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What Does ‘Worship in Spirit and Truth’ Really Mean?

What Does ‘Worship in Spirit and Truth’ Really Mean?

Jesus told us ‘God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in Spirit and in truth.’

Christians treasure the truth; they were designed to worship God, and they were given the Spirit with which to do so.

But where, when, and why does Jesus say mention this in Scripture...and what does Jesus mean by this statement for believers today?

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 Context of ‘Worship in Spirit and Truth’ in John 4:24

 Context of ‘Worship in Spirit and Truth’ in John 4:24

Readers will find the phrase “worship in Spirit and truth” in the Gospel of John, specifically chapter 4, verse 24. It is part of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus met her there and “told [her] everything [she] ever did.”

After her encounter with Jesus, the Samaritan woman beckoned the townspeople to come meet him, wondering out loud “could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:29

The apostle John quoted Jesus in his account of the Messiah’s ministry. John’s is the only book of the gospel to depict this encounter. Often, the New Testament is translated from English back to Greek for a better sense of what Jesus meant by particular words. Greek for worship is sebó, Spirit (or spirit) is pneuma, and truth is translated as alétheia.

“Spirit” is translated the same whether with a big “S” or a small one, and the word “pneuma” is also translated as “wind” or “breath.” Strong’s concordance says that “alétheia” is sometimes translated as “truthing.” 

Synonyms for “worship” in Strong’s concordance include “revere” and “adore.”

Jesus and the disciples have left Judea, heading for Galilee. To get there, they must pass through Samaria. At midday, Jesus sends His disciples to get food and He waits by Jacob’s well, where only one woman comes for water. He knows that she is living with a man she has not married, that she has been married four times before, and that she is carrying a weight of shame. This shame is evidenced by the reality that no one else would come for water at this hottest time of the day.

According to one source, “The New Testament evidence suggests that the early Christian community may have looked upon the Samaritans as being more like the Gentiles than like the Jews.”

There were many similarities, but also some differences between Jews and Samaritans which caused the Jews to consider their religion superior and to view the Samaritans with contempt. In Samaria, they worshiped God on Mount Gerizim instead of at Jerusalem where the Jews believed He should be worshiped. Jesus closes out his time with the Samaritan woman by explaining to her the need for worship both through the power of the Holy Spirit and through knowing the truth of the Gospel - who Jesus really is.

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Meaning and Various Versions of "Worship In Spirit and Truth"

Meaning and Various Versions of "Worship In Spirit and Truth"

ESV: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

KJV: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

MSG: “God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

HCSB: “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

There is remarkable continuity among Bible translations with two exceptions: “Spirit” vs. “ spirit”and“Spirit” vs.“Spirit.”“Pneuma”could mean Holy Spirit or an intention of the heart, so John might be saying “worship with truthful intention” or “worship by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

As for the indefinite article used by translators of the King James Bible, this could refer to “the different ways the Spirit of God expresses Himself.”

Ultimately, the Christian worships Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, equipped by that Spirit to know the truth, and will also demonstrate a spirit or intention of truthfulness.

“Truthing” equipped by the Holy Spirit reflects the Fruit of the Spirit, exemplified in the ability to expose sin while also relieving a person of its weight by way of the gospel.

Scriptures Related to Worshipping in Spirit and Truth

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:15-17)

Listen for echoes of John 4:24 in the verse above. It won’t ultimately matter where the Jews or the Samaritans worship: neither place will be better since Christ’s Spirit abides in every believer. Worship will be appropriate and expected all the time, everywhere. He made Himself accessible to all who would believe. What Christ gives by His Spirit is secure in the believer.

If the Samaritan woman (or anyone) repents of sin and believes in the resurrected Christ for salvation, no one can take her security from her. Hebrews 12:28 says “Let us be grateful for receiving a Kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.”

The Kingdom is coming, but we are the church and our temple cannot be shaken. Christ came to free every believer from the trap of religious self-righteousness which sought to put strangleholds on worship.

The Spirit is “wind” and cannot be contained. Truth is a verb, something one does, and Jesus demonstrates “truthing” by taking His message of salvation on the road. Truth is also “certainty” according to the Hebrew definition.

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Practical Application of John 4:24 Today

Practical Application of John 4:24 Today

These days, worshiping anywhere and everywhere seems so easy—perhaps too easy. A lot of people say they are too busy to read their Bibles or to pray, but they also seem to think it has to happen in a certain way, at a particular time, and only at a church.

Many non-Christians also mistakenly think they have to get their lives sorted out before coming to Christ. Two things that help us relate John 4:24 to our own time are:

1. God meets you where you are. He doesn’t wait for you to get your act together. Try him out. As Spurgeon says, “It will be a new thing if He shall have to say, ‘You are beyond My power. You have sinned beyond the reach of My love.’”

2. Trying to hide our sin is what separates us from God. He expects us to mess up, but He also wants us to be real about our mistakes. The Spirit intercedes for us, so that we can worship in truth, by the power of the Holy Spirit, without being condemned. The truth is that God accepts our repentance, forgives us, and we are free to worship.

5 Ways to Worship in Spirit and Truth

1. Connect people to God. God detested how His people “compartmentalized. They disconnected what God connected.” Even if someone won’t hear the truth of the Gospel, treat him or her as a child of God, created by Him. Don’t compartmentalize based on faith, ethnicity, socio-economic standing, or education.

2. Be real. “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Psalm 139:23) Invite God to know you, and be prepared to show Him the real you...the truth. Repent of sin.

3. Don’t be afraid. Jesus said the truth has set you free (John 8:32), so even though you are inviting Him to see the real you, know that nothing can separate you from the love of God.

Jesus saw into the heart of the Samaritan woman, and He offered her grace in exchange for sin. Recognize your sin. Admit it. Give it up. Consider this: if the Samaritan woman had not recognized her sin and felt shame, she would have come to the well in the cool of the day. She would not have met Jesus.

4. Invite refinement. God will let you experience fiery trials. Remember King David’s son Adonijah? “His father had never rebuked him by asking, ‘Why do you behave as you do?’” (1 Kings 1:6)

Adonijah exalted himself, was humiliated, and later killed. God loves you too much not to rebuke you. He will discipline those He loves (Hebrews12:6). The Samaritan woman endured the noon-day sun. Jesus used her discomfort to bring her to Him.

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A Prayer to Worship in Spirit and Truth

A Prayer to Worship in Spirit and Truth

Father, we want to worship you properly. We want to give You acceptable gifts. Jesus’ words seem to say to us that the best gift is an honest spirit: a truthful intention. You don’t want us to waste our breath, our pneuma, on lies, rumors, or trivialities.

Father, we invite you to see our hearts and to point out the lies there. Show us where we have distorted your word by ignorance or rebellion. Lay it out for us, and accept our repentance. God, thank You that You give us Living Water where we can cleanse ourselves and quench our thirst for truth; where we can prepare to worship You. Amen. 

Jesus meets us where we are, at the well, at the tax collector’s table, at our homes where we recline to eat and drink. He meets us in our work and in our leisure. God is everywhere, and we can worship Him everywhere if our worship is authentic, in Spirit and in truth.

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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.

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