Over the past year we have examined the role and responsibilities of God’s people in corporate worship in a series that I have entitled “Gathered Worship in the House of God.” What should be expected of us as a congregation as we come together to worship God? Thus far in this series we have considered how to prepare for times of gathered worship and how to participate in gathered worship. But there is one more crucial aspect that requires our attention. How are we to respond to gathered worship?
When we meet with God and come under the preaching of His Word, we want Him to change us. We want to leave the meeting different from when we came. We want God to teach us, cause us to grow in grace, and conform us to the image of His Son. We want to “be doers of the Word and not hearers only” (James 1:22).
Worship is a call to action; it demands a response. So, what are we to do? How can we best make use of our time together in corporate worship once it is concluded? When it is time for us once again to return to our homes and jobs and responsibilities—all that awaits us in our walk through this world—how can we go out from worship and live in the light of the Word received as we worshipped? How should times of corporate worship benefit us during the week?
In the next several posts I hope to conclude this series by providing six answers to these questions. How do we rightly respond to worship?
First, we rightly respond to worship with confession and repentance.
We must pray, as we go out from worship, that God will work in us repentance—that He will cause us to see our sin and humble us—and that He will give us hearts ready to confess. As the Spirit of God works through the Word of God to reveal and expose sin, we must learn to recognize sin, turn from sin and flee from sin. Where we see sin uncovered in our own hearts and lives, we must own our sin, confess our sin and forsake our sin. Repentance begins when God engages our hearts with His Word by the power of His Spirit. But repentance is lived out as God’s Word takes hold in our lives—in our attitudes, in the decisions we make, in the priorities we set. Repentance must be lived out everyday as we refuse sin and choose Christ.
We have every reason and hope to confess our sins. Our God is merciful God. This is the sure testimony of the Word. When He gave the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and declared that He would not overlook sin, He described Himself as One who shows “mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:6). God told the prophet Ezekiel:
“Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11)
When David confessed his sin in Psalm 51:1–2 he prayed: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” In verse 17 he expressed his hope in God’s mercy: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
When David prayed in Psalm 57:1 “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge,” he ended his prayer with confidence in God: “For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” (57:10).
We see repentance as a response to the proclamation of God’s Word all through the New Testament. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” was the message of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2) and Jesus (Matthew 4:17). It was the message that Jesus sent His disciples to preach (Mark 6:12). At Pentecost Peter declared “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ…” (Acts 2:38). At the Temple he proclaimed “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). Paul preached repentance at the Areopagus in Athens: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). Later in Acts, summarizing his ministry, Paul told King Agrippa that he had “declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:20).
As we go out from worship, we must go out acknowledging our sin and fleeing to Christ for mercy and forgiveness. Our God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8). And His Word assures us: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
(Scripture quotations are from the Holy BIble, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway)