Worship in spirit and truth

John 4:21-24
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.
22 “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.
23 “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.
24 “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Every Sunday, millions of people around the world spend time in what they call worship. They stand up and sing hymns and spiritual songs, and they perhaps read from the Word of God, and their voices cry out to God to exalt Him. After all, in English, the word “worship” means to ascribe worth to someone or something, to lift it up above other things. In our Sunday worship, we do this with words about God’s power and glory, thanking Him for being majestic and sovereign, speaking of His mighty works and the wonder of His grace and mercy. So, for an hour or so, we set the world aside to lift up our God, and we listen to instruction from His Word, and we like to think we have done our due diligence to the Lord. And then by noon we are right back into our everyday lives with little thought for that God we exalted so highly a couple of hours ago.

The problem is not so much that we didn’t lift God high enough. God will be glorified whether we do anything or not. No, the problem is that we didn’t humble ourselves enough.

The Greek word for worship is προσκυνεω (“proskuneo”). It literally means to prostrate oneself, to fall at the feet of the one worshiped. It’s not about lifting God higher but about making ourselves lower. Worship is not about altitude but about ATTITUDE.

Looking at today’s passage from that famous scene at the well in the Gospel of John, we can see that Jesus was telling us the same thing. In addressing the Samaritan woman, He tells her that WHERE she worships is less important than HOW she worships, and that the time has come for people to stop worshiping God with altars and sacrifices in particular places at particular hours, and to start worshiping Him “in spirit and truth.”

Psalms 51:15-17
15 O Lord, open my lips,
And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.
16 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart–
These, O God, You will not despise.

In the Greek, Jesus is literally saying we ought to prostrate ourselves before God in spirit and in truth. What does that mean?

First of all, we are to make our spirits subject only to God.

Exodus 20:1-3
1 And God spoke all these words, saying:
2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.”

Between us and God, there must be no other thing, and in falling face-down before Him, we remove all hint of any other idol. He is the Lord our God, and He is the God who saves, and He must be the only one we serve. He will be lifted high the most when we have humbled ourselves the most, when before our spirit there is no other but Him.

Psalms 119:160
The entirety of Your word is truth,
And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.

We are also to prostrate our minds before God, to lay aside what we like to think of as truth and instead fall before the truth of the gospel.

John 17:17-19
17 “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.
18 “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
19 “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.”

Jesus’ prayer was that we should be sanctified, made holy, by the truth of God’s Word. He told us that the Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth. (John 16:13) But how can we see the truth of God if we still cling so tightly to our own sense of the truth? That is what Jesus is calling us to do: lay aside the truth of men and fall before the truth of God. Abandon the petty teachings of mortals and seek and worship instead the truth of the immortal God. Again, this is not so much about exalting the Bible in our lives but about removing all other teachings from our lives so that only the truth of God’s Word remains.

So when Jesus says to the woman at the well that we “must worship Him in spirit and in truth,” He is telling us to prostrate our hearts and minds before God, to make our spirit and our thoughts subject to the one true and living God. Yes, our holy God is enthroned in the praises of His people (Psalms 22:3), but He cannot have dominion over our lives unless we make the choice to fall before Him in all aspects of our lives. Lifting our voices to God is well and good, but he also desires us to come before Him humbled in our spirit–broken and contrite, acknowledging His greatness through our weakness. And we must be humbled in our truth–knowing that His ways are higher and better than ours, that Jesus alone is the way, the truth, and the life.

Finally, note that Jesus told her literally that the hour “now is, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” NOW is the time. Not just on Sunday morning, not just as we sing songs to Him, not just when we are gathered with other believers. Yes, we are to come to Him in corporate worship, but more importantly we are to worship Him NOW–right this moment and in every moment–by prostrating our hearts and minds to Him. We make God’s Spirit and His truth the most worthy thing in our lives by making our whole lives subject to Him. By casting aside the teachings of men and the pride of our own spirit, we will naturally fall before the One who alone is worthy of all praise and honor and glory. Then we truly will be worshiping the Father in spirit and in truth.

Gracious Lord God, I fall before Your truth, and I humble myself before Your will. Forgive me for being so prideful and headstrong. Break me, Father, so that I fall face down to worship and exalt only You. The entirety of Your Word is truth, so let me seek only Your Word to guide my life. Your Spirit guides me to truth, and so let my spirit be subject to Your Holy One. Be exalted, Lord, not by my words but by my heart and mind as I come to You in true weakness and humility, seeking only You to be Lord of my life. Amen.


About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and a father and grandfather. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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