If the concept of authentic worship could be condensed into one word, it would be obedience. In Jeremiah 7, the prophet delivers a message to the wayward nation of Judah, who, like Israel, had turned from genuine, wholehearted devotion to God to empty rituals and reckless idolatry. Jeremiah warns the people to change their ways (verse 3) and reminds them of the Lord’s command: “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you” (verse 23, ESV).
God had issued the command to obey His voice while Israel camped in the wilderness: “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his sight, obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees, then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you” (Exodus 15:26, NLT). When the people prepared to enter the Promised Land, Moses repeated, “Listen closely, Israel, and be careful to obey. Then all will go well with you, and you will have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you” (Deuteronomy 6:3, NLT; see also Deuteronomy 4:40).
The ultimate blessing of obeying God’s voice is His promise to “walk among you” and “be your God, and you shall be my people” (Leviticus 26:12, ESV). Yet, by Jeremiah’s day, false worship had spread beyond control. The people of Judah ignored the voice of the Lord. Instead of trusting in God, they had put their faith in outward religious observances. They believed Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem offered them an indestructible fortress of protection (Jeremiah 7:4). Therefore, the Lord instructed Jeremiah to stand in the temple and deliver a sermon that would reveal the hypocrisy and hollowness of their worship (Jeremiah 7:1—8:3). They needed to remember that protection for God’s people comes from one thing alone—God’s presence (Deuteronomy 31:6; Psalm 46:1; 91:1–16). And, under the Old Covenant, His sheltering presence is only promised to those who obey Him (Leviticus 25:18).
We demonstrate authentic worship when we hear and obey the Lord’s voice. Today, to obey God’s voice is to believe in Jesus Christ. God says, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him” (Luke 9:35). “The work of God is this,” Jesus said, “to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29). Believers today are under the New Covenant, ratified by Christ, and they have the promise of God’s presence with them always (Hebrews 13:5).
In obeying Christ, we build our spiritual houses on a solid foundation. Jesus put it like this: “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash” (Matthew 7:24–27, NLT).
God says, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God” because He desires passionate, heart-and-soul submission to His will and not mere rule-following and ritual sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22; Deuteronomy 26:16). Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments” (John 14:15, NLT). The apostle John wrote, “This is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Loving God and obeying His commands are inseparable and synonymous activities (1 John 3:10; 2 John 1:6). Our obedience expresses the reality of our faith in God (Hebrews 11:8; Matthew 7:21; James 2:14–26).
We need God’s presence and the fulfillment of His purpose (Proverbs 16:1; 19:21). God told Israel, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God” because “blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12a). He wanted to bless His people with His proximity and protection: “Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me” (Exodus 19:5, NLT). The Lord knows the right path for us and always has our best interests in mind (Proverbs 3:5–6; Proverbs 5:21; Romans 8:28). His faithful ones are the apple of His eye (Psalm 17:8; Zechariah 2:8). He wants to reward us with fellowship with Him for all eternity (Matthew 7:21; 1 John 2:17).