“Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.”
(2 Corinthians 3:17)
What do we mean by liberty? Sometimes we take it to mean that we are just more relaxed and informal. When I first started going to church as a 16 year old, a sign in the entrance exhorted us to “Keep silence in the Sanctuary.” No-one would have dreamed of going to church in jeans; we wore suits and ties, and if we needed to speak we whispered. Things have changed: you could call that liberty because it is not formal and stiff.
Sometimes we have “in your face” liberty, when we sing songs like; “I will be even more undignified than this..” or “We’ll be a shouting dancing generation”, or “This is where the party is, we are dancing on Holy ground…” We sing aggressive liberty! But what is it? Is it just a youth thing? Are we simply departing from former religious restraints?
Psalm 126:1-2 “When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.” God’s people had been captive in a foreign land, away from Jerusalem, away from his presence. God brought them back, and now free from bondage and able to enter his presence again, they rejoiced in worship.
I remember when I first preached a message on the grace of God in the church that I was leading at the time. We were just beginning to understand the implications of the truth that we were no longer under Law. Having died to the Law, we had been made righteous as a gift forever. As the truth seeped into our spirits and opened our eyes, our spontaneous reaction was to jump up and dance and sing with all our might! We had never done this before; we were not dancing to be modern or to prove something. It was a natural expression of overwhelming joy: we had been set free! We stepped out from legalism into the freedom of the sons of God. Around the same time we were also receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit and our whole experience of God profoundly changed the way we worshipped together.
So worship has to do with our gratitude for the liberty that God has brought us, a response to his wonderful deliverance. This liberty is not simply about externals, that we can wear jeans in church, play guitars, and chat to our friends in the meeting place. Because now nearly every church displays words on an overhead projector and has a modern music band does not necessarily mean that they are aware of their spiritual freedom, or that they are charismatic: they are just contemporary.
Worship should result from a discovery and celebration of God’s power to rescue us. Our enemies….death, hell, judgment, accusation, condemnation, guilt, fear …have been overcome. Watch a congregation when they are singing “I’m accepted, I’m forgiven…” and you will see heads lift, hands begin to rise as the lyrics touch their hearts. True celebration is not based on good melodies and up tempo beats “to get them going”, it about declaring truth. Coming into the presence of the Lord we enjoy the reality of who he is and what he has done for us.
Those of you who choose songs, choose them wisely. Choose songs that say something. It’s all too easy to select songs that have a catchy tune but which don’t really say anything much! Declaring truth helps the saints to enter into worship, helps them understand who they were, who they are now, where they are going, how great God is, in fact to focus on him and his works.
Worship is a dynamic experience
“We who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
We are the subjects of a transforming power. When we start celebrating the liberty that God has given us, singing and enjoying it, we come into even more liberty. We are encountering the Living God; something supernatural is happening. We are stepping into the reality of who we are and who he is. As we embrace this revolution and celebrate it, we behold the Lord and we become even more changed in the process. God is working in us.
We often pray that God would open people’s eyes and change them through the preaching, but beloved, this can also happen as we worship. So as you are worshipping, pray for a revelation of glory and for increasing liberty to be a mark of the people of God.
This post is adapted from a sermon preached at New Community Church, London called Worship: Liberty, faith and devotion