This is a question that has been asked for years and a topic of conversation among religious people for equally as long. With such a long time for study and examination you might think that all the religious in the world would have come to a consensus on what proper worship is. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Does that mean that the truth cannot be arrived at or that one cannot know the truth? We need to remember the words of Jesus when He said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32). And even if we could not find a general agreement among religious people, what would that prove? We need to remember what the apostle Paul said in Romans 3:4, “Rather, let God be found true and every man be found a liar…”.
So, let’s notice a conversation that happened long ago on this topic of worship. The conversation is found in John 4:20-24 between Jesus and a woman of Samaria and it begins like so many conversations between religious people. Notice that the woman identifies their differences; “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place when men ought to worship.” Jesus responds by saying that there is a time coming when the proper place of worship will be neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem. In other words, “both of us are incorrect”..
In v.23, Jesus explains further about this new kind of worship. He says the time is coming when the “true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth”. First, we learn that “true worshippers” can exist. Second, we know what defines a true worshipper: “to worship in spirit and truth”. Jesus goes on to say in v24 that “God is a spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth”. That is, this kind of worship is not an option. If you want to be a “true worshipper” you must worship in spirit and truth!
Now, we need to try to identify what worship “in spirit and truth” means. To worship “in spirit” seems to have some corresponding meaning to the fact that “God is a spirit”. Would that mean that since God is a spirit then we need to approach him with our spirit? If so, how would one do that? First, we know that we are commanded to serve God will all our being. Matthew 22:37 tells us to love with all our heart, mind, and soul. Paul tells us to glorify God in body and spirit which are His. Further, we know that worshippers in the Old Testament corrupted their worship by being content with the proper form while not being completely devoted or sincere in their hearts. (Isaiah 1:11-17, Matt.23:23). Therefore, the idea that “worship in spirit” means to worship with our inner man, our full heart in sincerity would be what Jesus is talking about here. Examples of how this may be applied would be for us to be awake during the sermon, singing with the understanding, ( I Cor.14:15), and listening to the prayer so we could say the “amen!” meaningfully..
But what does “worship in truth” mean? This is best understood by the passage where Jesus prays for His apostles in John 17. In that passage, He asks the Father to “Sanctify them according to Thy word, thy word is truth.” It is certainly understandable that all worship of God should be according to what He has commanded of us in His word. What we do know of what God requires of us in worship if He hasn’t told us in His word? Nothing! It is the means by which we can know all things about Him and what He asks of us.
There is one last passage that we want to look at before we finish this article. This passage is an interesting one to use to illustrate the correct meaning of our analysis of John 4:23,24. In Matthew 15:8,9, we see the opposite situation as depicted in John 4:23,24. Jesus tells the Jews that they have been like those of Isaiah’s day and He even quotes the prophet by these words, “You worship Me with your lips but your heart is far from Me. You worship Me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” Notice that they were not worshipping in spirit because their hearts were far from God. They were not relating to God on a spiritual level, with their inner man. Further, they were not worshipping according to the teaching of God. The context of this passage particularly emphasizes this point. This whole discussion arose due to the contrast of the tradition of the Jews versus the commandments of God. By teaching their traditions, the Jews had supplanted the commandments of God and elevated them above God’s law. As a result, their worship had become vain or useless and what is worse: a waste of their time.
We need to see from these passages is that it does make a difference how we worship God and what we do in our worship of Him. In Part II of this article, we will describe the items and acts of the worship of the church as described in the New Testament.