When the Bible tells us to worship God in spirit and truth, what does that mean? This is an important concept for those in the true Christian faith, yet it’s often overlooked. Yet, if it’s talked about by Jesus, we should probably pay extra close attention. We need to make sure that we have the right attitude toward worship, and that we have the proper understanding of what it truly is.
No matter who we are or what we believe, we all, at some point, worship something. It is up to us to make the choice as to who and how. And as God’s children, we should be basing that choice (and all of our choices, really) on Scripture. Hopefully, we are choosing the worship of God and not a form of false worship.
“But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”John 4:23-24 (NLT)
This is a direct quote from Jesus. What is He really saying in these verses? Modern church culture has taught us that worship is about singing songs during worship services. Being in a sanctuary surrounded by fellow believers so that you can sing praises to God is a wonderful thing. However, it is only a small part of what worship really is.
Some of us are left wondering if there is more.
This verse should make it clear that yes, there is.
Let’s dive into what it really means.
The Samaritan Woman At The Well
The passage above is part of a conversation between a Samaritan woman and Jesus. The woman meets Him at the well after He asks her for a drink. She is surprised by His request, and Jesus lets her know that if she had any idea who He really was, she would be asking Him for the eternal, living water that He supplies.
Basically, Jesus reads her mail and makes her uncomfortable. Then, she attempts to distract Him from the fact that she was living with a man that wasn’t her husband. She does this by bringing up how the Jews and Samaritans believed that the proper place of worship was in different locations. Mount Gerizim was the sacred mountain where the Samaritans worshiped. But at the time, Jews believed that the temple in Jerusalem was the only place of worship.
He answers with this: “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem.” (vs. 21) And continues on with the explanation that true worshipers will worship Him in spirit and in truth, with no regard to physical location.
Worship God in Spirit
Worshipping God in Spirit is what we do when we truly understand the significance behind saying yes to the fresh, bubbling spring of eternal life in Jesus Christ. It is a heart thing caused by the revelation of God, not a religious thing. It’s sincere, is motivated by love, and is an expression of gratitude. We should be grateful for the opportunity to come straight into the presence of our Heavenly Father by the work of His Son, Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is a large part of what it means to worship God in spirit.
Putting on a front and doing things for God just so others will think we are “more holy,” is not really worshipping in spirit. There is significance behind some religious traditions and it’s not a bad thing to participate in them. But the most important thing is what our heart looks like while we are doing it.
What does it mean to worship God in spirit?
In addition to the above, it’s the opposite of following a routine for the sake of following a routine. It’s not a formula. It means any action of spiritual worship should have true faith and zeal behind it.
The Holy Spirit and Truth in Worship
To worship in spirit can also refer to the Holy Spirit inside of us as believers. The Holy Spirit is the one who gives us an understanding of who God really is. Everything we know about God is by the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit stirs in us the desire to fully rejoice and appreciate who our Creator is.
Jesus states in John 4 that “God is spirit, so those who worship Him must worship in spirit…” His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, dwells in us. So, we worship Him in spirit by the revealed knowledge of who He is. To have revealed knowledge is to have a deep understanding that goes beyond our own heads. The Spirit of God has a home deep within our hearts.
Jesus quote in John 3 proves that to worship in spirit involves both our spirit and God’s spirit:
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.John 3:6 (NKJV)
Jesus also says this about the Holy Spirit and truth:
He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth…John 14:17 (NLT)
Worship God in Truth
The Samaritan woman’s sins were laid bare before Jesus in those moments at the well. She had to make a choice as to whether she was still going to claim Christ Jesus as the Messiah, despite His declaration of truth making her uncomfortable.
It wasn’t just the Samaritan woman that had to make this choice. All of us must also make the choice, each and every day. The Holy Spirit not only reveals to us the knowledge of who God is, but it convicts us of our own sin, and makes us aware of our deep need for Him. Will we still choose to worship Him? Will we still declare who He is, even when there is a bright light shining on our own depravity? This is part of worshipping in truth.
What does it mean to worship God in truth?
To worship God in truth also means that we worship God in light of Scripture. The Word of God is our primary source of revelation regarding who He is.
True worship is more than just what feels good to us. Genuine worship is not simply based on our own feelings or ideas of who God is. It is rooted and grounded in truth of who God is, which is revealed in His Word and by His Holy Spirit.
Just Worshipping in Spirit?
Sometimes as Christians, we focus on the “worship in spirit” or the “worship in truth.” However, if we truly desire to please Him, it’s vitally important that we do both.
Some worship God in spirit but not in truth for fear that they will “quench the spirit.” This shows lack of understanding in who the Holy Spirit really is. The Holy Spirit is God, and nothing He says or does will ever go against His Word. We must not base our standard of worship on how “emotionally high” we can get. And if we are getting emotional over something that is actually erroneous in the eyes of Scripture, then we are asking for trouble.
We must never place our own desire to “feel” something higher than God Himself who created our emotions. Only truth (which is found in Christ Jesus) should influence our emotions in a Biblical way. And truth produces longevity in our spiritual being, giving us endurance in doing good works and living by the fruit of the Spirit.
They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen.Romans 1:25 (NLT)
So how do emotions still have a place in worship? Let’s talk about it…
Only Worshipping in Truth?
Some worship in truth but not in spirit because they have been taught wrongly when it comes to the role of emotions. They may believe that emotions have no place whatsoever in worshipping God. But this actually goes against Scripture. During His time on earth, Jesus spoke over and over about the importance of the heart, which houses our emotions.
These people draw near to Me with their mouth,Matthew 15:8 (NKJV)
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
Solely focusing on Biblical truth without affection and heartfelt emotion produces dry, stagnant worship that isn’t really worship at all. It’s easy to say that emotions are just a distraction, and it’s true; sometimes they are. But we don’t want to be shallow people; we must worship in a way that is based on the Word of God and has deep love behind it. The love of God is fierce. That in itself should invoke strong affections in us toward Him.
Fire and light both have very important roles in the Christian faith. It doesn’t need to be either/or.
Spirit and Truth: What Form of Worship?
So, now that we have an understanding of what it means to worship God in spirit and truth, what does that look like practically? How can we actually go about our lives worshiping in this way?
There are many different ways to worship God. Although corporate worship in our church homes is vital and should be sincere, it is not the only way to worship.
Sometimes worship looks like a quiet time of reflection in a solemn place.
Sometimes worship looks like fearlessly dancing in the kitchen.
Worship can be working at proficiency in a skill.
Worship is making a joyful noise, whether it sounds good to anyone else or not.
Making it a priority to disciple our children is a form of worship.
Music is a form of worship that God loves. (Read Psalms or Chronicles if you’re not sure.) Even if you aren’t particularly good at singing or playing an instrument, there is something special about banging on a drum or singing aloud to the Lord.
We can worship God through writing songs, poems, or essays.
Basically, anything can be worship, if there is heart behind it and it’s rooted in truth. The heart of worship is just that: the heart. Don’t get stuck in thinking worship only happens at church, and that it’s about outward appearance. Our entire lives should be one giant sacrifice given to Jesus, the object of our worship. This is truly the will of God.
Summary of What It Means To Worship God In Spirit and Truth
All believers should aim to become such people that worship God in spirit and truth. The Bible teaches us that this is God’s way. As Jesus explained to the woman at the well, it does not matter where we worship. There is no longer a focus on geographical location, but instead, we are guided by our love for him.
And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.Deuteronomy 6:5 (NLT)
True worship is based on the proper knowledge of God, and it also engages the heart. Truth without spirit leads to dry legalism, and spirit without truth results in love that goes cold when times get hard. To have one without the other is a shallow experience.
Worshipping in both spirit and truth is required to truly honor our great and glorious God. Get into the Word and learn more about Him. Allow the truth of God to penetrate your spirit, and get you excited about the One you were created for. The more we appreciate who He is, the more we can’t help but give Him deeper worship. And the more deeply we worship Him as human beings, the more He is glorified and the more the Kingdom of God advances here on the earth!
Looking for more perspective on how to worship God in spirit and truth? You may check out this article from John Piper’s Desiring God.
Scriptures On Christian Worship and What it Means
Here is a list of more Scriptures, from both the Old Testament and the New Testament, talking about what it means to truly worship. These verses should give a deeper understanding of the kind of worshipers God is seeking. Memorizing these or putting them in a conspicuous place will enhance your spiritual life with God and allow His truth to sink deeply into your heart. My prayer is that you will read through these and prayerfully listen to what the Holy Spirit has to say regarding worship in your own life.
Romans 12:1 – The True Way To Worship
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
Psalm 138:2 – Praise For Truth
I will worship toward Your holy temple, And praise Your name For Your lovingkindness and Your truth; For You have magnified Your word above all Your name.
Mark 12:30 – Love With All You Are
And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.
Leviticus 26:1 – Do Not Worship Idols
Do not make idols or set up carved images, or sacred pillars, or sculptured stones in your land so you may worship them. I am the Lord your God.
Joshua 24:14a – Wholehearted
So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly.
1 Peter 3:14-15 – Worship God Through Suffering
But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.
Psalm 24:3-5 – Pure Hands and Hearts
Who may climb the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? Only those whose hands and hearts are pure, who do not worship idols and never tell lies. They will receive the Lord’s blessing and have a right relationship with God their savior.
Isaiah 58:6-7 – True Actions of Worship
No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
Philippians 3:3 – No Confidence in Human Effort
For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort.
Hebrews 12:28 – An Unshakeable Kingdom
Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.