20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father inspirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”(Jn. 4:20-24)
Jesus explained to the women at the well of Sychar that the Father desires to have true worshippers that worship Him in “spirit and truth”. However, what does this mean?
Let us start by addressing worship “in spirit”. The woman at the well, who was a Samaritan – a mixed people regarded as “unclean” by the Jews – asked Jesus what geographical place was the right one to pray from: the mountain of Samaria or the temple of Jerusalem? Jesus, looking forward to the time that would come after His death and resurrection, said, “The hour is coming…”
Jesus was referring to the time and era of the New Covenant. Under the Old Covenant, people could not be born again. The new creation era started with the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is called the “firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18), meaning He is the one that raised from the dead first, initiating the era in which people, through faith and by confessing Jesus as Lord, could be born again.
To be “born again” means that we receive new life in our inner being, in our spirit. The moment we receive Jesus, we become “new creations in Christ”. This happens as our spirit receives new life when the Holy Spirit moves in.
Jesus told the woman: In the New Covenant it does not matter which geographical place we worship God from. The important thing is that we are born again and worship Him based on “spirit fellowship”. Paul says that those who belong to Christ are “one spirit with Him” (1 Cor. 6:17). Only by becoming born again can we be “true worshippers”. People who try to worship God without being born again, are thereby false worshippers. All so called “worship of God” that is not based on having received Jesus as Lord is false and can never please God.
God is spirit and the only way in which we can have fellowship with Him is by becoming born again in our human spirit. As we are born again, God moves in permanently. This means that we can have fellowship with God 24/7, no matter which country or geographical place we pray from.
It is not uncommon that people believe that worship “in spirit” has to do with worshipping God extra loudly or with certain means of expressions. However, this has nothing to do with worship in spirit at all. It is possible to “worship God” by jumping, dancing, yelling, or even screaming while being in the flesh, i.e. without being inspired by the Holy Spirit. Worship in spirit does not necessarily have anything to do with our external expressions. It is fully possible to worship God in spirit in stillness and quietness, as well as through load shouts or even dancing.
What, then, does it mean to worship God “in truth”? An explanation that is common is that we worship God in truth only if we worship God after having repented from all our sins while living a fully sanctified and holy life. I disagree. It is obviously very important that we live a holy lifestyle before God. However, not even the most sanctified Christian can ever become qualified enough to worship God in truth if this is about us being perfect in our walk with Him. The truth is that we can never become good enough in ourselves. We can only approach God based on His grace (unmerited favor).
Jesus said regarding Himself that he is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6). He also said that God’s word is truth (Jn. 17:17). To worship God in truth is thus about worshipping God based on a revelation of Gods true nature and word, personified through Jesus and His finished work.
Some people can “worship God” by crawling on their knees on broken glass for 2 kilometers in order to pay penance for their sins. But this is neither worship based on a revelation of the finished work of Jesus, nor something that pleases God, since Jesus has already removed the sins of the world – through one offering – once for all!
Simply put: We can only worship God “in truth” if we have received a revelation of how loved we are by Him. Worship in truth is our response to God’s goodness, grace, mercy, and love.