“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” – John 4:24 (KJV)
Upon bothered with trifling mandates of the carnally informed mind on worshiping God, came this response, wherein Jesus says, “God is a Spirit”. The discourse beforehand with the Samaritan woman, was not of spiritual matters, but what one assumed, what pleases God.1 Herein lies the essence of Jesus’ seemingly odd reply: He is not pleased with your carnal means of adoration, that idolizes self – the affect of one’s cerebral speculations, made sensed with tradition and culture. Therefore, by saying God is a Spirit, He is saying, what pleases God is not the carnally informed mandates of worshiping God, but the submission of the inner-man – the soul, the spirit of a being.
The scripture then further tells us that Jesus Christ, puts these words into action when He searches the depth of the woman’s heart, way passed the facade of her religious ardor, and convicts her of her sins. This conviction opens up her eyes to the reality of Christ; she is made new, and she departs with joy, evangelizing her testimony. We can very well imagine, and infer, that perhaps, from that day onwards, that Samaritan woman might have no longer bothered about place or time to worship her God. Rather, her worship would have been simultaneous to her breathing – a way of life.
In these words, for anyone who inquires the true nature of worship, lies its finitude. How blessed we are of the Samaritan woman to have meddled with the notion of worship, but more so, how blessed we are that Christ went out on a limb, to deliver this message.
We shall now here begin by dwelling briefly on what not is worship
John Calvin aptly answers: everything of the flesh. And I quote: “Since men are flesh, we ought not to wonder, if they take delight in those things which correspond to their own disposition. Hence it arises, that they contrive many things in the worship of God which are full of display, but have no solidity. But they ought first of all to consider that they have to do with God, who can no more agree with the flesh than fire with water“i.
We see instances of carnally informed notions of worship being responded with great disapproval; or even with a punishment in the Bible. We see such instances in the account of Cain, Nadab and Abihu, and Ananias and Sapphira. Because, as Calvin further writes, “God is so far from being like us, that those things which please us most are the objects of his loathing and abhorrence“ii. In other words, the scriptures are very strict on how one ought to worship God; and delivers quite a stern warning to not meddle with it. James B. Coffman dwelling on this writes, “God has revealed the manner in which he should be worshiped, and those who hope to have their worship accepted should heed the restrictions. The verse (John 4:24) before us is a powerful prohibition. Also, Jesus said, ‘In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men’ (Mark 7:7). An apostle declared that ‘God … dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshiped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything’ (Acts 17:24,25). The author of this gospel wrote, ‘Testify unto every man that heareth the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book’ (Revelation 22:18). And also, ‘Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God’ (2 John 1:1:9). Jesus said of the Pharisees, ‘Ye have made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition’ (Matthew 15:6). Paul warned the Corinthians, ‘Now these things, brethren, I have in a figure, transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes; that in us ye might learn not to go beyond the things which are written’ (1 Corinthians 4:6). From these specific prohibitions, as well as from the spirit and tenor of the entire Bible, it is clearly impossible for man to approach his Creator in worship, except as God has directed. This was true in the days of Cain and Abel, of Nadab and Abihu, of David and Uzzah, and of the Lord Jesus Christ and ever afterward. It is true now and always.”iii
So what not is worship? It is not the act of displaying imitations of what divinity might be. It is not the act of gathering in a scheduled church service once a week. It is not about where you meet. It is not about singing in unison, or even melodiously. It is not about how you bow down, to the east or west. Everything that is of the flesh is not worship. Everything that is carnally informed, is not worship. For the things of the carnal world has no unity with the spiritual world.
The only acceptable form of worship: Worship Him in Spirit and in Truth
True worship has to be foremost in the spirit, or more appropriately, true worship is initiated by the Spirit of God, in the regenerated hearts of men. A person who is still dead in sin, a person who is dead spiritually, a person who is yet to receive salvation cannot give an acceptable form of worship. Because, he has no spirit in him that would long to worship the Spirit of God. He does not know God, he is not known to God as His own. Note how the Samaritan woman was bothered about carnal means of worshiping, for she was spiritually dead, and knew nothing about what pleases God.
Secondly, once the correct channel of worshiping is formed, comes the subject of worship, i.e. Truth. What is the Truth? Or more appropriate to the scriptures, who is the Truth? Jesus Christ answers this directly when He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). One might here, further inquire, how one might worship in Truth? What does it mean on practical terms? The answer to which lies in how Jesus Christ has been referred in the scriptures: i.e. the WORD.
The Apostle John writes, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God (John 1:1)… The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14). And also, in Revelation, he writes, “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the word of God (Revelation 19:13).” So, the answer to the question, how should we worship God in Truth lies in studying the Word of God. For Hebrews (4:12) says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart“. Also, the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).” In other words, the once regenerated heart that longs to adore and submit to the one who regenerated it, needs to be informed, the truth of the subject of its adoration and submission. Hence, the only reasonable follow-up to worshiping God in Spirit, eventually is worshiping God in Truth. We should also not forget, that there are many instances, when one might on a sentimental whim cry out the name of the Lord, and believe in himself that he worships the one true living God. But to keep safe, one needs to be confronted by the Word to rectify one’s erroneous believes. Also, for the regenerated souls, the rationale of worshiping in Truth lies in keeping such saints to persevere through the work of redemption. Truly, Christ says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28).
A Conclusive description of Worship
Finally, as a way of concluding let us measure these words, one last time against the scriptures. And what more appropriate on the subject of worship than the account of God revealing His majestic Holiness to Isaiah (in Isaiah 6:1-9). These nine verses, when analyzed, gives us the true nature of worship. Coffman puts it in the following four points:
- an awareness of the presence of God, (Isaiah 6:1-4)
- a consciousness of sin and unworthiness on the part of the worshipper, (Isaiah 6:5)
- a sense of cleansing and forgiveness, (Isaiah 6:6-7) and
- a response of the soul with reference to doing God’s will: “Here am I, send me!”. (Isaiah 6:8-9)
Consider the similarities with the account of the Samaritan woman. Jesus makes Himself known to her (John 4:14), she is convicted of her sins (John 4:18), and made known, the hope of redemption (4:25). She then finally departs to speak of Him (John 4:28-29). This my fellow brethren, and dear readers, is what conclusively means, to worship God in Spirit and Truth. It is not the songs we sing. It is also not the Church services we attend. Although, both of these be part of it. But in all honest measures, worshiping God is a never ceasing phenomenon, for it is a way of life. It is the humble submission of the inner-man, the soul, the spirit, to the Sovereign Will and authority of the one who saved us, and gave us this heart of worship. It is a response, an involuntary response2 of the spirit upon the anointing of the Holy Spirit, when one receives the Salvation of one’s soul that God freely gives in His Grace. It is the imitation on one’s part to persevere in the Truth, in the Word of God, to continue in reverence of His divinity, (upon the reception of the Holy Spirit). This is what it means to worship God in Spirit and in Truth. But unfortunately, this also means, one who is not yet regenerated, one who is yet to be saved, one who is yet to receive salvation, knows nothing of this. For that person is still dead in his sins. A non-regenerated soul will only think of the carnal means to worship Him; for only carnal things appeal to him, for he knows not of the spirit to know what the spirit desires. And since, so is the case, there is no union between such personhood and Christ, and all means of such worship only remains a meaningless clamor, an object of loathing to God, completely unacceptable.
But dear reader, if you so find yourself, roughen-up by these words, do not despair. For although, our God is just, He is also merciful. And if your soul is roughen-up enough to thirst for Him, don’t be frail, for He makes it accessible His throne of Grace (Hebrews 4:16) to all His chosen ones, to come and ask Him (Matthew 7:7) of the Spirit, the heart of repentance, the salvation of your soul, and your body.
1 The Samaritan woman, in greater part of her conversation with Christ was more concerned in the legality of the religion of her time. Her concerns were not spiritual, but worldly, more driven by social maxims and traditions of her time. She was more occupied with what mere mortal men speculated about what pleases God.
2 The phrase “involuntary response” implies, the nature of the regenerated heart that seeks godliness. The word spirit (with lowercase “s”) implies the regenerated individual, that now seeks the supplication of the Holy Spirit.