Many who claim the name of Christ today look to God to accept them as they are. Because God offers a full measure of grace, mercy, love and forgiveness to all who embrace Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, some feel there is little reason to doubt God’s unconditional acceptance of them and their “lifestyle.”
Indeed, the Bible teaches once saved, always saved. In John 6:37-38, Jesus says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” In Ephesians 2:7-10, Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” And in 1 Corinthians 3:14-15 it says, “If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” These passages teach us that a person’s eternal standing before God does not rest on their good works, but on God’s grace alone.
Having recognized that God freely accepts all men just as they are (as it relates to salvation – Romans 3:21-26), are we correct to assume that God accepts Christians just as they are? Certainly not!
In Romans 6:1-3, Paul challenges believers to move beyond the flesh when he says, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”
Man was not saved simply for the purpose of avoiding eternal punishment. Rather, as 2 Corinthians 9:8 says, “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.” God freed men from sin that they may produce an “abundance” of “every good work.” When those who profess to be children of God fail to produce good works pleasing to God, the Lord, at best, is displeased.
We see clear evidence of this in Malachi 1:7-14. God challenges those claiming to worship Him, to recognize that He is not pleased with their acts of worship. Notice the strong language He uses:
7 “You offer defiled food on My altar. But say, ‘In what way have we defiled You? ‘By saying, ‘The table of the LORD is contemptible.’ 8 And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, Is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, Is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably? Says the LORD of hosts. 9 But now entreat God’s favor, That He may be gracious to us. While this is being done by your hands, Will He accept you favorably? Says the LORD of hosts. 10 Who is there even among you who would shut the doors, So that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain? I have no pleasure in you, Says the LORD of hosts, Nor will I accept an offering from your hands. 11 For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; In every place incense shall be offered to My name, And a pure offering; For My name shall be great among the nations, Says the LORD of hosts. 12 But you profane it, In that you say, ‘The table of the LORD is defiled; And its fruit, its food, is contemptible.’ 13 You also say, ‘Oh, what a weariness! ‘And you sneer at it, Says the LORD of hosts. And you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick; Thus you bring an offering! Should I accept this from your hand?’ Says the LORD. 14 But cursed be the deceiver Who has in his flock a male, And makes a vow, But sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished–For I am a great King, Says the LORD of hosts, And My name is to be feared among the nations.”
Today we are seeing a resurgence of this sort of attitude in far too many churches. People are gathering for “worship” and “offerings” in body, but not in spirit. Far too many approach the “altar” offering the “defiled food” of immodest dress, actions and attitudes.
Far too many people are demanding “feel good” services and rejecting those that challenge them to humbly search their soul before the living God. Yet, James 4:8-10 directs the Church saying, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”
How has the Church slid from the lofty heights of the Puritans who listened to hours of preaching every Sunday morning, to churches demanding their pastor limit his preaching to twenty or thirty minutes? How is it that some churches have completely replaced the preaching of God’s Word with Sunday morning skits, praise songs and the like (things that may aid preaching, not replace it)? 2 Timothy 4:3-4 helps us understand how, when it forecasts, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”
How did the Church get to this point? The same way the Israelites did in the day of Malachi. The people lost their reverence for God. Claims of belief, love and commitment are meaningless when deep heart-felt reverence is not present. One may claim true worship and even exhibit vast amounts of energy and excitement, even as the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:25-29), yet when reverence is gone, so too is worship.
How important is a spirit of reverence and fear to God? Listen to what scripture says:
Hebrews 12:28-29 “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.”
1 Timothy 2:1-3 “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.”
1 Timothy 3:4-5 “one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?).”
Titus 2:6-8 “Likewise exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.”
Repeatedly, scripture encourages us to be reverent with godly fear, reverent with godliness, reverent with sober-mindedness (other passages to consider – 1 Thessalonians 5:6; 1 Peter 1:13; 1 Peter 5:8-9).
The world and shallow “Christians” do not encourage reverence, and mocks those who embrace it. The world refers to those striving to be “sober-minded” as “stuffed shirts.” The world encourages us to exalt our longings and lusts.
The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 10:7, “And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play”. The children of Israel turned their eyes from God and sought their own brand of “entertainment”. Sadly, some within today’s Church, like Israel, have turned their eyes from God and have replaced true worship with their own brand of “spiritual” entertainment.
What are we to do? Read and study what the Bible teaches regarding true worship and begin doing it. Share these thoughts with others who may be open to true worship. Identify “spiritual” substitutes and strive to bring greater balance back to your worship service. When you hear your pastor beg forgiveness for going over his “allotted” time, encourage him never to apologize for fulfilling his calling. Lastly, prepare your heart and mind for true worship, and go forth and worship in spirit and truth!
In closing, the book of Malachi and other passages of scripture help us understand that as much as God is willing to accept us as we are when related to salvation, He approaches us very differently when it comes to worship. Malachi helps us understand that God would rather have us close the church doors, than offer up shallow worship.
Let no one fool you into believing that God’s standards for our lives and our worship are anything but very high. Let no one fool you into believing that God is pleased with worship that lacks fear and reverence toward Him. Let no one fool you into believing that God honors churches who minimize or replace the preaching of His Word with something else.
When the flesh become restless and desires a shallower path, listen to the still, quiet voice calling once again: “Be still, and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10.