Jon Beaty is a life coach, Bible student, and follower of Jesus. Get a free preview of his new book If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work at www.jonbeaty.com.
I was reading John 4 with a small group of friends. When we came to these words, we paused. Somebody asked, “What did Jesus mean exactly?”
“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth,” (John 4:23, 24).
Jesus spoke these words to the Samaritan woman He met at Jacob’s well. He was alone. She arrived alone in the middle of the day to draw water from the well, and fill her water pot. Respectable women collected their water in the morning, ahead of the day’s heat.
Jesus asks her for a drink of water.
The woman asks what business Jesus has asking her for a drink. He was a Jew, she a Samaritan–the two didn’t mix.
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water,” (John 4:10).
She doesn’t get it.
The religion of the Samaritans mixed the holy and profane. Their view of God was tainted. She thinks in earthly terms. Jesus tries to turn her thoughts to a higher plane, to draw her nearer to God.
Samaritans believed they worshiped God in spirit, but they lacked truth to guide them.
Jesus asks her to bring her husband to meet Him.
She denies having one. It’s a fact.
Jesus confirms–she’s had five husbands, and her current companion isn’t her husband.
Truth is revealed. The woman perceives she’s met a prophet.
A prophet lifts the curtain separating heaven and earth. Heaven’s light shines on the facts and reveals the truth.
Jesus’ gentle unveiling of the Samaritan woman’s curious past and present temporarily brings her out of hiding.
She retreats to find cover in a search for facts. She asks about the longstanding dispute between Samaritans and Jews over where God should be worshiped.
Jesus raises the stakes to lift her thoughts even higher. He shines light on the facts to reveal the truth.
The right question to ask is not where, but how to worship God. The answer is ”in spirit and truth.”
In our group, someone asked, “How do we worship God in spirit and truth?”
Worshiping in Spirit
We turned back a page in the Bible to the encounter between Jesus and the Jewish Pharisee, Nicodemus.
Nicodemus, like the Samaritan woman, engages with Jesus in a discussion of facts. Nicodemus is a theologian. He has the facts, but like the woman at the well, he too gets mired in the temporal to understand the truth –”How is it a man can return to his mother’s womb and be born again?”
We want to understand and define truth in terms we understand. But truth requires perspective. The only reliable perspective comes from God.
Jesus responds, giving Nicodemus a new perspective:
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” (John 3:5, 6).
Nicodemus had facts, but lacked spirit. He was born of the flesh. In God’s kingdom, facts without spirit aren’t truth.
My friends and I concluded that to worship in spirit we need to experience rebirth. God seeks this kind of worshiper, dead to self and born of the Spirit. In this rebirth truth is revealed.
We turned to these words from the Apostle Paul:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship,” (Romans 12:1).
Perhaps, the Samaritan woman sought to settle the facts about how to best worship God because she wanted to do what is right. She confused facts with truth.
But being right doesn’t make one righteous. That’s self-righteousness.
Jesus presented a new paradigm of righteousness: a righteousness that comes from dying to self-righteousness, and being filled with God’s righteousness. Paul also calls it the “mind of Christ” (Philippians 2:5-7). It gives us God’s perspective on the facts so we can know the truth.
This was our ah-ha moment.
Worshiping in Truth
Spilled milk flows in whatever direction offers the least resistance. Without the truth, we gravitate to whatever feels right at the moment.
For the unconverted soul, our personal preferences and the popular culture guide our choices and actions. It’s a confusing way to live.
If I’m a converted soul, born of the Spirit, but not allowing truth to hold me up, I sway in the direction of the popular preacher, the friendliest church, the most moving music.
I might think and feel like I’m on the right path. But without allowing truth to guide me, I stay in bondage to sin, return to sin after being freed from it, or get bound up in rules.
King Saul rejected truth and died as a result.
The Hebrews became impatient waiting for Moses to return from His mountaintop meeting with God. It seemed right to make a golden calf to represent God (Exodus 32:5). God had given them truth, and they chose sin.
Many Pharisees bound themselves up in rules and helped murder their Savior.
The Spirit guides us to truth (John 16:13). Sometimes that means we need to let go to live, or we’ll die holding on. Sometimes that means we wait for God longer than we’d like to. Sometimes it means we need to step out of our fortress of facts to embrace truth.
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth,” (John 17:17).
Where sin messes us up and separates us from God, truth sanctifies the soul. It sets us apart as holy–it cleans us up–so that we can live in God’s presence, thriving the way God designed us to.
Truth matters, but we only experience its full power when we allow it to overwhelm even our most deeply held beliefs and strongest desires.
As we made sense of what God was revealing, our thoughts turned back to the woman at the well, and to Nicodemus. One thought she worshiped in spirit, but needed truth to make her whole. The other thought he had the truth but only had facts. He needed a humble spirit to understand the truth.
We discovered that worship is more than the words we pray or the songs we sing. True worship transforms our perspective and embraces the truth.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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