Topical Studies

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Worship in Spirit and Truth
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Exodus 32:7-10  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

These people were undoubtedly sincere, but God did not care for their sincerity one bit. Why? God saw this as an attempt by these people to control Him through redefining His nature.

When we turn aside from the path, whether we realize it or not, we are beginning to redefine what He is according to our own thinking. If we think this is not a prevalent sin, Jesus says in Mark 7:7, "In vain do you worship Me teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." He is not saying that these people are not sincere, but they are not following the way of God. Like these Israelites, they proclaim their religion in the name of God though. Jesus also says in Luke 6:46, "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord' and do not the things that I say?" That is what they were doing in Exodus 32.

What was their motivation? Does this have an end-time application to the church of God? The answer is in verse 1:

Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, "Come make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him."

Moses, the charismatic leader, the type of Jesus Christ, delayed his coming! That is alarming! What motivated Saul to make the sacrifice in I Samuel 13? Because Samuel's coming was delayed, Saul presumptuously took it into his own hands to do something he had not been commanded to do—to make the sacrifice. The problem was the delay he perceived.

Do we understand why Christ says, "Do not say in your heart, 'The Lord delays His coming'"? He knows from the experiences from the Old Testament that, if we begin to think that Christ is delaying, then we will turn aside to idolatry because we will use it as a justification for adjusting ourselves to the spirit of the times we live in. This has alarming ramifications.

What did the Israelites do here? Redefining the nature of God is merely the sin that led to them adjusting their lifestyle, to fall into idolatry. Will that be a problem for this generation? Are we going to think that Christ is delaying His coming?

Sincerity is good, but truth is needed with it. Jesus says in John 4:24 that God is looking for those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. We need to examine ourselves to see whether we are making adjustments in our way of life to be in harmony with the spirit of the age. Do we keep Sabbath just like the world keeps Sunday? If we do, we have adjusted already. Are we careful in tithing? Are we concerned God will not come through with prosperity? If so, we are already beginning to make adjustments. Who is the idol? We are.

We change the image of God by saying, "He won't mind. He understands." He does understand, but He wants us to trust Him. He knows we are under pressure, but He knows we need to learn to do without, to suffer, to wait. Do we believe that?

John W. Ritenbaugh
Passover and I Corinthians 10


Amos 5:4-12  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Why does Amos specifically mention Bethel other than that it was where the Israelites were holding feasts? Why did they choose Bethel as a feast site? Bethel played an important role in Israel's history. Twice Jacob, one of the fathers of Israel, has important events happen to him there.

Genesis 28:11-22 records the first occasion Jacob has an encounter with God at Bethel, though it was not called Bethel then. It received its name—"House of God"—from God revealing Himself to Jacob there, and Jacob believing that He lived there. On this occasion, the patriarch arrives as a homeless wanderer, a man on the run from the murderous intents of his brother Esau. He is a man with a past, having just deceived his father and brother out of the blessing. Nevertheless, God reveals Himself to him there, and the transformation of Jacob begins. He leaves Bethel as a man with a future.

The second time he encounters God at Bethel (Genesis 35:1-4, 7, 9-15), he arrives after departing from his father-in-law, Laban, and having reconciled with Esau. He is a far better man than the first time, but he is not yet complete. However, he arrives as "Jacob" and departs as "Israel." The new name is assurance of the reality that he is a new man, that a transformation is taking place. In the Israelite mind, Bethel thus became associated as a place of renewal, of reorientation, of transformation by God.

Even as verses 1-3 of Amos 5 are a dirge, verses 8-9 are in the form of a hymn praising the true God, the transforming God. When God is at work, things change for the better; He is the God who makes a difference.

With this background, we can understand why Amos 5 calls attention to Bethel. God is asking, "Why aren't you Israelites being transformed in the conduct of your life when you keep the feasts?" He is saying, "You indeed go to Bethel for the feast, but no transformation of your conduct and attitude occurs. Are you going there to seek Me?"

One of the primary proofs that God is making a difference in a person's life occurs when one who was formerly hostile to God and His law begins to love God and His law. He shows his new love by obeying God and His law in his life in areas like those mentioned in verses 10-12.

Yet, the Israelites attended the feasts in Bethel and returned home with their lives still ungoverned by God's truth. When Jacob met God, his life began changing immediately, as his vow to tithe in Genesis 28:22 shows. faith immediately became part of the conduct of his life. The lives of those in Amos' day should also have changed according to the dictates, principles, and examples of God's Word. They should have left Bethel singing and exemplifying, "Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119:97).

It seems that these people turned the feast in Bethel into nothing more than a vacation. Thus, Amos admonishes, "Do not seek Bethel! Seek the Lord and live!" Ultimately, the Bethel approach signifies death, not life.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Amos 5 and the Feast of Tabernacles


Matthew 4:9-10  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

These two verses clearly establish the most basic element of why we must worship God: because He commands it! He must command us to worship Him because it is possible to worship others and things besides God. Satan was clearly attempting to get Christ to worship him—a being besides God—and that Jesus replies, referring to the Father, "Him only you shall serve." Not only does He command us to worship Him, He also forbids us to worship any others. In addition, Jesus' statement shows the inextricable link between the worship and the service of God. It is as if they are synonymous. Worship involves highly regarding and then serving the One worshipped.

By definition, we worship what we choose to give the supreme devotion of our feelings, time, and energies to. God must command us to worship Him because we can choose to give our feelings, time, and energies to things other than God. Therefore, acceptable worship of God involves consciously choosing to worship and serve only Him even in the face of the temptation to give these things to others. Notice how Psalm 45:10-11 shows that we must choose between alternatives that will present themselves from time to time. "Listen, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your own people also, and your father's house; so the King will greatly desire your beauty; because He is your Lord, worship Him."

The first four commandments directly address worship. Worship refers to the supreme honor and veneration given in thought and deed to the Creator. Those four commandments plus the tenth directly influence what we are to do or not do to fulfill the minimum requirements of this duty. If we do not do so, we are guilty of idolatry. No other sin has such a direct and concentrated focus of attention. The basic requirement is that we are to worship Him alone, and to allow any person or thing to usurp that position of lordship over us constitutes gross disobedience. The first and most basic reason why we worship God is that He commands it and forbids the worship of others.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Worship God?


Mark 7:6-9  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Most of this world's holidays are based on fables, myths, and lies, while the Christian is commanded to worship God "in spirit and in truth." A true Christian does not lie and does not associate with lies, but seeks after truth in all aspects of life. If we live with a little lie now, then it is much easier to live with a worse lie later. God is emphatic on this point: A liar will not enter the Kingdom of God (Revelation 21:7-8).

Martin G. Collins
Pagan Holidays


John 4:23-24  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Several years ago, WorldNetDaily published a controversial exposé that spotlighted one of the more frequent skirmishes in our current culture war. Masterfully written by Joe Kovacs, "Christmas in America becomes battleground" reveals the pagan origins of this esteemed tradition and demonstrates why increasing numbers of "fundamentalist Christians" are realizing that one cannot "put Christ" back into something in which He never was.

Apologist C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, asserts that one of Satan's most common ploys is to "send error into the world in pairs"—pairs of opposites—"and then he encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking, Which is the worst?" Satan persuades us to argue over two options, or two points of view, neither one of which is true. Regardless of which side carries the argument, Satan wins the day.

In the current war over Christmas and religious symbols, Satan has pitted the secular humanists, who want to blot out Christianity and encourage almost any other form of worship, against mainstream Christians, who are fighting for the right to worship as they see fit by putting evergreen trees in schools per Jeremiah 10:2-5. Atheists and agnostics arrayed against Christmas-bent "Christians"—for whom do we root?

The truth of the matter is that Satan is the real winner regardless of the outcome.

Jesus Christ tells us,

But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:23-24, emphasis added throughout)

As Mr. Kovacs' article shows, the truth about the pagan origins of Christmas is easily researched. Any good encyclopedia will show that the timing and trappings of this celebration long predate Christianity. December 25 has been a focal point of sun-worship for millennia. The pagan origins of this day are so well-documented that the real question is, "What business do Christians have in trying to "Christianize" something that has been blatantly anti-God from the very beginning?" Is this worshipping God in spirit and in truth?

God was so concerned that ancient Israel would begin adopting the pagan ways of the Canaanites—even under the auspices of worshipping the true God—that He gave the children of Israel a categorical warning:

When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, "How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise." You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it. (Deuteronomy 12:29-32)

God is very specific in the way that He wants to be worshipped! He has not given us permission to worship Him in just any way that seems right to us. He warns His people specifically in these verses, as well as in Revelation 22:18-19, not to add to His instructions, nor to take away from them, and this is clearly within the context of adopting pagan practices in conjunction with worshipping Him. Christmas may not involve physical child-sacrifice—although in spirit millions of children are being sacrificed on the altar of materialism—but the stench of this celebration is odious nonetheless because it is still idolatry: replacing the true worship of God with a false one.

The Bible does not specify when Jesus Christ was born (although the best deduction is that it was in the autumn—see "When Was Jesus Born??" Forerunner, December 1994). More importantly, the Bible does not give any instruction in celebrating His birth, nor any example of the first-century church doing so, nor any indication that the celebration of birthdays is pleasing to God at all! Even this idea has come from paganism, rather than from God's Instruction Book for mankind. Is this, then, worshipping God in spirit and in truth?

Is it any wonder that our Savior says, "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:8-9); and "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition" (Mark 7:9); and "[you make] the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do" (Mark 7:13)? Human nature has the rebellious proclivity to do only what it wants to do, even when told by God Himself to do things differently (Romans 8:7)!

We see, then, that on one pole are the secularists, who believe the lie that God should not be a part of their lives. On the other pole are mainstream Christians, who believe the lie that syncretism is an acceptable form of worship. But in either case, the trail of lies indicates who the real "holiday spirit" is.

David C. Grabbe
Cogitations on Christmas


John 4:24  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Worship, which is our response to God, is what we give in our devoted service. The worship of God involves the totality of life, therefore it cannot be confined to a particular location. Earlier, Jesus says, "Neither in Samaria, nor in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem." He means that God is not confined to any one place, nor is the worship of Him confined to any one place. Likewise, it cannot be confined to just an hour or two on a particular day because in a biblical sense the worship of God is our response to Him in all of life. So He cannot even be isolated to an hour or two on the Sabbath.

We have to respond to Him in our home: in the way we speak, act towards one another, rear our children, conduct our homemaking practices. Worship has to do with the way we work, with the way we drive our cars, with the way we dress, with the way we use our eyes, ears, nose, mouth—everything! It involves the totality of life, because religion is a way of life. Christianity is a way of life that impacts on every area of our being.

The second commandment deals with how we worship God. The focus of our worship is to be on imitating Him. We are to use no material aids in doing this because no man can capture God in a work of art, a statue, a picture, or a symbol. God wants us to concentrate on what He is and not on what He looks like.

It is not easy for human nature to surrender its dominance over one's life. Human nature's first step backwards—to giving up its dominance over our lives—is usually a grudging willingness to share time and energy with God. Yet, when Jesus is asked, "What is the first and great commandment," He replies that we are to love Him with all of our heart, soul, and mind. Notice, it is not just with part of our lives but everything. The second commandment has to do with how to worship Him, and anything less than what Jesus states in Matthew 22:37 will effect the quality of our worship.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 1)


John 4:24  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This scripture plainly states that God is Spirit, but the verse does not define what "spirit" is in reference to God. It says nothing at all about form, shape, or composition. It states only this fact, and one must look elsewhere in the Bible to find information concerning His form and shape.

The word spirit is translated in the Old Testament from the Hebrew ruach, and in the New Testament the Greeek pneuma. Both of these words have the same fundamental meaning and usage, "an invisible force or power."

John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part 4)


Romans 1:24-25  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

In examining the central issue in each of the first several commandments, we find that the first concerns what we worship. Worship is the devoted service one gives to what he regards most highly. As these verses show, we can give devoted service to created things as well as the Creator. Additionally, the tenth commandment says covetousness is idolatry too (Colossians 3:5), clearly amplifying that we can give our devotion to things other than the true God.

How good can it be to exchange the truth for the lie? In this context "the lie" is that one can profitably worship someone or something other than the true God. Worshipping things other than the Creator turns the thrust and direction of our lives off the true path of God's purpose. Though those objects may be otherwise harmless in themselves, it is sin to give them the devotion that rightly belongs to the Creator.

John 4:24 proclaims that those who worship God must worship Him in spirit and truth. The worship of God involves the totality of our life, and therefore it cannot be confined to a particular location or a mere hour or two on a given day. Our worship must be guided, motivated, and empowered by His Spirit. Further, it cannot merely be sincere, but it must also be true. Attitude is extremely important, but it alone does not replace truth.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part One)


Romans 10:17  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

faith comes by hearing the Word of God, the Bible. Unless the words spoken conform to it, they are merely doctrines of men and do not reflect the true God, for those that worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. This requires searching the Scripture as the Bereans did to verify if the preacher's words are true (Acts 17:11). One cannot know the true God unless one knows the truth of God.

Martin G. Collins
Basic Doctrines: Faith Toward God



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