Worship by Faith Alone

When we’re asked the question, how do you know that you’ve worshiped, we want to be able to say something like “I felt God.” I experienced his presence. ‌But here’s what we need to remember: while we truly are in God’s presence through Christ, it is in the Spirit, and it is not yet a physical reality. It will one day be a physical reality. But that time has not yet come. We are already there spiritually, but not yet bodily.

If we wish to be faithful to the biblical doctrines recovered in the Protestant Reformation, then our worship must be according to Scripture alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone. Indeed, when we draw near according to Scripture, by grace, through Christ, we are entering the very presence of God in heaven for communion with him.

However, although drawing near to the heavenly sanctuary is a very real reality in Christ, it is not yet a physical reality. Our bodies are still here on earth, while we really are seated with Christ in the heavenly places. What this reveals is the important spiritual essence of our participation in the heavenly worship of God through Christ. As Paul says in Ephesians 2, we have access to the Father through Christ in one Spirit. The Spirit of God is the agent who makes this possible because it is a spiritual reality.

The problem is that physical human beings naturally tend toward defining the essence of our communion with God in physical terms. This was the challenge for the Hebrew converts to Christianity that the author of Hebrews was addressing.

‌As Jews, when they thought of worship, they thought of it in terms of the physical temple, animal sacrifices, and ceremonies. These were physical rituals of worship established by God at Sinai, but the author of Hebrews emphasizes in verse 18 that we have not come to that mountain that may be touched. Those physical rituals of worship were but a mere copy and shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, he says in Chapter 10. Now, we come to a better mountain, we come to the heavenly mountain through Christ alone.

But since the true form of these realities is something that we experience spiritually now and not yet physically, these Hebrew Christians struggled. Those Old Covenant external forms of worship “felt” more real, and so they were being tempted to forsake spiritual worship in the heavenly temple in favor of earthly, physical forms of Old Covenant worship.

‌And many Christians throughout history have likewise failed to understand the spiritual reality of our participation in heavenly worship. Many medieval Christians wanted to experience the worship of heaven tangibly here on earth, either expecting that heaven came down to them while they worshiped or that they were experientially led into the heavenly temple through the sacramental ceremonies. They desired a heavenly worship “that can be touched.” And so they drew much of their worship practice from the Old Covenant, introducing into their worship an altar and priests with beautiful robes and trappings, and the lighting of candles and incense, and elaborate processions and ceremonies.

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