“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”John 4:19-24
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along. Many of them hated each other. Yet, Jesus finds Himself near the town of Sychar in the middle of Samaria. Not only that, but He was by Himself in the middle of the day with a Samaritan woman with a questionable moral history. And in the middle of a theological conversation, Jesus delivers to this unlikely learner a massive revelation.
Jesus had come to usher in the Kingdom of God. With the presence of the Kingdom comes many changes. One of the changes was in how we worship. No longer would worship be through sacrificial animal offerings at an altar. No longer would it be orchestrated through the old covenant system of priests and ceremonial cleansing. The new worship in this new covenant would not be in the Temple and by the Law but, instead, in Spirit and in truth.
Worshiping in Spirit is what happens when we point our attention and affections toward the Father and are ushered into His Presence by Jesus through the Spirit. If we have given our life to Jesus, our spirit is united to the Holy Spirit in the same way that a husband and wife become one within marriage.
For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.1 Corinthians 6:16-17
Worship becomes the physical expression of intimacy between our spirit and the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it happens when we pray, or sing worship songs, or read scripture, or serve others. Other times it happens in quiet moments where we experience His Presence as “God with us.” Because we are now the Temples of the Holy Spirit, worship happens wherever we are. It happens whenever we submit our will to His. It happens whenever we lift our heart to God in gratitude and praise.
Worship happens in Spirit and also in truth. This means part of worship is receiving truth from the Lord and coming honestly before Him without deception or pretense. Worshiping in truth means we bring all that we are before the Lord. We bring our failures and our victories. We bring our hopes and our disappointments. We bring our strengths and our weaknesses. We stand before Him naked yet unashamed. And as we bring everything to Him, we receive truth–the truth about who He is and the truth about who we are in Christ.
This mindset changes how we engage in our church services on Sunday. When we sing worship songs, we are not just singing. There is a progression of true worship. We move from singing a song to praising God. Then we shift again from just praising God to actually engaging in His Presence. Many in the church still haven’t learned to worship in Spirit and in truth. They are still stuck on the first part of the progression. They stand there somewhat bored, singing a song, thinking that is worship.
These folks wonder how those other people in the service can be so passionate about a song. How can that person have tears streaming down their face over a song they’ve sung so many times before? How can that other person be so excited and exuberant, lifting their hands and getting emotional? Is it that they just really like singing? Is it just a love for music? Are they emotionally unstable people who lack propriety?
It’s not about the song or emotion or music. It is that they are worshipping in Spirit and in truth. They are passionate about their Savior and Lord who rescued them and set them free. Their emotion is an overflow of the spirit to Spirit connection that is happening in that moment. Their tears are not about the song but about the Presence of the Living God in their midst.
Jesus experienced extravagant worship from a woman with a sinful life. The Pharisees who were present couldn’t believe what they were watching and were appalled by the indignity of it. Jesus then taught us something about worship as He addressed the Pharisee who was the host:
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”Luke 7:44-47
Often those who are worshipping in Spirit and in truth are the ones who understand just how much they’ve been forgiven. They are the ones who understand just how undeserved their adoption into the family of God really was. They are the ones who see clearly the great debt of sin that was wiped clean by the blood of Jesus. They are the ones who are desperately dependent on the Lord for His provision and His sustaining grace. They are the ones who know how much they are loved by the Father and want to passionately love Him in return.