Gospel Centered Worship

As I launch this website, I wanted to take a moment to explain the meaning of its name. I believe that the gospel should be at the center of Christian worship, both individually with our lives and corporately as local churches. It is my desire to seek biblical understanding in how it impacts and directs our worship.

A Proclamation of Good News

The gospel is the proclamation of what has been done for us through Jesus Christ – namely, reconciling us to God through his death on the cross in our place (Colossians 1:20). It is the good news of God rescuing and redeeming His people from their sin when they could not save themselves (Ephesians 1:7).

The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:4-5, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved”.

It is God’s mercy that we do not receive what we deserve for our sins – condemnation and separation from God (Romans 8:1). And it is God’s grace that we receive what we do not deserve – forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus (Romans 6:23).

A Life of Worship

The gospel demands humble repentance, the fruit of which is a life of worship lived in response to His loving-kindness. In the book of Romans, Paul spends the first eleven chapters building and expounding on the theology of the gospel. When he reaches chapter twelve he calls us to respond in verse one, saying: “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” This spiritual act of worship is our entire life surrendered to God – both proceeded by and sustained by the gospel.

As Tim Keller writes:

“We never ‘get beyond the gospel’ in our Christian life to something more ‘advanced.’ The gospel is not the first ‘step’ in a ‘stairway’ of truths, rather, it is more like the ‘hub’ in a ‘wheel’ of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A-Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make progress in the kingdom.” [1]

We Are a Forgetful People 

The problem in all of this, though, is that we are still sinful broken people who forget about God and his promises this side of heaven. We are much more like the Israelites than we wish to admit. We forget the miraculous works that God has done to save us (Psalm 106:13), we regularly exchange the glory of God for lesser glories (Psalm 106:20), we complain and grumble (Psalm 106:25), and we turn away from the one true living God to worship idols (Psalm 106:19).

John Calvin famously wrote in his Institutes that:

“Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols”. [2] 

Just as Israel worshiped the golden calf in Exodus 32 after having been rescued from Egypt, we too exhibit gospel amnesia when our hearts chase after things other than God in our daily lives. In the words of Robert Robinson, we are “prone to wander” and “prone to leave” the God we love.

Reminded, Restored, and Reformed

In order to combat our gospel amnesia, we must regularly immerse ourselves in rhythms that preach the gospel to our own hearts. This is one reason that gathering for corporate worship is so important and must be centered on the gospel: it reminds us of who we are and who’s we are in Christ (Colossians 3:1-3, 1 John 3:1). It is the place where we rehearse the gospel story together and have our hearts reshaped by the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Hebrews 4:12).

To quote James K. A. Smith:

“Worship that restores us is worship that restories us”. [3]

And:

“Christian worship should tell a story that makes us want to set sail for the immense sea that is the Triune God, birthing in us a longing for a ‘better country – a heavenly one’ that is kingdom come.” [4]

Our songs, prayers, scripture readings, sermons, and sacraments are all opportunities to retell the gospel story and to reform our loves and desires for Christ and his kingdom.

Sent Back Out to Proclaim

As we are restored and reformed by the gospel each week, it once again demands a response – a life of worship and a life of proclamation. We are not saved to keep the gospel for ourselves; rather, we are saved that we might tell the world about the good news of Jesus. Gospel-centered worship, in the corporate sense, should always end with a commission – sending us back out to bear Christian witness wherever God has placed us.

1 Peter 2:9 says it this way: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

Conclusion

When the church gathers we have a great responsibility and opportunity to point our people to Jesus Christ. This blog is dedicated to helping us as worship leaders and pastors shape and shepherd our churches with the glorious message of the gospel.

References and Further Reading:

  1. http://dailykeller.com/the-a-to-z/
  2. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 11, Section 8 by John Calvin.
  3. You Are What You Love, page 95 by James K. A. Smith.
  4. You Are What You Love, page 93 by James K. A. Smith.

by Calvin Hemphill

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