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The Problem with Worship

In our work with churches, I’m often attending other church services and fascinated by how worship is described or expressed.

For many contemporary or charismatic-leaning churches, it’s the 3-to-5 song set; for many mainline churches, it’s the descriptor for the entire church service; in some high church models, it's the liturgy as a whole.

Paul’s magnum opus—his Roman letter—was partly an attempt to help Christians understand God’s approach to the human condition, the problem of humanity’s brokenness, and an overview of the beauty and strategy of global grace. Then chapter 12 begins with an application point for everything he had talked about thus far:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship.


In other words, he’s saying: Because I just described in the previous eleven chapters all God has done in your behalf, then the logical thing is to “…offer yourself as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him.”

Then to make a defining point, he writes: this is true worship.”

Paul has just defined worship for these new covenantal believers in Rome.

And what he’s saying explicitly is: there’s no real worship without sacrifice. Worship and sacrifice were inextricable in the Old Testament. Now Paul is reframing that for this new covenant in which animal sacrifices are obsolete.

But true worship without sacrifice is not possible.

We can know all the words to the latest chorus, we can jump and dance, we can memorize the liturgy, we can have a perfectly punched church-service-attendance-card, but if it’s not really costing us something valuable, it’s not worship.

And what is the most valuable thing you have to offer God? What Paul suggests is: you—your whole person.

And here’s why: to God, you are the most valuable thing in the universe. He loves us so much that Jesus said he had come as a ransom. Do we understand what the exchange rate is with that?

To God,

  • You are the pearl of great price that he sold everything to buy;

  • You are the lost coin that he got on his hands and knees on the floor to find;

  • You are the one lost sheep he left the whole other flock for;

  • You are the returning son he kisses even after you rejected him and blew your inheritance.

To God, you are the most valuable thing in the universe. And so it stands to reason that the most valuable thing you have to give is yourself.

One last illustration on this correlation:

When Abraham was told to take his son—his only son, the child of the promise through whom God said the entire world would benefit—to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him, I can’t even imagine the discombobulation he experienced. But when Abraham got near the mountain, he simply told the servants that were traveling with him, “Stay here…while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” The writer of Hebrews postulates that Abraham’s faith was such that he knew God could even raise the dead.

Regardless, worship and sacrifice are two sides of the same coin.

God is worthy of the sacrificial act of giving him our lives every day based solely on what he’s done in the previous eleven chapters of our lives…regardless of what’s happening on this current page. Remember?—we are living sacrifices.

And here’s the problem with living sacrifices: they tend to crawl off the altar. There’s a reason why the Old Testament priests killed them first. But we—as living sacrifices—we make the choice to offer our bodies—our whole person—to God.

As leaders, modeling and teaching true worship is the vital part of discipling. Worship is not only an act of love, but an act of obedience as well. And real obedience never second-guesses whether the outcome is good…or not so good.

It simply obeys.

Dave Workman | The Elemental Group


Did you know The Elemental Group also works extensively with faith-based non-profits? Everything from fundability assessments to strategic planning to business development to grant-writing. Take a look at our “menu of services” for both churches and non-profits at our website—an impressive scope of work along with clear, accessible pricing. Now that’s different!


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