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Sunday, August 01, 2010


"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24)
It's such a simple verse. You may even have it memorized. It's a "nice" verse. It feels warm. It simply says that worshiping God must be done "in spirit and truth". Not much to it, is there?

Of course, that's only if you don't consider the ramifications. We often tend to interpret passages in terms of how they feel. But what is this one saying? I suspect, if you think about it, this one gets a little sticky. I mean exactly what is meant by worshiping God "in spirit" and "in truth"?

What does it mean to worship God "in spirit"? Many will tell you that you have to be in the right "spirit" to worship God. That's the idea behind "in spirit", right? You have to be "moved", to have an emotional response, to "sense God", and on and on. Of course, the Bible doesn't use the term "spirit" in that sense, so that's off base somehow. No, the Bible uses the term either in reference to the Holy Spirit or in reference to the human spirit, that innermost part of us, almost indistinguishable from the soul. It is always distinct from "the flesh", that sin nature of ours.

So can we conclude from this? It would seem that the proper worship of God must originate in the Spirit of God and then proceed from our spirits as a proper response to the Spirit of God. It would seem obvious (although I suspect we often miss it) that true worship must avoid carnality. It must avoid an appeal to the flesh. It must avoid worldly perceptions of God, human-oriented worship approaches, and a focus on us. But, you see, isn't that so often exactly the focus? So often worship in church is aimed at producing feelings in the worshipers, to make us "feel warmly" toward God. It is a very subtle shift, but it is a shift nonetheless, to go from God as the aim of worship to how I feel about God as the aim of worship. The Bible says that we don't even know how to pray (Rom 8:26). It should be mandatory, then, that worship begin with God and end with God. He is the originator and the point.

What does it mean to worship God "in truth"? That seems less confusing, I suspect. It means that worship must be based on truth -- a true image of God. It should not be with hypocrisy. It should not be with insincerity. It should be in integrity. Worship for show, as an example, would not be worship "in truth". What else? Most Christians really like worshiping God. You know ... that upbeat, happy, warm reflection on God. Thinking about how wonderful He is. Good. But one of the key components of a relationship with God includes, as the Bible so often repeats, the truth about our condition. It is called repentance. It entails confession of sin. And as an accurate reflection of the holiness of God, it is a necessary component. How often is that part of our worship? Is it excluded because it doesn't make us feel good? Another aspect of worshiping God "in truth" is the accurate reflection on the nature of God. We're really good with the "love" and "grace" and "mercy" aspects. "Good, good! Keep it coming!" What about the wrath and displeasure He has toward sin? "No, no ... let's not go there." It is part of the accurate reflection on the nature of God, and the Bible expresses it as a valid, true, and praiseworthy aspect of His character.

God is spirit. Those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. Worship, if it is to align with Jesus's teaching here, must originate from God and reflect back to God. It must have integrity, including both a valid representation of His character and an accurate admission of our flaws. Genuine worship must suit His character and concur with His will. This is true in singing, in the hearing of the Word, and in the everyday living sacrifice that is our true worship. Sundays make for good practice.


David said...

You really should come visit our church the next time you're in the area. You just described all the aspects we strive for on the Lord's Day.

Jeremy D. Troxler said...


Good reminders all. I have heard it preached that for true followers of Christ worship is coextensive with life. We cannot not worship. It's not something we go to church to do; rather it is something we do continuously and bring to church with us, to join with others in a joint setting to corporately acknowledge the worth of Almighty God who alone is worthy to be praised. So singing to God praises that are due Him in church is worship; so is being obedient in training up our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord at home on Tuesday; and so is helping someone in need on Thursday afternoon; and so is meditating on how God satisfied His justice by substituting Himself through Christ on our behalf in a private prayer time at midnight on Friday.

Thanks again for the great reminder of how the simple things of faith must be understood with more than a surface glossing over; which is encouragment enough to continue to pour over the Word daily for a deeper understanding.