In Spirit And In Truth
Key Verse 4:24
“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
“A time is coming” Jesus declared, “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.”
The story about the Samaritan woman is one of the most challenging and inspiring stories in the Bible. It’s a story about a woman Jesus talked with at Jacob’s well in a region called Samaria. We do not know her name. But we know her life story. And we know that what Jesus taught her on that day became a blessing of grace and truth to many people. Those who received this teaching at heart made the transition from a life under God’s judgment to a life of forgiveness and salvation. They have crossed over from the realm of death to the realm of everlasting life. If you haven’t spent time with this passage in a while now, I encourage you to make time to go there and to drink deeply from the words of life Jesus offers this woman and all who come to him. She was no better than any of us. She had no idea who he really is and what he wanted to give her. And she almost passed up the most important offer of her life. Jesus told her: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (4:10) Jesus’ words ring in our ears during our lifetime as they ring in every human ear. But how many will miss this rare opportunity of life to ask and to receive the gift of God! Jesus told her, “If you knew… you would ask… and I would give you.” I advise you to spend time in this chapter, and get to know Jesus better, so that you might ask and receive his gifts. The Lord keeps his promises and answers his children’s prayers.
In this story, Jesus’ conversation with this woman is legendary. Living in sin had ruined her life and she now felt that her soul was parched and shriveled up. She was living in moral and spiritual squalor. But the Prince of heaven loved her and cared for her more than he loved his own life. He was thirsty, and the Prince of Heaven condescended to ask her to give him a drink. When she refused him a drink, he offered to give her the gift of God— living water. He wanted her to drink from the living water Jesus offers every human being whose soul feels parched and shriveled up. But she had to ask for it. This is at the heart prayer! Jesus wanted to offer her living water so that she might not die of spiritual thirst but gain spiritual life. It was a magnificent offer to an unworthy woman. How wonderful is the Lord who tries time and time again to get us to ask— to simply just ask! Jesus tried to talk her into asking for it. The Bible tells us: “If any of you lacks wisdom [or anything else that is needed], he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5) This is the mystery of prayer— that Jesus wanted to give her his life, but she needed to ask him for it. If we could but learn this in the school of prayer, we would lack nothing in our lives. Just ask!
But this is not why we are looking at this passage. Yet we needed to see the background of Jesus’ conversation with this woman, how it came about. Jesus wanted her to ask him. In other words, he was teaching her to pray for what she so desperately needed in her failed life. So let’s understand why we are looking at this story. Read verses 23-24. “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.”
These very words of Jesus to the woman towards the end of their conversation are one of the first lessons to learn in the school of prayer. They give us such wonderful insight into the world of prayer. We should first understand that worship and prayer are in a sense inseparable. But think of this! The Father— our Father— Jesus says seeks worshipers! Our worship satisfies his loving heart. It is such a joy to him when we come to him in prayer. And he seeks true worshipers. The trouble is that he often does not find them. Why? Because true worship, as Jesus teaches us, is in spirit and in truth. But Jesus himself had come to pave the way for this kind of worship— in spirit and in truth. He had come to teach us this kind of worship and prayer that are in spirit and in truth. Therefore, one of our first lessons in the school of prayer should be to understand what it is to pray in spirit and truth, and also to know how we can achieve it.
Jesus spoke to this woman of a threefold worship— or three classes or kinds of worship. First, there was the ignorant worship of the Samaritans. Here’s what Jesus told her of the first kind of worship in verse 22. “You Samaritans worship what you do not know.” Then he told her of the second kind of worship in verse 22. “We worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” He meant the intelligent worship of Jews since they possessed the knowledge of God. Finally, Jesus spoke of the new worship, the spiritual worship which he himself came to introduce and to bring about. So he said: “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” (23) From the correlation, it is clear that the words “in spirit and truth” do not mean, as is often thought to mean— earnestly, of from the heart, or in sincerity of heart— although true worship often arise from the heart and embodies earnestness and sincerity. The Samaritans knew some Bible and had some knowledge of God and there were some among them who earnestly sought God in prayer. The Jews on the other hand had the full revelation of God in his Word, and surely had many among them who also called on God with their whole hearts. And yet, we can say that their worship and prayer was not “in spirit and truth” as Jesus intended the full meaning of these words to be. Through Jesus’ words, “A time is coming and has now come”, we perfectly understand that this kind of worship and prayer (this third kind) has something to do with Jesus himself and his coming. We understand that the worship “in spirit and truth” can only be made available and attained in and through Jesus alone. It is only through him that the worship of God can and will be “in spirit and truth.”
Among Christians we can still find these three classes of worshipers and of those who pray. There are some who in ignorance hardly know what to ask for. Like the Samaritans, they pray and yet receive so little through their prayers. There are also others who like the Jews have better knowledge, who try to pray with all their heart and mind, and often they pray very earnestly, yet they too do not achieve the full blessedness of worship, which Jesus described as “in spirit and truth”. As for us, it is the third kind of prayer that we really need to ask the Lord Jesus to take us into. We need to ask him to educate us in the third kind. We need to learn from him how to worship and pray “in spirit and truth”. This alone is spiritual worship! This really makes us the kind of worshipers our Father seeks. Almost everything in our prayers and our prayer life depends on how much we understand and practice this worship “in spirit and truth.”
Jesus tells us something very profound and crucial. He tells us that in verse 24 that: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” The first thing that our Lord teaches us here is that there needs be a harmony between God and those who worship him— that is, his worshipers. What he is saying is that there is a principle in worship (or in prayer) and it is this: As God is, so also must his worship be. This is the simple principle and it is not something difficult to understand or to accept. This is a principle we encounter in our world. We look for associations, connections, correlations between an object and the organ or vessel to which that object connects to or reveals itself to or gives itself to. For example, our eye is suited for light, and the ear is suited for sound. We do not hear with our eye, nor do we see with our ear. We rather hear a sound with our ear, and see an object with our eye. This is the simple principle of things, that things in life connect when they are suited to one another. Likewise, the person who wants to worship God and come to know God and to have Him and to enjoy him, must be in harmony with him. That person must have a capability for receiving God, connecting with him, and communing with him. And what is the vessel through which we commune with God, and worship him and pray to him? Jesus said: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” Because God is Spirit, we should then worship him in spirit. As God is then, so must be his worshiper.
At one point the Samaritan woman had finally come to understand that she needed to ask Jesus for living water, and so she did. And when she did, Jesus began to help her see her real spiritual problem that she might repent of it. She had been drinking from waters that cannot possibly satisfy her spiritual desire. She had worshiped men rather than worshiping the one True God. Amazingly, she fully understood his meaning! And suddenly a deep desire arose in her heart to worship God. Her spirit wanted to cry out to God in prayer and in worship. But she was confused as to where she should worship. So she said to Jesus: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” (20) The woman asked Jesus whether Samaria or Jerusalem was the true place of worship. Her understanding of worship and prayer was very limited to a certain place or certain location. In other words, she had thought that it would be difficult for her to worship God now, even if she wanted to, since Samaritans and Jews claim different places to be the places of true worship. Even if that were to be true at the time, since God did specify the place of worship to be at the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus’ answer to her teaches us a great lesson about worship. Here is what he tells her: “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” (23) What he is saying is that from now on worship is no longer limited to a certain place. “God is spirit” Jesus says, “And his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (24)
So if not in Jerusalem nor on this mountain, then where could she worship God? Jesus tells us that God is Spirit. He is therefore, not bound by space or time. In his perfection, God is always in all places, and at all times. And so his worship must therefore no longer be confined by a place, or a certain form. It must be a spiritual kind of worship as God himself is spiritual, for he is Spirit. In this Jesus introduced to her the new form of worship or prayer, the spiritual kind of worship which is always, in all places and at all times. This is a lesson of extreme importance to us. And I say a lesson of great importance because Christianity suffers greatly from the notion that God must be in a certain place to be worshiped. Christianity has limited God to churches and buildings and places of worship such that many Christians think that God can be found only in certain places and not in others. So they worship God on Sunday in a certain church building, where they feel properly or sufficiently holy. And then they spend the major part of the week apart from God doing what they would not otherwise do if they were in the place of worship. They worship on Sunday in a place of worship and they do so at their best behavior. But their lives the rest of the week do not match the worship they offered God in the church building. That kind of worship is a fixed location sort of worship or prayer, offered temporarily to a God of a certain location and time. It is not true worship. And it is not the kind of worship which involves one’s whole being, and is offered to God who is everywhere and in all places. God is Spirit. That is the truth about God. When we worship him, we should understand that worship is here and now in whatever place that we are.
“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” Another truth that we can see here is the fact that the kind of worship Jesus brings to us in this, cannot come from us, it must come from God himself. God is Spirit. Therefore, he alone has spirit to give to those who worship him. You cannot get spirit to worship God on your own. If God does not give us the spirit to worship him, we cannot worship him. Why? Because in our fallen condition we are only flesh. And flesh cannot commune with nor worship spirit. We need spirit to worship Spirit. And spirit can only be given by God who is spirit. This is what I am saying: That for this reason God sent his Son Jesus so that Jesus might equip us for such spiritual worship. He does so by giving us the Holy Spirit. That’s what Jesus is talking about when says: “A time is coming and has now come”. Jesus taught us all these things during his earthly ministry. He taught us that: “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (John 3:6) This means that flesh cannot give birth to spirit, but only the Spirit of God can give birth to our spirit. Then Jesus also taught us that he gives the Spirit to those who are born again, to those who believe in him. To them, God gives a new birth, a birth of the spirit within them, so that they are no longer only flesh, but they are also spirit. They have spirit from God, who is Spirit, who alone can give spirit. Jesus also taught us that upon his ascension, he would send the Holy Spirit to be with us and in us. (John 16:7)
Jesus made an end of sin upon his death and resurrection. He shed his blood to rescue us from condemnation. And when he ascended to heaven, he poured upon all who believe and confess, the Holy Spirit who comes from the Father. (Acts 2:33) Christ made us the children of God, children who can cry out “Abba Father.” We who believe are born of the sprit of God, and have the Holy Spirit living in us. So, Jesus said that true worship is a worship in spirit, and that might be understood in two ways. “In spirit” means that we can only commune with God who is Spirit through our spirit— the spirit born again in us through faith in Christ Jesus. God is spirit and we can only commune with him through our spirit. Our spirit reaches out to God and that, in any place and at any time. Flesh cannot commune with God who is Spirit. Only our spirit can reach out to our Father and commune with him, in worship and in prayer. The second thing that worship “in spirit” means is that when we worship God in our spirit, the Holy Spirit who lives in us reaches out to God in a communion of love and grace and relays to God our love and worship of him, as well as all our needs. To worship God in spirit is to worship him in my spirit through the Holy Spirit who lives in me. This is spiritual worship, when in spirit we commune with God anywhere anytime. What then is the advantage of a place of worship since we can commune with God in spirit and not necessarily in a location? In the place of worship, and as God wills it, we join our spirits together in worshiping God our Father as a community of faith joined through Christ as we also lift our spirits to him in prayer one and all.
This is the reason why Jesus here amazingly uses the name of “Father”. We do not find anyone among the Old Testament saints personally referring to themselves as sons or daughters. Not do we find them addressing God as Father. It was unthinkable! The calling of God Father and consequently the worship of the Father is only possible to those to whom the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit has been given— to those who have been born again through the redeeming work of Christ and through faith in him. Unless we put our faith in his Son, we cannot be born into his family and be born of spirit. And if we are not of his family, how can we worship him in spirit! To worship in spirit is only possible to those who received from the Father the spirit of Sonship— to those who are sons and daughters. And all this could not have happened without Jesus. Jesus opened the way for us to become sons and daughters, and now teaches us the true spirit of worship— the worship in Spirit.
What about worship in truth then? There are several definitions for truth in the Bible. Jesus teaches us something very crucial about the truth. He says: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” So, the word of God is “truth”. (John 17:17) Jesus also tells us this: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) In other words, “I am the truth” says Jesus. Jesus himself is the truth. Let us keep this in mind when we think about the meaning of Worship “in truth”. We may only understand this as meaning worship in sincerity, and think that in truth means that one should worship in sincerity of heart. While it does have that meaning, it is not complete. We may also think that in truth means that we worship in accordance with the word of God. While it does have that meaning as well, it is still not complete. The Bible tells us that Jesus himself is the truth. The Bible also tells us that Jesus came full of grace and truth. So, besides being “the truth” Jesus also came full of “truth.” (John 1:14)
This amazing expression then, “worship in truth” has a profoundly divine meaning. Everything we read in the Old Testament points to Christ Jesus and was only a shadow of what and who Jesus is or was to be. All the promises of God in the Old Testament that were hoped for also pointed to Christ. Christ was the fullness of God which he prepared for us who believe. So when Jesus, “the truth” came “full of truth”, he fulfilled all things. He became the “reality” of what was used to be only “shadows” of truth. Jesus became the fulfillment of all that was promised by God. Jesus brought to light to all that was hidden, all that was unclear regarding God’s purpose for us and for the church. In Jesus, all the blessings which God promised to those who believe, also become ours. In Christ Jesus, who is the truth, all that God promised became in truth our true possession as well as our true experience. God’s grace in our lives and his guidance and blessing is not a fiction, but it is our true experience, and our true testimony. For Jesus came bearing this truth in himself and made it something real and lasting for us and for the church.
The Holy Spirit who was promised and was given to those who believe, Jesus tells us is also the “Spirit of truth” (John 14:17). He is the one who teaches us everything, and guides us into all truth. And through him, all the grace that is in Jesus and promised for us— all of it— is surely and truly ours in Jesus who for us is not only the Savior of our soul, and the giver of our life, but who is also the Truth personified. We can rest assured that Jesus wants us to commune with God in truth. In other words, Jesus does not want us to commune with God in shadows or half truths or possibilities or for hopes of promises, nor does he want us to commune with God in doubts and fears. Rather Jesus wants us to commune with God in truth; Meaning that we are who God has made us to be, and that we have all that God has promised and made available to us in Christ; It means, that when we stand in the truth, when we stand in Christ Jesus, we stand believing and assured of all the blessings God has in Christ for us; It means that when we worship in truth, we worship in Christ himself; We worship in his Lordship in who he is, the Son of God; We worship in all that Christ has accomplished for us and in us; We worship and stand on all that he has promised— in all the blessings and graces that he has secured for us his children. This means that when we worship, we worship believing and trusting and assured of who we are and who he is, and we receive all that we ask for. Thus we worship in spirit and in truth. In a sense, worship in spirit, is worship in truth. It is actually having a living fellowship with God our Father, a real communion and harmony between our Father who is Spirit, and the child worshiping and praying in the spirit.
What Jesus said to the woman of Samaria, of course, she could not possibly understand at once. As we know, Pentecost did not happen till 50 days after Christ’s resurrection, and thus the coming of the Holy Spirit on those who are to be the children of God. Likewise, if we think on this from a personal note, we know that, since we are only fresh students in Jesus’ school of prayer, we are hardly prepared to grasp the height and depth of this glorious teaching. We will, however, understand it better later on, as the disciples and the Samaritan woman came to gradually understand and appreciate the depth and glory of this teaching. But for now, let us only begin and take the lesson as Jesus gives it. We are physical and we cannot give God the worship he seeks. But Jesus came to give us the Spirit. He has already given him to us. So, let us in humility and faith confess in prayer and cry out to the Lord, “Lord, teach us to pray.” After tat let us ask God, “Lord teach us to pray in spirit and in truth.” Let us in humility and faith confess that in our weakness we cannot give God the worship that he seeks and which pleases him. But let the child-like desire to learn of him burn in our hearts and keep our hearts open to his instruction and blessing in the school of prayer and worship. Let us entrust ourselves to the Holy Spirit, our blessed guide and teacher, who relays Christ’s blessings to us in more ways than we can see or imagine. Most of all, its necessary for us to hold this truth tenaciously in our hearts, the truth that we ought to worship and pray “in spirit and in truth”, because we know that Jesus has much to teach us in that area. We who believe are his children and he is our Father, and that is the secret of praying in spirit and truth. This is the new and living way which Christ opened for us— The way of having Christ and his Spirit dwelling within us, revealing the Father to us and communing with the Father as a child in spirit and truth. May God bless you as you to mature in your prayer life as you humbly learn from Jesus the prayer which is “in spirit and truth”. May God give you insight into this. God bless you. Amen.