If there’s anything that characterizes heaven, it is worship. In the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, we see glimpses of heaven, as John, the author, repeatedly shifts the viewpoint from heaven to earth and back to heaven again. Listen to John describe what he saw:
“Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: `Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!'” (Rev. 5:11-12).1
The word “worship” is derived from the older word “worthship,” and means to ascribe worth to God, to consider Him as worthy of value, the ultimate value of our lives, and in some way to express to Him our sense of His worth and value to us. The angels said, “Worthy is the Lamb…to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, blessing. These things belong to Him, and rightly so, for He is the Lamb who was slain.” Later, the “living creatures” around the throne joined in the worship by simply responding to the angels’ words with “Amen!” while the 24 elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever (Rev. 5:14).
That’s a glimpse of the worship of heaven, but how should we worship God today, here on earth? The Bible is clear that, if we want our worship to be acceptable to Him, we need to find out from Him how He wants us to worship Him. As Cain discovered early on, there is “acceptable” worship and “unacceptable” worship. This is one place where we do not write the rules.
The Apostle Paul wrote,
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).
Paul writes here about our “reasonable service.” This word “service” could just as well be translated “worship.” When we talk about going to the “morning service” of a church, or a sign in front of a church building announces, “Divine Service—Sundays 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.,” that is the idea of “service” or “worship” that Paul’s word conveys. “I beseech you to present your bodies a living sacrifice…which is your reasonable worship service.”
This same word, “service,” is used several times in Hebrews Chapter 9:
“Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary” (vs. 1).
Here Paul’s word, “service,” is translated by the fuller phrase, “divine service.” The writer to the Hebrews is describing the worship that God ordained, “the ordinances,” under the Law of Moses for the people of Israel. He begins in vs. 1 writing about the “earthly sanctuary,” referring to the tabernacle in the wilderness, and later to the temple that then stood in the center of Jerusalem, where the worship of Israel was continually carried out. He goes on to a detailed explanation of Israel’s worship:
“For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary [margin: “holy place”]; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat” (vs. 2-5).
As the writer describes the worship that God commanded for Israel, he walks us through the tabernacle describing the architecture: two rooms, the holy place and the Holy of Holies, and two veils; the furniture: a table and a lampstand; certain “relics” that were preserved in the Holy of Holies: the ark of the covenant, the tablets of stone with the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod that budded, a pot of manna.
Then he goes on to describe how these things were actually used in the worship:
“Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part [The Holy of Holies] the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance” (Heb. 9:6-7).
Here we read about the personnel who were required in order to worship the Lord and the calendar of feasts that governed the worship. We read that the ordinary priests went into the first room, the holy place, performing the worship, but into the Holy of Holies only the High Priest went, and that on only one day of the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On that day he could go into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the blood on the ark, or mercy seat, and make atonement for the sins of the people.
If a person in Israel wanted to worship the Lord, he couldn’t do it in just any way that he desired, in any place that he desired. God had prescribed the way to worship Him acceptably, and the Israelite had to obey, or be guilty of breaking the covenant. To worship the Lord he had to go to a particular city, Jerusalem, and to a certain building, the temple. He would have to be concerned about certain furniture, certain relics that had to be present, about a certain ritual, the proper sacrifices and manner of performing them. He had to be concerned about a priesthood, and the calendar, the yearly cycle of feasts and the weekly Sabbaths. Later in this same passage we read about “foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances…” (Heb. 9:10). Worship was a complex undertaking, but these were God’s instructions to Israel about how He wanted them to worship Him.
It might be complicated, and it might at times be burdensome, but still, what a privilege! God said to these people that He wanted to have fellowship with them, and that He was providing an access, a way that they, through their High Priest representative, could come into His very presence and have fellowship with Him and make atonement for their sins. This fellowship was limited, only the High Priest could come, and that only once a year, but it was real, and it was unlike anything that any other people on the face of the earth enjoyed. This was the “divine service,” the worship, of Israel.
Your Reasonable Service
Now we turn back to Romans 12:1 and read what Paul writes to the members of the Body of Christ:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”
The twelfth chapter of Romans is full of instructions on the practical aspects of living the Christian life. It is noteworthy that the first issue that Paul deals with is the issue of “worship.” Worship, for the Gentile Christians, as for the Old Testament Israelites, has a priority in our lives.
We need to notice the dispensational emphasis of Romans 12:1. When Paul writes, “I beseech you by the mercies of God,” he’s not referring to the mercy of the Lord in general, but to the specific mercy that he has just written about in the previous chapter.
“For as you [Gentiles] were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their [Israel’s] disobedience, even so these [the Jews] also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy” (Rom. 11:30-31).
Here Paul describes the changing of the dispensations. In times past Israel had fellowship with God while the Gentiles were far off, without God and without hope in the world. Yet now, because of Israel’s disobedience, the Gentiles have obtained mercy. The Messiah had come to Israel in fulfillment of the promises made to their fathers, but the people of Israel had rejected Him and crucified Him. Still He prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” So we read in the early chapters of the Book of Acts how the Holy Spirit preached forgiveness to Israel, if they would repent and believe in their risen and ascended Messiah. But again Israel was disobedient, persecuting the apostles and Messianic believers, and finally stoning Stephen, a man filled with the Holy Spirit.
Because of Israel’s disobedience, God “cast them away” (Rom. 11:15) and raised up a new apostle, Paul, the leader of Israel’s disobedience saved by pure grace, and revealed to him a hitherto secret program, “the dispensation of the grace of God” (Eph. 3:1-2). Because of Israel’s disobedience, mercy went to the Gentiles, but because of the mercy shown to the Gentiles, the Jew also now may receive mercy and be saved by the grace of God through faith in the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“I beseech you therefore brethren by the mercies of God….” Paul is writing in the light of the dispensational change that the Lord had revealed to him. The Gentiles who were once far off, not allowed to enter any further than the “vestibule” of the temple, these Gentiles, saved by grace, now are invited to worship God. But note carefully how they were to worship the Lord. Not by imitating Israel’s worship, not by building a temple, not even by going to the temple in Jerusalem (it was still standing and operating when Paul wrote this letter to the Romans), but by “presenting your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable worship.”
There was a profound change in God’s plan for acceptable worship. It once required all those complicated requirements for acceptable worship: a temple building, with furniture and relics and a priesthood and an altar and animal sacrifices according to the calendar, but now all that is changed. God no longer has a temple building of stone and wood, but in this new dispensation of the grace of God, the temple of God is the believer’s body!
“Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you” (1 Cor. 6:19).
That is just the beginning of the changes. Today we worship God, not by going to a building (after all, we are God’s building), making use of certain furniture, and the appropriate personnel, and observing a certain ritual; our worship is to present our bodies a living sacrifice. When Paul writes, “which is your reasonable service,” we should underline the word “your.” Israel’s acceptable worship was there at the temple, doing the prescribed ritual, but Paul writes, “YOUR worship, the worship God had commanded from you Gentiles, you members of the Body of Christ, YOUR worship is to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”
“Back to Jerusalem”
The problem is that through the centuries the church has ignored Romans 12:1 and tried to go “back to Jerusalem” to worship the Lord. Even when God showed the change in the dispensations and allowed the old temple to be destroyed, Christendom built imitation temples with altars and railings and even a little box called “the tabernacle” where, supposedly, God lived. Some of the most beautiful architecture in western civilization was built for the express purpose of worshiping God with special furniture, and relics, and rituals, and a priesthood, and calendars of holy days and seasons. Even many “Bible believing Christians” have not escaped the error of this wrong worship with their “sanctuaries” and “morning and evening worship services,” rituals, and holy days and holy seasons.
It has a certain appeal. The author once went to an “open house” at the local Catholic Church. After a complete tour of the church building, we ended up in front of the main altar. The ceiling soared above our heads, we stood on slabs of white marble, before us was arrayed a retinue of the “saints” statues, with contrasting marble columns, and gold accents and candles; it was all very impressive. One person in our tour group then asked the priest, a young man fresh out of the seminary, “Why do you do this? Why all this gold and marble and extravagance of architecture?”
The young priest was quite candid as he responded, “We do this to give people a sense of awe, to give them the feeling of coming into the presence of God. It’s special when you walk through the doors into this building. It’s like a little corner of heaven. It’s psychological.”
And, we might add, it’s quite effective! But is it “acceptable?”
Paul knew of a temple that would make that church building pale in comparison, but he wrote to the Gentile believers in the dispensation of the grace of God, “Brethren, that’s not your worship, your worship is simply to present your bodies a living sacrifice.”
Our worship today is not to go to a certain building, on a certain day of the week or certain holy days of the year. It is not to practice a certain ritual. For God’s “earthly people” Israel that was appropriate, but God has set His “heavenly people” free from that kind of worship. We can worship God at any time and in any place. We can worship Him continually, not just once in a while. We don’t need a priesthood or a building or a special day. Our worship service is not just one hour on Sunday morning, but a life. 24 hours a day; 365 days a year! Whether we’re sitting in the church building or walking down the street, driving our car or washing the dishes, putting on our shoes in the morning or setting our alarm clock at bedtime, at any time in any place, in fact at every time and every place we can worship the Lord.
“Lord, I thank You that You have saved me. That You bought me with Your blood and I am Yours. Lord, I want to give myself to You, to live for You.”
Living in the Name of the Lord
Paul wrote about worship to the Colossians:
“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col. 3:17).
“Whatever you do in word or deed….” What does that leave out? This verse encompasses our entire activity. Paul writes, everything you do, do it all in the name of the Lord. We know about praying “in the name of the Lord,” but now we’re instructed to do everything in the name of the Lord, so that all of life becomes a prayer. God has designed our worship to go on continually, not just at one hour on Sunday mornings. All of life can be a prayer of thanks to God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ, all of life can be a worship service for the believer living in the dispensation of Grace. In the “dispensation of the grace of God” (Eph. 3:2) there are no sacred days or seasons, because every day is the “Lord’s day” (Rom. 14:5-6), and we need no sanctuary for we are the sanctuary, “Christ liveth in me”! (Gal. 2:20).
A Living Sacrifice
It was easy to go to the “worship service” at the church to worship God for one hour each week, but the worship that God says is acceptable today requires nothing less than a total commitment. To present anything as a “sacrifice” means that we put it on the altar and leave it there (of course, the trouble with a living sacrifice is that the victim keeps trying to crawl off the altar. It requires constant vigilance). Now Paul tells us to present our own bodies, yet, in spite of the cost involved, Paul calls this sacrifice our “reasonable” service. It’s reasonable, not exorbitant, or excessive.
“You are not your own…for you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
To present ourselves to God is only to yield to Him what is His already. When the Lord Jesus Christ died on the Cross for our sins, not only did He pay for our sins, but He paid for us. He “redeemed us from every lawless deed,” but He also “purified for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). From the moment that we were saved, we have belonged to the Lord, forever. Considering the fact that He died for us, that He gave Himself as the sacrifice for our sins, why should it be thought unusual, or excessive now to thank Him by putting our lives on the altar as a living sacrifice, why should it be thought unusual, or excessive now to thank Him by putting our lives on the altar as a living sacrifice to worship the Lord. What more could He do to demonstrate His love for us, what less can we do to say, “Thank you Lord for saving my soul”?
“And He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:15).
A Christian singer says in her song that she wants “to use the very voice He gave to praise Him thankfully.” Acceptable worship takes that principle and applies it to every aspect of life. What do we have that we haven’t received? Paul writes, brethren, I beseech you to present your bodies a living sacrifice; it is not excessive or beyond the bounds of what’s right, it is not too much, it is only your reasonable worship.
A Living Sacrifice
The Old Testament sacrifices were dead sacrifices, but there’s no need for blood dripping down the sides of an altar today, the Cross paid it all. Now Paul writes about a new idea, a “living” sacrifice. Paul had written about this kind of worship earlier in the letter to the Romans:
“Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life….present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom. 6:4,13).
Paul writes that we should present ourselves to God as those who are “alive from the dead,” a “living” sacrifice. Note that the life is not merely our mortal, human life, but the life of those who are alive from the dead. It is resurrection life. An unsaved person cannot worship God, for all he could present would be a dead sacrifice, but Paul says that we who have been baptized into Christ by the Holy Spirit should walk in newness of life, just as Christ was raised from the dead. That’s the life of the living sacrifice. It is the life of one who has been to the Cross, and there found forgiveness for sins and been raised with Christ into newness of life. Now it’s “not I, but Christ liveth in me.” When we worship the Lord by presenting our bodies a living sacrifice, it’s not what we can do for Him, but what He can do in us, through us. The worship is holy and acceptable unto God because it is the worship of His Son living in us. It is “worshiping God in the Spirit” (Phil. 3:3).
The Perfect Worshipper
We sometimes don’t realize that when the Lord Jesus Christ died on the Cross, not only did He pay the debt of our sins, but He was also offering a sacrifice to God. The Cross was His altar, His death was His worship.
“Therefore be followers of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 5:1-2).
Because He loved us, He gave Himself to God. That’s worship. He gave Himself to God as an offering, a sacrifice, a sweet-smelling aroma. The perfect Man with perfect obedience made the perfect sacrifice, and God says that to Him it was a sweet-smelling aroma. God was pleased forever. That’s worship, and we can learn from Him how to worship. In fact, Paul writes, take Him for your example, “Be followers [literally: imitators] of God and walk in love.” Here is the ultimate example of worship, here is our pattern.
Just as the Lord Jesus Christ loved us, and gave Himself to God as a sacrifice, just as He worshiped God, so now we also. He did it because He loved us, He gave Himself as a sacrifice to God for us. Now Paul writes to those who know the Lord and says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren…present your bodies to God as a living sacrifice.”
Now as we follow the Lord Jesus Christ because of love, we present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice for others. We walk in love as He walked in love and gave Himself to God for us. And that sweet-smelling aroma of Christ living in us, and loving through us by the power of the Holy Spirit, rises up in clouds of worship to God. And He says it is sweet-smelling, it is holy and acceptable, and isn’t that the perfect reward for the worshipper? Just to know that He is pleased.
Getting our Terminology Straight
If we’re committed to learning how to worship the Lord in an acceptable way, we’ll begin by getting a clear understanding of what the Lord desires. Many of the common expressions that Christians use betray our lack of understanding regarding acceptable worship.
We so often hear brethren talking about “going to church,” and by that they mean going to a building. They set aside “the Lord’s day” to go to “God’s house,” and there they hold “worship services” in the “sanctuary.” All of these expressions show that we have not yet left Jerusalem and grasped the new revelation that the Lord Jesus Christ gave to the Apostle Paul for us today. In the dispensation of the grace of God, we are the church, God’s house, His temple, His sanctuary. Every day is the Lord’s day, and our worship service is not just one hour on Sunday morning, but ought to be a “living sacrifice” every day of our lives.
When the church comes together in one place, if it’s not for worship, what is the purpose? Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:26 that when the church comes together, “Let all things be done for edification.” The church does not meet for worship—for our worship is to apply Romans 12:1—but for the purpose of building up one another so that the members can go back to their homes, jobs, and schools, and worship the Lord there all week long. (Of course, an aspect of “presenting our bodies a living sacrifice” is to be present and participate in the meetings of the church for the edifying of the fellow members of the Body of Christ.)
He Is Worthy
As we have seen, acceptable worship in the dispensation of Grace is not the emotional experience of a person seated in a great “sanctuary” observing a ritual. Worship is not limited to a certain time, day or place, but is the constant opportunity of the believer. Every area of life and every activity of life becomes the worship service of the believer.
“Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord” (Col. 3:23).
The worship of heaven sounds the refrain constantly:
“You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power” (Rev. 4:11).
“Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13).
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 7:12).
Our worship today has the same goal, the “glory of God”:
“To whom [God and our Father] be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Gal. 1:5).
But note how we glorify God:
“That you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6).
“Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:20).
“Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
Those glorious songs of praise in heaven’s worship today are sung not only by our voices, but by our lives, by our minds, mouths, bodies and spirits—in fact, by “whatever you do.”
- All references have been taken from the New King James Version.