In the book of Exodus, God gave Moses incredibly detailed instructions on how to build the tabernacle. God left nothing to Moses’ creative ability, and He directly inspired the artisans while guiding their hands (Exodus 31:2–5). Every piece of furniture was built to exact measurements with specific materials and placed in a specified place. Every item had a purpose, and nothing was to be made out of order. Giving these instructions to Moses, God charged him, “And see to it that you make them according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain (Exodus 25:40).
God also detailed to Moses how He was to be approached and worshiped. He did not give His people freedom to “wing it.” They were not supposed to create their own methods and styles of worship, whether corporate or private. Why? Because He communicated His person and character as holy, and His people were to act in a manner reflecting that.
Even today, though the Old Covenant has passed away (Hebrews 8:13), we are still obligated to approach God in a way that reflects His character. We cannot shoot from the hip or guess the right way live under His lordship. We do not get to customize our Christian life to suit our preference.
Just for clarification, when I say “worship” I mean both Sunday morning worship and the way we live our daily lives under the lordship of Christ. To me personally, and I believe that biblically, “worship” is not only a practice reserved for a special day but a mindset centered on the truths of God that work themselves out in the life and attitude of a Christian.
1. Our attitude must be appropriate for worship. When approaching the president, or any person in a position deserving respect, we act a certain way. This is seen clearly in military settings where the higher the rank of the person approached, the more respectful attitudes become. When approaching the holy and infinite God in worship, our attitude should reflect His rank. We must not act flippantly or buddy-buddy with God. Because of who He is, we act in reverence and respect. This is not to hinder relational intimacy, but to go about it properly.
2. We cannot create our own method of approaching God in worship. We approach God on His terms, not ours. When He says to enter His presence boldly in the name of Christ, we cannot then be timid and hesitant. When He says to fear Him, we cannot live as if He is not serious. God is the initiator in His relationship to His people, and He is the one who defines that relationship.
3. We do not get to choose what benefits or trials God allows us to have. The Christian walk is meant to mold us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), and this is accomplished through trials (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) and through the various means of grace. When He leads us through hard times and trials, we are not allowed to opt out. We do not come to God with a list of nice things we would like to get from Him and leave out those which are not as pleasant. It is all part of God’s purpose, to sanctify us and glorify Himself in us.
4. We do not get to decide what God does with our lives. If we try to choose our own path in the Christian walk, we are going to have a bad time. God is not here to help us carve out our ideal lives. He is not just our guide through life’s twists and turns. He is the one who decides our purpose and destination.
While the Old Covenant ceremonial laws no longer extend to the church, how we live and worship is still not up to us. Just as worship was laid out for Moses on Sinai in the Old Testament, Jesus and the apostles detail how modern-day believers are to worship and approach God very clearly in the New Testament.
1. Worship is revealed in Christ’s commands. Go through the New Testament, especially the Gospels, and mark every time Christ gives a command to His followers. What does He expect from us? Christ is, in a way, blazing a path for us to the foot of God’s throne. Do we wish to walk with Him? Then we must do as He says. "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15).
2. Worship is revealed in God’s character. Go through the Bible and seek out those passages where God describes Himself. Who does He say He is? For example, when God says that He is holy, how do we respond? We should respond in repentance, reverence, and praise. When He says He is a just judge, we should be confident that He will do the right thing in all areas of our lives. When He says He is merciful, we should respond in thanksgiving to and for Christ.
3. Worship is revealed in who God says we are. How He reveals Himself is only one side of the coin. We also have to look at who He says we are. When He says none of us are good or righteous on our own, we should respond in repentance and cry out for mercy. When He says Christ alone redeems us, we should run to the throne of mercy with full trust in the work of Christ. When He says we have an eternal inheritance that cannot be taken away, we should have a loose grip on the world and all its stuff because we are looking forward to something better.
4. Worship is revealed in the means by which we approach God. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:6). “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber… Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:1, 7). We see in these two passages that there is only one path to a relationship with God: Christ’s work and mediation. Not by doing good things. Not by going to church. Not by reading the Bible, praying, or even sharing the gospel with someone so they are prepared for salvation. Nothing at all will bridge the gap between us and God except Christ. We must be careful that we are not looking to anything but Christ for good standing with God.
5. Worship is revealed in the means by which God reaches out to us. We must remember that God is the instigator of our relationship with Him. He made the first move. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).” The atmosphere of our walk with the Lord is grace and mercy. It flavors every second of every day, even when we are too dull or distracted to notice. This is what we need to settle in our minds. “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy" (Romans 9:16). We did not come here on our own. He has carried us all the way. When we reach the journey’s end and look back, we will say, “Every step of the way was Christ.” There will be nothing for us to point to and claim credit for. So as we live, as we worship, and as we walk with Him, let us lean fully on His shoulder, considering neither ourselves nor anyone else worthy of praise.