by William J. Stewart
A midday break while walking from Judea to Galilee resulted in a significant conversation. So weighty were the matters discussed, that the Holy Spirit had John record it for all future would-be worshipers. “The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24)
True worshipers of God
In context, Jesus spoke with a woman of Samaria. She had at least a cursory interest in spiritual things, for she willingly chatted with the Lord. In fact, she is the one who raised the issue of worship. Of Samaritan worship, Jesus said, “You worship what you do not know. We know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). He meant no offense in these words, but conveyed concisely and accurately that which was fact. The Samaritans rejected all Old Testament Scripture except the Pentateuch. They had developed a system of worship much akin to the Jewish worship, but failed in the simplest of matters. Rather than worshiping in Jerusalem, as God had prescribed (Deuteronomy 12:11-14; 2 Chronicles 6:6), they set up a temple at Mount Gerizim, overlooking Shechem.
Jesus made a distinction between Jewish and Samaritan worship, but the primary matter the Lord is conveying is a change from Jewish to Christian worship. Jewish worship, if conducted properly was both in spirit and truth, but it was exclusive (in both place and people). Jesus was about to reveal a better way (Hebrews 8). In verse 21 and 23, Jesus acknowledged that a time would soon come when worship neither depend upon location or nationality. Then “…the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…” That is not to say that the Jews were not true worshipers, but others would be added (John 10:16), perhaps even this Samaritan woman. This new system of worship which was “…coming, and now is…” would allow all honest worshipers to come to the Father, whether Jew of Gentile.
Worship in spirit and truth
The Old and New Covenants share a relationship of type and antitype. The Old had a physical temple (1 Kings 6:2), the Levitical priesthood (Exodus 29:9), animal sacrifices (Exodus 29:36-41), and so on. The New has a spiritual temple, priesthood, and sacrifices (1 Peter 2:5). No longer do the genuine worshipers of God serve through the shadow of the law, but now in the substance of faith.
The Covenant revealed through Christ is more intimate than it’s predecessor, which was God’s instrument to bring the Jews to Christ (Galatians 3:23-25). In this new and better writ, we find that God’s nature directly influences the nature of our worship. This reality has been expressed by various commentators, “…men must offer a worship corresponding with the nature and attributes of God”1 and again, “Since he is Spirit, he must receive spiritual worship…”2
Of New Testament worship, Bales wrote, “It’s expression is pre-eminently in spirit and is directed and controlled by the truth instead of the carnal ordinances and shadows of the Old. Worship now more perfectly corresponds to the nature of God who is Spirit than did the temple worship.”3 True worshipers today are those who glorify the Father with a sincere heart, filled with gratitude and adoration which is expressed through their observation and application of the divine revelation supplied through Christ Jesus.
Be renewed in the spirit of your mind
If we expect to worship God in spirit and truth, we must first be renewed in our spirits. This rejuvenation of the heart is a familiar topic through the New Testament letters, especially in those penned by the apostle Paul. It first takes place at the time of conversion (Titus 3:5), and is thereafter a perpetual responsibility of the child of God (1 Peter 1:13). Only the renewed spirit can worship in spirit and truth.
In the epistle to the Romans, we read, “…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). Paul said that the Colossians had “…put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him…” (Colossians 3:10). To the Ephesians, having identified various characteristics which have no place in the Christian life, the apostle admonished the Christian to “…be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:23-24).
It has been remarked, “The Greek (ananeousthai) implies “the continued renewal from the old state.”4 Barnes agrees, observing, “This was addressed to the church, and to those whom Paul regarded as Christians; and we may learn from this,
- that it is necessary that man should be renewed in order to be saved,
- that it is proper to exhort Christians to be renewed. They need renovated strength every day,
- that it is a matter of obligation to be renewed. Men are bound thus to be renovated, and
- that they have sufficient natural ability to change from the condition of the old to that of the new man, or they could not be exhorted to it.”5
Through continual meditation upon (Philippians 4:8) and application of the will of God (James 1:22), we will ever be renewed in the inward man, and made fit for service and worship before the Lord. From a pure heart, directed by faith in God’s word, worship which is in spirit and truth will proceed. God will be glorified and saints will be edified.
- McGarvey, J.W., The Fourfold Gospels
- Johnson, B.W., People’s New Testament
- Bales, James, Instrumental Music and New Testament Worship
- Jamieson, Robert A.R. Fausset and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
- Barnes, Albert, Barnes New Testament Notes