How We Worship Vs. How We Live

Many Christian preachers & ministers make a habit of exhorting people to “go to church.” They will often appeal to Hebrews 10:25 to stress that it is the duty of every professing Christian to regularly attend “worship services,” and to warn the flock about the sin of “forsaking the assembly.” And I certainly agree that we should be intentional about seeking the fellowship of other Christians! But the problem that I see with these preachers who show so much concern for professing Christians “forsaking the assembly” is that when the flock has gathered together, many of these same preachers will confidently tell all their hearers that “we’re all sinners” (who supposedly can’t stop sinning), and that “God does not accept us on the basis of anything we do, but only on the basis of what Jesus has already done. And He has already done all that is necessary! After all, Jesus clearly said, ‘It is finished!’ (John 19:30).” But is this message Biblically accurate? And does such a message amount to “wholesome words” (1 Tim 6:3), or does it amount to paving the way to hell?

If such a message is true, then why would it be so important that we go to church? Do these preachers who stress the importance of church attendance believe that worship itself saves us even though “we’re all sinners”? It would seem so. But does church attendance somehow free us from our obligation to cease from sin (1 Peter 4:1)? If we are faithful to attend church services, does this somehow mean that we are safe to “live according to the flesh” (Rom 8:4-5, 12-13) or to “continue in sin that grace may abound,” or to live under the “dominion of sin” (Rom 6)? Is the worship of sinful people pleasing to God? Consider the Scriptures listed at the conclusion of this article to see God’s answer to that question!

Personally speaking, I have no desire to expose myself or my family to the “teaching ministry” of anyone who makes light of sin–whether openly or subtly. Unless Christians, who are supposed to be living as saints, understand & internalize the idea that they–with God’s help–are both able & obligated to “sin no more” (John 5:14; 8:11), then they will never even try to stop sinning. The Scriptures clearly teach that sin leads to death and to a separation from God, yet many preachers & ministers fulfill the role of being the devil’s advocates in that they are “sin defenders,” who regularly make light of the very sin that drags people down to hell. I have personally heard preachers say from the pulpit that it is more important that we “worship correctly” than that we live correctly (i.e., they claim it is more important to attend church services where “proper” worship is practiced than that we live holy & righteous lives).

Therefore, not surprisingly, the professing Christians who listen to such sin-defending preachers will often end up truly believing that their worship is more important than how they live. They separate these two important things and then elevate one in importance above the other. In theory, these two things (worship & manner of life) should NOT be separated, but in practice, this is what often happens. The danger with this common practice of separating these two aspects of the Christian life is that people often end up ranking these two things in the opposite order from what God does in the Scriptures (see the passages at the end of this article)!

The purpose of this article is to hopefully show that it is erroneous and dangerous to teach people that how they worship is more important than how they live. Regardless of what type of Christian a person claims to be, we all need to understand that unless we are striving to get the primary things right (the issues of the heart), then God is not pleased by our secondary observances (like attending “worship services”)! God, through the Old Testament prophets, disparaged the sacrifices that were offered up to God when these sacrifices were being made by worshippers who were living unrighteous lives and who had no real intention of repenting in order to practice the “righteousness of God” (i.e., practicing God’s standards of righteousness in their daily lives, showing love for God & others).

Let us not be deceived, friends. The unrighteous will NOT inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10) & without holiness NO ONE will see the Lord (Heb 12:14). Righteousness & holiness are both related to how we live or the things we do. It is true that the Bible teaches that we have all sinned (past-tense, Rom 3:23) and that we WERE sinners (Rom 5:8; 1 Cor 6:11), but if we continue to practice sin, living as sinners, then we will be cast into the lake of fire with the unbelievers (Luke 12:46; Rev 21:8). Regardless of how much we may prattle on about God’s love & grace, all of our regular church attendance, our faith, correct doctrine and “correct worship” will not save us if we continue in sin. “Sinning Christians” (workers of iniquity/workers of lawlessness who attend church or profess Christ) will receive a worse punishment in hell than will the person who has never professed to believe in Jesus (2 Peter 2:20).

Regardless of what “system” of Christianity you claim to follow, whether you are a Roman Catholic or a type of Protestant or Orthodox, the Bible itself makes it clear that NO professing Christian can realistically expect to receive forgiveness/the benefits of atonement if we are living in sin (practicing sin) & are unrepentant. And let us not confuse repentance with godly sorrow. Godly sorrow leads to repentance which leads to salvation (2 Cor 7:10). Do not merely accept my word as being true or your preacher’s word as being true. Please read the Bible carefully for yourself and see if what I am asserting in this article is accurate or not. Sin leads to death, and regular church attendance does not change that! “Sinning Christians” should be more concerned about their manner of life than their church attendance record.

“For of this you can be sure” (Eph 5:5), if you are currently living in sin[1], the Virgin Mary cannot save you, the blood of Jesus does not cover you and/or is not cleansing you (1 John 1:7, 9), and Jesus’ “imputed” righteousness is not somehow hiding your sin from God’s sight. God sees all your sin just fine (Heb 4:13) and you will be judged for it (2 Cor 5:10), unless you repent, awake to righteousness and DO NOT sin (1 Cor 15:34). Your present & future sin has NOT been “pre-forgiven” (2 Peter 1:9). Jesus taught that forgiveness and acceptance with God is conditional (note the word “if” in the Bible), not that it is unconditional, and that we demonstrate our love for God through our obedience to His Son (John 14:21, 23; 15:10, etc.).

Unless you repent of your sin and forsake your sin, then you will NOT be forgiven of your sin (Luke 13:3, 5). You are in an unsavable state if you refuse to turn from your sin. Unless you repent and amend your life, your church attendance will not help you, especially if your preacher is repeatedly assuring you that “we’re all sinners” and is therefore giving you the impression that sinners go to heaven (that is, as long as they do not “forsake the assembly”). According to the Bible, neither sinners nor “sin-defenders” will go to heaven (Rev 21:27; Rom 1:32). Let us stop stumbling and misleading people by sloppy teaching. The Bible teaches that sinners go to hell and that only saints (holy ones) go to heaven. So, if a church is truly populated by “sinners,” then it is simply a church that is full of people who are headed for hell. As the Apostle Peter wrote:

“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’” (1 Peter 4:17-18)

Unless you want to stoke the fires of the flames of hell for yourself, stop assuring people that as long as they attend church or worship God “correctly,” that this somehow magically helps them. It does not. God rejoices over sinners that repent (Luke 15:7). He does NOT rejoice over sinners who simply attend church. People are often worse off for having attended church because many churches these days are simply leading people to hell either by teaching doctrines that are not in accord with godliness or by failing to warn people about the real spiritual dangers that are still “out there.” If a church has a high attendance, this often only means that the church is more successful at deceiving people and more accomplished at assuring people that they are “at peace” with God when the reality is that they are enemies with God (James 4:4) because of the way they are living.

So, let us be very careful about what we teach—the Judge is standing at the door, and teachers will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). Let us stop giving people the idea that the atonement is some kind of invisible blanket that covers & hides a person’s ongoing sin simply because they happen to attend church. God does not accept worship from unrepentant sinners or extend forgiveness to disobedient church attenders who continue to practice lawlessness. There is nothing humble about a person admitting they are a sinner while they also refuse to “go and sin no more.” Such a state of life is not humility, but is open rebellion against God! When a person who is living in such a state of life is a regular church attender, they are not receiving any benefit from their time spent “in church.” Neither “sound doctrine” nor regular & “correct worship” will contribute to a person’s salvation if their life is corrupt. Repentance is what is needed, not mere church attendance. And in some cases, the person might be best off to FLEE their church to avoid evil & corrupting influences.

In closing, regardless of what type of Christian you are, please consider the Bible passages given below to see some proof that what has been stated in this article is indeed true. Don’t just take my word for it, pick up your Bible and see for yourself—don’t worry, it will not burn your fingers! God is NOT primarily concerned with your church attendance or your “proper” liturgy or your “five acts of worship.” God wants ALL of you! He wants you to worship Him (first and foremost) by how you live—by living a righteous & holy life. We show God that we love Him by obeying Him and by living to please Him (1 John 5:3). So, unless you are striving to please God by the way you live, you might as well go fishing on Sunday or just sleep in to nurse your hangover instead of wasting your time going to church because the worship of the unrepentant rebel is a stench in the “nostrils” of God.

Supporting Scripture Passages:

Wisdom of Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 34:21-31: “If one sacrifices ill-gotten goods, the offering is blemished; 22 the gifts of the lawless are not acceptable.23 The Most High is not pleased with the offerings of the ungodly, nor for a multitude of sacrifices does he forgive sins. 24 Like one who kills a son before his father’s eyes is the person who offers a sacrifice from the property of the poor. 25 The bread of the needy is the life of the poor; whoever deprives them of it is a murderer. 26 To take away a neighbor’s living is to commit murder; 27 to deprive an employee of wages is to shed blood. 28 When one builds and another tears down, what do they gain but hard work? 29 When one prays and another curses, to whose voice will the Lord listen? 30 If one washes after touching a corpse, and touches it again, what has been gained by washing? 31 So if one fasts for his sins, and goes again and does the same things, who will listen to his prayer? And what has he gained by humbling himself?”

Wisdom of Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 35:1-13: “The one who keeps the law makes many offerings; one who heeds the commandments makes an offering of well-being. The one who returns a kindness offers choice flour, 4 and one who gives alms sacrifices a thank offering. To keep from wickedness is pleasing to the Lord, and to forsake unrighteousness is an atonement. Do not appear before the Lord empty-handed, 7 for all that you offer is in fulfillment of the commandment. The offering of the righteous enriches the altar, and its pleasing odor rises before the Most High. The sacrifice of the righteous is acceptable, and it will never be forgotten. 10 Be generous when you worship the Lord, and do not stint the first fruits of your hands. 11 With every gift show a cheerful face, and dedicate your tithe with gladness. 12 Give to the Most High as he has given to you, and as generously as you can afford. 13 For the Lord is the one who repays, and he will repay you sevenfold.”

1 Samuel 15:22-23: “Then Samuel said: ‘Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.’” [Note: We should not make the mistake of trying to use God’s sacrifice system without any condition of obedience. Trying to control/manipulate God is as divination.]

Job 27:8-10 (Orthodox LXX): “For what hope is there for an ungodly man that he holds to it? Will he trust in the Lord and be saved? 9 Will the Lord hear his prayer when distress comes upon him? 10 Has he any confidence before Him, or will the Lord hear him when he calls on Him?”

Psalm 51:16-19: “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken & a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise. 18 Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem. 19 Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering & whole burnt offering; Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.”

Psalm 66:18: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.”  [Note: Our prayers & worship—even when performed rightly—will be disregarded if we are living wrong.]

Psalm 109:7: “When he is judged, let him be found guilty, and let his prayer become sin.”

Proverbs 15:8: “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is His delight.”

Proverbs 15:29: “The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous.”

Proverbs 21:3: “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.”

Proverbs 21:27: “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; How much more when he brings it with wicked intent!”

Isaiah 1:11-17: “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or goats. 12 When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts? 13 Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. 14 Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, 17 Learn to do good; Seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”  [Note: God does not hear the prayers of unrepentant sinners, no matter how often or how correctly they worship. The cure for this is initial repentance/initial turning back to God, and then to live a life of ongoing repentance/daily repentance/obedience.]

Isaiah 27:9: “Therefore by this the iniquity of Jacob will be covered; And this is all the fruit of taking away his sin: When he makes all the stones of the altar like chalkstones that are beaten to dust, wooden images and incense altars shall not stand.”

Isaiah 66:1-5: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest? 2 For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,’ Says the Lord. ‘But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word. 3 He [who is wicked and] who kills a bull is as if he slays a man; He [who is wicked and] who sacrifices a lamb, as if he breaks a dog’s neck; He [who is wicked and] who offers a grain offering, as if he offers swine’s blood; He [who is wicked and] who burns incense, as if he blesses an idol. Just as they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations, 4 so will I choose their delusions, and bring their fears on them; Because, when I called, no one answered, when I spoke they did not hear; But they did evil before My eyes, and chose that in which I do not delight.’ 5 Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at His word: ‘Your brethren who hated you, who cast you out for My name’s sake, said, “Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy.” But they shall be ashamed.’” [Note: the difference between true worship vs. false/vain worship is primarily due to the spiritual state & holiness of the worshipper.]

Jeremiah 6:20: “For what purpose to Me comes frankincense from Sheba, and sweet cane from a far country? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet to Me.”

Jeremiah 7:9-10: “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, 10 and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’?”

Jeremiah 7:20-25: “Therefore thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, My anger and My fury will be poured out on this place—on man and on beast, on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground. And it will burn and not be quenched.’ 21 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat meat. 22 For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. 23 But this is what I commanded them, saying, “Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.” 24 Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. 25 Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have even sent to you all My servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them.’” [Note: In demonstrating His desire for obedience over sacrifice, God stresses that he delivered orders on sacrifices or offerings only after He first gave the Law (i.e. Ten Commandments) to OBEY].

Micah 6:6-8: “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, With calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, Ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Hosea 6:6: “For I desire mercy and not [animal] sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”

Hosea 14:1-2: “O Israel, return to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity; 2 Take words with you, and return to the Lord. Say to Him, ‘Take away all iniquity; Receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips.’”

Amos 5:21-24: “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. 22 Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. 23 Take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. 24 But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Joel 2:13: “So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm.”

Zechariah 7:12-13: “‘Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the Law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the Lord of hosts. 13 Therefore it happened, that just as He proclaimed and they would not hear, so they called out and I would not listen,’ says the Lord of hosts.” [Note: If we do not live obediently to God, then He will not listen to our prayers no matter how properly or how often we worship.]

Malachi 1:10: “Who is there even among you who would shut the doors, so that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain? I have no pleasure in you,” Says the Lord of hosts, “Nor will I accept an offering from your hands.”

Malachi 2:12-14: “Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem, for Judah has profaned the Lord’s holy institution which He loves: He has married the daughter of a foreign god [i.e., they were marrying foreign, idolatrous wives]. 12 May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob the man who does this, being awake & aware, yet who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts! 13 And this is the second thing you do: You cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping & crying; So He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. 14 Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; Yet she is your companion & your wife by covenant.” [i.e. they were divorcing their valid, covenant wives.]

Malachi 3:3-4: “He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasant to the Lord, as in the days of old, as in former years.”

Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Matthew 7:22-23: “‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

Matthew 15:7-8, 18-19: “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 8 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me’….18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. 19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”

Matthew 23:23-28: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! 25 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

Mark 7:18-23: “So He said to them, ‘Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, 19 because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?’ 20 And He said, ‘What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.’”

Mark 11:24-25: “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. 25 And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” [Note: unless we forgive, then our correct worship and the prayers we say during these times of worship will be of no avail.]

Luke 13:26-27: “‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ 27 But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’”

John 4:24: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” [Note: But when we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice truth—cf. 1 Jn 1:6]

John 9:31: “Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him.”

Hebrews 10:25-31: “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. 26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

[1] For some specific examples of what the Bible defines as “sin,” see Mark 7:20-23/Matt 15:18-20; 1 Cor 5:9-11; 6:9-10, 13, 18; 7:2; 10:8; 2 Co 12:21; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:3-7;  Col 3:5; 1 Thes 4:3; 1 Tim 1:9-11; Heb 13:4; Rev 2:14, 20-21; 9:21; 21:8; 22:15

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