Christ Jesus told the Samaritan woman that since God is a spirit, His worship must be of a spiritual nature. Since God is a spirit, fellowship with Him must involve our spirit, not our flesh. Worship must suit the nature of the Object worshiped. And so for us, it is not so much about a loud band as it is an elevated soul. It’s not so much a bended knee as a broken heart; not so much an actor’s voice as a groaning spirit. We are not to use the ceremonies of the Jews, nor the new styles of the Samaritans. If Jehovah was a physical being, images and physical worship might be suitable, but God is a Spirit.
There was an Old Testament style of worship, but there is now a New Testament worship.
And this new worship is based upon the spiritual nature of God linked to the spiritual nature of the saint. God is a spirit, and His other perfections and attributes tell us what kind of spirit He is. This means that whether we adore His goodness or His patience, His justice or His wisdom, that He is a spirit governs how we worship Him. And this should protect us from carnality and frivolity.
Doesn’t man’s inner voice demand that we worship must be spiritually? Not even idolaters claim to be worshiping the idol in front of them, but rather what the idol represents. Romans 1 teaches that in perverting worship, man goes against his better understanding. Idolatry is not so much a sin of ignorance, but a sin against light which God created in Adam. And this is something fallen man has brought with him from the Garden of Eden. Even before the New Testament, God commanded His people to love Him with all their heart and soul. We sin when we refuse to worship, but we also sin by not worshiping God properly. And if only our body or mind is engaged – the lackadaisical way many sing hymns for example, we present a dead sacrifice to God.
In the Old Testament worship was veiled under a thick cloud of material objects. Not only in salvation but in worship the Jew’s carnal ceremonies were never able to bring the hearts of men into fellowship with the Lord. They could neither purge their consciences nor perfect their worship. Just as a man’s shadow cannot do anything because it lacks life, even so the Jewish shadows could only point to a better worship.
God told the Jews that He was not pleased with their empty ceremonialism. He even grew tired of the institutions which He himself had ordained, because of Israel’s abuse. “I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats” – Isaiah 1:11. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that the Jewish form of worship was to be replaced by one that was more suitable through the New Covenant. The New Covenant is more spiritual in its worship than the Old Covenant. We worship God through the Son as directed by the Holy Spirit.
But that doesn’t mean there is no place for our bodies in the worship of God. ALL our faculties are to be used for Him. We are commanded to “glorify God in your body, and in your spirit which are God’s” – I Corinthians 6:20. And since PUBLIC worship is ordained by God, physical dimensions are required, such as singing, preaching, hearing and simply attending. For example the Lord Jesus Himself sometimes prayed while kneeling and sometimes in other ways, lifting up His eyes.
So what is spiritual worship?
It involves that spiritual part of us which we call our “soul.” Spiritual worship involves an engaged heart and mind; “Sing ye praises with understanding.” Is it possible to say, “I love you,” while not engaging our affections? Sure, the words are easy. And so is the pseudo-worship of God, but that is not worship in God’s sight. To properly worship we must adore, reverence and embrace Him with our hearts – our entire hears. There cannot be true worship where there is not an exercise of our inner man. God says, “My son, give me thine heart” – Proverbs 23:26. Without the involvement of the heart, we are nothing more than an empty carcass. As David said to the Lord “With my whole heart have I sought thee.”
Spiritual worship must stem from a spiritual nature. That is, the worshiper must be renewed by the Spirit of God; he must be given a new nature by God. In order for a beast to act like a man, he must be given a man’s nature and heart. Similarly, spiritual acts cannot be performed without Christ in the soul. And without the influence and assistance of the Holy Spirit of God. My first cell-phone had limited reception – I would dial a number, but we couldn’t connect. The Holy Spirit is the means whereby we connect with the Lord for communication and worship. Prayer, a part of worship, must be offered in the Spirit – “praying in the Holy Ghost” – Jude 20.
Spiritual worship is carried out with a fervent, intense spirit. The excellence of the One we worship demands our highest intensity. In other words, our drowsy worship does not honor Him. One of the terms scripture uses to designate our service to God is “agonizomai” from which comes the English word “agonize. “ The word suggests the depth from which God’s worship rises.
“God is a spirit, and He must be worshiped in spirit and in truth.” The Holy Spirit is the medium through which we worship the God-head. And in that regard He has given us the fruit of the Spirit. Faith is an obvious part of spiritual worship. How can we worship a God in whom we have no confidence? Unbelief renders us incapable of any spiritual duty – including worship. And love is necessary in spiritual worship. But in many cultures, even among the Jews to some degree, fear was a part of their worship. But that changed under the New Covenant. The law has been stripped of its cursing power, and made sweet in the blood of the Redeemer. All the devotion we owe God is summed up in this word, found in both Testaments – “Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart.” Thankfulness and admiration are necessary in spiritual worship. Praise to God in the heart is essential in true gospel worship. At the same time, deep reverence is necessary in proper worship. So humility is necessary in spiritual worship. High thoughts of God tend to make low thoughts of self. The departure of men and angels from God began in pride, and our approach and return to Him must begin in humility. Holiness is necessary in spiritual worship. Holiness is a part of God’s spirit, so holiness must be a part of our approach to Him. Spiritual worship must be offered up in the name of Christ. We recognize that even our best attempts at worship are not acceptable outside of Christ – Mediator. God outside of Christ is a dreadful thought for Adam’s fallen race. But in Christ, God is more a Father than a judge to us.
Spiritual worship is due to the Spiritual God.
We must worship God spiritually because He is worthy of our best. We cannot give Him all He deserves, but we must give Him the best we have to offer: the best of our affections, the power of our strength, the cream of our spirits. Because nothing we have is too good for God. Under the Old Testament, God left us an example by requiring the best animals for sacrifice. Even pagans offered their best when they burned their children for Moloch. Their zeal puts ours to shame! And remember, God has given us His best – His only begotten Son. How can we begrudge the Lord the choicest part of ourselves?
We must worship God spiritually because without an engaged spirit, no act is truly worship. Our spirit is the essential part, without which other motions are dead works and a mockery of worship. We may as well say a corpse in a funeral home is worshiping God, as to say that a living body with a dull spirit in a church building is worshiping Him.
We must worship God spiritually because in worship man and God come near each other. If God stoops down to meet with us, ought we not to be present with our best – our most spiritual capacity? How can we expect His heart, when we do not give Him ours? God and His worship are closely linked; you cannot honor one while slighting the other.
We must worship God spiritually because this is the end for which God has redeemed us. He gives us a holy nature so that we might know and adore Him, and be like Him and draw near to Him. We can no more be worshipers of God without a worshiper’s nature, than a man can be a man without a man’s true nature God first gave Adam the privilege of worship and he threw it aside, but in redemption the Lord has restored that privilege.
We must worship God spiritually because this is the only worship acceptable to God. Our great concern must be to be acceptable to God. We are expressly told that our “spiritual sacrifices [are] acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” – I Peter 2:5. How acceptable is that worship which is not spiritually suited to the nature of God? A spiritual frame is more pleasing to God than the highest outward adornments, gifts or even doctrine.
“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
Do you think the Lord would have let that woman and her neighbors worship Him, if they had wanted to? Isn’t it incumbent on all His creation to worship Him.? To neglect it demonstrates a high degree of atheism. We might even argue that worshiping a false god is not as evil as worshiping none whatsoever.
We should not be content with mere outward worship. People will try to make up for a lack of heart by making more noise – external expressions. But outward manners are no substitute for inward matter. Just as sin is primarily a heart attitude, so likewise is worship. Even in the Old Testament, the blood of animals alone meant nothing to God.
But even the smallest act springing from a sincere heart is worth more than great acts without heart. God rewards simple cup of cold water, if we give from a spiritual motivation. Sadly, every believer struggles with impurity of heart in worship. Our remaining natural corruption causes hindrances, distractions, and interruptions. Sin fights for its life when we are at worship. Sin and worship are mortal enemies: either sin must die, or worship will. Also, Satan hinders us from worshiping God. He separated himself from God, and seeks to separate us from God as well.
But our difficulties should not lead us to conclude that we have no worship at all. Instead, God may accomplish some good purpose in us through our weaknesses. First, He may humble us. If we could worship perfectly in our present state, we might be lifted up with pride. We need thorns in our spirit, if not in our flesh, to keep us humble. Nothing is so dangerous as spiritual pride. God allows hindrances in worship in order to make us prize it more highly. If it were not such a good thing, Satan would not oppose it so fiercely. We should value worship more when we see what a threat our enemy considers it to be. We admire God all the more when we consider that He accepts any worship from us at all. It is so full of imperfection – yet God is so gracious as to receive it! Hindrances in worship should make us appreciate Christ our Mediator all the more. He stands between us and the infirmities of our worship. We recognize all the more our dependence on the Savior of our souls; we trust Him more fully. Thus, the purpose of God is fulfilled, and the purpose of Satan is defeated.
Therefore, we should not let our hindrances in worship discourage us. They prove our true heart by our resistance to them. They make us watch more carefully. They make Christ’s intercession more precious to us.
How can we worship in Spirit and in Truth?
First we need to maintain a spiritual frame of mind even when we are not actually worshiping. Worldly and fleshly weekdays make for a spiritless Sunday. Like the Jews’ our incense and golden lamps should bum continually. We must give no place to the Devil.
And we need to feed our minds with frequent meditative thoughts of God. Remember Who He is. He is unlike any earthly judge, for He judges the heart and not just the actions. The fear of God makes our worship serious; the joy of God makes our worship lasting.
And when it is time to worship, it is essential to clear our hearts of any desire for the world. These will choke the Spirit and make the time unprofitable to us. As gravity keeps us from the sky, so a worldly mind keeps us from elevated worship. Cast out any intruder who would spoil our worship. Even if is legitimate in itself, that non-spiritual thing doesn’t belong in God’s throne-room.
And let’s be aware of our spiritual needs. Some of them can be supplied while we worship. I have read that we should stir up the same affections now that we should have on our deathbed.
Sometimes the Lord opens doors to the furnace and melts our hearts over something. It might be a death in the family; it might be our own frailty. Whatever it is it may be a special opportunity for worship and it comes around only once in a while. Be sensitive to God’s occasional special invitations for you to commune with Him.
And perhaps we should take an exit poll from time to time. How did our last period of worship go? Was it led of the Spirit? Did the Lord raise points for praise, or did our prayers come from the flesh? Did we begin in the blood of Christ and did we end before the throne of grace? Spiritual worship makes us better for the time we spent.