Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth. John 4:23-24 NIV
or those of us who wear glasses or contact lenses, the difference between the left and right lens is clear to see (pun intended). The left lens cannot serve the right eye and vice versa. Also, having only one lens is just as bad as not having any glasses at all. These words of Jesus to the woman at the well challenge us. I have heard noted preachers stumble as they try to explain what Jesus meant by “spirit and truth.” While there is certainly no final word on what this statement means, let me share what I see in these incredible words.
If you refer to Strong's Concordance
, you'll find that worship (proskuneo
) means worship, spirit (pneuma
) means spirit, and truth (aletheia
) means truth. Where does that leave us? With no hidden meanings in the Greek, let’s take a different approach and ask questions of the text. Whose spirit? What truth?
Whose spirit is involved in the worship the Father seeks? Simply put: ours and His. To worship in a way that pleases God we must worship from the depths of our human spirit. This “homage, reverence and adoration” is not surface, but springs like a well from deep within us. It isn’t perfunctory or automatic but requires full energy, focus and concentration. It is an exercise of the whole person, body, soul and spirit. Also, this worship is directed by and empowered by God’s Spirit. The goals of the Holy Spirit are the goals of the worshiper as are the motivations and the methods.
What truth does this worship demand?—our truth and God’s truth. Worship in truth is a single-hearted, hot-hearted enterprise. Although benefits flow from the relationship with God expressed by worship, we do not worship in order to get the benefits. True Worship is not a self-improvement plan, a church-growth tool or a marketing ploy. It springs from a pure heart and a “poor” heart, as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, that is, a humble spirit, a heart set “on things above” not things below.(Col 3:1) Also, true worship is expressed in biblical terms, methods and patterns. True worship is defined by the truth of God, not by the surrounding culture. The challenge of worshiping in the truth of the Kingdom while living in the culture of the world has faced every church in every land in every age of Christianity. Eternal, changeless truths must be expressed and experienced by worshipers in current, relevant languages and methods. This is the process of incarnation—bringing the exalted truth of heaven into a bit of fallen humanity here on earth. In this way worship in truth transcends culture, speaking universals within localities—the Word made flesh and dwelling among us as we worship.
So, we worship from our spirits as we are led by the Holy Spirit, and we worship in total sincerity as we are informed and shaped by the truth of the Word of God—worship in spirit and in truth.
These are the two necessary lenses through which we must view our personal and corporate worship. By nature some of us lean toward the “spirit” side of worship. “Spirit-people,” as I call them, welcome change and innovation, and they love new songs, new forms, and free-flowing, spontaneous worship. Others are who we might call “truth-people.” They resist change, suspect innovation, don’t care for new songs or forms of worship and prefer that things be predictable and comforting. To sort this out we must remember the context of Jesus’ statement: a culture clash over worship methodology and location. “Some say we should worship in this mountain and others say in that temple. What do you say, Jesus?”
He said, in effect, we should not limit our worship to our personal preferences however we gained them. If by nature or culture we prefer “spirit-things” or ‘truth-things,” the God we worship is bigger than any of those things. True worship will stretch us beyond our comfort zones, beyond our personalities, and beyond our cultural preferences. Why?—because true worship is based on who God is not who we are. “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:24)
So, by faith let us put on both lenses. We should look at each passage of scripture and examine each service or song or ceremony with both lenses on. To get a true stereo image, an in-depth, full-dimensioned image, of how we interact with the Lord Jesus, we must evaluate our personal and corporate worship philosophy and practice from both of these vantage points. We must worship from our spirits as we are led by His Spirit, and we must do so in deepest sincerity with no hidden motives and in obedience to the truth of the Word of God. We will be amazed as our vision clears with both lenses in place.