Sermon Audio: True and False Worship

On Sunday, July 11th, I once again had the opportunity to preach at Poplar Hill Christian Church in Poplar Hill, Ontario. The message is from Romans 1:18-25, True and False Worship.

[vodpod id=ExternalVideo.956449&w=425&h=350&fv=clip_id%3D13258298%26server%3Dvimeo.com%26autoplay%3D0%26fullscreen%3D1%26md5%3D0%26show_portrait%3D0%26show_title%3D0%26show_byline%3D0%26context%3Duser%3A2177508%26context_id%3D%26force_embed%3D0%26multimoog%3D%26color%3D00ADEF%26force_info%3Dundefined]

The abbreviated transcript follows for those who need/prefer:

The last time I was here, I spoke on obedience and how obedience—to God’s Word, for His Glory—is the evidence of the Christian life. That message has weighed heavily on me since I was last here and as I’ve examined my own life in light of it, I’ve been left with a question: If obedience is the evidence of what we worship, who or what am I worshipping? Is it God or something else?

What we’re going to discover together is this:

Because God is the only One worthy of our praise, we must examine our lives and discover who or what we truly worship.

Turn with me to Romans chapter 1; this is where we’re going to be spending the bulk of our time today.

Starting in verse eighteen:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

[Opening Prayer]

We are all Worshippers

At the end of June, I went to Honduras with Compassion Canada. We saw the projects at work, visited homes, played with kids, and it was amazing. While we were there, we also had the opportunity to visit the Copan Ruins and the remnants of the Mayan temples.

Our tour guide took us through the ruins, teaching us about the culture of the Mayans as we went. There were idols everywhere.

Images of iguanas symbolizing fertility; macaw birds representing their sun god… It was everywhere. But the thing that stood out to me the most was listening to him describe the after parties from a sports event.

Basically what would happen is that athletes would compete against each other, passing the ball around with the goal of hitting one of the six stone macaw heads on the sidelines of the court. And you had to do it without using your hands.

These games were a big deal—the religious leaders, the chieftains and all the people would fill the stadium. Now, after the game was won and a winner was proclaimed, there’d be a celebration in his honor.

Can you guess the prize for the winner? Sacrificed to the gods.

Doesn’t really make you want to win the game, does it?

Human sacrifice was all too common in this area of Honduras. People would throw themselves off the cliffs into the temple courts as a sacrifice, hoping to appease the gods.

As I learned about the culture, as impressive as the architecture is and as breathtaking as the ruins are, I was disgusted by the idolatry.

I started thinking about our own culture… is it really that different?

Sure, we don’t (normally) worship birds or practice human sacrifice as a reward for a game well-played; but as I’ve been looking around since I came home, one inescapable truth has become more apparent than ever:

We are all worshippers.

This is the way God has made us.

He’s not made us to worship, or to be worshippers; He’s made us worshipping.

Harold Best in his book Unceasing Worship describes it this way:

We were created continuously outpouring. Note that I did not say we were created to be continuous outpourers. Nor can I dare imply that we were created to worship. This would suggest that God is an incomplete person whose need for something outside himself (worship) completes his sense of himself. It might not even be safe to say that we were created for worship, because the inference can be drawn that worship is a capacity that can be separated out and eventually relegated to one of several categories of being. I believe it is strategically important, therefore, to say that we were created continuously outpouring—we were created in that condition, at that instant, imago Dei.

What Best is telling us is that our identity as worshippers is tied to God’s nature and our being created in His image.

Back in Genesis 1, we’re told that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was formless and void and the Spirit of God hovered over the depths.

So in the beginning, there was God.

And that’s it.

Some will speculate that God created the world and humanity because He was lonely. He needed something to pour out His love upon. But that’s not what Scripture says. The Bible says that God lacks nothing. If he lacked, then He would cease to be God.

This is where the doctrine of the Trinity is so important. Because God is one God in three persons—God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit—He lives in perfect, eternal, joyful, community, unceasingly outpouring His love on Himself.

And we were created out of an overflow of this, not of need, but out of joy to share His glory with others. And because we were created in His image, we do likewise—unceasingly worshipping, intended to reflect His glory in all creation.

Paul understands this. That’s why he doesn’t say, “In the past, some of you didn’t worship anything at all.” He says, “All of you have worshipped created things instead of the Creator.”

We are all always worshipping something. And more often than not, it’s not our Creator.

Our Lives Show Us Who We Worship

We’re continuously worshipping, but there’s something else we need to understand:

Our lives show us who we worship.

The hard thing for all of us is discovering what it is we worship—why? Because we’re blind to it. We’re blind to it because we have, as Paul wrote, exchanged the truth about God for a lie.

We’ve made created things—sometimes good things—our god, worshipping them instead of our Creator.

Let me give you a couple of practical examples:

Every day, men and women across the country congregate in one of the dozens of temples that are on nearly every street corner in Canada to worship as we roll up a rim.

This past winter, we had the Olympics; do you remember the fervor that surrounded Men’s Hockey?

How about the last few weeks with the World Cup going on?

And what about all the silliness with Lebron James and Chris Bosch joining the Miami Heat?

I know a few people who were cussing out Bosch, but James… They were burning his jersey in Cleveland this week!

Why?

Because the god they worshipped had let them down.

He left to play for a different team.

And the idol was crushed.

We are all worshippers; we’re always worshipping something—and our lives will reveal who or what we worship.

Maybe there’s something coming to your mind right now—your job, your spouse, your kids, your car, your computer, candy…

We think that these things will make us happy. That they’ll satisfy and save us. But anything but God will always fail.

But we don’t believe it. We don’t believe it because we’ve exchanged the truth for a lie.

False Worship Suppresses the Truth

“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth,” writes Paul in verse 18.

When we sin, when we behave in a manner contrary to God’s commands and His character, we “suppress the truth” about God.

False worship suppresses the truth.

When we put anything in place of God in our lives, we suppress the truth.

This is a damning indictment!

To suppress the truth about God—to deny His authority, His majesty, His power—is to commit an act of cosmic treason.

Why? Here’s what Paul says on this. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

Do you realize that every day, the evidence of God’s existence and His power are manifest? What can be known about God is plain to us because God has shown it to us.

Where does He show it?

In all of creation.

This is what the theologians call general revelation. That is, that we can know that there is a God and we can know something of who He is through natural means.

Speaking to this point, Acts 14:17 says,

[H]e [God] did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

What we see here is that God gives us rain and allows our crops to grow, and our livestock to thrive, in a display of His power and character. He “satisfies our hearts with food and gladness.”

In short, a great steak can bear witness to God’s existence.

And in Acts 17:24-27 we read,

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him…”

Practically, this means for us that everything—science, art, music, nature… everything reveals God’s eternal power and divine nature to the degree that we cannot with integrity deny God’s existence.

We are, Paul says, without excuse in acknowledging Him.

But consistently we fail to do exactly that. Instead, we suppress the truth about God in our unrighteousness.

False worship makes us fools

Verse 21:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

What Paul says here is that we have failed to honor God, to acknowledge and worship Him. In our sin, we have suppressed the truth about God.

And because we’ve suppressed the truth, we have come futile in our thinking. “[Our] foolish hearts [are] darkened.”

This is idolatry’s second effect:

When we fail to honor God, we become fools bent on stealing His glory.

When we refuse to honor God or give thanks to Him, we become fools, says Paul. In other words: Idolatry is stupid.

The prophet Isaiah communicated this well when he wrote,

The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

So basically, a man cuts down a tree—and one half he uses for firewood. The other he worships. We rob God of His glory… and give it to a piece of kindling.

Does that even make sense?

In our foolishness we start to think that God doesn’t really see what we’re doing. That because our false god doesn’t speak or think or see or hear, we’re in the clear.

But, Isaiah 47:10 says, God always knows:

You felt secure in your wickedness, you said, “No one sees me”; your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said in your heart, “I am, and there is no one besides me.”

Paul writes that as those who suppressed the truth claimed to be wise, “they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”

Again, it comes back to the truth that we are without excuse for acknowledging our Creator.

It’s why the “new atheism” movement is so bizarre. The whole point of books by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and several others is basically to say this:

There is no God… And I hate Him.

It’s intellectually dishonest. How can you hate someone you don’t believe exists?

If God doesn’t exist, shouldn’t you not care?

Instead, what do we see?

Dozens of books, documentaries and magazine articles attempting to debunk the idea of God… and in particular the God of the Bible.

Why? Why is so much energy spent debunking Christianity?

Why do we see more books trying to do this entering the bestseller lists every year?

Why is there such a need to find the gospel—that God the Son, Jesus Christ, became a man, lived the perfect life, died in our place for our sins and rose again to give us new life and reconcile us to God the Father—to be a sham?

Because deep down, we all know it’s true. We all know He’s real.

And it terrifies us.

Because we stand naked before Him—and without His intervention, we—have—no—hope.

Here’s the thing: Every other religion, every other belief system, in the end, revolves around the same thing—You.

It’s all about what you do, about how you must earn your way into God’s favor, how you must become one with the divine or with the universe. All is one. God is a part of the system or God doesn’t exist.

But if all is one, God is none.

It’s the lie that we’ve exchanged the truth for. It’s a foolish act meant to rob God of His glory.

It’s the serpent’s lie from Genesis three: “When you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Understand—Buddha, Krishna, Allah… There is no hope. There is no life. They have no power.

But Jesus Christ does.

That’s why the gospel is so offensive—it’s not about what we do, it’s about what Jesus HAS already done!

He saved us when we could not save ourselves! He took the punishment that we so richly deserved.

And we show ourselves to be fools when we deny His power, authority and majesty—when we rob Him of His glory and deny Him the worship that is His due.

And it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.

False Worship Reveals of the Wrath of God

Going back to verse eighteen, we read, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…”

All of what we’ve just talked about—that we continually worshipping, that in our rebellion against God we’ve suppressed the truth and exchanged His glory for created things—Because of all these things, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.

When we talk about wrath, we have to understand that there are two basic kinds that we’re talking about.

The first is God’s active wrath.

Active wrath is a tangible demonstration of God’s judgment over sinners.

When we read of the conquest of the Promised Land and the command to kill ALL the Canaanites—that was the active wrath of God.

When Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead because they lied about how much they were giving in Acts 5—THAT was the active wrath of God.

When we look toward the Day of the Lord when He will execute final judgment on all of creation—THAT is the active wrath of God…

God’s active wrath is offensive to so many people; it’s the cause of ideas about there being two different kinds of God depicted in the Bible—the hot-tempered God of the Old Testament and gentle Jesus, meek and mild. The reason for this is that we have difficulty understanding God’s perfect justice and holiness.

But there’s something even more terrifying than God’s active wrath, as we’re about to see. Listen to what Paul says in verse 24:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

What Paul describes here is the passive wrath of God.

What this means is that we’re so bent on our sin—we’re consumed with doing what we want, rather than obeying Him—God says, “Okay, go get’em tiger.”

He gives us over to a “debased” or depraved mind says in verse 28. Second Thessalonians 2:11 says that, “God sends a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false.”

And truth be told, there’s little more terrifying to me than this.

If God’s passive wrath is upon me, it means He’s letting me do what I want. It means my conscience has become so hard that I don’t want to respond.

Because I love my sin.

I want my idols.

And God says, “Have at it.”

Before God sent the flood in one of the most magnificent displays of His active wrath, He looked down at all of creation and “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Man was given over to a depraved mind. The passive wrath of God was upon Him.

And the active wrath was coming.

We Must Recover True Worship

Verse 25 says that we’ve exchanged the truth about God for a lie, worshiping and serving created things rather than the Creator.

In order for us to be saved we must recover true worship.

Left to our own devices, we’re utterly incapable of doing this.

Fortunately, God has made a way for us.

In Romans 12:1-2 Paul writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

That, friends, is the secret. That is how we are able to recover true worship:

We must apply the gospel to our worship.

Because of Christ’s death on the cross, our sins are paid for when we put our faith in Him. Elsewhere, Scripture says that we are made new creations in Christ—and because it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us, we are given new desires to serve Him and worship Him as He deserves.

We must apply the gospel to our worship. And that begins with repentance.

Why is repentance important?

Repentance is the heart of the Christian life. The first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, which ultimately resulted in the explosion of the Protestant Reformation, says, “All of life is one of repentance.” Repentance is not a one and done action—it’s a lifestyle.

A Christian cannot live an unrepentant life. Dr. J.I. Packer, one of the most brilliant theologians of the last 100 years has been quoted as saying, “All you need to do to become a heretic is to stop repenting or fail to call others to repentance.” It’s become contentious to call anyone to repentance in our day, even on issues where Scripture is clear—be it sexuality, gossip, gluttony, slander, malice… but here’s the thing: whenever we come up against one of these issues, we have to remember what the real question is—it’s not, “can one be a homosexual, an adulterer, a liar, a gossip, and be a Christian?” The question is—Can one be unrepentant and be a Christian?

Repentance is a process. Repentance isn’t being sorry that we got caught, or feeling bad or even acknowledging our sins. It’s much deeper.

  • Repentance begins with conviction from the Holy Spirit. Our sin is revealed to us through prayer, through our conscience, through Scripture or through the preaching of God’s Word.
  • Conviction leads to confession—we name our sin and agree with God, acknowledging our idol.
  • Confession leads to true repentance—it demands the death of our idols, which comes as we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • This leads to restitution—we seek to make right whatever we’ve done wrong in our pursuit of our idols. So if we’ve cheated on our taxes, we put it right. If we’ve stolen from work, we return it. If we’ve broken something, we replace it
  • The final step is reconciliation. Repentance—true repentance—restores relationships with God first and foremost and other people as we are able.

Repentance allows us to worship in freedom. Through repentance, we are no longer slaves to our idols, but free to worship God as He would have us—to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice,” as Paul wrote in Romans 12:1. As we trust God, study His Word, obey Him and worship Him, we are “no longer conformed to this patterns of this world, but transformed by the renewal of our minds.” Our desires change. Our attitudes change. Our habits change. All to the glory of God.

A few questions and we’ll close:

  1. What idols exist in my life?
  2. What created thing is robbing God of His glory?
  3. If that thing is revealed to me, will I repent?
  4. Will I take that first step today?

[Closing Prayer]

Get new content delivered to your inbox