November 26, 2021
Worship According to the Gospel
By Skip Heitzig
The Internet has made it nearly impossible to get away with citing and using false information. It's good to have that level of accountability, because it forces you to check your facts. Fact-checking gives you a reality check, helping you see whether what you say and believe is true and factual.
Did you know that many believers would do well to fact-check their worship? Because when you go to the Bible, you find that not all worship is true worship. A lot of people will say, "But this is how I worship God—being out in the woods or using these statues or working with this type of music." But what is acceptable to us might not be to God. The worship God accepts is the worship He prescribes, and Jesus said we ought to worship "in spirit and truth" (John 4:23).
The story of Cain and Abel gives us a chance to fact-check our worship. These brothers demonstrate the difference between self-styled worship and spirit-styled worship. We know the basics: Cain, a farmer, offered God a sacrifice of his produce. Abel, a shepherd, offered a firstborn lamb. God "respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering" (Genesis 4:4-5). And when Cain got upset about it, God confronted him and warned him to rule over his sin. Cain responded by killing his brother (see vv. 5-8).
Why did God reject Cain's offering? It wasn't because He didn't accept offerings of produce. Grain offerings were a regular part of worship under the law of Moses. It was because God had prescribed a certain way He wanted to be worshiped, certain requirements in which Adam and Eve had no doubt instructed their sons.
When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and realized they were naked, they tried to cover themselves with fig leaves. But God covered them with animal skins, sacrificing an animal to pay the penalty for their disobedience. That sacrifice established three things we need to remember about worship: first, we need a covering for sin; second, God won't accept garments of our own making; and third, the covering for sin comes only through the death of an innocent substitute.
Abel brought a blood offering, as required by God. Cain did not come with the shedding of blood but with the fruit of his own labor. The fruit he offered was the equivalent of the fig leaves his parents had once tried to use. His offering was probably beautiful—perhaps a neatly arranged bundle of leaves and flowers and grains. But there was no blood. How often do we make beautiful offerings to God of buildings, music, words, and works, but we leave out the gospel? We need the blood of Christ to approach God, to worship Him in the manner His holiness requires.
Abel brought to God what God wanted. Cain brought to God what Cain wanted. In effect, what Cain brought denied his own sin and the need for the shedding of blood. He didn't believe the revelation God gave of the need for a blood sacrifice.
Do you believe the revelation God has given? He saves us by grace through faith in His Son and His sacrifice. That fact should be at the heart of our worship. So fact-check your worship: Are you relying on yourself and your own efforts? Or are you offering the Lord true worship, based on Christ's redemptive blood shed for you on the cross?
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