A Principled Approach to the Worship of God: The Internal Principle


We have said that the Vertical Principle answers the who question of worship. The Regulative Principle answers the what question. The next principle is intended to answer the how question. While the VPW and the RPW are critically necessary to get the external acts of worship in line with God’s will, it is not enough to have these two principles in Biblical order. We must now also give careful consideration to the Internal Principle of Worship.

Jesus quoted Isaiah and said:

This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me (Matthew 15:8)

God has always cared that those who worship Him not just be going through external motions, but that rather those external motions are intended to be the means through which actual internal realities are expressed. David said:

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;

you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17, ESV)

Here’s the Internal Principle of Worship (IPW) as we may derive it from Scripture:

The external act of worship must be an expression of true internal realities.

God does not want your hypocrisy; he wants your heart. He has called us not to simply offer empty rituals, He has called us to personally and truly exult in the worship of Him! Remember the basic definition of worship: worship is the act of giving honor and adoration to our God. Honor and adoration both spring from the internal places within. Without those vital internal realities, you may offer something to God, but it will never be true worship.

Let me illustrate this. The use of the RPW to develop a carful and Biblical approach to the worship of the church can be compared to the crafting of a beautiful musical instrument; for example, a clarinet. A clarinet is in and of itself a beautiful work of art. It is precise. It is carefully planned. It is not thrown together casually, and if the specifications for its design are not followed, it will never work properly. All of that is true of our worship as well. The acts, the elements, all the things we do have to be precisely and Biblically designed and carefully developed.

But do you know what a clarinet sounds like? If you’re in a quiet place, you’re hearing it right now. A clarinet sounds like nothing! If left by itself, it just sits before you and never makes a sound. But when someone picks it up and provides it with breath and life, it can never make the beautiful music it was intended for. The external forms of what we do as a church are like that instrument. On it’s own, it doesn’t make a sound. But when the internal is honestly expressed through the external, then our hearts play the music of worship they were designed for.

I love this illustration, because it says two true things. Without the clarinet, we can’t make the music. We’re just a bunch of people blowing air! So too, the best of internal intentions will just be useless hot air if we ignore God’s instrument of the RPW. Yet without the IPW, we’re like a man who builds a beautiful clarinet but never uses it to make the melody it was made it for. It tragically never fulfills its intended purpose.

May neither of those things ever be true of our worship. May we never be guilty of having a finely tuned instrument, with no one really playing it. And may we also never be guilty of just blowing wind while we ignore God’s design for how we are to worship Him.

Allow me to reinforce two important points. First, I want to be explicit that the IPW does not in any way diminish the importance of the external forms of worship. The internal realities and commanded external forms must come together in a sweet harmony of Biblical faithfulness. Second, the IPW should not be understood as a romantic fiction that puts true worship beyond the reach of our sinful hands. We should be principled, not perfectionist. Don’t take what I’m saying to mean that if we don’t feel just a certain way, or if we are struggling with doubts and discouragement it would somehow be impure worship because it comes from a fragile heart of flickering faith. Introspection is good, but be carful not to fall into what a godly man once called gospel-forgetful introspection. On this side of glory, you will always find sin when you take an honest inventory of your heart. Being weak and desperately in need of sustaining grace is not the sort of hypocrisy that the IPW is intended to dispel. Remember that in the VPW, we already saw that God has provided real means of grace for his children who approach him in worship. He is the God who wipes away our tears, and we must never forget that precious fact.

Sometimes people think that if they don’t feel a certain way in worship they are some sort of imposter. It is true that hypocrisy has no place, but being a struggler doesn’t make you a hypocrite. We all struggle. Psalm 51, which was quoted above, arose from a place of deep remorse and desperate need for grace. Such a situation was not the enemy of a truly broken and contrite heart; it was the very context of it. We need to meet with our Covenant Lord in worship, not because we have attained such great heights, and not just because he has required it of us; but also because our great need for it as well. We need his grace as we continue our pilgrimage through the wilderness of this world, and one of the primary ways he gives it to us in through the beauty, joy, and gravity of the church at worship.

In our next and final post, we’ll seek to bring these principles together and see how they harmonize to form a symphony of praise to our God.

(By: Nicolas Alford)

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