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Love for Christ & Scripture-Regulated Worship 8: Love for Christ through Scripture-Regulated Worship

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series

"Love for Christ & Scripture-Regulated Worship"

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With this post, I conclude my series on Scripture-regulated worship (Part 12345, 6, & 7). The Christian impulse to submit to Christ ought grounds our willing submission to the New Testament in all matters, including worship. If Christ is Lord, then we are obligated to obey him. The way we obey Christ in our worship is only doing the things Christ commands us to do when we gather for worship. Christ gave us the New Testament writings to preserve for his will for the churches, not only during the apostolic era, but in all eras of church worship. And as I have applying the broader points of this series in the last couple installments, I have especially emphasized that we submit to Christ’s will in worship because we love Christ. Furthermore, Christ loves the worship he commands, and our love for him ought to influence us to love what he loves. This brings me to one final point.

As I said, we ought to willingly submit to the worship given to us in Scripture because we love Christ and because we love what Christ loves. But there is at least one more way that Scripture-regulated worship is connected to our love for Christ. The New Testament way of worship is the surest means by which we are to grow our love for Christ.

The primary reason Christ through his apostles gave churches the elements he did was he in his wisdom ordained that those elements would be blessed by the Holy Spirit to nurture and grow true spiritual love for Christ.

The believer’s love for the Incarnate Christ is a very unusual thing. We love this Lord and Savior sight unseen. As Peter says in 1 Peter 1:8–9, Though you have not seen him [Christ], you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. We love Christ though we have not seen him. The believers addressed in 1 Peter not only loved Christ, but they loved him in a most glorious and joyful way. Clearly, our love for Christ is very different from most of our earthly loves. For the vast majority of Christians throughout history, we love a Savior we have never touched or seen or heard (first-hand). Moreover, he is the holy Son of God, so our natural, depraved love struggles to love him as we ought. So our love for Christ is supremely spiritual, both in the sense that we have not seen him, and in the sense that he is God Incarnate.

I am arguing that God ordained and designed our love for Christ to grow with the Spirit’s grace through the elements of worship given to us in the New Testament. Indeed, preaching, praying, singing, and the ordinances are the only ways of growing our love for God that God has explicitly blessed. For now, I’m leaving aside the question of how we go about using these elements as forms, which is also an important matter in expressing and cultivating our love for God. But with the elements of Scripture-regulated worship, the unseen Christ is presented to us to our understanding and moral imaginations in the ordinances and preached Word of God. Perhaps this is why Paul says to the Galatians, It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publically portrayed as crucified (Gal 3:1). According to Ephesians 4, the ministry of the Word (given through apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers) furthers believers’ knowledge of the Son of God and Christian maturity (v 13), with the ultimate goal that the whole church builds itself up in love (v 16). The love we considered a moment ago, that Peter so beautiful describes in 1 Peter 1:8-9, was itself born in the believers through the living and abiding Word of God …, the good news that was preached to you (1 Pet 1:23, 25).

In Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards makes the point that truly gracious affections are cultivated through such means.[1] In prayer, we declare God’s perfections and our “meanness,” so that “such gestures, and manner of external behavior in the worship of God, which custom has made to be significations of humility and reverence … affect our own hearts, or the hearts of others.” Likewise, Christian singing “seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections.” The “sacraments” too are “sensible representations” of the gospel and Christ’s redemption so as “to affect us with them.” Finally, “the impressing divine things on the hearts and affections of men, is evidently one great and main end for which God has ordained, that his Word delivered in the Holy Scriptures, should be opened, applied, and set home upon men in preaching.”[2] Edwards is arguing that the very nature of these elements are such that they grow Christian affections.

John Owen makes a similar point about preaching in The Grace and Duty of Spiritually Minded:

It must be observed, that the best of men, the most holy and spiritually minded, may have, nay, ought to have, their thoughts of spiritual things excited, multiplied, and confirmed by the preaching of the word. It is one end of its dispensation, one principal use of it in them by whom it is received. And it hath this effect in two ways:–(1.) As it is the spiritual food of the soul, whereby its principle of life and grace is maintained and strengthened. The more this is done, the more shall we thrive in being spiritually minded. (2.) As it administereth occasion unto the exercise of grace; for, proposing the proper object of faith, love, fear, trust, reverence, unto the soul, it draws forth all those graces into exercise.[1]

John Owen, by John Greenhill (died 1676). See source website for additional information.
This set of images was gathered by User:Dcoetzee from the National Portrait Gallery, London website using a special tool. All images in this batch have been confirmed as author died before 1939 according to the official death date listed by the NPG.

Owen would certainly view the other elements of gospel worship in a similar light. His point is here with the Word is that it is particularly appropriate to engender spiritual affections. Later in the book, he insists, “This is the first reason and ground whereon affections spiritually renewed cleave unto ordinances of divine worship with delight and satisfaction,–namely, because they are the means appointed and blessed of God for the exercise of faith and love, with an experiences of their efficacy unto that end.”[2]

Arguably, there are other ways of growing our love for Christ in the natural world apart from church worship. The love a believer has for the Triune God ought to grow as he goes about his daily life, whether while explicitly worshipping or not. A Shakespeare sonnet or a good meal or marriage can and should increase love for Christ (see 1 Tim 4:1-5, especially v 4). But it’s hard to imagine this love coming into being, let alone being sustained over time, apart from the means God has given in New Testament worship. Further, it seems that the way of worship prescribed for churches in the New Testament was designed in part to facilitate the growth of believers’ affections for the Triune God.

In sum, Christ gave us the elements of worship he did in order that he might graciously grow our love for him through the Spirit.


Over these eight posts, I have argued for Scripture-regulated worship. We first looked briefly at some of the traditional arguments for this understanding of worship. I have argued that it springs foremost from the Scripture doctrine of the relationship of Christ’s authority and the New Testament apostles, now preserved for us in the New Testament canon. Then I showed how this authority is related to our love for Christ. First, we submit to Christ’s authority because we love our Lord Jesus. We should also love the worship Scripture prescribes because it is what Christ loves. Finally, following the Regulative Principle in our worship services is God’s primary way to grow our love for Christ.

[1] Edwards’s original point was to prove that gracious affections are essential to true religion. To do so, he showed how the Scriptures hold up the “ordinances and duties, which God has appointed,” which nurture out holy affections, are “means and expressions of true religion.” Affections, 114.

[2] Affections, 115.

[3] John Owen, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded, in vol. 7 of The Works of John Owen (Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), 283.

[4] Ibid., 437.


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About Ryan Martin

Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).