How to Worship God
by Aaron Nicholson
In John 4, Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well. At first read, everything seems ordinary. However, if we dig deeper into the context, we’ll see that the setting and the conversation are culturally controversial and spiritually important.
First, she was a woman. In Jesus’ day, men didn’t speak to women in public—not even their wives. When the disciples returned with food they too were astonished by this (v. 27).
Second, she was an immoral woman. In His omniscience, Jesus revealed that she had five husbands and was currently living with a man who was not her husband (vv. 17-18).
Third, she was a Samaritan. The Jews and Samaritans had a long history of bitter conflict. Since Jesus was a Jew, passing through Samaria on His way to Galilee was already a breach of social custom. Most Jews would have gone around Samaria by passing through Perea, which was east of the Jordan river. Sure, it was inconvenient for them, but it avoided contact with those hated neighbors, the filthy Samaritans!
Jesus was not like the rest of the Jews. Praise God that in His sovereign plan, Jesus decided to go through Samaria, confront this woman about her sin, share foundational truths about worship, and preserve the historical record in the pages of Scripture for every generation to believe and apply.
Toward the end of their conversation, the woman asked Jesus a question about worship. She said,
Our fathers worshiped in this mountain [referring to Mt. Gerizim], and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship (v. 20)
Undoubtedly, she was expecting Jesus to pick a side and declare one location to be correct—Mt. Gerizim or Jerusalem. However, Jesus saw that she was missing the point. He responded,
Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. . . . But 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 (vv. 21, 23, 24).
Imagine the shock this woman must have felt! Was He really saying that it didn’t matter where she worshipped? The Samaritans and Jews disagreed on where they should worship but neither thought that it didn’t matter!
Jesus, the Son of God, was revealing something to this woman and to us. With the advent of Himself, worship is no longer limited to a physical location. God the Father is now seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and truth.
“In spirit” refers to the human spirit. God is seeking those who will offer up sincere offerings from their inner being. Since God is spirit (v. 24) and does not have a physical body, how can anyone worship Him with a mere physical body? Someone who does not have a spiritual relationship with God and worships Him by performing outward actions alone is not worshipping in spirit. They are spiritually dead and cannot be made alive apart from faith.
“In truth” refers to God’s truth, His revelation. God is seeking those who will take Him at His Word and worship based on what He has revealed. Biblical truth is what guides actions of true worship.
Neither the Samaritans nor Jews worshipped in spirit and truth. Sadly, the same is true for many today. Many believe that locations and appearances alone define worship. If I attend church, sing songs, and even read my Bible daily—isn’t that worship?
No, not unless I have repented of my sins and believed in Jesus’ death and resurrection as payment for those sins. I must have agreed with God and received spiritual life (Romans 10:9-10). Once I’ve received that salvation, a spiritual relationship with God is formed. Now I can worship Him in spirit and truth. I can worship Him with sincerity and with careful obedience to His Word.
While Jesus’ conversation happened on the other side of the world, many years ago, its relevance and application are for us today. Whether we’re helping our neighbor, singing in church, preparing for a Bible study, or making a meal for someone we must remember that God does not delight in mere actions. He delights in those who have a relationship with Him, those who will worship Him with a sincere spirit and according to His truth.