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3D Worship: Mind+Will+Emotion

“With the same powers of our soul whereby we contemplate God, we must also worship God; we cannot think of him but with our minds, nor love him but with our will; and we cannot worship him without the acts of thinking and loving, and therefore cannot worship him without the exercise of our inward faculties.” – Stephen Charnock (The Existence and Attributes of God, 210)

I’ve spent a little time reflecting on this quotation by the great Puritan pastor and its implications, and I think there’s much that we can learn today from this theologian of the 1600’s. He highlights three aspects of human beings and suggests that God deserves a three-dimensional worship that involves all of these aspects. I’d like to begin by showing that Scripture teaches that these aspects of humanity exist. Then, we’ll connect each of these three aspects to worship. Finally, we should consider what deficient worship looks like when it lacks one of these aspects.

Mind+Will+Emotion as Aspects of a Person

It is worth beginning by noting that human personality is reflective of the nature of God. Although marred, we posses what the Bible calls the “image of God” (Gen. 1.26-27; 5.1-3; 9.6). This unique characteristic of humanity adds a complexity that is of no little significance. But what is this “image”? Perhaps the image of God that makes us different from the animals has something to do with the unique abilities that we have to express complex emotions, to think (even exercise meta-cognition), and to act from volition (making choices not merely determined by instinct). Scripture teaches all three of these aspects as aspects of human personality.

  1. Mind: The mental aspect of man (Gk. nous, dianoia, phronesis) is handled in a multitude of passages. Several significant ones are Mark 12.30; Luke 24.45; Rom. 1.28; 7.23-25; 8.5-6; Eph. 4.18.
  2. Will: The volitional aspect of man (primarily, Gk. thelema) is addressed in a number of contexts. A few significant texts are John 1.13; 5.30; 2 Pet. 1.21.
  3. Emotion: Human affections are another aspect of man that are addressed in Scripture. There are a number of texts that may refer to emotion more generally using a particular term (Gk. pnuma), but on the whole, the Bible refers to specific emotions such as love, joy, anger, sorrow, or fear.

Mind+Will+Emotion in Worship

Our God has created us in his image and has given us these three aspects of our persons. And if our God has given us these gifts, then it seems reasonable that he is worthy of all of them. God deserves our minds, our wills, and our emotions. Let’s examine where we are called to worship with each in Scripture:

  1. God deserves the worship of our minds. We are urged not to worship God in disconnect from particular truths that we must assent to (Rom. 10.2). To simply go through the motions or simply engage our emotions in worship does not count as true worship unless we bow our minds to the truth-claims of the Bible.
  2. God deserves the worship of our wills. Throughout Scripture, we see that the human volition must be engaged in the worship of God. Worship is a choice. It involves a deliberate decision accompanied by action (e.g., Josh. 24.15). Remember that worship is more than singing/music and involves financial giving, a choice to listen to and submit to the Word of God, and the exercise of our spiritual gifts.
  3. God deserves the worship of our emotions. One possible text that points in this direction is John 4.24. God doesn’t merely deserve to be worshiped in “truth” (perhaps a reference to mental assent to what is accurate), but he must also be worshiped in “spirit” (perhaps emotional engagement with worship). This is why we see particular emotions like gladness in singing (Ps. 100.2) and cheerfulness in giving (2 Cor. 9.7).

A great scriptural example of full-orbed worship comes to us in the form of the Great Commandment:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12.30)

  • “Love” and “heart” is the intersection between emotion and volition.
  • “Soul” certainly involves emotion at some level.
  • “Mind” refers to the intellect.
  • “Strength” is volitional action.

Mind/Will/Emotion Missing from Worship

What does it look like when we omit worshiping God with one of these aspects of our humanity? What is the end result?

  1. Will+Emotions-Mind=Emotionalist Worship. A worshiper who consciously engages their emotions in worship, but who fails to engage their mind in the truths about God only offers a vapid flurry of feelings. My failing to worship with our minds, we give God less than what he deserves.
  2. Mind+Emotions-Will=Antinomian Worship. A worshiper who only worships God by thinking on him and getting excited about him, but never consciously acting on those thoughts and feelings is a lawless worshiper. They claim to worship God internally, but have failed to show the fruit of that worship in their lives. This is the worshiper who tries hard to engage in corporate worship in the church on Sunday, but turns the switch to “off” during the week and lives for themselves the other 6 days.
  3. Mind+Will-Emotions=Theoretical or Legalistic Worship. Removing the emotions from worship leads to an abstract, will-driven worship. This deficient form of worship spends lots of time in deep truths about God but never getting excited about them. The mind is engaged, but the passions are not. In order to engage in such a theoretical worship, many believers do it on the basis of the sheer force of their wills. This can often lead to a legalistic works-orientation in worship.

From my observation, we all tend to skew away from giving God one of these areas of ourselves. May we, by God’s grace, offer him the fully-orbed worship that he so greatly deserves.

“He bestows upon man a spiritual nature, that he may return to him a spiritual service; he enlightens the understanding, that he may have a rational service; and new molds the will that he may have a voluntary service.” – Stephen Charnock (The Existence and Attributes of God, 248)