Not on Earth as It Is in Heaven
Worship in the Church Age
Worship voices often celebrate the theme that we worship on earth like they worship in heaven. This emphasis has roots in Scripture and many clear benefits. Worship in heaven will be passionate, whole-hearted, and multi-ethnic — and the church is, in some sense, already seated with Christ in heaven through faith (Ephesians 1:3; Hebrews 12:22–24). No one should disagree with exhortations to worship God like that.
But the great complication with worshiping now as if we were already fully in heaven is this: we are not actually there yet. We are here on earth, called by God to worship him in ways we cannot escape in our current location and circumstances. As Mike Wittmer writes, “We are earthlings, for heaven’s sake.”
Three aspects (at least) of our worship during this earthly age should differ from the heavenly worship of the age to come: confession of sin, mission to the lost, and lament over brokenness. If we diminish or remove any of these aspects, our worship will suffer in the here and now.
1. Confession of Sin
This current age has sinfully rebelled against God, while the age to come will feature the unhindered reign of Christ. His redemptive reign has begun where Jesus already rules — in his church. All believers, though, mourns the ongoing remnants of sin’s effects in their hearts.
At Christ’s second coming, our worship will celebrate the final victory over sin. At his first coming, Jesus purchased safety for us from the coming judgment; at his second coming, he will provide that purchased safety to us from judgment (Hebrews 9:28).
“Recalling and confessing our sin is like taking out the garbage: once is not enough.”
Worshiping as an earthling at this moment in redemptive history means confessing our remaining sin and the effects that sin has on our lives. As Cornelius Plantinga writes, “Recalling and confessing our sin is like taking out the garbage: once is not enough.” Our current worship celebrates the decisive victory over sin’s penalty that Christ accomplished on the cross. And on the last day, we will worship with the final freedom from sin’s presence that Christ will apply to our lives.
2. Mission to the Lost
While the age to come will be exclusively populated by those whose names are written in the book of life, this world is now populated with many who do not recognize the supremacy of God and give him the worship he deserves (Revelation 20:12–15). Christ calls believers to cross cultures, learn languages, and plant evangelizing churches among all people groups.
After Christ’s second coming, no one will be pursuing missions to lost people. As John Piper says, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” When Christ returns and is worshiped by all people, the need for missions will be over. The multi-ethnic people of God will worship with the “loud voice of a great multitude” (Revelation 19:1).
Worship as an earthling at this moment in redemptive history means calling on God to reveal his salvation to the nations (Isaiah 52:10). Our current worship celebrates Christ’s victory at the cross, where he “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). And on the last day, our worship will finally celebrate the culmination of Christ’s redemptive work in drawing his church to himself.
3. Lament over Brokenness
This current world suffers from the brokenness and futility of sin’s curse, while the age to come will feature the glorious redemption of the entire cosmos (Romans 8:20–23). If the only way we describe our current world is by referring to its created beauty, we understate the horrific toll that sin has taken. As believers, we recognize that we are not exempt from suffering, but we are called to carry crosses and follow our Savior through difficult trials.
At Christ’s second coming, our worship will celebrate the end of all futility. At his first coming, Jesus began to make the sad things in our world come untrue. His followers are born again and become “new creations” in a world that he is remaking.
“Jesus has begun to make the sad things in our world come untrue.”
Worshiping as an earthling means lamenting over brokenness by joining the mourning and groanings of childbirth that our world experiences. Lament is a form of praise because it declares that only God is great enough to help our broken world and broken hearts. Our current worship celebrates the new kingdom that has begun with the death and resurrection of Christ and its inevitable march toward an uncontested reign. And on the last day, our worship finally will celebrate the moment that “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
As we look to that day, we remember that “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). So for now, we worship as earthlings, remembering that all of our times, including these moments, are in God’s very capable hand (Psalm 31:15).