What does it mean to worship God in spirit and truth, as explained by Jesus Christ in the gospel of John, chapter four?
Jesus Christ – the one written about in the Bible, and particularly in the New Testament – is the giver of everlasting life. We see a demostration of this when, during his earthly ministry, he visits the well first dug by Jacob, one of the great patriarchs of the Hebrews, and speaks to a woman there. During the time of Jesus’ life, the Hebrews had long been divided into the Samaritans in the north and Judeans in the south. Of the two the Judeans were the purer Hebrew blood, and had kept the Hebrew religion and customs in their more original form. The Judeans saw the Samaritans as heretics, and so by custom would not speak to them.
Jesus, at the well, breaks custom when he initiates conversation with a woman that has come to there to draw water. He does this in order to turn the Samaritans from their heretical ways to the true faith. However, he is not prosyletizing for Judaism.
He tells the Samarian woman that had she asked, he could have and would have given her “living water.” “Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water (John 4:10). In verse 14 he adds that, “whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst … (v.14).” So it is somehow permanent. In fact, he adds, once a person ingests this water, it, “shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life (v.14).
Upon hearing this, the woman immediately asks for this water; and Jesus gives it. Obviously it isn’t literally water, or swallowed by mouth. So how does he give it? What is it, really, and how is it given and how received? The continuation of the passage, and subsequent chapters in John tell us a great deal about this.
The first thing Jesus does in order to give the Samaritan woman this living water is to open her understanding to who he is. As he moves the conversation toward this, and she realizes that he is a prophet (v.19), he can speak to her with a more convincing authority. His words instruct us all.
He explains that the right worship of God the Father is not tied to a physical, but rather to a spiritual place, when he says, “[T]he hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. … [T]he hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth (vvs. 21,23).” The “place” from where we can worship God, then, is the spirit and the truth. These are non-physical things. He is saying that you can have all the outward trappings of religion, appearance of holiness, and affirmation of others, but if your heart is not in the right place you are not truly worshipping him.
Truth is a relatively easy concept for us. To stand in truth as it pertains to the worship of God, is to have a right understaning of who he is and who we are, and what our relationship to him and to His creation ought to be. To gain such an understanding requires standing in a place of honesty and integrity with a sincere desire to know. Easier said than done, but at least it is fairly easy to understand what standing in truth is. But what is it to be in the spirit?
In verse 24, Jesus says to the woman, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” It is at this point that the woman’s eyes are opened, and she verbally speculates that Jesus is the promised Messiah (v.25), the savior of the world (v.42). Hearing this, he openly and plainly confirms it to her, saying, “I that speaketh unto thee am he (v.26).” It was the Spirit of God who had opened her inward understanding, through her spirit I think you could say, to begin to apprehend the truth.
We can see in this how the spirit and truth are intertwined. Faith in God and the worship of God do not take place until the truths of God, or the word of God, are received in the spirit. It is not mentioned in the passage, but clearly this requires faith, since it is entirely inward at this point and something that can not be seen with the outward eye. This is the beginning and source of that well of living water springing up from within that gives everlasting life, that Jesus had described at the outset. “[W]hosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst … [and it] shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life (v.14).” It is not faith without the inspiration of God. That would be presumption. It is faith in an inspiration from God. God starts it. We respond. It was he who came to us when he was born in the world. It is not us who conjure a greater power by thinking good thoughts or create God by imagining him. As happened for the Samaritan woman, when the inward faith is kindled, in response to the hearing of the word and the inward moving of the Spirit of God, and this is followed by outward profession of faith, then that faith is confirmed in the world.
In John, chapter 5, we hear Jesus again explaining the process of receiving this everlasting spring of life, but without mention of water, when he says, “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him [God the Father] that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life (John 5:24).” The process is the same as occurred in chapter 4. The hearing of the words of Jesus evokes an inward belief in the Spirit of God. This is the faith that frees an individual from condemnation, passing them from death to life. Again, he is not speaking of physical things here, but of spiritual death and spiritual life. This is what he means when he follows up with, “[T]he dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live (v.25).
It is not to say that there is no physical resurrection; but it is to say that the spiritual resurrection is primary and the physical follows. The fact that Jesus physically raised Lazarus, and at his crucifixion graves opened and the dead arose alive and that he himself rose from the dead serve as proofs of the nature of his spiritual life and of these spiritual realities. “For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this; for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth … (v.26-29).” The spiritual is greater, not lesser, than the physical. The spiritual is more real, not less real, than the physical. Accepting this also requires faith. The irrepressible life of God will in fact raise all the dead at the last day to stand before him in the great judgment.
Stay tuned for Part II