The Triune God: Object of Christian Worship
Without the Holy Spirit’s leadership, without Christ’s mediation, and without the Father’s glorification of himself and all three persons of the Godhead, triune God is not worshiped by his people. As God is the object of Christian worship, his subjective work is carried out in his people.
We are commanded in Scripture not to have any gods before the one true God (Exodus 34:14), for God is jealous. This does not imply, however, that God is jealous of someone else but rather that God is jealous for something, namely the worship of his people. It is common to speak of God as both the object and the subject of Christian worship, a unique aspect to our faith indeed, for in other religions, people act as the subject while their gods serve as the object. In our applied theology of the triune God, however, we realize that God is both object and subject, that is, although we worship God, our worship is a response to who God is, what God has done, and what God is doing even in our midst as we worship. God is not then the object of our worship because he is the subject, but God is the subject because he is the object. During the worship experience, we are not the ones acting, but God is; yet while God is actively moving and working in our midst, our response is to make him the object, the one which we worship. The difficulty in grasping this concept is found in an improper understanding of the triune God that we worship.
One of the most unique aspects of Christianity is a God that is three but also one, no bipolarity but one God in three equal persons. As Christians, learning how to recognize this and allow it to affect how we worship is significant. The Triune God is the very object of our worship, but it is also through God’s triune nature that God manifests as the subject. It is we then who must recognize God as the object and worship accordingly.
The Godhead Aspect: Christian Worship Is Triune in Nature
Christian worship is triune in nature. The very essence of worship is the dialogue between God’s people and the Father through the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit. The issue at hand is how God’s people are to worship him as the object of our affections manifested in three persons. We must realize and trust the mystery of the three-person Godhead. He is three and yet one God.
Part of the mystery here is the fact that there is not a hierarchy, yet there is a distinct order. The Son submits to the Father and the Spirit submits to the Son, for the Father sent the Son and the Son sent the Spirit. This is why we speak in terms of the first person of the Godhead, the second person of the Godhead, and the third person of the Godhead. This is not meant to imply that there is some sort of hierarchy but rather that the function of each person in the triune Godhead is different. It is because of this mystery that Christian worship is triune in nature. We worship a triune God who is both object and subject and who is at the very center of worship; therefore, the nature of Christian worship is triune. Every part of our corporate worship experience must reflect the triune aspect of the worship of God. This mystery is not for us to necessarily understand but the marvel in. We worship one triune God manifested in three different persons.
God Is Creating a People for Himself
At the base of worship is the story of God. The story of God and his work in the lives of his people are central to worship. It is, therefore, our goal, as we worship our Lord, to tell and proclaim the full counsel of God. God’s redemptive work throughout history is central to not only his people but also his glory. The entire purpose of redemption is the glory of God. In salvation then, God is creating a people for himself. Having called Abraham, God began a work of creating a people for himself, a people that would forever be his and glorify him all their days. The beauty of this creation aspect of the people of God is that the old covenant was replaced with the new covenant through the shed blood of Jesus Christ so that now many Gentiles have been grafted into the people of God. There is no longer an external or physical separation among God’s people; we who have been called are part of the bride of Christ.
This is relevant to worship in that God is still creating a people for himself. His work on the cross has been accomplished to bring glory to the Father, and now the Holy Spirit works in our lives and the lives of those who will come to know him as Lord and Savior; through this mechanism, the triune God creates a people for himself and will continue to do so until the day of completion when we are one with him as heirs to his throne. Again, we see the subjective nature of God where he is actively working, but we also see the objective nature of God where through his work, he is receiving glory. His work in creating a people for himself is entirely for his own glory: (1) God creates; (2) God’s people respond; and (3) God receives glory. All three persons of the Godhead then are involved in that magnificent display of his story.
All Things Are to Him
We must understand that in this work of active sanctification and in our participation in the Spirit as the body and bride of Christ, all things are ordained by God, as all things are from him, through him, and to him (Romans 11:36). Certainly, we can acknowledge the truth of all things being from him and through him, but to grasp the fact that all things are eternally to him is to effectively make him the center of everything; Jesus Christ is preeminent (Colossians 1).
Triune God works in this as well. The reason I have mentioned the Godhead order is so that we can clearly see that all glory is ultimately offered to God, but this happens in that glory is given to the Father through the Son and in the power of the Spirit. Even in our prayers, we have no ability or authority for God to hear us except that Jesus Christ is at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:34). Without Christ as mediator, our prayers are worthless. Jesus, perhaps confusing many in his time, actually clarifies things for us by declaring, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘he is our God’” (John 8:54). This is a bold statement Jesus Christ makes in which he reveals his intention to glorify the Father, yet the Father, in return, glorifies him. Does this happen to us as well? Yes! The Apostle Paul tells us that as we suffer with Christ, we are also glorified with him as fellow heirs with him (Romans 8:17). The glorification then is not for us but for him, yet it is through us that he is glorified. We are catalysts to his glory; we reflect his glory; and indeed through our glorification, he is the one who is ultimately glorified. This is only possible through Christ’s shed blood. Without Christ as our high priest and mediator in the new covenant, our prayers, our response to the Father, and our feeble attempts to worship him are meaningless. It is only because the Father looks on us and sees the righteousness of his Son that we live our lives in such a manner that all things are not only from him and through him but also to him.
The Primary Reason We Worship: For Who God Is, Not Merely What He Has Done
It could be easy to make the mistake of worshiping God only for what he has done. The primary reason we worship God though is for who he is. We respond first and foremost to who he is, not merely what he has done, for if he had never done anything for us at all, he would still be God and still be worthy and demanding of our worship. Gratitude is good. We should live in a manner of gratitude, but it should never be the primary source of our worship. Our worship should spring from a heart of reflection on who he is. Then and only then will he become the object of our worship.
How do we know when that is happening then? Worship in spirit and truth only happens when we are satisfied in Christ. Surely, at this present moment, no one can say they are purely satisfied in Christ (until we are completed and with Christ); yet, in our sanctification process, our satisfaction in him grows. “The things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace,” as the hymn says. Our worship is directly related to our satisfaction. The more we are satisfied in him, the more we worship rightly to the point that living a godly life is no longer an issue. It stops becoming work and becomes an overflow out of the abundance of worship we have to offer. When we realize that Jesus is better than anything, he will then become the one and only true object of our worship. He is at the center because only he can satisfy.
How is this reconciled with triune worship then? How is Christ at the center of worship of a triune God? This mystery is explained in the fact that he is the mediator of the new covenant. Christian worship is received by the Father through (and to) the Son. Christian worship occurs so that the Father is glorified; this happens in the power of the Holy Spirit and only through Jesus Christ. Anything that we do to the glory of the Father first passes through the Son. He is, therefore, at the very center of our worship of triune God. We worship one God manifested in three persons, equally divine and equally glorified, for it is triune God who is the object of Christian worship.
God Is the Subject of Worship Because He Is the Object
In personal and corporate worship, Christ intercedes on our behalf. Certainly, we worship God, and I would dare say we worship all three persons of the Godhead. Our worship is dependent on our satisfaction in Christ though and his mediation. Without the Holy Spirit’s leadership, without Christ’s mediation, and without the Father’s glorification of himself and all three persons of the Godhead, triune God is not worshiped by his people. Additionally, as God is the object of Christian worship, his subjective work is carried out in his people. Thus, God’s position as object supersedes his work as subject of worship. As God is creating a people for himself, so the church becomes a part of his grand work in redemptive history. Now and through endless ages, triune God is the object of worship.