The gospel is a scandalous declaration. No other news in all of history is so liberating to the brokenhearted and irritating to the religious. The song of the Church is that Jesus came to save sinners (Luke 19:10). This will forever be the theme of our worship (Rev. 5:9-12).
In Scripture we find examples that teach us about the rhythms of gospel and how it leads us to worship (Isa. 6; Deut. 5; 2 Chron. 5–7; Rom. 11–15; Rev. 4–21). Through the lens of the gospel, we learn to see congregational worship (preaching, singing, confession, prayer, Scripture reading, communion, baptism) not as a ritual but as a regular opportunity for our eyes to be lifted to see anew the glorious gospel of grace.
The gospel both provokes and enables the worship of God.
Worship begins with God. In the same way that the gospel begins by God calling man out of death into life (Eph. 1:4), God initiates worship (Exo. 20:3). God has done this by revealing Himself to us. Worship is then the continual rhythm of God revealing Himself to His Church as we respond with thanksgiving and praise. God both initiates and instructs us how to worship (Deut. 6:5; Rom. 12:1; John 4:24).
Worship humbles the pride of men. When the human heart is awakened to glorious realities of God, its intrinsic response is a humble declaration of God’s holiness and the sinfulness of man (Isa. 6:5). In view of the perfections of God, we see that we have all fallen short of His glory (Rom. 3:23) and understand that the result of our sin ends in death (Rom. 6:23) As New Testament scholar Leon Morris notes in his book The Atonement, worship is the abandonment of all reliance on merit and the process of trusting fully in the work of the Christ on our behalf.
Worship centers upon the person and work of Christ. In His great mercy, God saw fit that we who were once slaves to sin by birth would now stand as His sons and daughters. The cross is the centerpiece of Christian worship. Like Mark Dever and J.I. Packer state in their book In My Place Condemned He Stood, true Christ-centeredness is and must always be cross-centeredness. It is here that God’s wrath is satisfied (2 Cor. 5:21).
The theme of New Testament worship is that the shadows of time and place, temple and tabernacle are fulfilled in Christ. Jesus stands as the True and Better Temple (John 4), the Great High Priest who once and for all reconciled God and man (Heb. 10).
Worship is the rightful response to the revelation of God. In the gospel we are reminded that there is a perfect sovereign God who made us (Gen. 1:27). We are told of our desperate need of forgiveness and the punishment that is rightly ours (Rom. 6:23). We are called to look upon Christ as the One who died in the place of sinners, and we respond by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 10:13).
The good news of the gospel provokes our hearts to wonder and awe. It humbles us under the goodness of its declaration: that the guilty can go free. Christ has paid the sinner’s debt, and forever His church will worship Him. Our response to the gospel is the worship of our hearts, the praise of our lips and the service of our lives, not to gain the approval of God because in Christ we already have obtained it.
Matt Boswell is the Pastor of Ministries and Worship at Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, a church plant of The Village. He is the lead author and editor of Doxology and Theology: How the Gospel Forms the Worship Leader, available May 1. Follow him on Twitter at @MattBoswell.