All people adore something. Christians know they should adore/worship God. The desire to worship must be channeled toward God in Christ. We have a challenging time directing our worship because we continue the modern exaggerated division between the secular and sacred. Just a few generations before us, religion filled the air. Christianity, even when not practiced, was the expectation of all. As Michael Horton noted,
From circumcision to burial, each Israelite was shaped by the covenant. It was their environment, not simply a set of doctrines and ethical norms to which they yielded formal assent. It was not something that they knew about as detached observers, but a form of life that they indwelled, from which they interpreted all of reality. Israel’s creed—the Shema (Dt 6:4–5)—was the summary of a whole network of narratives, practices, and texts they had absorbed into their bloodstream.Michael Horton, The Christian Faith
If we could go back just a few generations, we would find Thanksgiving to be about actually giving thanks to God rather than enjoying feasts and sales. The secularization of society was, perhaps, an unintended consequence of the separation of church and state. The distinction between church and state began nobly to promote religious freedom but seems to have become a tool for freedom from religion. Still, we understand that everyone will worship something and that Christians should direct their adoration toward God.
Why God Alone Should Be Worshiped
God alone should be worshiped because of who God is. Everything but God is creation. God alone is Creator. God is the supreme being. Everything else should be seen as a reflection of his glory or an instrument to reflect his glory. We tend to improperly adore creation rather than the Creator when we forget who the Creator is.
Historically, the nature of God has been described by a study of the divine names. In the ancient world, and especially in Scripture, names describe the essence of the person. So God’s names portray God’s nature. In his Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof said, “In the most general sense of the word, then, the name of God is his self-revelation. It is a designation of him, not as he exists in the depths of his divine Being, but as he reveals himself especially in his relations to man.”
El or Elohim is one of the most common words used to designate the God of Heaven. “In the Old Testament, it is frequently used to refer to the God of Israel (e.g., Gen 31:29; 33:20; Num 12:13) or to other gods (Exod 15:11; 34:14; Deut 32:21; Psa 44:20). In ancient texts from Ugarit, it was the name for the Canaanite creator god, father of gods and humans, and head of the Canaanite pantheon.”
El is typically combined with another description when referring to the God of Israel. It is common to see God described as “God Almighty” El Shaddai (שַׁדָּי, shadday; Psa 68:14; Job 37:23) or “God Most High” Elyon (עֶלְיוֹן, elyon; Num 24:16). Both these names describe God’s transcendence or otherness. God is truly beyond us. God alone is in the category of divine and this category vastly transcends every aspect of human existence.
One of the most poignant revelations of God’s name occurs in Exodus 3. The context of this revelation is Pharaoh’s supremacy and his demand to be worshiped and served as a deity. The God of Heaven is about to free his people from this supposed god and make them be his people. Therefore, we should read Exodus 3 within this cultural context. God was going to free his people from a supposed deity. God was also going to demonstrate his superiority over this supposed deity. All this would be brought about by the “battles” of the ten plagues.
Moses asked God about his name—his essence. In other words, Moses asked, “who are you to defeat this divine Pharaoh?” God responded that he is the “I AM.” Exodus 3:14 reads, “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֱלֹהִים֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה וַיֹּ֗אמֶר כֹּ֤ה תֹאמַר֙ לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה שְׁלָחַ֥נִי. The “I AM” refers to “the one who exists.” Traditionally, this name has been understood to describe God’s eternal self-existence and, therefore, his ability to create and give life. Here, the word refers to “a statement concerning God’s being: cf. LXX egō eimi ho ēn “I am the one who is”; Luther: “I alone have being, whoever clings to other things errs” (Weimarer Ausgabe 16:49); Schild, op. cit. 301: “It is a positive answer in which God defines himself as the One who is, who exists, who is real.” In John 8:58, Jesus described himself as the “I AM” with this connotation of existence or being. He said, “before Abraham was, I AM.” Before Abraham came to be, Jesus was the fullness of being.
These names of God reveal that God is utterly transcendent. We worship things we look up to and adore. There is nothing bigger than God. There is nothing more beautiful or more lovely than God. There is nothing more amazing than God. Every competitor for his glory is either his creation or some temptation trying to emulate his goodness. Focus on God. Worship Him. Adore Him.
Guiding Our Desire to Worship
When we think of adoration, we should immediately think of what we are to do. Like a new parent staring in a child’s face, we are often overwhelmed and don’t know what we should do. Thankfully, we have some direction from God. We can follow the commands given in the New Testament and emulate the practices of those Christians who followed God’s commands so that we can worship God appropriately. After all, we must seek to glorify him appropriately or with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
Two main theories dictate the question of how Christians should worship: normative and regulative principles. These two theories focus, really, on how we should approach God’s authority. Are we bound to do what God has said and nothing else? Or, can we do anything which has not been expressly forbidden.
Normative Principle of Worship
The normative principle of worship refers to the theory that whatever is not expressly forbidden is acceptable to God. This theory is the most dominant one today. Historically it was held by medieval Catholics and Lutherans. This theory would allow for instrumental music in worship, the religious observance of feast days, lighting candles, and anything else not forbidden by Scripture.
Regulative Principle of Worship
The regulative principle of worship refers to the theory that one may only offer to God that which is expressly commanded. This theory was the dominant one in church history. This doctrine was historically held by Greek and Eastern Orthodox, early Catholics, the Reformed, and Calvinists. This is why only Lutheran reformers advocated in any way for instrumental music in worship, and even that was done by Luther because the congregational singing was so poor. Today, conservative churches of Christ, the Greek Orthodox church, and some Reformed groups (Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians) still practice Acapella worship because they hold to the regulative principle that what has been commanded must be observed the way God has commanded it.
Maneuvering Between Generic and Specific
It seems that few follow either theory precisely. Perhaps, it is easier to navigate our desire to do things for God and the limitations God has placed upon us through his commands by an examination of Generic and Specific Authority. We understand these terms in most of life. If someone says to bake a cake, then you can bake any kind of cake you want to bake, but you can’t fry an egg. We also understand specific authority. If someone says they would like a 10-ounce ribeye cooked medium with some A1 on the side, then that will be what is expected.
With all of God’s commands, there will be some areas that are open to some opinion and some boundaries which cannot be crossed. We want to honor him as best we can with everything and every talent that we have. But to offer acceptable worship to him, we want to be sure to stay within the boundaries he has given. And as we offer our acceptable worship to God, we want to do so with excellence. Remember to whom our praises are directed and offer the very best of our hearts to our God.
What Has God Commanded?
Overwhelmed with his glory and overtaken by his grace, we naturally want to praise our God. As Hebrews 12:28-29 says, “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let’s show gratitude, by which we may offer God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our, God is a consuming fire.” The Israelites came to Mount Sinai with specific preparation and left with specific regulations for their life with God. How then shall we come before God to offer “acceptable service with reverence and awe?”
Commanded to Sing
Singing is perhaps the most natural way for us to pour our hearts out to God. God’s people are commanded to sing. Ephesians 5:19-20 says, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your hearts to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to our God and Father.” This command has some very specific aspects which are to be followed very precisely. There are also some areas in which we can exercise some personal choice. But we understand the importance of pouring our hearts out to God in thankfulness.
Commanded to Pray
We could never pray too much. We are commanded to “make our wants and petitions known” to God. We should also be mindful to “cast all our cares on him.” Prayer is a tremendous resource for our own peace and stability. Prayer should also be praised. Perhaps, if we think about it, shouldn’t our prayers be dominated with praise? Any approach to the Father’s throne through our Mediator should remind us to praise him all the more.
Commanded to Give
Giving is a beautiful privilege Christians are provided. When we give, we are serving the Lord himself. He said, “as oft as ye did it even unto the least of these ye did it unto me.” What an incredible privilege for us to remember. We can serve the Lord Jesus. Our giving is also a way God reinforces our trust in him. Paul wrote:
Now, this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;
as it is written,
“He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor,
His righteousness endures forever.”
Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
What a blessing it is to serve our God and to be reminded that he will provide. When we give to others, we not only see God working through us for those in need; we also trust that God will continue to offer more blessings for us to share.
Commanded to Preach/Read Scripture
Our devotion to Scripture is not only a way for us to learn about God and be disciplined by God and have our faith nurtured by God, our reading and preaching of the Word is also a way for us to praise God. When we read in the Scriptures the great things that God has done, we should do so with adoration for him. Loving adoration of God, even when reading and preaching the Word, should always be our primary focus. When worship is our focus, I think you will find that everything else falls into place.
Two Test Cases in Scripture
The Altar in Joshua 22
The 12 Tribes had defeated most of the Canaanites, and it was time to go home. Those on the far side of the Jordan River were afraid they and their children would be cut off from the main group of Israelites and the temple with its worship. So they built a model of the altar on their side of the Jordan. This model of the altar was for teaching and for a reminder. It was not to be used for offering sacrifices and worship. Although the ten tribes were ready to fight against the other two tribes because of the altar, they realized that those on the other side of the Jordan could use the altar as a teaching tool and a reminder without breaking any of God’s boundaries and, in fact, they were keeping the command to teach their children and keep God before them.
The Festival of Lights
In John 10:22-23, you will find Jesus in the Temple during the Feast of Dedication. However, when you search the OT, you will not find any “Feast of Dedication.” So what is the Feast of Dedication? “The festival of dedication, which is named Hanukkah in Hebrew, is the Jewish holiday which celebrates the reconsecration of the Jerusalem temple and its altar to the traditional service of the Lord in 165 or 164 b.c.e. It begins on the 25th day of the month Kislev (the 9th month in the lunisolar calendar; it coincides with parts of November and December) and lasts for eight days.” The Feast of Dedication is Hanukkah. Its proper emphasis is the purification and dedication of the temple during the Maccabees 160 years before the incarnation.
Where is the authority for the Feast? Where does God command this Hanukkah celebration in the OT? We can’t say the Feast was sinful or beyond God’s command because Jesus was there and seems to be partaking in the festivities. Doesn’t this break the regulative principle? No. In fact, the Hanukkah celebration or Feast of Dedication would fit under the commands to “be ye thankful,” teach future generations, and general commands to worship.
The Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah observance helps us to understand how we can have special meetings of the church today. We have special emphases on Gospel Meetings, Vacation Bible Schools, Youth Rallys, and seminars without any explicit Bible command. Wednesday Bible studies are never mentioned in Scripture. All these meetings take place because we want to study more, praise more, and fellowship more. All these events are authorized by the general commands to teach and worship.
Applying These Principles Today
Secularism dominates most of our lives. Let us begin to reset life. Let us start to dominate the secular with the religious. Not all of life will be worship. After all, the Ethiopian “went down to Jerusalem to worship.” All of life can be centered around worship, and all of life can be focused on God. Isn’t this the way we should want our lives to look? If we cling to the secular areas of life, aren’t we telling ourselves and God that we really enjoy those material things more than him?
In Christianity, we have not been given a hobby. We have been given a life system. Abraham Kuyper argued that Christianity gave two principles: “How we stand toward God is the first, and how we stand toward man is the second principal question which decides the tendency and the construction of our life.” These two principles are seen in what Jesus said were the two great commandments: to love God and to love your neighbor. The 10 Commandments can also be dictates our relation to God and how we relate to our neighbors.
You will adore something. Adore God. Everything else will disappoint you. Everything else will lead you away from God. Nothing but God can give you real satisfaction. Arrange all your routines around him. Set your heart toward him. Fix your eyes on him. Be “buried with him” to “be raised with him and walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4).
 Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, 203.
 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 47.
 Kurt Backlund, “El, Deity,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
 Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 364.
 James C. VanderKam, “Dedication, Feast of,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 123.
 Abraham Kuyper. Lectures on Calvinism (Kindle Locations 257-259). Monergism Books. Kindle Edition.