Does God care how we worship Him? Some Christians today say (or act) as if He does not. Too many people today ignore parts of the Bible, try to over-rule God’s laws, and adopt extra-Biblical practices in worship. And they really don’t think He’ll mind.
The problem is, God actually does care how you worship Him. If you’re not following Him the way He says to, then you’re not really following Him at all. He is “a jealous God” and He does not accept half-hearted or divided affection. You can’t honor Him by worshiping in ways He does not approve or if you’re also trying to worship something else. It’s not good for us to have divided loyalties or identities. We need to find wholeness in seeking our Lord the way He desires us to seek Him.
Really Get To Know God
Paul tells us that all the things which happened to ancient Israel “were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11, WEB). One place where the story of Israel is recorded is the book of Hosea. God used Hosea to warn Israel what would happen to them if they continued to break covenant with Him by blending pagan religions with their worship of the One True God, or “Yahweh” to use His proper name (Ex. 3:14-15). Unfortunately, it’s a message that’s relevant for churches today.
I’m not saying all churches, and certainly not every Christian, is deliberately blending other religions with their faith. But I do think it’s something we should be aware of, and on-guard to avoid. We need to make sure we’re not ignoring parts of His inspired word, rejecting His law, or blending pagan religious practices with our worship.
Set the trumpet to your mouth! He shall come like an eagle against the house of the Lord, because they have transgressed My covenant and rebelled against My law. Israel will cry to Me, ‘My God, we know You!’ Israel has rejected the good; the enemy will pursue him. … I have written for him the great things of My law, but they were considered a strange thing. (Hos. 8:1-3, 12 NKJV)
Israel claimed to know God, yet they rebelled against His law, broke His covenant, and called His instruction a strange thing. They were like the people Christ speaks of who will say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many miracles in your name?” to whom He will say, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matt. 7:22-23, LEB).
This passage in Matthew is a terrifying scripture. There will be people who are convinced they’re following God, but whom Christ doesn’t have a relationship with because they’re not doing the will of the Father in heaven (Matt. 7:21). I pray we’re not among them. And perhaps if we learn the lesson of Hosea, we won’t be.
Don’t Give Up Knowledge Or Law
The situation Hosea writes about is much like one God speaks of in Isaiah: “This people draws near me with their mouth and honors me with their lips, but they have removed their heart far from me” (Is. 29:13, WEB). Even the religious leaders were a big part of the problem (Hos 4:8-9). This wicked attitude showed up again in Christ’s day (Matt. 15:7-8; Mark 7:6), and if we’re not careful it can show up in us today as well. When this kind of corruption and insincerity exists in the way God’s people follow Him, it has profound consequences.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you, that you may be no priest to me. Because you have forgotten your God’s law, I will also forget your children. (Hos. 4:6, WEB)
When we lose knowledge of God and forget His law, we’re in danger of losing our relationship with Him. God won’t let anyone snatch you away from Him and He never breaks His side of a covenant. But He won’t force you to stay with Him if you walk away, as Israel did. He will still try to get you back, though.
Stop Pretending Bad Things Are Okay
I will also cause all her celebrations to cease: her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths, and all her solemn assemblies. I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees, about which she has said, ‘These are my wages that my lovers have given me and I will make them a forest,’ and the animals of the field shall eat them. I will visit on her the days of the Baals, to which she burned incense, when she decked herself with her earrings and her jewels, and went after her lovers, and forgot me,” says Yahweh. “Therefore behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” (Hos. 2:11-14, WEB)
God’s not talking about stopping His people from keeping His sabbaths (which are a sign of the covenant) but about taking away Israel’s perverted versions of those days. God doesn’t want people to stop doing the things He commands, but to start doing them sincerely. The letter is meaningless without the spirit, but that doesn’t mean you leave the things God tells you to do undone (Matt. 23:23; Heb. 4:9). When our hearts are right and we love God, that will result in us keeping His commandments (John 14:15, 21; 15:10).
Woe to them! For they have wandered from me. Destruction to them! For they have trespassed against me. Though I would redeem them, yet they have spoken lies against me. They haven’t cried to me with their heart, but they howl on their beds. They assemble themselves for grain and new wine. They turn away from me. (Hos. 7:13-14, WEB)
Aside from the obvious issue of rebelling against God, one of Israel’s biggest problems was that they didn’t want to admit there was anything wrong. God says, “They don’t consider in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness” (Hos. 7:1, WEB). And when they do say they’re going to come back to God their love vanishes like a morning dew and they deal faithlessly with Him. They don’t understand that He desires “steadfast love and not sacrifice, and knowledge of God more than burnt offerings (Hos. 6:1-7, LEB).
Turn To God With All Your Heart
God cares about your heart more than about an outward show of following Him. He wants us to be steadfast in our love and to truly get to know what He desires, not just go through the motions. And He certainly doesn’t want the motions we go through to be something human beings came up with instead of something He commanded.
Their deeds won’t allow them to turn to their God; for the spirit of prostitution is within them, and they don’t know Yahweh. The pride of Israel testifies to his face. Therefore Israel and Ephraim will stumble in their iniquity. Judah also will stumble with them. They will go with their flocks and with their herds to seek Yahweh; but they won’t find him. He has withdrawn himself from them. (Hos. 5:4, WEB)
If we want to get back to (or maybe discover for the first time) a sincere relationship with God and worship Him as He desires, we have to let go of doing things that don’t lead us toward Him.
I will go and return to my place, until they acknowledge their offense, and seek my face. In their affliction they will seek me earnestly. (Hos. 5:15, WEB)
We know from God’s words to another prophet that those who seek Him with all their hearts will be successful in finding Him (Jer. 29:12-13). In many cases, doing this requires a shift in how we approach God. We need to acknowledge that trying to follow God in ways He didn’t ask for are offensive to Him. We have to stop acting as if God should be grateful that we worship Him at all and shouldn’t complain about how we do it. We can’t remake God to fit something we’re more comfortable with just because we want the advantages of following Him without the obligations.
I was temped to talk here at the end of the post about a few specific ways that the churches have added to or taken away from God’s commands. But after praying about it, I realized this post is not a place for throwing stones. It’s more of an invitation for each of us (including me) to take a good, deep look at how we’re following God and what we’ve been taught, and make sure it truly lines-up with the ways God tells us to worship Him. May the Lord guide each of us to worship Him in sincerity and truth.
Featured image credit: Lamppost Collective via Lightstock