Worshipping God in Spirit and in Truth
Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. 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.
I believe that an understanding of the context and some of the history associated with it will shed light on what Jesus meant when he spoke of worshipping God in spirit and truth….
The Samaritan woman had brought up an issue regarding which mountain to worship upon. A historical understanding of these mountains is helpful. Soon after King Solomon’s son took the throne, the nation of Israel was split in two - the northern kingdom, referred to as “Israel”, and the southern kingdom, referred to as “Judah”.
Initially, Judah followed God, and all of its kings were descendants of David (the royal line that God had established) while Israel had a succession of kings, none of whom were in this line. All of the kings in Israel were wicked, while some of the kings in Judah were wicked and some were righteous. Israel immediately entered into gross idolatry on a mountain in Samaria while Judah followed God (worshipping on mount Zion). Israel established a system of worship that was similar in some ways to God’s system but deviated in very significant ways (this should sound familiar in light of what is going on today). Israel stuck to God’s structure of worship initially (but intermittently deviated from it as time went on).
Although God required much worship to take place within the formal structure that he had prescribed, it is obvious (from the writings of David and others) that God has always sought true, personal, spiritual worship from believers regardless of formal structure.
When Jesus died, the temple veil was rent from top to bottom (signifying that access to the most holy place - where the mercy seat which spoke of forgiveness of sin was located - was now freely open to all who would come by faith in Christ’s sacrifice). I believe that this signified the official end of formal (Old Testament) worship. The third temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. and so this formal style of worship was no longer even possible.
I believe that sincere, personal worship from the heart is what Jesus was referring to when he spoke of worshipping in the spirit. Since the “s” in the word “spirit” is not capitalized when it is referring to our spirit in this passage, I don’t believe that it is referring specifically to the Holy Spirit.
What did Jesus mean when he spoke of worshipping “in truth”? I believe that this means to worship according to that which we can understand about worship from God’s word.
The Greek word translated “worship” and “worshipped” in this passage in John occurs many times in the New Testament and (per Strong’s Concordance) it is always translated as “worship” (or a close form of this word, such as “worshipped”). The things that it is associated with in various passages helps me understand how God views worship:
Matthew 4:10; Luke 4:8
Matthew 8:2; 9:18; 15:25; 20:20;
Matthew 18:26; 28:9; Acts 10:24; I Corinthians 14:25; Revelation 4:10; 5:14; 7:11; 11:16; 19:4, 10; 22:8;
Kneeling, bowing, falling down
From these associations, the understanding that I have of worship is that it is…
Humble and submissive
Closely related to giving, serving, praying, and faith
To be done with knowledge, respect, and honor
Given all of this, I believe that God rejects:
That which is called “worship” by the Roman Catholic church (since it is so formalistic).
Almost all of that which is associated with Contemporary Christian Music (since it rarely conforms to God’s word and is almost always associated with pride, worldliness, and various other evils).
Wild demonstrations within Pentecostal/Charismatic services (since they are not according to knowledge and are generally not simple).
I believe that God seeks those who worship him with a sincere heart, with simplicity, in faith, and in a reverent manner. I believe that we can worship him in song, with praise, in our prayer life, and in the various ways that he asks us to serve him.