But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
In spirit and truth.
In response to a question about places of worship, Jesus tells a Samaritan woman of a coming shift in perspective. Soon (indeed, sooner than many of the day realized), true worship would no longer be identified with a specific location, neither at Jerusalem (where the Jews worshiped) nor Mount Gerizim (where the Samaritans worshiped). True worshipers would worship in spirit and truth.
But what does it mean to worship in spirit and truth?
In the context of Jesus’s conversation, geography does play a role. Both Jews and Samaritans designated appropriate places of worship, specific locations where true worship could occur. Jesus, however, points out that “God is spirit.” As spirit, God is not tied to geography. He is both immanent and transcendent, omnipresent and unbound (see Psalm 139). While he did visibly make his presence known with his people (remember the tabernacle and the cloud in the early days of Israel), and while he walked among us in Christ (John 1:14), God is not located at a specific point in space. I can’t necessarily draw nearer to him by climbing a mountain or by visiting Jerusalem or even by going to a church building on a Sunday morning. True worship requires more from me than physical location.
So what is the coming perspective shift? What characterizes true worship if not geographical location? According to some commentators, the use of the words “spirit” and “truth” here point to the Trinitarian reality underlying all true worship. True worship this side of the cross is worship done in the power of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus made clear that “no one comes to the Father except through [him]” (John 14:6). And as we come through Jesus to the Father, God gives us his Spirit to guide us into all truth (John 16:13). We become new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17), our minds being transformed as our bodies become living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1-2). The Christian’s entire life, then, is to be a life lived in worship, such that even mundane tasks are transformed into opportunities to glorify God (see 1 Corinthians 10:31 and Colossians 3:17). To worship in spirit and truth is to worship the Father through a relationship with Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.
These four words, “in spirit and truth,” should influence how we live. First, we should recognize that physical location is not primary to how we worship. While we ought to meet together as believers (see both the example of the early church in Acts as well as the exhortation of Hebrews 10:24-25), we need to recognize that we aren’t necessarily any closer to God by nature of attending a worship service. Though you may sing songs and take notes and fellowship together with the people of God, true worship requires more from you. And here we find the second point: true worship demands total surrender of self to the Lord for service and for sacrifice in faith and love. No aspect of your life may be rightfully withheld from him. To worship in spirit and truth requires that we worship by the Spirit who convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment and who leads believers to walk according to the truth of Christ (John 16:8-15). We approach God on his terms according to the way he graciously provided through the death of his Son. Worship is not a hobby we engage in from time to time; worship is all-encompassing for believers. So let us be people who worship in spirit and truth, and may all who meet us be drawn to join us in true worship.
Thanks to Maci for suggesting the topic for this post. Thanks to Jamie for helping to edit the work.