THE CHURCH TODAY IS prone to pomp and celebration. At first blush, you might ask, “What’s wrong with celebration?” Bluntly, everything is wrong with celebration if its emphasis is to “feel good” about being a Christian without doing the difficult work necessary to be in “the Way” of Christ. Still, it is important to raise our hands and dance before the LORD truly overjoyed by all that He has done. Moreover, worship brings us together in celebration, moving us to tears, bringing us to our knees in awesome wonder, making us aware of our need of a Savior. Worship connects us with the angels and all creation sings along.
Worship, however, is not merely “singing unto the LORD.” It is not 7-piece worship bands, subwoofers and a light show. At least it is not these things for the sake of these things. Worship, however technically or visually enhanced, must contain four key elements: (i) a sense of wonderment through which we enter the presence of God; (ii) a sense of transformation through which we see who we are and what we need; (iii) a sense of renewal; and (iv) de-centering of self, joining with the corporate body. But worship involves more than singing praises; it includes sacrifice and service. Paul said, “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” (Rom. 12:1). Some translations say, “…which is your reasonable service.”
New is Not Always Better
The new cross is not opposed to “being human.” It allows for “good clean fun and innocent enjoyment.”(1) The new cross gives leeway for “Adam” to live for his own pleasure while singing worship songs and watching “faith-based” movies. But the accent is still on enjoyment. The new cross approaches evangelism in a way that does not include renouncing the old life. It fails to teach the necessity of dying to the old self to make room for the new. Churches today are guilty of suggesting that Christianity makes no uncomfortable demands. As A.W. Tozer writes, “The new cross does not slay the sinner; it redirects him. It gears him into a cleaner and jollier way of living and saves his self-respect.”(2) Modern churches tend to slant the Christian message to fit the spirit of the times, making it palatable. It downplays the wages of sin; God’s righteous judgment; eternal punishment; the need for redemption. This position completely misses the whole meaning of the cross, rendering it ineffective.
The faith of Christ does not parallel the world; it intersects it. —A.W. Tozer
The “self-life” is emphasized under the new cross. This idea of “self” includes self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love, self-promotion, egotism, exhibitionism. Obviously, some of these ideals sound appropriate. What’s wrong with self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-love? Greg Gilbert said, “The author of Hebrews writes that we as Christians should ‘have confidence’ to enter into God’s presence, and we should ‘draw near’ to him, not with an ‘evil conscience’—that is, with fear that we don’t belong or that we’ll be cast out—but ‘in full assurance of faith.'”(3) We only gain this kind of confidence by the blood of Jesus. We confidently enter into the manifest presence of God through the new and living way He opened for us. We are confident because Jesus is our high priest and intercessor. We are clothed in His righteousness. There is absolutely no self-confidence, even in our redeemed state, potent enough to permit standing in the presence of God. Our confidence and assurance are actually created by recognizing that our access to the Father is based not at all on anything in us or about us, but rather on the work Jesus has done for us.
Let the New Life Begin
Tozer says “self” can live unrebuked at the very altar. Consider this: Believers typically feel more at home in a Bible conference than in a tavern. But what good does our presence at conferences and Bible seminars do for us if we remain unchanged? When I finally broke free from the ubiquitous presence of booze and drugs in my life, I felt grateful and blessed, yet I had not experienced God’s presence. I struggled with a sense of innate unworthiness, which blocked my access to the Father. The veil of my heart remained. This is the “inner veil” Tozer warns us about. It can only be removed through a spiritual awakening and never by mere instruction. Tozer writes, “There must be a work of God in destruction before we are free. We must invite the cross to do its deadly work within us. We must bring our self-sins to the cross.”(4) Paul tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
We must confess, forsake, repudiate the self-life, and then reckon it crucified. We must insist upon the work being done. —A.W. Tozer
The old cross is a symbol of death—the abrupt, violent end of a human being. We are to say goodbye to the old life. Admittedly, it is never fun to die. The old cross is rough, and it is deadly, but it is eternally effective. It makes no compromise, modifies nothing, spares nothing. Instead, it slays all of the man, completely and for good. God salvages the individual by liquidating him and then raising him again to newness of life. (5) The cross is the only place where the power of sin can be destroyed and where the power to walk in the Spirit and deny the desires of the flesh can be accomplished. At the heart of the Christian message is a forgiving Father waiting for us to push forward to an acute awareness of redemption through His Son. Yet, there is a growing number of believers in today’s church who hunger after God; who fail to live a resurrected life. Tozer sounded the warning 74 years ago when he wrote, “The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed. It is a solemn thing, and no small scandal in the Kingdom, to see God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table.”(6)
We need to recapture the initial amazement we had the moment we were saved and reborn. That is the point where our hunger after God began. I want to “resume” that primal thrill of knowing God. Nicodemus wanted to understand being “born again.” David wanted to know God’s heart. Jeremiah wanted to end Israel’s false and insincere worship. Moses wanted to lead. Paul wanted to teach. Worship must include hearing, entering into, experiencing, delighting in, tasting of, knowing, discovering. The church must hunger, wonder, yearn, begin, choose, accept, recapture, get back to, grow, drink deeply, recognize, care, thrive, flow. Many of us need to admit to God, “Father, I am not leading a resurrected life.” Daily I ask the Holy Spirit, “Please guide me, show me, reveal to me, walk beside me. Help me think about what I am thinking about and take every thought captive to Christ.” This helps avoid believing the “wrong gospel.” The one that tells me I am not washed in the blood of Christ. Of course, it is not “words” that nourish the spirit, but the Word of God. Until we discover the manifest presence of God through personal experience, we are not better off for having merely heard the truth.
Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theo.
(1) A.W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God (Chicago: Moody Bible Publishers, 1966), 42.
(2) Ibid., 42.
(3) Greg Gilbert, “When Self-Confidence is Lethal,” TGC: Bible& Theology” (Mar. 25, 2019), accessed May 29, 2022. URL: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-self-confidence-lethal/
(4) A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Harrisburg: Christian Publications, Inc., 1948), 28.
(5) Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God, 42-3.
(6) Tozer, The Pursuit of God, 8.
Unless otherwise specified, all Scripture references are taken from the ESV (English Standard Version).