I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
-- Romans 12:1-2, ESV
"Spiritual worship" is the two-word centerpiece of this prolific two-verse text in God's word. The terms are so ripe with meaning, translators have had difficulty in bringing them to the table in English. "Spiritual" is an adjective that describes the noun "worship." The best translation from the original language depicts participation in a serious and joyful liturgy, an orderly worship service, saturated with the word of God, exalting the person and work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
"Present your bodies" means to take a stand by participating in a public meeting. For Christians, this means gathering on the first day of the week to engage in the orderly reading of Scripture, congregational singing, the sacraments of the Lord's Supper and baptism, sermons from the word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and supplications (prayers and offerings).
These regulative principles have been pursued rather consistently in Christianity for almost 2,000 years. It is only in the last few decades that some people have come to believe they can be Christian without regular public worship. Furthermore, many of today's public worship services have run off the rails and become neither spiritual nor worship.
Spiritual worship is the place where you bring your formerly dead (spiritually) self into the house of God to testify that you are now a living sacrifice. You make a sacrifice with the time it takes you to worship. As the liturgy unfolds, you sacrifice the sin that would in any way obstruct your prayers, your praise, your participation in Holy Communion. You hear the word of God read and preached, and you sacrifice the sin that is in any way disobedient to God's word and God's will. You come in to declare that God belongs to you, and you leave knowing you belong to God, to live, worship, and work for Him.
"World" has various meanings in Scripture. The world can refer to people God loves and to people at enmity against God. The world is a beautiful planet God made full of wonderful sights and sounds and a dying planet doomed by the sinfulness of man. The world can be cultural mores neither advocated nor condemned by the Bible and the world can signify a system of beliefs and values that are hostile and contrary to God.
Obviously, the context of this text dictates the world as something wrong, at least if it obstructs or infiltrates spiritual worship. Not worshipping the Lord, on the Lord's Day, is conforming to the world, because the world at large does not worship the Lord. But the primary warning of this clause, however, is against those who tend to worship God all right, but in worldly ways that are not right for spiritual worship.
Lights so low you cannot see anything but the stage in front of you is for the world, not for worship. Music so loud you cannot hear yourself think is for the world, not for worship. Pep talks so shallow they offer no doctrinal truth whatsoever are for the world, not for worship. Notice I have not said such things are wrong, necessarily, but they are wrong for worship, for they detract from true spiritual worship, and from the Spirit, Son, and Father we are called to worship.
We come to spiritual worship not to be entertained, but to be changed, by the Spirit and the Word. We come to spiritual worship not to do our own will, but to "discern what is the will of God." We come to spiritual worship to become more holy and spiritual, like the Holy Spirit within us.
Superficial, silly, man-centered worship is bad. Word-based liturgy is "good." God finds right worship "acceptable" as much or more than anything else we have to offer Him. As Christians gather for and scatter from a spiritual worship service, it makes for the "perfect" (complete) day that begins another complete week of worship and work for the Lord.
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected].