Worship in Spirit and in Truth

by Gami Ortiz

As someone who has been leading worship for some years, I’ve also spent a good deal of time looking at what Scripture says about it. As you can imagine, the Bible indeed has lots to say about worship. Just doing a word study on the different words that are translated into “worship” is a worthy endeavor. But here, I just want to hone in on Jesus’ words concerning worship in John 4:23-24. He says,

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

What does it mean to worship God in spirit and in truth? Simply put, to worship in spirit means that we’re concerned with spiritual things, rather than the physical. Jesus is in the middle of a discussion with the Samaritan woman about where they worship versus where the Jews worship: Mt. Gerizim and the temple in Jerusalem. Jewish worship was also full of ceremonial rituals such as cleansings, outward sacrifices, and so forth. Jesus says, look, true worship is in the spirit – it needs to come from the heart. You can go through all the rituals and adhere to every formality, but if your heart isn’t behind those things, then it’s not true worship. It flows out of a genuine relationship with God.

But while we’re to do everything as worship to God (1 Corinthians 10:31), we can’t just do ANYthing as worship to God. We can’t just do what we please and say we’re sincere, therefore it’s worship. This is where worshiping in truth comes in. God has revealed Himself in Scripture to us – not exhaustively, but sufficiently. Our worship must coincide with the truth of who He is and in accordance with the whole counsel of His word. It’s not just an emotional or knee-jerk reaction.

A long time ago (not as long as I’d like), there was a Saturday when Cathi was going to be out all day with some friends - something she didn't get to do often, especially since at the time we had multiple little kids. She was going to be out into the evening and she'd asked me to take care of things, so she could relax. She left me a list of things that needed to be done before she got home, so that she didn't have to worry about them. There was a list of things that needed to be cleaned that day, making sure the kids got bathed, and she'd even left a meal plan for dinner that night. No problem.

When it came time for me to start working on the to-do list, I decided that I could do what was “actually” necessary. So, I looked at the areas that needed to be cleaned and evaluated how badly they actually needed cleaning. The bathroom didn't seem so bad, so I cleaned the toilet and wiped down the sink. When it came to bathing the kids, I told the oldest to take a shower, but the little ones didn't smell so bad. A little baby powder on the toddler made her smell good, so that was done. When dinner came around, I really didn't feel like having chicken again, which was what was on the menu. So, I went into the freezer and defrosted the pork chops and made something else for dinner.

When Cathi got home, she was less than happy. She could tell where I had cleaned and where I hadn't. She could tell the little ones hadn't been bathed and they hadn't had a bath in a couple of days, so it was actually important that I do that. And the chicken had been in the refrigerator for two days already and needed to be cooked so that it didn't go bad. I had epically failed her.

Maybe you see where I’m going with this. On one hand, I can say that I truly wanted to be of help to her. But I just did it my own way and didn’t stop to think about what was actually needed and helpful. On the other hand, if I had been sincere, I would have made sure that it served her well. I failed to love her whole heartedly.

When we worship in spirit, we worship out of a relationship we have with the Father and not out of obligation or because it's the right thing to do. We love our Father and desire to glorify Him. When we worship in truth, we worship in line with what God has revealed to us in His word. A biblically faithful understanding of God is going to lead to a biblically faithful response to Him. Worship in spirit and in truth.