We’ve spent a substantial amount of time focusing upon how we should be approaching our glorious God in worship. We’ve dwelt to this point upon two little words; reverence and awe and explained that approaching God in awe and reverence is the proper manner in which we are to approach Yahweh. It is also the root of how we should express our worship and we believe the foundation to finding ecclesiastical contentment. Keeping with what we have seen in the last few posts, let’s move on to introduce two new words that should be engrained in our worship vocabulary. Those two words are found in the following passage:
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)
The two words I would like to spend a few moments unpacking are the words Spirit and Truth.
En route to Galilee, the Lord Jesus made a stop in the forbidden lands of Samaria. Samaria was frowned upon by the highly respectable Jewish clergy of the day and the Samaritans had about the same type of respect for the Jews. This disassociation was due to their respective religious views on Judaism and their theological hostility against one another. Basically both Jerusalem and Samaria believed they were the true worshipers of God and each held the proper geographical place of worship (The temple in Jerusalem and Mt. Gerizim in Samaria). Hmm, a monopoly on truth…Sound familiar? The Lord met a woman by a well while she was drawing water. The woman was startled by the fact that a Jewish man would even talk to her since she was a Samaritan. Since the Lord Jesus isn’t a racist, the conversation seems quite appropriate and it carried on. The woman had no idea who she was really talking to. She probably viewed our Lord as a mere tourist who seemed to have lost His way. The promised Messiah stood before her and while she was familiar with the Messianic promises, she was unaware who it was that was asking her for a drink of water. The gift of God of eternal life was then presented to her in the Lord proclaiming to her about the living water. She probably visited this well on a daily basis and it was precious to her because it came from Patriarch Jacob who had left it to them to provide them with water. She was a true traditionalist and could not fathom that the man she was speaking with could be greater than Jacob. Not only was the One with whom she was speaking greater than Jacob but the water He offered was a far greater water than the water Jacob left for her. Christ was offering her the water of life. It was this water that would satisfy her forever. She still didn’t understand what on earth He was saying to her because, much like Nicodemus, she interpreted all of the Lord Jesus’ words in a physical, materialistic sense rather than in a spiritual sense. Notice that the Lord didn’t just go ahead and give her the water. The Lord asks her about her husband. Talk about a change of subject! The Lord was in fact dealing with her sins. Her sins needed to be dealt with before she could drink from this fountain. Her answer to the Lord’s inquiry was an honest answer in that she had no husband. The problem was that it she wasn’t telling Him the whole story. The Lord commends her for her truthful statement yet reveals to her what she had neglected. She had been married five times and the man she was with now wasn’t her husband. Her response to His declaration was to call the Lord a prophet. Now again, this was a true statement but it was the response He was looking for.
In v. 20, the woman then introduces the topic of worship and in doing so made an attempt to change the focus on by emphasizing again on the differences between Jews and Samaritans and her physical roots. She states that Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. To the Samaritans, the differences on the place of worship between Jews and Samaritans was rooted in the difference in their canon of scripture. The Samaritans only accepted the Torah as “inspired scripture” while the Jewish canon included all the other 31 books. The Samaritans didn’t recognize the temple since it was not a part of their divinely inspired scriptures. The question is why Mr. Gerizim? Dr. Carson gives us a little insight into this:
Moreover, their own textual traditions of Deuteronomy 12:5 read “to seek the place of the LORD your God has chosen”. This prompted them to look to the Pentateuch itself to discover the place. They noted that Shechem, overlooked by Mount Gerizim, was the first place Abraham built an altar once he entered the promised land (Gn 12:6-7)- (The Gospel of John, Pillar New Testament Commentaries, D.A. Carson, P 222)
Or course, the Jews believed that worship was to be conducted in the temple in Jerusalem and hence the disagreement. Notice however that they actually did agree on more than they realized. Both the Samaritans and the Jews believed that the worship of God was to be conducted in a physical place and with physical means through what was established by physical ancestors. Jesus’ response to her began by pointing to a time when none of what she just said would matter. The “hour” that was coming was pointing to the time when Jesus would atone for His people’s sins, raise from the dead and ascend to the Majesty on High to sit on the throne of David. The New Covenant reference to God as “Father” is being used here since they would no longer worship under the Old Covenant but in the New. They worshiped what they did not know since it was only coming to pass at that point in time. The Lord states that the salvation both groups desired would not come from the Samaritans but from the Jews. The Messiah would come through this line and not from the Samaritans.
Okay, so we’ve made it this far. We have acquired a little context and now let’s take a look at how the true worshipers of God will worship Him. The Lord Jesus reiterates what He had previously announced in regards to worship but He adds a little twist to the statement. He tells her that this worship is also “now”. Worship is only through the person of Jesus Christ. No one can worship the Father except through the Son! While the Son had not completed His work at that time, He was still the key to the worship equation. There was no need to look for a temple either in Jerusalem or in Samaria because He was the true temple (John 2:19-22) and the Spirit of God would bring the power behind this worship because of Him (John 7:38-39). Christ is contrasting her physical dependency on worship with the spiritual worship that can be held anywhere because Christ will be present with His people when they do worship.
Spirit & Truth
Now we have come to the time to spend a few moments on our two words. Spirit and Truth. In order the interpret what the Lord Jesus was referring to in regards to the manner in which worshipers would worship God, we must understand the expression God is Spirit. God is spirit in that by His very nature He is Spirit and not flesh or physical. With that said, the text doesn’t say that God is a spirit but that God is spirit. We believe this expression focuses upon the character of God rather than His being. The opposite of spirit in scripture is flesh and to understand “spirit” we must explore just how wide the divide is between these two terms. God is righteous, holy and set apart in His purity yet the flesh is sinful, enslaved and in rebellion against God. We believe that this is what the Lord is implying when He uses “spirit” in this text since it is placed in contrast to the physical. Remember, this was the woman’s entire understanding of the Lord’s words which Christ tried to clarify. The apostle Paul gave us a pretty good summary of how the flesh and the spirit differ in Romans 8:1-11. Paul not only contrasts the spirit and the flesh but also the spirit and the law. He argues that the law brings sin and death while the spirit brings life. Those in the flesh cannot subject themselves to the law of God and in return cannot please God. We cannot worship God in the flesh and must have received the spirit to be a true worshiper. The woman at the well was banking on the law especially the Torah to please God and the Lord contrasts this by using the term Spirit. True worshipers understand that nobody can please God through keeping the law but must worship in the Spirit. These are those who have been born again and justified, not by the law, but by faith.
Another observation is that the Lord’s usage of this expression “spirit and truth” is really the same type of response that He gave Nicodemus who was also confused about the physical/spiritual dynamic. The context in John chapter 3 was regarding the new birth and this new birth was brought to men by the Spirit. Those who are the true worshipers of God are born of the Spirit (John 3:8) and hence born of God (1 John 3:9; 4:7; 5:1; 5:4; 5:18). They are those who have God as their Father and they are the sons of God who have received the Holy Spirit. These worshipers are not focused upon their physical lineage like the woman at the well but they hold fast to their spiritual descent as adopted sons who have received the new birth and live as regenerated men.
These same covenant people are also those who are in truth, who worship based upon God’s truth which is Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Men under the New Covenant will not come to worship in a central, physical location and religious ceremonies but they will come as God’s Covenant Children whose heart of stone has been taken out and a heart of flesh put in to love God and adore Him forever. They are the people who have God’s law written on their hearts and set themselves before God in worship that is based upon God’s righteousness and not man’s.
Worshiping in Spirit & Truth
Today we seem to make an effort to proclaim this truth but in many instances we miss the heart of it. If we are truly convinced that we are God’s people, born of God, lead by the Spirit and victorious in Jesus Christ, our hearts should be celebrating this truth and demonstrating our passion for the worship of our God. This truth should impacts us, not only on Sundays but in our everyday lives. We are to find our joy and ecclesiastical contentment in the fact that we have this privilege to approach the God of eternity in Spirit and in Truth. We have clarity in true worship that the Jews or the Samaritans never had. While there are many people in churches who are true born again believers, they have been mixed with the goats and in many cases the goat-worship is leading the way. They do not come to worship as God’s covenant people in the Spirit because many times the goats have taken over the show. It’s important for each person who is a recipient of the promise of the Spirit and a child of the Kingdom of God to ponder whether they are worshiping by in Spirit and in Truth or by the means of men who have not been born of God and received the knowledge of the truth.