obedience that flow from a life transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, and shaped by the Word of God.
Jeff Purswell is editor of ‘Bible Doctrine’ (published by Zondervan), a pastor at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md, USA.
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