Church Worship

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What Does it Mean to Worship in Spirit and in Truth?

What Does it Mean to Worship in Spirit and in Truth?

Worship is at the core of what it means to be a Christian. Every church engages in it, and everyone seems to have an opinion about it. Yet we often seem to be confused about what it means when Jesus says that we will worship “in spirit and in truth.” I’m not going to waste your time by rambling on about what I think worship should be about. Because what I think isn’t what matters. Worship is not about me or what I think, and therefore out it’s not about you either. What really matters is what the Bible has to say about it.

What does the Bible Say about Worship?

Let’s start with some highlights from the Old Testament.

Outside of temple ceremonies, which are very specific, the “how-to” of daily worship throughout the Scriptures is not necessarily as specific. The main concern is to know that proper worship was incredibly important to the life and success of Israel and that people were expected to worship both individually (Deuteronomy 6:6-9; Deuteronomy 11:18-20), and corporately (Deuteronomy 12:5).

It is emphasized in the Old Testament that worship is for God alone, and we should not offer worship to anyone or anything else (II Kings 17:38-39, Daniel 3:16-18; Isaiah 57:8).

It is emphasized that God is worthy of worship simply because of who He is (Psalm 99:1-9, Nehemiah 9:6).

It is emphasized that worship is loud, joyful, and typically involves music and singing (I Chronicles 16:23-31, II Chronicles 29:20-29, Psalm 100:1-5, Revelation 14:7).

It is emphasized that worship from impure motives, from thoughtless habit, or from memorized repetition is worse than not worshipping at all (Isaiah 29:13). Basically, if your heart isn’t in it, there is no need for you to bother going through the motions.

These things help to explain how worship works, but not necessarily what worship is, or how we can do it in spirit and truth.

What about the New Testament?

Hebrews 12:28-29 instructs us to worship “in reverence and awe”, and it is clear that music was a part of how this was done.

We are certain that new songs were being written in the earliest years of the Church, and throughout his writings, Paul quotes what many scholars believe to be early Christian songs. Lyrics believed to be from some of these songs are found in Ephesians 5:14, Philippians 2:6-11, Colossians 1:15-20, and 1 Timothy 3:16.

Yet singing in and of itself is not worship. Paul urges us that worship involves more than just singing, but a transformation of our entire being, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1-2).

That’s Paul, but What Did Jesus say about it?

Interestingly, Jesus rarely talked about worship, but the most important statement on worship made by Jesus is in John 4.

In this passage, Jesus is in a conversation with a Samaritan woman, and He wants to talk about her sinful lifestyle and what she needs to change about it. She understandably gets nervous about this. Engaging in a very personal conversation with a stranger about our sin would be uncomfortable for any of us. She moves on from talking about her sinful behavior and changes the subject to worship. She is basically trying to play down her sin to this Jewish man by saying they can’t even agree on what worship is, so why does this even matter. Jesus agrees to talk about it, and what He says is remarkable:

"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” (John 4:23-24).

God is seeking true worshippers. Catch that? He is actively looking for people who want to worship the right way.

The Right Way Is in Spirit and Truth

It may sound like Jesus was being vague here, so we seem to be back where we started Unless you consider this: What Jesus is doing is making a reference to the Trinitarian God as the initiator of worship.

Spirit: the word here for Spirit is pneuma. Anyone who uses pneumatic tools, or anyone who has had pneumonia in their lungs can tell you this has something to do with air movement. The word used for Spirit means “air” or “breath”. Simply put, it is a double reference to mankind’s beginning, when God the Father breathed the breath of life into Adam, (Genesis 2:7) and doubles as a reference to the future promise of the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-17).

Truth: What is truth you ask? Another good question. Pontius Pilate asked the same thing, “What is truth? “(John 18:38). Fortunately for us, Jesus provides the answer, “I am the truth” (John 14:6)

What it All Means

Worship in Spirit references God the father initiating human life and references the Spirit as sustainer of eternal life (Romans 8:1-11). Worship is living, breathing and invigorating, not stale, lifeless, or prohibitive. Worship is not just an action but a result of every ounce of our being praising God, using the same breath that he gives to sustain us, and singing songs of praise to him.

Worship in Truth is a clear reference to the Word of God. Jesus, as the Word of God, is Himself Truth. Worship is initiated by the stirring of God within us. We cannot determine how we will or will not worship. Worship is not chained to a place, a style, or an instrument. Worship is not about you or what you want or what you think or what you have always done.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/ChristinLola

Jason Soroski is a homeschool dad and member of the worship team at matthias lot church in St. Charles, MO. He spends his free time hanging out with his family, exploring new places, and writing about the experiences. Connect on Facebook or at