“But 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.” John 4:23
The interchange between the Lord Jesus and the Samaritan woman is well known to most Christians. God’s gracious and patient dialogue with her is studied for the skilled technique in witnessing, the challenge to the disciples to see the “fields” ready to harvest (John 4:35), and the need Jesus felt to evangelize the socially outcast—all frequent subjects for sermons and seminary lectures.
The intense search by the heavenly Father to find “true worshipers” is seldom addressed in Christian circles. The Lord Jesus delivered the most succinct summary of those whose worship meets the Father’s criteria when He told the Samaritan woman: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
What Worship Is
Perhaps this is too obvious to say much about, but before we can worship at all, it would appear necessary to know what worship is. The most frequently used Hebrew and Greek words that are translated by the English word “worship” all have the inherent meaning “to fall down” or “to bow down.” The context almost always conveys the idea that in the physical act of bowing or prostrating, the worshiper demonstrates submission and honor.
Another pair of Hebrew and Greek terms often connected with the act of worship are translated by the English word “serve.” A true worshiper serves the One worshiped.
- Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker (Psalm 95:6).
- You shall fear the LORD your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name (Deuteronomy 6:13).
- And Jesus answered and said to him, “Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve’” (Luke 4:8).
- All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God (Revelation 7:11).
Worship in Spirit
Since God is Spirit, if we are to worship such a Being it must first of all be a spiritual worship. That is, while the body could be physically prostrate in demonstration of the heart attitude, it is the worshiper’s character that God is observing. The great commandment of the Old Testament Law was:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)
Jesus quoted those words when the lawyer asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36). Three of the gospel books record the various occasions when the Lord Jesus referenced the necessity of a heart and mind and soul and strength that would love the God of heaven and Earth (Matthew 22:36-39; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:27). This approach is attested many times elsewhere in Scripture.
- But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
- For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15).
- Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 3:3-4).
The concept of a spiritual (i.e., nonphysical) worship is clearly demanded by the first four commandments of the great Decalogue given on Mt. Sinai, starting with “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). This first command insists that no other “powerful being” should come between the Creator’s “face” and our face. The second command further clarifies that we must “not make for [ourselves] a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them” (Exodus 20:4-5).
Nothing in the created universe could be directly compared to the Creator Himself. Any attempt at physical representation strikes at the heart’s core of rebellion, in that a person who does this has “changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things....who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 1:23-25).
Furthermore, the third command makes clear that those who would dare to “take the name of the LORD...in vain” (Exodus 20:7) would be considered as attempting to relegate the Creator to the contempt of a “worthless” reference. Finally, the fourth commandment demands that humanity follow the design and process of the creation week. God “worked” six days and rested one (Exodus 20:11) and, therefore, demanded that man honor the “rest day” in a perpetual commemoration of what God had accomplished. Millennia later, the Lord Jesus noted that He had designed the six-day workweek into the fabric of creation itself: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
God is interested in the integrity of our “inner man” (Ephesians 3:16). True worshipers who are “bowing down” in their love to the heavenly Father will seek to allow the Holy Spirit to produce His fruit in their spirits. Please note that this fruit is all spiritual: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Worship in Truth
While God does demand “spiritual sacrifices” (1 Peter 2:5), He also most certainly expects us to “do” truth with our observable behavior (1 John 1:6). Jesus insisted that those who ran from the light of His message were easily spotted because they were “practicing evil” (John 3:20). But in contrast, “he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (John 3:21).
The Old Testament Scriptures are replete with commands to “keep the commandments” of God (Deuteronomy 4:2; 6:17; 7:11; 8:6; etc.). Frequently these reminders include actions that express obedience far better than mere verbal acquiescence does.
- “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).
- “But take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Joshua 22:5).
The shift from the nation of Israel in the Old Testament to the indwelling Holy Spirit in and among believers in the New Testament assembly brought about a renewed emphasis on godly behavior based on loving each other, expecting joy in obedience, and cultivating a growing delight in the exchange of earthly resources for Kingdom riches.
- “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21).
- But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).
- By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:2-3).
Under the old covenant, God demanded a theocratic-political-national relationship with Israel that could never be realized apart from God’s intervention. Identity as the people of God was a “mystery” that was “hidden in God” (Ephesians 3:9) until the glorious new covenant revealed through the Lord Jesus “to His saints” (Colossians 1:26). The old covenant was made “obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13). Now we are to become “the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6).
Perhaps the greatest endowment that the New Testament saint has been given is the “new creation” that God executes in us when we are twice-born. We are given “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16), the Spirit of truth (John 16:13), “the riches of His grace...in all wisdom and prudence” (Ephesians 1:7-8), and “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:4-5). We have been given “all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3), enabling us to become “true worshipers [who] will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23).
As the new year of 2019 begins its course, refocus your relationship with your heavenly Father. Cultivate the spiritual worship that engages heart and mind and soul and strength, loving the God of heaven and Earth. Discipline yourself to do truth as you “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). With our spiritual worship wholesome and our truthful worship active, we should find it “cheerful” to give, knowing that in return “it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).
* Dr. Morris is Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Creation Research. He holds four earned degrees, including a D.Min. from Luther Rice Seminary and an MBA from Pepperdine University.