2 Corinthians 2:15-16
January 6, 2019
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 16:35 in the audio file.
Or, Worship Is Not for the Natural of Heart
No more fundamental distinction exists than the distinction between God and all that is not God. The Creator and His creation are related, but dependence only flows in one direction. Man is the only part of God’s creation that God made in order to reflect Himself; male and female are His image-bearers. In and out of the womb we bear the stamp of the divine image on us. Those who worship God are being made partakers of the divine nature, we are being prepped for glory, BUT even with all that, we are not God. The distinction between God and man matters most, and it matters first and most for sake of our worship.
When we assemble to worship every Lord’s day, we are saying by our practice of worship, not just propositions recited in it, that God is God. He initiates, we respond. He is Lord, we are servants. He reveals, we believe. He is God, we are no competition, like the empty space in an atom of dust on His scales.
This fact is fundamental, it is also apparently forgettable, and to some it is even detestable. But it is at this unequivocal line of distinction—our joy that we and our feelings and our plans and our strength and our name are not supreme—that we are doing something truly radical in the world. It is radical in both meanings of the word radical: this worship is rooted in reality, and this worship promotes reform (repentance) among men.
In our worship we are going on liturgical offense. Pick up your Bible and your Cantus and run against unbelief, against rebellion, against ingratitude, against worship of self or worship of progress or worship of the State or worship of any other god. Such an offensive approach causes offense, that is, it brings about resentment among those who perceive that we might be indicating that their ways are wrong. Yes, the world’s ways are wrong, they are straight from the pit on a round trip. The world will end in hell apart from turning to the living God. This is what our worship advances every seven days.
We can now look back at eight years of weekly worship as a local church. Since the start we’ve taken some Sundays to consider our liturgy, that is, the order of our service and the reasons for it, at the beginning of every year. This marks the 34th sermon on worship and liturgy, and there will be a couple more, Lord willing, this time around.
If all we did when we assembled was sing and listen to a sermon, we could still do alright. How exactly alright we did would depend on the nature of the songs and the sermons, but many of us remember Sundays with such a simple plan. Now we follow a pattern with more steps, and while it isn’t binding, it is beneficial. It is especially beneficial as we’re reminded in practice that God is God, and beneficial as we’re made the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved.
Paul uses this language in 2 Corinthians 2:14-17. In that part of his letter he’s encouraging himself that God is at work even when we feel insufficient. He uses the imagery of a “triumphal procession,” which was a Roman victory parade, celebrating a General and his army after defeating a significant foreign enemy. The parade included chained captives and their captured weapons and treasures, the Roman soldiers and senators, with music played and flowers strewn and incense burning. Paul says that we are in such a parade. Our lives (and worship) are like the unmistakable smell.
For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:15-16)
So “thanks be to God.” “Through us,” God “spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere” (verse 14). While not limited to corporate meetings of the church on the Lord’s Day, our liturgy is a way for Christians to smell, and that smell is either detestable or delightful.
Think about how the five Cs of our liturgy either cause men to rejoice in their position as not God or cause men to resent God and take offense at the gospel. The five Cs also correspond to another five points that promote the sovereign, saving grace of God.
The call is global: let the nations be glad (Psalm 67:4)! But who responds to God’s call to worship Him apart from God’s electing grace? The necessity of God’s sovereign choice will be shown in the next point, but while there is an external call of God to all the peoples to praise Him, none obey that call except those whom God calls internally and effectually by His Spirit
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to discern them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
The “natural man,” the one who does not have God’s Spirit, refuses to worship God and suppresses the truth; he refuses to honor God and give thanks to Him (Romans 1:18, 21). The call to worship offends his pretend autonomy. “Who has the authority to require my attention, my affections, my allegiance?” The natural man may try to ignore his place before God, he will complain and fight against it, and worshipping words increase his indignation. He is spiritually dead, and the reminder that his independence is wrong, let alone fictional, is an aroma of death.
For us whom God predestined to know Him, this call to worship is a sweet fragrance from life to life.
Our weekly confession of sin is a weapon against our sin and a statement that what is wrong in the world is sin. That we come before God to acknowledge our disobedience is an acknowledgement of His authority and His holiness. The natural man hates both of these attributes. The natural man asserts his own authority and indulges his own lusts. He does not want to give account to another, nor does he want to give up his pleasure seeking. He is like a two year old in a toy store that he didn’t build, that he couldn’t drive to, and without any money to pay for anything, but still throwing a tantrum of demands.
Apart from God men are blind to the glory of God, they can’t see a reason to worship Him; this is moral corruption. Apart from God men are children of wrath, slaves to their flesh, and as incapable of changing themselves as a leopard can change his spots; this is moral inability. They are sucking dust from empty cisterns trying to satisfy their souls; this is moral stupidity. Even as believers, though the rule of sin has been severed by Christ, we still war against sin and mortify our flesh. The heart is deceitful, and though Christians have new hearts, we still must reckon ourselves as dead to sin in Christ.
The exhortation to confess sin, and come to Christ for forgiveness, is an offensive measure against our sin and an offense to those who don’t want to hear that they are doing anything wrong.
God saves sinners. This is His sovereign and effective work. It has to be His grace because we didn’t know we needed salvation and we couldn’t want salvation in our state of spiritual deadness. He caused us to be born again, He forgives our sins, and He continues the work that He’s started.
In the center of our liturgy we read His Word, we offer our supplications according to His invitation and direction to do so in His Word, and we hear a message from His Word. These are means of His potent grace to save us, not just in conversion but in a life of consecration. He has begun a good work (Philippians 1:6), and He is in the process of renewing our minds, supernaturally and successfully, as living sacrifices for Him (Romans 12:1-2).
Our faith doesn’t rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:5). The Word is the power, the Word cuts us up and rearranges our affections (Hebrews 4:12-13). A Calvinist doesn’t just think God chose us to come to Christ, but also to be more and more conformed to Christ on earth on our way to heaven (Romans 8:29).
When truth is announced, lies look for a hiding place. As good news is proclaimed, darkness desires cover. As God’s Word is taught and is received as God’s Word, lives are changed. Those who are being set apart for God stand in severe contrast with those who wish to run away from God. This time in our worship is not merely describing the antithesis between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, it is a declaration of our liberty from the tyranny of wickedness in the world. “Dear World, you are not the boss of us. We don’t have to conform to your ways.” And it only happens because of grace that makes righteousness irresistible to us. Such devotion offends the aimless amoebas of unbelief who have no consistent principle except to fit the mold of the moment.
The longest part of our liturgy is not the most important; the sermon is good to have but not the goal of our gathering. Preach the Word; Paul urged Timothy not to quit it ever (2 Timothy 4:2). But the Word preached gets us to God. The vows in a wedding ceremony aren’t very time consuming, but without the public promises the ceremony is pomp but no covenant. In our worship, our time around the Lord’s Table doesn’t consume the most minutes, but it does more than symbolize something, it is communion with God and Christ’s body.
Communion is limited. It’s a particular ordinance. Not everyone is invited to eat and drink, only those who have trusted in Christ’s death and resurrection. And His sacrifice is also limited, not in success, but in scope. He accomplished everything He intended for everyone for whom He intended. He laid down His life for His sheep (John 10:11, 15), for those that the Father gave to Him (John 6:37, 39). And He brings us to God (1 Peter 3:18).
It is not just cute to break apart the word atonement. The Oxford English Dictionary: “In use a verbal n. from atone, but apparently of prior formation, due to the earlier n. onement and the phrase ‘to be atone’ or ‘at onement.’” It really is a contraction of at and one, and it really happened because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
The cross is a scandal to unbelievers, and yet we believers talk about the glory of the cross and sing glad songs about it. The cross offends the natural man, and the cross is the cost for making spiritual new creations. Our being at-one with God in Christ is what the world hates, and needs, and is offended to see.
The fifth point of sovereign grace goes with the final charge of our liturgy. You are not being sent out as Arminians. You are not told to go out and make sure you don’t mess it up, you are reminded that God goes with you. You are not exhorted to wonder about your spiritual status; “He loves me, He loves me not.” He does love you. His Son died and rose again for you. His Spirit dwells in you. The Lord Jesus Christ will sustain you to the end (1 Corinthians 1:7).
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24; see also Jude 24-25)
We’ve heard the abuse of “once saved, always saved.” It’s right to challenge those who claim Christ as Savior who also claim Christ is fine with their ongoing sin. But if you are saved, you cannot not be saved. The evil one cannot snatch you out of the Father’s hand. Jesus doesn’t lose His sheep (John 10:28-29).
Again we’re back to the offensiveness of grace, both as we run the ball down the field by grace and as the other team is offended that we even got to hold the ball.
Our aroma is not on a on/off toggle, but it is a watershed, either/or.
This aroma is an offense to the natural man, and Jesus knew it. After He told the Jews that no one can come to Him unless it is granted by the Father, the disciples called it a hard saying. “Who can listen to it?” (John 6:60). “But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this?’” (John 6:61). “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66). For His own, though, they believed that He was the Holy One of God (John 6:68-69).
I have my own private opinion that there is no such a thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless you preach what now-a-days is called Calvinism. … It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in his dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering, love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the peculiar redemption which Christ made for his elect and chosen people; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having believed.
This is a reason to worship. God’s sovereign salvation is glorified by our liturgy, and it is an aroma of life to life for those who are being saved.
The five points of Calvinism, as aligned with the five movements of our liturgy, are like five smooth stones David selected for his sling. They will slay giants, but not if we leave them laying in the stream. Take them with you.
The alternative charge would be: go be the fragrance of Christ.
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24–25, ESV)