We are picking up where we left off last week as we feed on the truth of the 2nd commandment: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image…. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God….” Last week we discussed what is prohibited or forbidden by this command. It forbids all physical representations of God. It forbids all physical representations of anything for the purpose of worship. It also forbids elevating any created thing to the level of worship in our minds, which, as we said, takes us right back to the 1st commandment. This week we want to meditate further on the 2nd command by considering two additional truths: what is not prohibited and what is positively commanded.
What is not prohibited?
Briefly, this command does not prohibit paintings, sculptures, and other forms art when they are not of God and not used for worshiping God. For example, there are Amish folks who forbid taking photographs of themselves. But they have missed the point of the command. We know this for two reasons. First, the command itself specifies that it is talking about “bowing down” or “serving” these images. This is worship language. Furthermore, we find that God commanded Moses to construct a tabernacle with sculptures and engravings in it. So I believe it is clear that the 2nd commandment does not prohibit representative art per se. It only prohibits using any physical representation for worship.
What is commanded?
You have surely noticed that 8 of the 10 commandments are stated in the negative – “you shall not….” (By the way, this is a good lesson. We should not be afraid of saying “No.” Sometimes I feel as though we emphasize being positive so much that we try to become more pious than God himself. “Don’t be negative; be positive,” we say. But God isn’t afraid to say, “You shall not.” Neither should we be.) But even though they are stated in the negative, they always imply a certain positive. When the 1st commandment states that we are not to worship any other gods, positively it means that we are to worship the one true and living Lord. And so it is with the 2nd command.
And so what does this command mean positively? It means, as we have stated in the title of the message, to worship the Lord spiritually. Paul told that to the Athenians on Mars Hill (Acts 17:29). The greatest NT exposition of this command came from our Lord Jesus himself when he was speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus said, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). What does it mean to worship God in spirit and truth? While we may never unpack this statement entirely (cf. John 3:8), I believe there is still much we can learn.
Worship must correspond to the nature and character of God.
God is spirit and thus is incorporeal, simple, living, and personal. Here is how some theologians have attempted to unpack the amazing idea that God is spirit. “’God is spirit’ means that God is one indivisible, personal, living, and active being”. “The first point is that God is personal, that is, self-conscious and self-determining, living and active”. “The spirituality of God involves the two attributes of Life and Personality”.
You see, spirit, in the Bible, is not merely non-physical. That idea comes more from Greek philosophy than from the Bible. That dualism was part of the problem that led to Gnosticism. In the Bible, spirit is always living, active, and personal. Spirit can perceive (Mk. 2:8), purpose (Acts 19:2), rejoice (Lk 1:47), and worship (John 4:24). Spirit is the seat of rationality (Mal 2:15), determination (Jer 51:1), attitude (Num 14:24), understanding (Job 20:3), emotions (Ps 77:3). This all goes back to Gen 2:7, where God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath (‘spirit’) of life. The breath of life includes spiritual understanding (Job 32:8) and conscience (Pr 20:27). Furthermore, in the OT, references to God’s Spirit usually contemplate divine activity, from creation onward.
So when Jesus said, “God is spirit,” he is giving us a crucial perspective on God’s nature. That perspective includes at least these four aspects. (1) God has no body or physical extension in space of any kind. (2) God cannot be divided into parts. (3) God is alive and active; he is the great I AM who from his own infinite self-existence intelligently plans and then does everything he wishes to do. (4) Most of all, God is personal. We can relate to God and respond to his revelation of himself because we are personal. And Jesus said that because God is spirit, we absolutely must worship him “in spirit and truth.”
This of course forbids any material, localized representation of God, as we have seen in the 2nd commandment. But that is only the beginning. More than that, it requires us to worship the Lord spiritually. The only kind of worship that God wants, which he seeks worshipers to give him, is spiritual worship. That means that everything we have just noted about ‘spirit’ comes into play when we worship God. We will examine the applications of this more closely later. But before we do that, there is more we can see in our text about worship.
Worship must correspond to the nature and character of God as he has revealed himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Because God is spirit, he cannot be known unless he truly reveals himself. But in the context of the book of John, that is exactly what God was doing in Jesus (see John 1:1, 14, 18; 4:25-26). Jesus is the Word who is the truth (John 14:6). He gives the Spirit. He accomplished redemption and reconciled men to God; therefore, we can worship God. I have said this before, but I will say it again – unless you are worshiping God in and through Jesus Christ, you are not worshiping in spirit and truth. You can be doing all the right actions – reading your Bible and praying every day, going to church every Sunday, giving money to the church, etc. – but if you are not rightly related to God through Christ, you are not worshiping God in the way he commands. If you are not trusting in and depending on Christ alone as the way, the truth, and the life, then you are not coming to the Father in your worship. You are worshiping some false god of your own making, thinking that your good deeds will be pleasing to God. This is why true Christian worship is always centered on the finished work of Christ – his death as a substitute for us, his resurrection in power, his exaltation to the right hand of God as the Lord of all, and his future coming again. True Christian worship, biblical worship, is gospel-centered, which is another way of saying that it is Christ-centered.
Are you worshiping God today on the basis of who Jesus is and what he has done? Without that, you are simply offering up to God your filthy rags. It is completely unacceptable worship. We must worship God according to his nature and character, particularly as he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. This ties in closely with the next point.
Worship must come from our spirit as regenerated by the life-giving Spirit.
In the context of John 4, Jesus has been telling the Samaritan woman about the living water. This is the new life imparted by the Spirit of God, and this new life in our spirits is necessary if we are to worship God. That is the only way that our worship can correspond to the nature of God as the living, personal spirit. God is always active as the life-giving Spirit; therefore, the worship we give him must fit with his nature. It must come from living hearts that are actively engaged with him through his Spirit.
Notice here that there is no form of worship we can devise that can produce genuine worship. This is not at all to say that forms of worship are not important. The 2nd commandment is, in fact, dealing with how we worship God. Here at HCBC, we work hard to make our services most conducive to genuine worship. But it is to say that unless you surrender yourself to the work of the Spirit, which is simply to say you are living in true faith, abiding in Christ, there is no external form which can really make you worship. And if it seems to make you worship, then it is the devil’s substitute.
Right here we come into one of the perennial temptations of churches regarding worship. When churches notice that their worship services seem sluggish or not exciting, then they try to do something to stimulate excitement. They try to craft a slick presentation which will stimulate the interest level. They get professional musicians to work up the emotional level. They get a practiced worship leader who knows how to work a crowd. They bring in various forms of entertainment. But this is a major mistake. It is like saying, "My car is out of gas, so I will give it a new paint job." You can have the shiniest car around, but if you don’t have gas, you don’t have any power. A church can have the sharpest presentation around, yet be totally devoid of spiritual power. The most serious aspect of this mistake is that it may actually lead people to think that they are worshiping God, when in truth they are doing nothing of the sort. Worship must come from our spirit as regenerated by the life-giving Spirit!
So we can see here the Triune God at work seeking true worshipers. Without his work, there would be and could be no true worship. The 2nd commandment commands us to worship the Lord spiritually. This means, as Jesus taught us, that our worship must correspond with the character and nature of God. He is the living, active, personal God. We must engage with him in that way, which means that it is absolutely necessary that our worship is based on the person and work of Christ, and that it comes from our new hearts that the Spirit gives.
We still have much application to go. But let me close for now with this challenge. Consciously build your worship of the Triune God on the gospel. Meditate deeply on the work of Christ and the power of the Spirit. Don’t fall for short-cuts which seem to promise immediate emotional access to God through moving, emotionally stimulating images or schemes. Tozer was exactly right - what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. He went on to say, “The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us….With our loss of the sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence.” The 2nd commandment teaches us that we must not reduce our immortal, invisible God to something we can handle.