Spiritual worship is not a passive experience; it requires concentration, exertion, diligence, and “striving” with all your might (Rom. 15:30) to serve God with a single-minded focus upon His glory (Col. 3:22). David prayed in Psalm 86:11, “Unite my heart to fear thy name.” In worship God must be the center of our attention and affection.
In John 4:24, the Lord Jesus declares, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” New Covenant worship is not about holy places such as the temple in Jerusalem, but about holy hearts worshiping the Triune God. The multitude of Old Covenant ceremonies are replaced with the simplicity of spirit and truth (Heb. 9:9–10). The Puritans recognized that the essence of worship is inward and spiritual. Burroughs said that if we would please God in worship we must bring God His own, both in the matter and the manner of our worship. The matter must be dictated by the Word, but that is not enough; the manner must be full of God’s Spirit.
The principal worship we offer to God comes from the work of the Holy Spirit in us to make us holy. We worship God with our spirits when our affections are kindled by fire from heaven so that our worship sparkles with holiness. This is only possible when we look to Christ to make us holy by His Word and Spirit.
Owen reminds us that people may participate in religious worship not only with diligence but also delight, and yet worship for the wrong reasons. They do not have “delight in God through Christ” but instead may delight in the outward pleasure of worship such as an eloquent speaker, engaging stories and sermon illustrations, pleasant music, and impressive ceremonies; or perhaps they enjoy worship because it quiets their guilty consciences and gives them a sense of self-righteousness; or they might worship with joy because it improves their reputation in the eyes of men.
John Preston (1587–1628), Puritan preacher to the royal court, warned that God has reason to complain that “This people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me” (Isa. 29:13). Worship performed by unrepentant sinners, people not regenerated by the Holy Spirit, is an abomination to the Lord (Prov. 15:8; Isa. 1:13–15; 66:9). Even if the outward acts are done in conformity to God’s command, they are not done in the manner He requires; that is, with faith and repentance (Heb. 11:6).