“…These people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men (Isa 29:13 NKJ).”
While a great many today downplay the importance of the corporate body of God’s people and make salvation an entirely individualistic affair, the opposite danger is very real and perhaps even worse- the idea that I am saved simply because of an identity or membership in a particular group. The fact that I show up to church, assent to certain doctrinal propositions and perform various rituals, and don’t do anything too bad in the rest of my life, is not sufficient to save me. Nothing is sufficient to save me except the personal intervention of God in my life. We’re not saved by anything we do; we’re saved by a Person, by Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the Bible. Our salvation is always a personal matter, always a matter of a relationship between God and man. Getting to know God’s nature and personality is therefore of tremendous importance
The reason we come to worship is to further our relationship with God, and we further that relationship by learning who God is. This means learning God’s attributes, the true things we can say about God, such as His omnipotence, His infinity, His justice. It also means learning about the things God likes and dislikes. We come to know God through the history of Scripture as we see how He works through history to bring about His desired ends. This knowledge comes to us in the context of personal trust, as we have faith that God has saved us and is saving us. A good worship service is filled with God’s personality presented through Scripture in a variety of ways- through praise, through petition, through doctrinal formulas, through narratives, through the sacraments.
Like a Japanese gardener who shapes a miniature tree over years by carefully tying its branches and trunk in particularly chosen ways, so the worship of God, through patient repetition, will shape us. It will guide us in the way we grow. This is not a matter of simply showing up, but truly being bound to God by personal trust and faith, since it is the personal relationship that forms the connection, not simply physical presence or outward activity. This shaping will not happen all at once; the change will often be imperceptible. We might not think anything is going on at all. But over time, those forces will gently, slowly and certainly shape someone. If the worship services we choose to go to are dominated by the opinions and ideas of men, then that is what will shape us, and our hearts will be far from God. But if the content of our worship is controlled by the personality of Jehovah, then we will be conformed to the image of Jehovah.
Let us not simply honor God with our lips. Let us not teach the doctrines and commandments of men. Let us fill our worship and our lives with the true and living God revealed to us in Scripture. Over time, all in us that is contrary to truth will be trimmed off, so that we come more and more to resemble the One who made us, until we are truly in His likeness and after His image, as He always intended.