Worship Values: Worship Must Be Gospel Centered

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[ We've been working on rewriting our mission and also creating a series of "values" about worship that will communicate our vision for what worship should be all about. While those aren't completely finalized, I think it will be helpful to share some thoughts about each value in a series of short posts. ]

What kind of worship do we want to cultivate? First: Gospel Centered

I know that the term "gospel centered" or "cross centered" is definitely a current buzz-word, but I can think of no clearer way to succinctly communicate this foundational value. I use the word gospel here as a shorthand for the story of God's grace shown to undeserving sinners through the substitutionary death of His Son. The gospel is not simply a story about events, but rather it is a story about who Jesus is and what He has done. So to say that worship is "gospel centered" means that the central aim of Christian worship is to celebrate and cherish Jesus.

Another way to put this is to say that worship is in and for Jesus. It is in Jesus because His mediating work alone makes our worship acceptable to the Father. Before we became Christians, it was impossible for us to worship the true God. I explained this in great detail in a sermon posted on our website. Without the regenerating work of the spirit we are not capable of offering to God an acceptable sacrifice of service or praise because even our inner motives are stained with selfishness. We don't naturally worship God from the overflow of a heart that is captivated with Him, rather we worship God for a myriad of other reasons – to feel better about ourselves, to get God on our good side, etc. Once we are born again through faith in Jesus, our hearts are set free and turned right side out to worship the true God. And even after conversion, it is Jesus' work as our mediator – coming between us and the Father – that makes our worship acceptable. In this life we will always struggle with sin, and Jesus cleanses our cold songs, our selfish prayers, and our formal readings in His blood so that the Father sees us as perfectly obedient and perfectly loving.

Worship is for Jesus in several ways. First, Jesus is the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament – the Law and the Prophets. The elaborate rituals of worship under the Israeli covenant (also called the Mosaic Covenant) were all meant to point to Jesus. (The book of Hebrews goes into great and wonderful detail about this) Second, worship is for Jesus because the aim of worship is the glory of God through the glory of His Son Jesus. At first it might strike you as strange that we should focus on Jesus – shouldn't we focus on God (either the Father, or the God-head, all three persons)? In John 17, Jesus prays that the Father would glorify Him, so that, in turn, He might glorify His Father. Likewise as we focus on bringing Jesus glory by treasuring Him in worship, the ultimate source of His glory – His Father – is magnified.

Does this mean that every prayer, every song, and every element of worship must be directly about the gospel? No. If this were true we would need to cut out most of the hymns in our hymnals, for only a section or two are very specifically about the work of redemption. For example, there are many wonderful hymns about God the Father's character such as Holy, Holy, Holy. But if we understand the gospel as the hinge upon which the entire Bible turns – that every page of Scripture is meant to show us something about Jesus' person and work – we'll see the gospel in songs and prayers that don't explicitly mention it. Or we'll see our songs and prayers as leading us through the story of redemption to the cross. Gospel centered worship will always seek, as C.H. Spurgeon said, to make a "bee-line to the cross."

May our worship services, times of private and family worship, and our conversational worship be more and more grounded in and oriented around the gospel, for the glory of God!


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David, I hope you are well. You have done a great job correcting a common misconception in worship - and all of Christianity for that matter - that it is all about what I can get out of it. At the same time, I feel there may have been too far a swing in this correction. The gospel is not about Jesus getting His needs met, but getting our hearts. If marriage is supposed to be the earthly example of how Christ loves the church, worship can't be only about Him. Worship is the pitcher where we pour out our love and adoration onto Jesus, but it is also a cup where we receive His love and affection for us.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. May God continue to bless you with inspired wisdom and new depths of worship.
» Kevin Shorter on March 1st, 2011


Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I'd like to clarify the discussion a little bit by responding to some of your thoughts. You said that "the gospel is not about Jesus getting His needs met, but getting our hearts." Remember that I summarized the gospel as "the story of God’s grace shown to undeserving sinners through the substitutionary death of His Son." The gospel is about us getting our needs met, so to speak, by God through Jesus, as a result of His grace. In fact, the gospel is about Jesus NOT getting His "needs" (He deserved honor and glory and gave it up) met all so that we could have our needs met. I think you're getting at the fact that we don't worship God because He somehow feels empty without our praise. While the gospel is about our hearts being set free to love Jesus, the only person who can bring true satisfaction, this "getting our hearts" is itself meant for something greater - the glory of Jesus. God saves us so that we might treasure His Son, showing His ultimate value, and in turn, showing the value of the Father. That's why I said that "the aim of worship is the glory of God through the glory of His Son Jesus." Lastly, you said, "If marriage is supposed to be the earthly example of how Christ loves the church, worship can’t be only about Him." You could say that worship is for us in the sense that because we were made to worship God, and God is only thing truly worthy of our worship, we should expect to experience joy and satisfaction in worship. In the wedding analogy, the groom doesn't go to the wedding in order to experience happy feelings when he sees His bride, he goes because he loves His bride, and his experience of that love is a secondary benefit. We need to keep our minds and hearts fixed on Jesus rather than our own subjective experience in order to build a healthy understanding and practice of public worship in our churches. I hope that helps.
» David Ward on March 11th, 2011

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