Many believers in Jesus understand the word “worship” as a church service.
Many churches call their service a “worship service.”
Their services consist of several different elements by which they worship God.
These elements may include…
...“praise and worship” - worshiping God by singing songs,
“tithing” - worshiping God by giving 10% of their income,
“serving” - worshiping God by joining a ministry team,
“praying” - worshiping God by having a time of prayer,
“confessing” - admitting their sins to God and acknowledging their need for forgiveness,
“asking” - worshiping God by asking for forgiveness,
“participating” - worshiping God by participating in their denomination's practice of the Lord’s Supper or some other element in the service,
“reciting” - reciting creeds and verses.
For some churches, a worship service is hindered by scheduling elements within a service.
To these churches, having an “order of service” hinders the flow of the Spirit, preventing “true worship.”
These churches may focus on giving the Spirit “freedom to move” throughout the service.
These services look to be “more alive” and “Spirit-filled” unlike the “dead churches” who have an “order of worship”.
These churches may emphasize “speaking in tongues” as what it means to worship in the Spirit.
But are any of these what it means to “worship God in Spirit and truth?”
Let’s take a look.
The phrase “worship in Spirit and truth” was spoken by Jesus as he was speaking to a Samaritan woman.
This woman commented the Samaritans worship God on one mountain and the Jews worship God in Jerusalem.
In this statement, she was seeking clarification from Jesus of where the right place to worship God was located...the mountain where the Samaritans worshiped God or Jerusalem (the Temple) where the Jews worshiped God.
Jesus responded by saying in John 4:21-24,
“...a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. But a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such as these to worship Him. God is Spirit, and His worshipers must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”
In these verses, Jesus says God is Spirit, which means God can’t be limited to a certain place...whether it be a mountain, city, or building, such as the temple, which was in Jerusalem.
The mountain and Jerusalem both represented the Law of Moses, which was how the people of Israel related or connected to (worshiped) God.
The old testament of law, which was before the cross, before Jesus established through his blood the new covenant of grace, was how the people of Israel worshiped God.
This law-based form of worship is prescribed in Exodus - Leviticus and repeated in Deuteronomy.
The old covenant form of worship (relating to, connecting to God) consisted of many different practices to perform and days to observe.
It also consisted of an ongoing system of forgiveness where animals were sacrificed for the temporal forgiveness of sins, but not eternal forgiveness.
Under the law there was ongoing guilt for sin and ongoing sacrifices needed for the forgiveness for sin.
These practices, observances, and sacrifices were all elements of worship prescribed in Exodus - Leviticus and repeated in Deuteronomy.
Jesus, when speaking to the Samaritan woman, said the focus of worship would be the Father, which means a personal relationship based upon love.
In Jeremiah 3:19, Jeremiah, speaking on behalf of God to the nation of Israel, says, “I thought you would call Me ‘Father’”.
The heart of God was never to relate to people through practices, observances, or sacrifices.
The book of Hebrews tells us this.
His heart was to relate to people as Father because he loves with an everlasting love and draws people to himself with his love (Jeremiah 31:3).
Simply put, the heart of God is to be in a close, personal, intimate, love relationship with people where they called him “Father”.
The old covenant of law did not allow for this type of relationship.
The old covenant, the Law of Moses, exposed the sinful hearts of mankind and need for forgiveness and cleansing.
The hearts of people were sinful and in need of being cleansed internally.
Their sins were in need of being forgiven eternally.
As a result of the sinful hearts of all mankind, God could not enter into a love relationship with them.
Yes, God is pure...holy...completely love.
He is also just, which means the sin which the law exposed must be paid for.
Sin is breaking the law.
All are guilty under the law.
God was judge under the Law of Moses, even though he had the heart of a Father.
As judge, he must enforce the penalty for breaking the law...the penalty is death.
This is a dilemma.
On one hand, God is love and wants a close, personal, intimate, loving relationship with people where they call him Father.
On the other hand, he is just.
Sin, which keeps people out of a relationship with God, must be paid for, and God, as judge, had to enforce the payment.
The old covenant of law could not make this payment and bring eternal forgiveness of and internal cleansing from sin, making a person guilt-free.
Hebrews 10:1 says if the old covenant of law could bring eternal forgiveness and internal cleansing, then “worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt the guilt of their sins.”
The law could never cleanse the worshipper...provide for forgiveness and purification for sin, thus making one innocent before God.
Consequently, the one wanting to know God...connect to God...relate to God (worship) lived in a constant state of guilt under the law.
Hebrews 9:9 says, “because the gifts and sacrifices being offered were unable to cleanse the conscience [remove guilt by providing eternal forgiveness] of the worshiper.”
Yet the time for cleansing and forgiveness would come.
The time when guilt for sin would be removed.
The time for the payment of sin would come.
The time when the sins of all mankind would be paid for would come.
And it did.
The Samaritan woman recognized this time.
She called Jesus the Savior of the world (John 4:42).
Jesus told the Samaritan woman the time would come, and had now come in the person of
Jesus, when people would not worship by the law on a mountain or in Jerusalem (the old covenant of law), but they would worship by the Spirit.
This time came.
Galatians 4:4-7 describes this time:
“But WHEN THE TIME HAD FULLY COME, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law, that we might receive our adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, you are also an heir through God.”
Jesus, in God’s perfect timing, was born under the Law of Moses, lived a perfect life of love under the law, then set people free from the law by dying for the sins of people, enabling the Spirit of Jesus to live in us and enabling us to call God “Abba, Father”, or “my Daddy, my Papa” who loves me.
Jesus was “the lamb of God who takes away [pays for in full] the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Jesus, through his death on the cross and through his shed blood, died for us (Romans 5:8) and provided purification for all sin and for all people (Hebrews 1:3).
Jesus, by one sacrifice paid the sin penalty for all people for all time and cleansed us from all sin (Hebrews 7:27).
Our sins have been forgiven...all of them, forever (Hebrews 8:12; 9:12; 10:17-18)
Our hearts have been made clean.
God, by the Spirit of Jesus, can now live in us.
This is the new covenant of grace (Hebrews 2:9).
All of Hebrews is about the new covenant of grace replacing the old covenant of law.
We enter the new covenant by faith, by belief, in Jesus (Hebrews 3-4).
Once we enter the new covenant, we rest from any effort of our own to worship God...relate to God...get close to God...know God (Hebrews 3-4).
No more practices, observances, or sacrifices needed to relate to or be connected to God.
These have come to an end.
The book of Hebrews expounds on this.
We now relate to God by the Spirit of Jesus within us, where we call God “Abba Father.”
We have the same relationship Jesus had with the Father during his time on earth...a personal, intimate, love relationship (Hebrews 8:11).
We know the Father as Jesus knew the Father.
Jesus longed for us to have the same relationship with the Father as he did (John 3:35; 14:31; 16:27; 17:20-26.).
His Spirit in us enables us to have this relationship.
The old covenant of law pointed to a time when God would circumcise the hearts of people by his Spirit (Deuteronomy 30:6).
It speaks of a time when God would place his Spirit in the hearts of mankind, thus giving them a new heart (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26; 37:14).
This time has now come.
Through the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, this time has come.
We now worship (know, relate or connect to God) by the Spirit of Christ in us (Romans 2:29; 7:4-6, 8:14-17; 2 Corinthians 2:3-18; Ephesians 2:18, 22; Colossians 1:27).
We now call God “Abba, Father” where we draw close to God (Hebrews 7:19).
We have a close, personal, intimate, love relationship with God as Father that has nothing to do with a place, a building, or a church service, but has everything to do with the finished work of Christ on the cross, where all our sins are forgiven and we are no longer guilty.
We relate with God through the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and through his Spirit now living in our hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3).
We now worship in Spirit and in truth - a close, honest, open, and transparent relationship with God as our Father (Hebrews 7:19).
In this relationship with our Father, we can talk confidently with him about anything...our hopes, dreams, fears, struggles, doubts, pain, hurts...anything, and from our Father we receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need (Ephesians 2:18; 3:12).
This is called the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).
The Spirit desires to reveal to people the truths of the new covenant (Hebrews 3:7; 10:15; 1 Corinthians 2:10-16; 2 Corinthians 2:3-18).
He wants to write these truths on their hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3) so they can enjoy God’s forgiveness, experience a guilt free life, and enter into a love relationship with God as Father.
So, we see in its biblical context, to worship in Spirit and truth has nothing to do with any type of church service...but is when people have been redeemed from the old covenant of law, or delivered from a performance-based mindset where they are continually seeking to get from God (forgiveness, acceptance, closeness) what he has already freely given them in Jesus.
The person who comes to faith in Jesus and believes the new covenant truths the Holy Spirit is showing him, now enjoys a close, personal, loving relationship with God as Father through the new covenant of grace.
This is what it means to worship in Spirit and truth.