DNA. It’s what makes you – well – you. When you were conceived, one special cell from your mom and one special cell from your dad, each containing 23 chromosomes – ½ of each parent’s DNA – those two special cells met and merged and formed one new cell. And the 23 chromosomes in the cell from your mom and the 23 chromosomes in the cell from your dad matched up and formed a new DNA code – the 3 billion character description of you written in an alphabet of 4 nucleotides. It’s a DNA code that had never before been written in the history of humanity. If we were to take the DNA from that one single cell that you started out as, that 3 billion character description of who God created you to be, that DNA would stretch out 6 feet. And if those 3 billion characters were blown up to readable size and put on a page, if I were to try to read that description of you from that single cell, reading one character per second night and day without a break, it would take me 96 years to read all of that information – that genetic description of who you are.
And every cell in your body contains that 6 feet long, 3 billion character description of you. It’s the body’s instruction manual for how to build you. And that single cell then set out to build the model described in the DNA code it contained. You’ve grown some since you were that one single cell. Today, there are about 75 trillion cells in your body, each containing that 6 foot long, 3 billion character description of you. As Louis Giglio says, there’s so much DNA in you, if you stretched it all out end to end, to go to the moon and back – 178,000 times. That’s your DNA. Your genetic makeup. It describes exactly who and what God created you to be.
As followers of Jesus, we have another set of DNA – a spiritual DNA, so to speak. It’s given to us by Jesus through the Holy Spirit and is described in the Bible, the Word of God. It who God has made us to be not just as human beings (that’s contained in our human DNA), but as follower of Jesus and citizens of the kingdom of God. At Christ Church, we have distilled that DNA down to three core traits – WORSHIP, WORD, AND WITNESS. Those three things describe who we believe God is calling us to be as a unique expression of his rule and reign here in Traverse City, Michigan.
Today we’re starting a new, brief series of sermons on those three core traits – WORSHIP, WORD, and WITNESS. Yes, we’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again. Because they describe who we are in the body of Christ. Everything we do is viewed through that framework – WORSHIP, WORD, and WITNESS. It’s important that we understand clearly what we’re about, because it helps is understand why we do the things we do and how God has called us to express our life together in Christ. So these three sermons, today and the next two weeks, are like our spiritual DNA. They get at the core of who we are called to be as Christ Church.
At the end of his time on earth, right before Jesus ascended into heaven to be with the Father, he commissioned his disciples. He basically told them, “This is what I want you as my people, placing your faith in me, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to do now.” This is what he said: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Make disciples. That is the mission Christ has given his church. Go and make disciples. That’s it. Everything else describes what that looks like. Baptism, that’s entrance into the body of Christ, into the community. Observing, or obeying, the commands of Christ, that’s Christian growth, God’s spirit shaping us, molding us to look like, live like Christ, kind of like a potter shaping clay on a potting wheel.
Earlier in his ministry, someone sat down with Jesus and asked him, “Of ALL of the commandments, of ALL of the things the Bible says about God and how we are to live as the people of God, what one is the most important? If you could reduce it all down to one, what would it be, Jesus?” And this was his answer; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40). Two commandments that sum up the entire Bible, which at that time was what we call the Old Testament: Love God and love others. Love God, that’s worship. And love others, that’s service, outreach, even evangelism.
So we’ve take those two passages, one is called the great commandment and the other is called the great commission, and we’ve distilled them down into these three words: WORSHIP, WORD, and WITNESS. Jesus said to go and make disciples, right? And what is a disciple of Jesus? It is someone who WORSHIPS God, someone who is being actively shaped by the Holy Spirit through the WORD of God, and someone who WITNESSES, in word and in action, to the goodness, love, and grace of God that she or he has found in Christ. And today, we’re looking at WORSHIP. So if you have your Bible with you, or want to look it up on the app on your phone or tablet, turn to John 4:16-26.
As a pastor, one of the most common questions I’m asked by people is “What are your worship services like? What kind of music do you play?” Not “What does your church believe about …” and you name the doctrinal issue. I’ve been in ministry for 20 years now and other than my ordination examination, I have never been asked about my perspective on the humanity and divinity of Christ, or my views of the atonement, that’s what Christ accomplished on the cross, or of humanity’s need for a savior. But I’m asked all the time about the worship style of our church. Sad, isn’t it? No one wants to know about the God we worship. No one asks about WHO we worship. They only want to know HOW we worship.
Unfortunately, the obsession with worship style is a symptom of a deeper issue. We’ve made worship more about the worshipper than the one worshipped. We design services to be comfortable for the people attending them. So for those who prefer hymns and liturgy, we have more traditional services. And for those who prefer a more contemporary feel, we have services built to cater to them. Like rock music? There’s a service for that. Prefer a more acoustic feel? There’s a service for that. Now there’s nothing wrong with making worship accessible to people, and variety in worship is a really good thing. It’s a good thing that we have churches with choirs, organs, and orchestras, alongside churches with bands and vocalists. The problem is that we’ve made style the focus. We say we gather to worship God, all the while focusing on our needs, our desires, our preferences, our comfort. We say we gather to worship God. In reality, we gather to worship ourselves. We gather to be entertained. And this isn’t a new phenomenon.
In our passage today Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter and describes authentic worship of God as something I can only describe as wholehearted worship. Look at Vv. 23-24: “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.” There’s a lot packed into those two little verses, so let’s unpack it.
There are two key words here. Jesus says that true worshippers worship in spirit and in truth. First, in spirit. Jesus is not talking about the Holy Spirit here. The Greek text is actually quite clear. It does not say “in THE spirit.” It says “in spirit.” He is talking about our human spirits. Those who really worship God are those who worship in spirit. And we are to worship in spirit because God is spirit. To say that God is spirit is to say that he is not confined to places or things.
One of the many arguments between Samaritans and Jews was over where God was to be worshipped. The Samaritans worshipped on Mt. Gerizim. Many of the significant events in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob happened on that mountain. It was said that it was the mountain Abraham climbed to offer his son Isaac on the altar before God when God provided a ram as substitute. And Moses had instructed the Israelites to build an altar on the mountain when they entered the Promised Land and to speak blessings there. The Jews said that God must be worshipped in Jerusalem, the city of David, the place God had selected for the construction of the temple, the place where God’s presence resided among his people. In fact, before the exile, the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel actually saw the presence of God leaving the temple. The Samaritans said God must be worshipped on Mt. Gerizim. The Jews said God must be worshipped at the temple in Jerusalem. And the woman wanted to know who was right. But Jesus cut to the heart of the matter. It wasn’t a matter of here or there. It was a matter of the heart. “The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father … But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (4:21, 23).
They had been focused on style, on location. They’d been looking at the wrong thing. Their focus was on something other than God. Location doesn’t matter. Style doesn’t matter. What matters is that you worship in spirit and in truth. Now there’s a pitfall here. Some think that because location doesn’t matter, it’s ok to worship on your own all the time. It IS possible to worship God alone. It is possible to worship God in the natural world. In fact, the goal of life in Christ is that every part of our lives, everything we do, becomes an offering of praise to God. But that should never be the only way in which we worship God. That is why the writer of Hebrews says “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (10:24-25). We CAN worship God anywhere. We SHOULD worship God everywhere. But worshipping God alone should never be the only way in which we worship. We are to come together regularly to worship, to encourage one another. There is no such thing as a lone Christian. There should be no such thing as a lonely Christian. We are called to live life in Christ together, and our worship should reflect that.
So what does it mean to worship God in spirit? The word spirit refers the deepest part of a person. We think of it as the part of the person that lives on after the body dies. To worship in spirit is to worship God with complete sincerity from the depth, the core of your being. It is to worship God with all that you are, your mind and your emotions, your will. It is to worship God regardless of circumstances, regardless of your situation. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to offer up our sacrifice of praise to God (Heb. 13:15). And sometimes worship IS a sacrifice. We don’t always feel like thanking and praising God. Sometimes it costs us something. It takes time. It takes energy. It requires us to set our agenda, our wants, and our needs aside to worship God. It requires us to take our attention off ourselves and direct it to God. And that can be a struggle. It’s ok to struggle with it. It’s ok to notice that your mind has wandered – to wonder whether the Lions will make the playoffs later today or what the conditions on the golf course or the ski slopes will be. Just gently bring your attention back to God. Don’t beat yourself up about it. It isn’t about you. Worship is about God, and true worshippers worship God with sincerity from the depth of their being. Charles Spurgeon said “God does not regard our voices, he hears our hearts, and if our hearts do not sing we have not sung at all.” You could replace the word heart there with spirit. True worshipers worship God wholeheartedly. True worshipers worship God in spirit.
And also in truth. To worship in truth is to worship with right knowledge about God. It is to worship with the right view of God. We worship what is true about God. And how do we know what is true about God? By becoming people who know the Word of God. We must pay attention to God’s revelation of himself to us in the person of Jesus and in the pages of Scripture. If my view of God is off, my worship of God will be off. And most of us have mistaken views of God in some way, shape, or form. The 18 month Apprentice small group series that we encourage everyone to participate in is all about deconstructing our false narratives about God and about life and replacing them with the truth of Scripture. But really doing that takes more than 18 months. It takes a lifetime, and we’ll never have it fully right until we stand before him face to face. In his first letter John says “But we know that when Christ comes again, we will be like him. We will see him just as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2). But until that time, we must be people of the Word of God, people who allow the truth about God to permeate our minds and our hearts, challenging our preconceptions about life, about God.
We tend to think of worship as primarily an emotional activity. And it does involve the emotions. But emotions by themselves can lead us astray. When we worship God in spirit AND in truth, mind and emotion begin to work together. Rich Mullins was a musician and song writer best known as the writer of the song “Awesome God.” He used to talk about how people would come up to him after concerts and say, “Wow! The Holy Spirit really moved at that certain point in the song.” And Rich would respond by saying, “No actually, that’s where the kick drum and the bass came in.” It’s easy to mistake energy and emotion, chord progressions and instrumental crescendos, for worship. True worship, what today I am calling wholehearted worship, does involve the emotions, but it doesn’t stop with mere emotions. Wholehearted worship is more than mere sentiment. If we are truly worshipping wholeheartedly, in spirit and in truth, then every part of us, our minds, our wills, and our emotions are involved. It’s ok for our emotions to be stirred in worship. And it might be the Holy Spirit stirring our emotions. It also might be Ben and Andy. Or the breakfast burrito you ate.
God is seeking wholehearted worshippers. People who worship him in spirit, with every part of their being, and in truth, worshipping him as he is, not as they would have him to be. Think about that for a minute. God is SEEKING your wholehearted worship. “For the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (4:23). Sometimes we hear about people “finding God.” Truth is, we don’t find God, he finds us. He is seeking us out. But not for the reason you might think. God isn’t some egotistical manic demanding to be worshipped. He is a God of love who desires your love, my love in return. In Exodus, in giving the Ten Commandments, each of which is a revelation of the character and nature of God, God tells the people not to make or bow down to any false idols, “for I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Ex. 20:5). God, jealous? Yes, for you. For your affections. Like a lover whose beloved has rejected him for another, God is jealous for our wholehearted worship, for that is our expression of love to him. God is a God of love. In fact, John tells us that God is love. Not human love. The perfect love of a perfect, holy God. He is a God of love who seeks the best for his people. He seeks us out, to be loved by him and to love him in return.
Worshipping God in spirit and in truth is about understanding who God is, the truth about God, but it also involves understanding the truth about who I am, bringing my authentic self, warts and brokenness and sin and baldness all, to worship. Worship is an authentic relationship between God as God really is and me as I really am.
Worship isn’t about you. It isn’t about me. It isn’t about location or style. When we have the wrong priorities or focus, our worship becomes half-hearted. When our worship isn’t influenced by the truth of God, our worship become half-hearted. “Those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” God is seeking wholehearted worshippers, people with minds filled with the truth of God, hearts enraptured by the embrace of God, embracing him in return.