“But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” John 4:23-24 (Read v. 19-24)
Psalm 95 directs us to worship the LORD: “O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms” (Psalm 95:1-2). But how are we to worship? What kind of worship does God desire? Should it be with liturgy and organ or with contemporary song and guitar? Should it be in a beautiful church or cathedral or in a steel building or barn?
These questions are really not much different than the question posed by the woman at Jacob’s well in Samaria when she perceived Jesus was a prophet because of His knowledge of her life and relationships: “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship” (John 4:20).
And she raised a valid question because the Samaritans, who accepted only the first five books of Moses and had altered parts of them, claimed they were to worship on Mt. Gerizim and had worshiped there for centuries and continued to worship there even after the Jewish ruler Hyrcanus destroyed their temple around 125 B.C. The Jews, on the other hand, said that Jerusalem was the only place where people should worship (Deut. 12:5ff.; 16:5-6; 1 Kings 8:12ff.; 12:25ff.). And Jesus’ answer to this woman’s question certainly has application to our own time.
Jesus pointed out to this woman the time was coming when God’s people would neither worship in Mt. Gerizim nor at Jerusalem. As He said elsewhere, the temple would soon be destroyed (cf. Matt. 24:1-2, Luke 19:41-44; 21:5-6) and God’s people would be scattered all over the world, preaching the Gospel and joining together for worship with fellow believers in various places (cf. Mark 16:15-16).
But sadly, though the Samaritans sought to worship, they did not know the true God because of their admixture of error and false teaching (2 Kings 17:24ff., especially v. 32-35). They rejected most of the Old Testament Scriptures, including the many promises of a Messiah and Savior who would bear the sins of the people and redeem them from sin and eternal death (cf. Isaiah 53; Psalm 130). The Jews, on the other hand, had the Scriptures and the promises of the Messiah and Savior.
But, Jesus went on to say (John 4:23-24): “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
He pointed out to this woman that true worshipers would worship “in spirit and in truth,” meaning that true worship is not constituted by certain places or outward forms and observances but comes from the regenerated (or born again) spirit of man and truly glorifies and praises God, not being mere lip service.
And so, what constitutes worshiping in spirit and in truth? First and foremost, true worship flows from faith in Jesus Christ as God the Son and the Messiah and Savior of the world. Jesus, Himself, said that He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and that no one can come to Father apart from Him (John 14:6). He also said that we can do nothing pleasing to God in regard to good works and service toward God apart from faith in Him (John 15:4-5).
Jesus said “that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him” (John 5:23; cf. 1 John 2:23). And, indeed, it is only through the atoning sacrifice of the Son that we can approach the throne of God with our prayers, praises and petitions (cf. Heb. 10:19-25; 1 John 5:11-15).
True worship, then, can only come from a heart that has been regenerated by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit. And, it is as Jesus said in John 6:63, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing” (cf. John 15:1ff.; 3:3,5-6).
True worship, of course, must not be idolatry (cf. Ex. 20:1ff.; Deut. 6:13-15). It brings no glory to God if we do not worship the Triune God who has revealed Himself in the Bible. (Cf. Deut. 6:4ff.; Matt. 28:19; 1 Pet. 1:1-5.) “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Matt. 4:10).
Instead of compromising the truth for the sake of outward unity or for the sake of being contemporary, true worship holds fast to the Scriptural doctrine (1 Tim. 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 3:12-17; John 8:31-32; Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:42). God abhors false doctrine and adulterating His Word. Therefore, worship which contradicts the teaching of Scripture is not true and pleasing worship (cf. Isaiah 8:20; Deut. 4:2; 13:1ff.; Matt. 7:21ff.; Jer. 23:28).
And, finally, true worship is exactly that: true worship. It is not merely going through the outward motions or using certain forms. It is not vain repetitions of which Jesus speaks in His Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matt. 6:7). It is worship that comes from the heart and is genuine and sincere. It gives glory to God and thanks and praises Him for His goodness and mercy toward us in Christ Jesus.
Again, true worship is not bound to places, musical instruments, or to liturgical forms. It is sincere praise and thanksgiving and works which come from the regenerated heart and soul of one who trusts in Christ Jesus as his Savior.
It is as David writes in Psalm 103:1: “Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.”
O Lord, grant that we worship You in spirit and in truth – that we, from our hearts, glorify Your holy name for the gift of the Son and His atoning sacrifice for our sins and the sins of the world. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
[Scripture is quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]