In Spirit And In Truth
John 4:16-24 MKJV Jesus said to her, Go, call your husband and come here. (17) The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said to her, You have well said, I have no husband (18) for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband. In that you spoke truly. (19) The woman said to Him, Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. (20) Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. (21) Jesus said to her, Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you shall neither worship the Father in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem. (22) You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. (23) But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him. (24) God is a spirit, and they who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.
John’s gospel was written after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD hence Jesus saying: “believe Me, the hour is coming when you shall neither worship the Father in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem” was fulfilled because worship at Jerusalem was now impossible. Christianity is unlike any other religion in that there is no special “sacred location” for worship. Christians can worship anywhere, as Abraham did, as long as they worship “in spirit and in truth”. The Samaritan vs. Jewish question -about which mountain to worship on, is thus rendered null and void by the cross.
But what does it mean to worship “in spirit and in truth” and why does God seek these kinds of people to worship Him?
Jesus explains the first part by saying “God is Spirit”, the Greek is quite ambiguous at this point and is literally “Spirit the God” (pneuma o Theos) which can be translated as “Spirit is God” or “God is Spirit”, “God is a spirit” is a poor but common translation. The construction is the same as that used in the sayings God is light, and God is love. (1 John 1:5 and 1 John 4:8). In other words, God’s essence is that of a spiritual being and so worship must be “in the Spirit”.
Firstly, the spirit is the core part of our humanity that connects with eternity. To worship in the Spirit is to worship with the core part of our being, not just with our mind, our body or our emotions those these may be also included. It is also to worship in the Holy Spirit, empowered by the Spirit who is given to us in Christ Jesus. Paul goes so far as to say that Christians are “one spirit” with God. (1 Corinthians 6:17) This is not necessarily an extreme experience or an ecstatic experience but it is a deep and true experience. True worship has spiritual depth to it.
Secondly, true worshippers worship in truth. This means that there is content, truth content, and theological content, to their worship. All the main NT prayers, and especially from Pentecost onwards, are profoundly theological. There is an adoration of God as Father; there is a sense of the coming Kingdom and deep and profound motifs about the nature of the church, the Holy Spirit and believers. Here is one of the earliest NT prayers:
Acts 4:24-31 MKJV And having heard, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord and said, Lord, You are the God who made the heaven and earth, and the sea, and all that is in them; (25) who by the mouth of Your servant David has said, "Why did the nations rage and the people imagine vain things? (26) The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ." (27) For truly, against Your holy child Jesus, whom You have anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the nations, and the people of Israel, were gathered together (28) in order to do whatever Your hand and Your counsel determined before to be done. (29) And now, Lord, behold their threatening, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your Word, (30) by stretching forth of Your hand for healing, and miracles, and wonders may be done by the name of Your holy child Jesus. (31) And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the Word of God with boldness.
Note the God-centered use of Scripture and the concern for the Kingdom and the lack of concern for themselves despite persecution. In fact despite the fiery trials of the early church there are a complete lack of prayers for deliverance from these trials. The prayers of the NT are God-ward and for His glory and their perfection in Christ.
Thus true worship is neither glib, nor self-centered but is profound, deep, spiritual and God-centered. The center of worship is God, not man, which is why seeker-sensitive worship is a contradiction in terms. Yes we should have some seeker-sensitive church activities - but worship is sensitivity to God, not to man.
Worship is not about the music, or about us having a good time or having our needs met for entertainment. Worship is about giving great glory to God, about entering into the Spirit and connecting with the profound eternal realities and expressing them in deep truthful prayers and acts of worship. At Pentecost the Spirit fell and people heard the 120 “speaking the great things of God” – that is giving voice to great and worthy statements about God.
While God still accepts the naïve worship of new Christians we should rapidly progress beyond this to praying the deep and great things of God and to giving glory to God in the Spirit. God is seeking people who know and glorify Him, not self-centered and immature believers who simply want to enjoy themselves on Sunday mornings! Try this test – ask the average Christian to describe God and see how long or how deep the answer is. Few Christians possess much in the way of eternal truth that they can speak about, or glorify God for.
Most of today’s worship is thoroughly carnal and man-centered. Much thought is given to what people want and very little thought is given to what God wants. Deep teaching or profound prayers are eschewed, and in some cases even banned, in case such “heavy material” turns some off. Yet look at the worship as recorded in the NT and it is all “heavy” particularly Paul’s prayers. There are no “Prayers of Jabez” in the NT! The prayers are for the glory of God and the maturation of believers in Christ. “Hallowed be they name, thy kingdom come, they will be done..”. God is the chief concern of prayer, not man. Even prayers for the Church often end with a doxology e.g. Ephesians 3:14-21.
Truth has vanished from many pulpits and been replaced by man pleasing. In most Christian bookstores it is even hard to find half a dozen books with an emphasis on requiring Christians to obey the commands of Christ. The emphasis has gone from producing saints to producing happy and satisfied church attendees who tithe regularly. We are close to a great apostasy - and may be even in the midst of one.
God is Spirit and we must come to the Rock of Ages in spirit and in truth, and we must deal with eternal, abiding, truth-filled spiritual things. We must worship with our gaze upon the Throne. We must glory in the great things of God. Does this mean that we should go back to the Anglican Prayer Book of 1611 or to the more theological traditions? Not really, but we can learn much from them. It is not the place (here or Jerusalem) or the form, but the truth-content and the presence of the Holy Spirit moving deeply amongst us. We do not need to be stuffy, but we do need to have both depth and truth in our worship.