One fine day Jesus has an incredibly deep conversation with a woman beside a well. The conversation starts with talking about water – they are at a well, after all.
Then it ranges through the woman’s own personal moral history before closing with something that is truly profound.
Here is what Jesus says.
But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.— John 4:23-24
There is so much packed into those two sentences. But I want to focus in on one thing – what God expects of our worship. Jesus says that to truly worship God, we have to do it in “spirit” and in “truth”. He said that we’re now in the time when the bar will be set there for truly worshipping God.
Notice the two parts to that worship: spirit and truth.
If that’s the standard to measure the quality of our worship, then perhaps it is important that we look at both sides of that equation. It will tell us what true worship looks like. Then we can see how our own worship measures up to the standard Jesus laid out.
Keep in mind that Jesus said, “those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” What we’re talking about here is not an optional thing. We must have both parts in our worship.
So let’s look at these two components.
Worship in Truth
In order to be in true worship we must be in truth. The Bible explicitly states a number of times that God’s Word is truth. Here’s an example in the Old Testament:
The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.— Psalm 119:160
Jesus himself confirmed that scripture is truth in his prayer recorded by John.
Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.— John 17:17
That means in order to be engaged in true worship we need to have our minds renewed with a thorough knowledge and understanding of the whole counsel of scripture. Just skimming through our favorite passages doesn’t cut it.
Worship in Spirit
At the same time our worship must be in spirit. This is something unique to the New Covenant, which is why what Jesus said to the woman at the well was so profound and revolutionary.
In the Old Testamant people did not have the Holy Spirit living in them. Instead the Holy Spirit would come upon them for a specific task or period of time and then leave. But Ezekiel prophesied that would change.
And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.— Ezekiel 36:26-27
Then along comes Jesus and says that people who worship in spirit (and truth) is something God is looking for.
In the early church there was a ton of worshipping in the spirit in their gatherings. So much so that Paul wrote a great deal about the orderly expression of spiritual gifts during church services in 1 Corinthians chapters 12, 13, & 14.
Paul never said not to exercise the gifts. He just corrected the abuse and reigned in the chaos.
Balancing Truth and Spirit
Jesus said we need both spirit and truth in our worship. Unfortunately most Christians are out of balance on one side or the other. Personally I tend towards the truth side of things because I am by nature a very Spock-like analytical thinker. I’m working on connecting with the spirit side of things more in my worship.
Being out of balance in this causes serious problems.
People who are way off on the truth side to the exclusion of the spirit tend to get mean, excessively critical and judgmental. They lack the fruit of the Spirit. Their lives don’t evidence much love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self control.
As a result they tend to become harsh and argumentative. They become more well known for the things they are against than what they are for.
The other ditch is just as bad. People who heavily emphasize the spirit but never really spend much time personally studying scripture are susceptible to drifting into all kinds of strange doctrines and beliefs. They tend to get sucked into some pretty unusual things that don’t have any backing in scripture.
Some of it can be downright weird.
True Worship Needs Both
Jesus said we must have both spirit and truth in our worship. It’s not optional. When we leave out one or the other, according to Jesus, we are not “true worshippers”. Unbalanced worship doesn’t please God.
We need both spirit and truth in our worship. That’s when we see God’s power and presence manifest among us in a way that’s not weird or nutty.
And that’s the kind of worship God is looking for today.