What Does It Mean to Worship God in Spirit and Truth?

Bill Thrasher
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Speaking to a Samaritan woman one afternoon, Jesus declared, “An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24).

The fact that God is spirit demands that He be worshiped in spirit and truth (John 4:24). The “must” in John 4:24 speaks of divine necessity and not just something desirable. It is the same force that you see in John 3:7—“you must be born again”—and in John 3:14, when Jesus declares, “Even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (italics added).

Jesus spoke of “true worshipers” (John 4:23). True worshipers respond to the true God (John 17:3) who seeks worshipers.

If you were perfect in every way, the greatest gift you could give someone would be the ability to enjoy you as you are! God is perfect in every way and not in need of anything or anyone. In His love He desires to allow you and me to enjoy Him in worship.

Worshiping God in Spirit

What does it mean to worship in spirit? The first interpretive decision to make is to determine whether Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit or the human spirit. The context seems to reveal that the word “spirit” in John 4:23–24 is referring to spiritual worship in response to the question of the place of worship (see John 4:21–24). To be sure, this kind of worship is in response to the Holy Spirit. It is the filling of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) that results in true worship (Ephesians 5:19–20). To worship in spirit is to worship from our heart or inner being. Jesus spoke of people who honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far away from Him (Matthew 15:8). Charles Spurgeon used to say, “If our hearts have not sung, we have not sung and worship has not taken place. God listens to our hearts.”

God is perfect in every way and not in need of anything or anyone.

To “worship in spirit” is to let the true you speak to the true God. It is the awesome privilege of coming to Him with your fears (Psalm 34:4), anxieties (Philippians 4:6–7), need for cleansing (1 John 1:7–9), true desires (Psalm 37:4), and temptations (Hebrews 4:15–16). God’s people were not to let their true lives hide behind their external worship.[1]

When we worship in spirit, God tells us that these are appropriate sacrifices that the believer can offer.

  • A broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:16–17)
  • The presentation of our bodies (Romans 12:1)
  • The fruit of our ministry (Romans 15:16)
  • Financial gifts to God’s servants (Philippians 4:18)
  • Praise and thanksgiving (Hebrews 13:15)
  • Doing good and sharing (Hebrews 13:16)
  • Prayer (Revelation 5:8; 8:3–4)

The Father is seeking worshipers who respond to the Holy Spirit and offer such sacrifices.

Worshiping God in Truth

To worship in spirit is to worship with “complete sincerity,” and to worship in truth is to worship in “complete reality.”[2] An idol is that which a person looks to in order to meet the thirst of their heart. If one rejects God, we will look to an idol and in so doing “[exchange] the truth of God for a lie” (Romans 1:25). To worship in truth is to worship the one “true God” (John 17:3) in line with God’s first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).

There is no truth in the Devil, who is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). He lusts for worship and one day will empower the antichrist, who will demand that people worship Satan (2 Thessalonians 2:4; Revelation 13:4). Even now the Devil sows lies to distract you from the worship of the true God.

Because truth is in Jesus (John 1:14; 14:6), worshiping in truth will always lead you to Him. We can depend upon the “Spirit of truth” to guide us into the worship of Christ (John 16:13–15). His truth sets one free (John 8:32), and worshiping in truth will set us free to worship God as He has revealed Himself.

God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24).

[1] For the abuse of worship, see 1 Samuel 13:8–14; Psalm 50:7–15; Isaiah 48:1–2; 59:3–5; Amos 5:21–27; Micah 6:6–8.

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 271.

For Further Reading:

God as He Wants You to Know Him

by Bill Thrasher

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