Many Christian are familiar with the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4. But not everyone can explain what Jesus meant when he said the Father is seeking men and women who will worship him “in spirit and truth” (v. 23).
To say that we must worship God “in spirit” means, among other things, that it must originate from within, from the heart; it must be sincere, motivated by our love for God and gratitude for all he is and has done. Worship cannot be mechanical or formalistic. That does not necessarily rule out certain rituals or liturgy. But it does demand that all physical postures or symbolic actions must be infused with heartfelt commitment and faith and love and zeal.
But the word “spirit” here may also be a reference to the Holy Spirit—there’s disagreement among good Bible scholars. The apostle Paul said that Christians “worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).
It’s the Holy Spirit who awakens in us an understanding of God’s beauty and splendor and power. It’s the Holy Spirit who stirs us to celebrate and rejoice and give thanks. It’s the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes to see and savor all that God is for us in Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit who, I hope and pray, orchestrates our services and leads us in corporate praise of God.
Don’t Omit Truth
This worship, however, must also be “in truth.” This is easier for us to understand, for it obviously means that our worship must conform to the revelation of God in Scripture. It must be informed by who God is and what he is like.
Our worship must be rooted in and tethered to the realities of biblical revelation. God forbid that we should ever sing heresy. Worship is not meant to be formed by what feels good, but by the light of what’s true.
Genuine, Christ-exalting worship must never be mindless or based in ignorance. It must be doctrinally grounded and focused on the truth of all we know of our great Triune God. To worship inconsistently with what is revealed to us in Scripture ultimately degenerates into idolatry.