Theology and Worship
Theology is to worship what nutrition is to health. You do not have to be a nutritionist to enjoy good health but you do have to have good nutrition. Similarly, you do not have to be a trained theologian in order to worship properly, but you do have to have proper theology.
That is, you must have proper theology in order to engage in proper worship of God. And, just as it is true that the more nutritious your meals the better opportunity you have to be healthy, so it is also true that the more carefully biblical your theology is, the greater your opportunity to worship God properly.
In John 4 Jesus plainly teaches us that those who worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth. That is, we must offer ourselves in worship to God whole-heartedly and according to what He Himself says is right and good in His Word. Both elements must be there and must be emphasized for true worship to take place.
What this means is that there is no worship in truth that is not also worship in spirit (since the duty to worship in spirit is revealed in Scriptural truth) and there is no worship in spirit that is not also in truth (since whole-hearted devotion is not truly directed to God unless it is directed to God as He truly is and as He has prescribed).
Spirit and truth go together because belief inevitably governs our affections and wills. We see Jesus illustrating this principle in the house of Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7:36-50. A woman whom Luke kindly identifies only as “a sinner” but who most likely was a notorious prostitute came and stood behind Jesus as He sat at the table eating. She washed His feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head, then anointed them with fragrant oil.
When the Pharisees became agitated that Jesus would let a woman like this touch Him, He told them a parable. A creditor had two debtors—one owed him 500 denarii (about 18 months worth of salary) and the other owed him 50 denarii (nearly 2 months’ salary). When the creditor forgives them both, which one will love him more, Jesus asked.
Of course, Simon got the right answer that the one who was forgiven more would love more. Jesus sums up His lesson by stating in verse. 47, “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”
We mustn’t miss the point here. Jesus is not saying that a prostitute needs to be forgiven more than a Pharisee! Rather, the point is this: here is a woman who knew that she was a wicked sinner, hopelessly lost, without one plea before God. And yet, God’s grace found her and saved her. She was so overwhelmed by the forgiveness of her sins that her heart overflowed with effusive displays of love and devotion for Christ.
The Pharisees, by contrast, did not really believe themselves to be sinners—at least not really wicked sinners like prostitutes and tax collectors. Consequently, their thoughts about grace—and even their need of grace— were shallow and distorted. Had they believed the truth about their sin and experienced the reality of God’s forgiveness, their love for Christ would have been effusive as well, and while it might not have manifested itself in the exact same way as this woman’s, it would have allowed for her response as an appropriate expression of worship.
The woman worshiped when the Pharisees didn’t because she was a better theologian than they were. Her understanding was better informed than were theirs.
What you believe inevitably governs what and how you love, and love is at the heart of sincere worship. That is why I say that theology not only matters, it is crucial to true worship. As Robert Rayburn puts it, “for the Christian, worship must always be under the judgment of theology” (O Come, Let Us Worship, 33).
So if you want to grow in your worship of God, give yourself more fully to learning and believing the truth revealed in His Word—especially truth about yourself, God, sin, judgment, Jesus, atonement, grace, and forgiveness. Then regularly contemplate those truths and respond to God accordingly.