Q: What does it mean to worship in spirit and truth?
A: The fact that Jesus went out of his way to answer the Samaritan woman’s question in John 4:19-26 about worship stipulates the importance of it. Keep in mind the Samaritan woman wanted to know the right place in which to worship the true God: Jerusalem or Gerizim?
Jesus pointed out some very important facts. The first one is that it will not matter about the place, the second one is that the Father seeks true worshippers, and finally the third point is what stipulates acceptable worship.
It is clear that people of Jesus’ day considered a certain place as a determining factor in which acceptable worship could take place, but Jesus pointed out that the place would not matter. We know what does matter is where worship originates. It must come from the heart according to Matthew 15:8-9, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips: but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”
The second thing is the Father seeks those who know how to truly worship Him. Man was created to worship God because He is worthy of such recognition from His creation, but worship can be done in three different arenas. It can be done emotionally which is soulish and pagan and it can be done in the mental arena where there is acknowledgment, but it is carnal and idolatrous. God is spirit and the two arenas mentioned will prove strange and unacceptable to Him. This is why the Father seeks those who truly know how to worship Him. Real worship steps above the emotional arena and graduates from the mental arena into the spiritual realm. It is worship that breaks the barriers of man’s best, reaches beyond his superstition and will not accept the world’s idea of God that becomes a precious fragrance that will prove to be pleasing to Him.
Clearly, a Christian must get beyond the soulish and mental realms to present worship that is acceptable to the true God. After all, God has no part in soulish, fleshly worship and the real ingredients of worship will be absent in man. It is for this reason, Jesus stated that those who worship God must worship Him with the right combination.
The ingredients missing in true worship are one 1) the right Spirit and 2) ignorance or superstition about God. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that she did not know who she worshipped. Our worship will be influenced by our knowledge of God and if we know the right God, it will create an environment of worship where there is reverence, awe, humility, and child-like faith.
It is important to understand that it is only the Spirit of God that can lead us to all truth about who He is. He is the one who gives us revelation that will lift us above unbridled emotions that can’t begin to reach to the heights of God and misconceived notions that end up becoming a mere image or idol of God.
The worship I have seen in some churches is more about an emotional high than lifting the Lord on high with thankfulness, praise, and adoration. It is more about people who are caught up with their idea of God instead of seeking to know and discover God in greater measure in order to love, serve, and worship Him in a pleasing way.
It is clear there are different ways of worship, different types of worship, and different ideas about it. The one thing I can say is that if a person fails to worship God in the way He is able to accept it, it is soulish, worldly, and vain worship.
If you are not sure how to worship God, take the example of the Samaritan woman who asked Jesus about true worship with a sincere heart. He will be faithful to reveal it through His Word or through examples of those who know how to touch the throne and heart of God with their worship.