One of my favorite passages in the Bible about worship is found in John chapter 4. To give a little context to the passage, Jesus was worn and tired from his desert travels and had made his way to a small well in a town called Sychar in Samaria. Exhausted and thirsty, Jesus plops down onto the dusty ground beside this well, presumably hoping to get a drink and rest up a bit. Some time after, a Samaritan woman approached the well. The Scriptures indicate that this would have happened sometime around noon, nearing the hottest part of the day, and certainly an unpopular time to be fetching water from the well. Jesus, as he often does, strikes up a significant, yet also, intriguing conversation with the woman. Initially, he just asks her for a drink of water. Seems innocent enough, except for the fact that Jesus is clearly a Jewish man speaking to a Samaritan woman, which culturally speaking, would have been completely taboo. Just by asking for water Jesus was stepping across cultural lines, ignoring ethnic divisions, and breaking down gender stereotypes of the day. As one might expect, the woman was taken off guard and immediately responded to Jesus, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” The woman’s question opened a door in the conversation that Jesus was happy to walk through. Without recounting the entire conversation, Jesus used the remainder of the interaction to explain to the woman that he was no ordinary Jewish man telling quirky parables about “living water,” but rather, he was the living, breathing Messiah who had come to bring salvation to the world. In verses 23 and 24, Jesus brings the dialogue to a point when he says,
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
In this statement Jesus, yet again, defines a new reality about what it looks like to be, in his words, “a true worshiper.” In those days, much like ours, not everyone worshiped the same God. Many people worshiped many different gods. The god you worshiped defined the requirements, and even the location, of your worship. The Samaritan woman brings this up when she says, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
As she tries to sort out who’s right, the Samaritans or the Jews, Jesus steps in and gives her a new revelation that she isn’t expecting. Jesus essentially says, Let me help clear this up for you. A new day has dawned, and worship is not primarily about a place anymore, but about a person. Those who want to be considered true worshipers must worship my Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the worshipers my Father seeks.
If this was a texting conversation I imagine the Samaritan woman inserting the exploding head emoji. She had to have been astonished and taken back by the conversation. Jesus’ words are nothing short of reality defining. And that new reality says that true worship is centered upon the Father, through Jesus himself, and in the Spirit. Or exactly as Jesus said it, “true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth.”
This story begs the question, how does my worship stand up next to Jesus’ own description of true worship? How does the worship of my church compare? Do I ever relegate worship to a specific place like a church building? Or am I growing in my awareness that worship is lived in the Spirit and truth wherever I go? Let’s take a moment and consider what it could look like for us to grow in the type of worship that the Father is seeking among His people.
It should not surprise us that we are taught in other places throughout the Scriptures about the importance of the Spirit and truth.
In a beautiful passage in the book of Ephesians, Paul is instructing the believers in Ephesus on how to follow Christ’s example, walking in the way of love, and living with wisdom. He writes “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit…” (Eph. 5:18).
I find Paul’s logic here fascinating. According to his understanding, for the Ephesian believers to walk in love and live with wisdom, they need to learn what it means to be “filled with the Spirit.” One might naturally assume that Paul would have suggested they read some helpful books, or take notes from wise teachers from the past in order to learn this way of living. Instead, Paul ties the believers ability to “follow Christ’s example” directly to being filled with the Spirit. Paul knows that human effort alone is futile and lacking, but when God’s people are filled with His Spirit they are empowered to walk in his ways and live in a way that glorifies the Father.
The command that Paul gives to “be filled”, is both a present and ongoing command. Paul is teaching the believers that much like a lake is continually re-filled by the streams that empty into it, so we can be continually re-filled by the Spirit. For you and I to begin living “in the Spirit”, we too must listen to Paul’s teaching and learn what it means to be filled with the Spirit. Together, let’s ask the Father to fill us to overflow.
The Spirit, however, is not all that we desire to be filled with, for we also ought to long for the Word of God to fill us so that we may be people who worship “in truth”. In fact, one of the ways that the Spirit fills us is through our reading of the Scriptures. In another of Paul’s New Testament letters, as he is writing to young Timothy, he says this,
“... from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim. 3:15-18
In context, Paul is instructing Timothy on what it looks like to live amidst “Godlessness”. It is here that Paul stresses the necessity and sufficiency of the Scriptures in Timothy’s life. According to his understanding, the Scriptures are necessary for every aspect of a believer's life, beginning with the initial wisdom required for salvation, all of the way until he or she is completely mature and equipped for every good work. In other words, unless we have a love and devotion to God through the Scriptures, we are destined to remain spiritually immature. For you and I to learn to worship in the Spirit and in truth, we must press into the gift that is ours in the Scriptures.
So what could it look like to undergird the power of the Spirit with the inspired truth of God’s Word in your life? What could it look like for us to also fan into flame the Spirit of God that, if we are followers of him, already resides in us? What does it look like to live lives that are like a roaring bonfire, inflamed by the Spirit and built on truth?
Here is a picture that has been helpful to me, revealing the importance of both Spirit and truth in the lives of Jesus’ followers.
Imagine in your mind, a large bonfire.
The truth is the wood: strong, stable, foundational. One hundred percent necessary for the effectiveness of the fire.
The Spirit is the flame: the ignition, constantly moving, full of power. One hundred percent necessary for the effectiveness of the fire.
Any of us can see how the bonfire is incomplete without the foundation of the wood or the power of the flame. But we struggle to realize that it is the same within our own spiritual lives. If you’re hungry for growth, if you want to see more people know and love Jesus, then you need to hear this:
You need the power found when God’s Spirit enlivens his truth in your life.
Remember, much of the growth in our spiritual lives is based on integration. Jesus said that true worshippers worship him in truth and in Spirit. We need to be Bible people, people who value, know, and live out God’s word increasingly all of the days of our lives. And we also need to be Spirit people, people who are empowered, gifted, and sent out by God to display His love and reveal His kingdom on the earth.
We need the wood. We need the flame. And as we increasingly learn to live in the Spirit and in truth it will look like real transformation, true worship.
To finish our time together in this article I want to pray for all of us. “Father, I pray that you will teach us what it looks like to be true worshipers - to worship You in the Spirit and in truth. Help us and lead us, to Your glory. Amen.”
*This content has been adapted from Aaron’s new book “Whole: The Life-Changing power of relating to God with All of Yourself.” Available wherever books are sold. Find out more at readwhole.com.