Biblical Foundations for Worship, Part 2: Our Whole-Person Response

Note: Articles classified as essays may be long, advanced, or esoteric.

Continued from: Biblical Foundations for Worship, Part 1: Begin With God.

Humanity

To rightly worship the holy yet personal triune God of the Bible, we must also understand what the Bible tells us about humankind. Created in the image of God to steward creation (Gen. 1:26-27), Adam and Eve enjoyed a perfect relationship with God. They tended creation and served the Creator, reveling in unfettered and direct access to the eternal God, who welcomed communion with them.

That forever changed when Adam and Eve sinned against God by consuming fruit from the forbidden tree. Deceived by Satan into violating God’s one command to them, they were expelled from the perfect paradise of Eden. Ross explained, “This is the pattern in the history of worship. When people sin, they forfeit access to the sanctuary, the place God chose to make his presence known, until the sin is dealt with.”1 Their sin corrupted all of humanity’s relationship with God and brought death into the world (Rom. 5:12). The deliberate choice of their own way over God’s command was a rejection of God himself.2 

However, even on the darkest day in all human history, God foreshadowed the redemption of humanity and the destruction of Satan and his forces. He cursed the serpent and told him through a descendant of Eve his head would be crushed (Gen. 3:15). Johnston wrote, “Adam had been estranged from God, but had not been abandoned by him. Although the essence of his existence as God’s image-bearer and worship-bringer was impaired, it had not been obliterated. God’s purpose from that point on was to restore.”3

Foreshadowed redemption of humanity in Genesis 3 further coalesced into a promise made to Abraham and his descendants in Genesis 12. Abraham’s family would be made into a great nation, and from that great nation all the people of the world would be blessed (Gen 12:2-3). That blessing would come ultimately from the Messiah, the one who would “reverse the effects of the fall”4 and bring redemption to all people.

This long-awaited promise was finally realized in and through Jesus Christ. In the fullness of time, God the Father sent the Son to redeem those suffering under the curse of sin (Gal. 4:4-5). He was the Word, the one who was from the beginning coequal with God the Father, and himself was an agent in the creation of the cosmos (John 1:1-3). He was God, and yet, in the divine mystery of the incarnation, was the one who was made flesh and dwelt among humanity, gloriously full of grace and truth (John. 1:14). Fully divine and yet fully human, he lived the sinless life the Father wanted for all humanity and took the penalty of our sin upon himself at the cross (2 Cor. 5:21).5 By his death and resurrection, Satan was defeated and the possibility of relationship with God was restored.

What Israel’s worship anticipated for so long was realized in the incarnate Messiah, Jesus Christ.

What Israel’s worship had anticipated6 for so long had been realized in the incarnate Messiah, Jesus Christ. As great high priest and mediator, he makes it possible for anyone who repents of their sin and confesses him as Lord (Rom. 10:9-10) to come boldly and directly into the very throne room and presence of God (Heb. 4:15)! The relational access long limited by sin has been restored by Christ himself. In God’s mercy, spiritual resurrection is granted to all who are dead in their sins by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:4-9). The words of Jesus ring true: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, emphasis mine).

The Scriptures also declare Jesus Christ will return to make all things new. Webber stated, “When he comes again he will restore his world and remake the garden.”7 In that perfect place with no death, pain, or tears, God promises to dwell with his people forever (Rev. 21:3-4). And as we anticipate his return with all of creation, we do what Jesus himself commanded us: we make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19-20). In response to who God is and his mighty deeds, we tell his story to the world.8

Response: Sacrifice as Worship

In Bible times and throughout church history, people have offered worship to God individually and corporately. These acts of worship have taken various forms in different time periods, but have always been according to God’s standards. This is particularly expressed in the biblical idea of sacrifice, whether in the Old Testament, in Christ’s ultimate, once-for-all offering of himself, or our sacrificial response of worship to it, both in the gathering and in everyday life.

Even before God’s instructions concerning sacrifice were given to Moses for the Israelites, the Scriptures record people offering worship to the one true God through sacrifice. Job (Job 1:5), Noah (Gen. 8:20), Abram (Gen. 15:1-21), Isaac (Gen. 26:24-25), and Jacob (Gen. 31:43-45) all offered sacrifices to God.9 The account of Cain and Abel centered around their sacrificial offerings given to God (Gen. 4:3-5). While purposes for making these sacrifices varied, almost all involved invoking God to do something like provide, protect, or forgive, or it signaled covenant between God and the worshiper.

The God-given directives in Leviticus concerning sacrifice detailed to the people of God a way they could enter God’s presence.10 The five types of sacrifices outlined could be put into two categories: voluntary acts (burnt offering, grain offering, peace offering) and acts required by Yahweh for atonement of sin (sin offering or guilt offering).11 These acts of worship were always a response to the gracious God who wanted to dwell with His people. Sometimes the sacrificial response was in a grain or peace offering, giving thanks to the God who provided abundantly for their needs. Other sacrificial responses of worship were mandatory to make atonement for the sin of the worshiper (Lev. 6:24-30; 7:1-6).12

Atonement was a key concept in the mandatory sacrifices God commanded Israel. Sin was against God, and the perpetrators rightly deserved God’s wrath and judgment. In offering the life of an animal as a symbolic substitute for theirs for purification, the sanctuary was cleansed, and God continued to dwell with his people.13 However, the blood of animals could never atone for sin (Heb. 10:4). Undeniably, “the entire Mosaic sacrificial system is an extended picture of the true atonement that was to come in Jesus, the Lamb of God.”14

Jesus Christ’s ultimate and final sacrifice for sin is at the center of true Christian worship.

Jesus Christ’s ultimate and final sacrifice for sin is at the center of true Christian worship. He is the one who provides redemption through his blood and the forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), the one who made purification for sins and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 1:3). He was announced as one who would save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21), and yet was also the propitiation for the sins of the world (1 Jn. 2:2). As the incarnate, merciful and faithful high priest (Heb. 2:17) he has defeated sin through willful self-sacrifice (Heb. 9:26). Arthur Michael Ramsey wrote:

The perfect act of worship is seen only in the Son of Man. By him alone there is made a perfect acknowledgement upon earth of the glory of God and the perfect response to it. On the one hand the prophetic revelation of God is summed up in him as he is himself the glory of which the prophets, all unknowing, spake (cf. John 12:41). On the other hand the ancient sacrifices are fulfilled in him as he, priest and victim, makes the rational offering of his will in Gethsemane and on the cross.15

The new and living way initiated through the sacrifice of Christ has dealt with sin once-for-all (Heb. 10:10, 20).16 Unlike the Israelite priests who offered sacrifices daily which could never take away sin, Christ made a perfect one-time offering of himself for all sin (Heb. 10:12). Stott declared, “Once we have grasped the finality of Christ’s priesthood, sacrifice and covenant, we cannot contemplate any alternative. There can be no question of other sacrificing priests, since through our great high priest we enjoy direct access to God.”17 The repetitious sacrifices of the Old Covenant, which were ultimately insufficient,18 pointed the way to the final flawless sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

Because of this perfect sacrifice, we now have access to the Father through Christ and by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:18). The Holy Spirit, who graciously draws people to Christ and convicts of sin (John 16:8-11) and dwells in all followers of Christ (Rom. 8:9), also enables believers to live in His power and produce His fruit, rather than live in the flesh (Gal. 5:16-24). He also baptizes believers into the body of Christ, and distributes spiritual gifts to each believer for the common good (I Cor. 12:4-13). He is the great helper, making the worship of God the Father through Christ possible.

Implications for Worship Today

Our worship response to who God is and what he’s done is fulfilled both within the weekly gathering and outside of it. Each response, corporate and individual, is important. The Scriptures show early Christians meeting together for times of teaching, fellowship, and prayer (Acts 2:42). Additionally, the writer of Hebrews implores us to continue meeting together for encouragement and edification (Heb. 10:24-25). At the same time, the Scriptures also affirm that worship is much more than what happens within the gathering.

The foundation of corporate Christian worship is the good news of redemption through Christ.19 Webber wrote, “For worship to be biblical and Christian, the story of God’s redemption and salvation must be its content. Otherwise it ceases to be Christian worship.”20 The gospel provides the substance for everything that happens within the weekly gathering.

The gospel provides the substance for everything that happens within the weekly gathering.

Since the gathering tells the redemption story, the sacrifice of Christ is remembered and retold frequently. In assembly, the people are invited into the very presence of God, which is only made possible by Christ’s sacrifice. The singing often includes lyrics that remember Christ’s death on the cross, especially during the Lenten season of the liturgical year leading up to Easter. During the service of the Word, the recited creeds point to Christ who suffered and sacrificed himself. It is also dramatically portrayed at the Lord’s Supper, where we remember his broken body and spilled blood, and proclaim his sacrifice to the world (1 Cor. 11:23-26). We are then sent out in his name as ambassadors, to retell the redemption story and proclaim a message of reconciliation to all people made possible by his once-for-all sacrifice.

Implicit in sending is the idea that most of our lives exist outside of the corporate gathering. Yes, we offer whole-person worship in the corporate gathering, but our response to who God is and what he’s done should not be limited to a few hours of time weekly. Block pointed out, “Unless the worshiper walks with God in daily life, no cultic acts will impress God positively.”21 God desires obedience over ritual performance (1 Sam. 15:22).

Sacrifices of worship in daily life, devotion to God himself demonstrated in actions, are a response from redeemed individuals that God accepts. Paul implores us to offer our redeemed persons back to God as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). This whole-person worship response, he argues, makes sense in light of all God has done for us. Peterson explained, “The apostle is not simply considering some form of inner consecration here, but the consecration of ourselves as a whole, able to express our obedience to God in concrete relationships within this world (cf. 1 Cor. 6:20).”22 Romans 12:2-15:13 then gives further instructions about what a living sacrifice life orientation looks like practically. Genuine love, abhorring evil, loving enemies, never repaying evil with evil, and making no provision for the flesh are some of the ways that a living sacrifice life orientation is realized daily.

The rest of the New Testament also calls believers to sacrificial worship outside of the gathering. For example, we are called to evangelism (Rom. 15:16-17), generosity (Phil. 4:18), and continual offering of praise from our lips accompanied by doing good (Hebrews 13:15-16),23 all specifically as sacrifices of worship. Peterson stated, “The preaching of the gospel is designed to bring about a consecrated lifestyle that will enable believers to glorify God, by word and deed, wherever and whenever they can.”24 As believers, we daily offer sacrificial worship through self-offering, following the example of our Lord Jesus.

Conclusion

Worship is the whole-person response25 to who God is and what he has done,26 realized both individually and corporately by his grace and in accordance with his standards.27 Those who have been spiritually resurrected by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:4-9) respond to God by abandoning all of themselves to him. Both in the gathering and in all of life, their undivided devotion is to the holy and personal triune God. The revelation of his character and righteous deeds in the Scriptures demonstrate he alone rightly deserves nothing less. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:36).

 


 

  1. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation, 114.
  2. Robert E. Webber, Ancient Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008), 32.
  3. Mark Johnston, “A Biblical Theology of Worship,” Foundations, no. 76 (Spring 2019): 12.
  4. Webber, Ancient Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative, 34.
  5. Webber, Ancient Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative, 36.
  6. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation, 115. 
  7. Webber, Ancient Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative, 39.
  8. Webber, Ancient Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative, 29. 
  9. Webber, The Biblical Foundations of Christian Worship, 66.
  10. Hill and Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 106.
  11. Hill and Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 107.
  12. Webber, The Biblical Foundations of Christian Worship, 68. 
  13. Terry Briley, “The Old Testament ‘Sin Offering’ and Christ’s Atonement,” Stone-Campbell Journal 3, no. 1 (Spring 2000): 99.
  14. Webber, The Biblical Foundations of Christian Worship, 68.
  15. Arthur Michael Ramsey, The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ (London, England: Longmans, Green and Co, 1949), 93.
  16. Gerald L. Borchert, Worship in the New Testament: Divine Mystery and Human Response (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2008), 180.
  17. John Stott, The Incomparable Christ (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 75.
  18. Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, ed. D.A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 355.
  19. Robert E. Webber, Worship Old and New (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 150.
  20. Webber, Worship Old and New, 150.
  21. Block, For the Glory of God, 81.
  22. David Peterson, Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 177. 
  23. Hill and Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 109.
  24. Peterson, Engaging with God, 188.
  25. Wiersbe, Real Worship, 26.
  26. Frankland, His Story, Our Response, 24-25. 
  27. Block, For the Glory of God, 23

RESOURCES

  1. Block, Daniel I. For the Glory of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014.
  2. Borchert, Gerald. Worship in the New Testament: Divine Mystery and Human Response. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2008.
  3. Briley, Terry. “The Old Testament ‘Sin Offering’ and Christ’s Atonement.” Stone-Campbell Journal 3, no. 1 (Spring 2000), 89-101.
  4. Blue Letter Bible. “The Names of God in the Old Testament.” blueletterbible.org. Accessed February 26, 2020.
  5. Dyrness, William A. A Primer on Christian Worship. Grand Rapids MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2009.
  6. Hill, Andrew. Enter His Courts with Praise! Old Testament Worship for the New Testament Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996.
  7. Hill, Andrew E., and John H. Walton. A Survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.
  8. Frankland, Dinelle. His Story, Our Response. Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, 2008.
  9. Johnston, Mark. “A Biblical Theology of Worship.” Foundations, no. 76 (Spring 2019): 7-33.
  10. O’Brien, Peter T. The Letter to the Hebrews. Pillar New Testament Commentary, edited by D.A. Carson. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.
  11. Peterson, David. Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1992.
  12. Ramsey, Arthur Michael. The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2009. 
  13. Ross, Allen P. Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2006.
  14. Sanders, Fred. The Deep Things of God: how the Trinity Changes Everything. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.
  15. Sproul, R.C. The Holiness of God. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1998.
  16. Stott, John. The Incomparable Christ. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001.
  17. Tozer, A.W. The Attributes of God. Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1997.
  18. Webber, Robert. Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008.
  19. Webber, Robert, ed. The Complete Library of Christian Worship. Vol. 1, The Biblical Foundations of Christian Worship.  Nashville: Star Song Publishing Group, 1993.
  20. Whaley, Vernon M. Called to Worship: From the Dawn of Creation to the Final Amen. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009.
  21. Wiersbe, Warren W. Real Worship. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000.
  22. Williamson, Paul R. Sealed with an Oath: Covenant in God’s Unfolding Purpose, New Studies in Biblical Theology, ed. D.A. Carson. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2007.