God’s people are a worshipping people. It is a serious error when God’s people do not take worship seriously—we do not prepare our schedules ahead of time, we show up late, we nod off, etc. It is not only the church officers who must be prepared for worship. God will not be mocked.
There are many faithful congregations who do take worship seriously, but unfortunately, when we think of Lord’s Day worship, what comes to mind are the congregations who have gone off the rails. They would rather entertain the goats than feed the sheep, which is the definition of throwing your pearls before swine.
Speaking of Christian worship, the Confession begins, The light of nature shows that there is a God, who has lordship and sovereignty over all; is just, good and does good to all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart and all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.
As Paul writes in Romans 1:19-20, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
Regardless of intellectual arguments (which are often emotional arguments cloaked in $10 words), every human being knows that God exists. That means Christians, but that also means Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Bahai, etc. What god are we talking about? Who are we worshiping? The light of nature, meaning natural evidence, shows us that there is a transcendent reality. So what?
We can know by nature that God exists and that we should worship him. But exactly how we should worship him is unknown until he reveals himself to us. As that ultimate, transcendent, holy reality, he determines how he is to be worshipped, not his creatures.
Deuteronomy 12 is full of laws concerning the right worship of God for the Israelites. The chapter ends with the command, “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it” (v.32). God’s law includes right worship. It is not up to us to decide how to honor and glorify him. Scripture regulates how God is worshiped among his people.
When creativity in worship is a common goal for many churches today, we should rather strive for faithfulness to the revealed word of God. Watching or participating in worship in some of these churches makes clear that imagination is lord, not God. The tickling of the ears in these late days is not just about doctrine; it includes worship that seeks to be enjoyable rather than faithful.
Many worship services of today would be unrecognizable to the authors of this confession of faith. The type of worship services to which they were referring had to do with the Roman Catholic mass. The mass consisted of many things unfamiliar to the Scriptures. This did not only have to do with the content of the mass but the very ideas of an “unbloody sacrifice” and a priesthood as mediator between God and man. Scripture regulates worship, and there is one mediator between God and man, the God-man Christ Jesus.
Speaking of the God-man, the Confession continues, Religious worship is to be given to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to him alone; not to angels, saints, or any other creatures; and since the fall, not without a mediator, nor in the mediation of any other but Christ alone.
The Trinity is the Christian doctrine of God. It is the first fact that sets the one, true God apart from all false gods. To come into worship without a knowledge of God is to send your worship out into the ether.
In Matthew 4, Satan tempted Jesus with all the kingdoms of this world under one condition: fall to your knees and worship Satan. Such an atrocious, blasphemous idea should never be uttered. Since the fall of man in Genesis 3, Satan has been tempting man to worship anything or anyone but God alone.
The ruse has worked ever since. Paul tells us, “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Romans 1:25).
Again, the original context of the Confession’s article on worship was a refutation of the mass. But the worship of angels was a problem for the apostles, as well. Paul writes, “Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind” (Colossians 2:18). We can become so infatuated with the spiritual realm that it becomes a distraction to the truth, and that’s all that it is.
Neither should we worship any man. Saints here refers to those on whom the Roman Catholic Church has bestowed sainthood. They are a different class of Christian who have so many merits that we can benefit from them, as well—we just have to ask. They justify praying to saints by calling them “the great cloud of witnesses.” Now surely, all believers from all ages are among that great cloud, but supposed saints have no more merits or prayers to offer than you do. For every believer, past, present, and future, the only merit any of us have is Christ’s.
Beginning after the fall, there was a sacrificial system. Cain and Abel, the first children born after the fall, knew to offer sacrifices. That’s why Cain killed Able, after all—one was accepted and the other was not. There has been a mediator between God and man. God established the priestly role, first among the familial patriarchs (Job, for example, offered sacrifices and prayers on behalf of his children) and then formally among the Levites of Israel.
Because no one has ever been saved by the law, being a priest, or offering an animal sacrifice, the only true mediator has only been and ever will be Christ alone. The elect of the old covenant trusted in the promise of God that he would strike the enemy’s head, which was fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The elect of the new covenant have the benefit of looking back in faith that what was promised was accomplished.
Next time, we’ll start to look at which components of worship are determined for us in Scripture.
It cannot be overstated that in Christ, we are truly free. But what are we free from? We are free from the effects of sin and death and free to love our Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbor as ourself. Christian freedom is not license to live as we think best.
We are free from bondage to sin and are free to serve our king and sovereign with a glad and generous heart. We must never return to the sit from which we were freed by the blood of Christ.
The Confession makes clear, They who upon pretense of Christian liberty do practice any sin, or cherish any sinful lust, as they do thereby pervert the main design of the grace of the gospel to their own destruction, so they wholly destroy the end of Christian liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of all our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our lives.
As Paul writes in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
When you design a garage, you expect to be able to store some larger items and your vehicles. What you don’t expect to do is park your car in your kitchen. That’s an insurance claim. You design different rooms in your house to meet certain needs.
The “design of the grace of the gospel” is not for feeding earthly appetites but spiritual. The gospel is not that you’re free to live without fear of sin, and therefore you commit as much as you want. The gospel is that you’re free to live without fear of sin, because Christ paid the debt.
Imagine a wealthy grandfather gave a grandson a million dollars. Every time the grandson ran out of money, he went back to his grandfather for another million. The grandson can have one of two perspectives.
First, he could believe that his grandfather is a generous man who is willing to forgive bad investments and teach his grandson to do better. Or, he could believe that his grandfather is willing to act like an ATM and isn’t worth any of his respect.
How often do we treat the grace of God as if we deserve it and he’s going to give it to us anyway? We were slaves to sin, and our freedom was purchased at a high price. Only someone who does not yet understand that price continues to revel in his or her sin at the expense of the mercy of God.
Paul also writes, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:13-14).
Freedom is good! And goodness and righteousness does not seek the welfare of the self at the expense of another. This is wildly countercultural. Westerners often define freedom as the ability to do what we want and to be free from any sort of limitations. But Christian freedom is totally backward from earthly wisdom.
Be weary of those who make too much of their claim on Christian liberty. More often than not, true liberty is lived out quietly in reverence before the Lord and in service of our fellow man. If liberty excuses sin, it is not liberty; it is license. Christian liberty reveals itself in the pursuit of holiness.
Next time, we’ll take a look at how Christians observe one of the commandments for which Jesus gave the Pharisees a lot of grief–the Sabbath.
What do you do when you and a fellow believer have a disagreement about what is the right thing to do? What do you do when the Scriptures do not address the exact problem you’re experiencing?
One truth to remember is that while the Scriptures may not tell you everything you want to know, they tell you everything you need to know. For example, if you want to know who you should marry, you can reasonably know that your spouse should be a fellow believer, men marry women, and the marital bond is for life. Other categories, while still important, are left up to grace and providence. And where better could they be?
But we must also remember that freedom is never to be abused. The Christian does not have a libertarian freedom, defined as freedom to do anything and everything. We know that physically makes no sense. Are you free to fly or breathe under water? Planes and snorkels are artificial. Neither are you free to live in total freedom from God's law. You can try, but it is an artificial existence.
The Christian is free, but our freedom is gospel freedom.
The Confession begins, The liberty which Christ has purchased for believers under the gospel, consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the severity and curse of the law, and in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin, from the evil of afflictions, the fear and sting of death, the victory of the grave, and everlasting damnation: as also in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto Him, not out of slavish fear, but a child-like love and willing mind. All which were common also to believers under the law for the substance of them; but under the New Testament the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of a ceremonial law, to which the Jewish church was subjected, and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of.
Too much talk of Christian freedom sounds too much like what we can get away with. Are you free to drink alcohol? Of course; there is no law forbidding it. But your freedom is not freedom to make another stumble. Surroundings matter more than ever under the gospel. Love matters more than ever.
Key to this discussion is the glorious truth that we are free because Christ became a curse for us. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). He died to set us free, therefore, our freedom came at a cost. Part of the gospel is that while it cost Christ his life, it is given freely, without price. When you are determining, in your Christian freedom, what to do, begin every problem-solving session by being reminding who purchased your freedom for you. He is the one to please with your freedom.
Your freedom should not be used to walk back into the darkness from which Christ saved you. If we are free from bondage to sin and death, we are fools to think we can continue to play with it. Sin is not just a bad habit or a series of mistakes. Sin is bondage, chains, and ultimately, death in a prison cell. To continue in sin is to have the prison doors blown wide open only to walk into the one across the street.
And for the Christian, our freedom is even greater than those under the old covenant. The hundreds of Mosaic laws, which were expansions on the ten commandments, which were expansions on the two most important commandments to love God and to love neighbor, bound the Israelites with a great burden.
We should not think that our freedom is a burden like that of Israel. John tells us, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:38-39).
Because we have the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God, we are free in ways that the saints of old were not. They were bound to rules and regulations. God’s promised Spirit now dwells among us, freeing us from the laws that looked forward to this time.
The Confession continues, God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or not contained in it. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also.
Christ continually rode the back of the Pharisees for adding to the law of God. They taught their own commandments as if they were as divinely given as the ones given to Moses (cf. Matthew 15:9). “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy” (James 4:12).
In fact, following any law in an attempt to earn merit from God is sin. It is a very different thing to follow his law to please him. After all, the law itself only increased sin; the law did nothing to atone for sin. No law can do this. As Paul writes, “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23). To demand anyone else, including yourself, follow any law and think it redeems is to misunderstand the purpose of Christian liberty.
There is one more part of Christian liberty which deserves greater attention. What do we do with the argument that because we are free in Christ, nothing is really sin?
To that we will turn next time.
The Christian faith is not focused on the self. Sure, there are points of application and obedience to what God has revealed, but ultimately, the gospel is not just for our good. It is for the glory of God and God alone.
When we turn the gospel man-centered, we cannot help but begin to think that the gospel is something we could have come up with ourselves. Of course we know better than to ever say that. But how many churches do we see that have speeches that inspire sinners rather than sermons that glorify God? If we think of the gospel as something primarily about us, we will lose focus on God.
The Confession continues, The revelation of the gospel to sinners, made in divers times and by sundry parts, with the addition of promises and precepts for the obedience required therein, as to the nations and persons to whom it is granted, is merely of the sovereign will and good pleasure of God; not being annexed by virtue of any promise to the due improvement of men's natural abilities, by virtue of common light received without it, which none ever made, or can do so; and therefore in all ages, the preaching of the gospel has been granted unto persons and nations, as to the extent or straitening of it, in great variety, according to the counsel of the will of God.
The point here is that the gospel is all of grace and is rooted in the sovereignty of God. Salvation “is merely of the sovereign will and good pleasure of God.” Our mindset must be aligned with this fact. Nothing in us earned God’s good pleasure. In fact, eternal separation in the lake of fire is what our deeds have earned. We want God to be fair, right?
We cannot improve ourselves enough to warrant salvation. The sins have been committed. And what God requires is sinless perfection. “From this point on” is not the same as perfect. We need to be made a new creation. Murderers can promise from the bottom of their heart never ever to murder again, but they are still guilty of murders previously committed. They can never be perfect on their own.
And the gospel has always been the same “in all ages.” Even before Israel knew the name of Jesus Christ, they knew of the promise that God would send the seed of the woman to crush the head of the serpent, the seed of Abraham, the son of David. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment, the completion, of those promises. That is the gospel believed in all ages.
We know that God especially revealed himself to Israel with the law and the prophets, both of which cast a shadow of the gospel. “He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 147:20).
God always permitted foreigners and travelers to join in the company of the Israelites if they participated in the festivals in the same way as the Israelites. But at other times, God did not permit Gentiles to hear the gospel. In his sovereign purposes, he sometimes withholds for a time. Famously, Paul, Silas, and Timothy wanted to preach in Asia but were prevented by God himself. “And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (Acts 16:6-7). Great is the mind of God!
Finally the Confession writes, Although the gospel be the only outward means of revealing Christ and saving grace, and is, as such, abundantly sufficient thereunto; yet that men who are dead in trespasses may be born again, quickened or regenerated, there is moreover necessary an effectual insuperable work of the Holy Spirit upon the whole soul, for the producing in them a new spiritual life; without which no other means will effect their conversion unto God.
When the gospel does reach the heart of men, it is not only the heart of men at work. As Paul writes, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Dead hearts do not accept or believe the gospel on their own.
If you believe the gospel, be sure that you do not believe it because of your own ability, intelligence, or power. We were all dead in our sins, and it was God Almighty who stooped to our low condition to bring us to life.
Jesus says as much in the gospel of John. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (6:44). Jesus is more than capable to save, but we are not capable of coming to him. We must be drawn by the Father to the redeeming blood the Son. Our only hope is that God loves his enemies and draws us to his Son so we will look upon him and so be saved.
Until the time that Christ saves us, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). We are blind. We are dead. We are lost.
But when the Father calls, we will see Christ for who he is, in all his radiance, glory, and majesty. We will call on him, throw ourselves at his feet, and worship him forevermore.
The gospel and the extent of the grace thereof is beyond our comprehension. Glory to God alone!
Next time, we will look at the freedom that every believer has under the gospel of grace.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the biggest problem facing the contemporary church is a confusion about the gospel. False teachers preach that God desires to give you health and prosperity. Others teach that man must do something, whether social change or charitable action, to merit the mercy of God.
Perhaps the most pernicious mangling of the gospel is that Jesus is nothing but a rescue vessel from a world about to be destroyed, so you better get your ticket punched. This created a class of Christians called the “carnal Christian”, or a person who prayed the sinner’s prayer and would one day in the distant, nebulous future get serious about faith. And it was all done under the banner of a "simple" gospel. Since the Christian is defined by love and obedience to Christ, these people are by definition not Christian, no matter what people tell them. This is textbook false sense of assurance.
What is the gospel, then? What is the message of saving faith?
The Confession begins, The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance; in this promise the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners.
By way of reminder, the covenant of works was the covenant made between God and man in the garden. God would provide eternal life should Adam and his posterity be fruitful, multiply, subdue the earth, and obey all revealed truth, including the prohibition of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Adam broke the covenant of works by eating from the tree, sending mankind into sin and death. We would never again earn eternal life by good works. That ship had sailed.
As in all covenants, there was a covenant head, or one who represented everyone else in the covenant. As Christ is the head of the new covenant, so Adam is the head of the covenant of works. With the covenant broken, God was under no obligation to make a new one.
But he did. He promised to Eve that her offspring, the Christ, would crush the serpent who deceived them. God promised a new covenant head, one who would bring about a new people and a new creation. This is the first gospel promise. This is the promise in which faith is placed, that Christ is the promised offspring of the woman who crushed the serpent's head, saves sinners, and brings about the new creation.
The Confession continues, This promise of Christ, and salvation by him, is revealed only by the Word of God; neither do the works of creation or providence, with the light of nature, make discovery of Christ, or of grace by him, so much as in a general or obscure way; much less that men destitute of the revelation of Him by the promise or gospel, should be enabled thereby to attain saving faith or repentance.
Since the fall of man, man’s nature is so corrupt that far beyond knowing the good and rejecting it, we are unable to believe it ourselves. We need the Scriptures to know the divine plan of redemption. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The gospel is not just another message. It is impossible to believe without the work of the Spirit in us.
The idea that if men are just presented with the gospel that they will believe it is a dangerous proposition. Man’s nature is more depraved and darker than we often think. “For the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). Not misguided, unintelligent, or open to persuasion—but evil.
Given a lack of restriction and oversight, we are all capable of horrors. By God’s grace, he has established institutions and ordained governments to motivate the good and temper the evil that is prevalent in all human societies. But even then, institutions and governments convert no one. That requires the work of God and God alone.
If we can’t receive the gospel by our own means, then we have to ask, how do we come to know what it is when we hear it?
That’s a good question for next week’s post!