Recently, a group of Christian leaders and I were discussing our lives outside of our official capacities. I startled some of them when I stated that most of my friends were unbelievers. “Why?” was the question asked of me. I answered that I had many reasons. One, because there is a tendency among Christians to only hang out with others who believe like them. Instead of engaging the culture around them, they isolate themselves in pockets of piety. Another reason is that it gives me an opportunity to build relationships with people and actually witness to them by my life, as I live out my beliefs. It is kind of difficult to keep either the Great Commission or the Great Commandment when you only surround yourself with fellow Pharisees. The biggest reason though is quite simple. Since I believe that there is only one way to heaven, I also believe that my unbelieving friends will not go with me there. This is the only time I have to spend with them and I want to make the most of it. Yes, I would like to see them become believers – I pray for God’s Spirit to enlighten them daily to the truth. I am cognizant that my words and actions speak volumes about God and I am conscious of redeeming the time and conversations I have with them. I love them and if this is the only time I have with them, if they never become believers and I lose my relationship with them forever – at last I will have had a good one. I will make up time missed with my brothers and sisters in Christ in the forever of heaven, but in the here and now I will continue to spend time with my unsaved friends, in whatever time God will grace me to have with them and continue to pray that they come to be forever friends before it is too late.
Worship is not about us and how we feel; it is about giving God the honor due His name. His Word, not our feelings, define that “honor”, which is due Him.
In Spirit and in Truth
At the end of the second chapter, a question was raised: “What does it mean to worship God in spirit and in truth?” Subsequent chapters have helped to lay the foundation for the answer to that question, which we will now consider. We will look at each of the terms Jesus used: worship, spirit, and truth, in order.
The word Jesus uses for worship in John 4:24 is proskuneo in Greek (or shachah in Hebrew). It means to “bow down” or “prostrate” oneself. The connotation is to engage in an act of humility, submission and reverence toward God.
In His conversation with the Samaritan woman, Jesus pointed out to her that the Samaritan’s idea of worshipping God was wrong. “You worship what you do not know, we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” The Samaritans worshipped God through ritual. For them, God was not personal. He was viewed as the Creator but not as their Father. Jesus was very deliberate in addressing God as Father (3 times in a row) emphasizing the personal nature of the relationship. He was trying to show her what was missing in her worship – a personal touch.
The only way true worship of God can take place is for a person to enter into a personal relationship with Him. God has to become their Father and they His children. The Samaritans knew God’s name, but not His character, personality or purposes. This is true of many people today. They know of God, but they do not know God personally for they have never experienced His salvation.
Unless a person accepts God’s salvation, he or she cannot enter into a filial (family) relationship with Him. Without this personal relationship, one cannot worship Him correctly. “In other words, one can know and worship God by experiencing His salvation which is in Jesus and which enables the worshipper to call God “abba”, Father.”
This is one reason why Jesus Christ came to Earth. He came to personalize God and to model the type of relationship with Him that God desires.
Christ, in the statement He made to the Samaritan woman, makes worship a matter of the heart, not ritual or tradition. Worship has sincerity at its core. It is the response of one’s spirit to the Spirit of God, a communing of one to the other. While worship can be planned, most often it is spontaneous, a response to proximity with God.
The New Testament uses different phrases to illustrate what it means when a person submits their life to the Lord Jesus Christ. Phrases such as “born again”, “born from above,” or “becoming a new creation” serve to convey the idea of what it means to become a child of God. The language of adoption is also used, with God the Father shown as adopting sons and daughters into His Kingdom, out of the kingdom of this world.
Those who have experienced this adoption, this being “born again”, are the only ones who can worship God in spirit because the spirit now in them is the Spirit of God. You see, at the moment of salvation a wonderful event occurs. God recreates us spiritually (we are born anew) which allows us to interact with Him intimately. This is what Jesus was telling the Samaritan woman. She did not need to worry about where to worship. She needed to understand how to be able to worship. She needed to experience a rebirth, spiritually. Jesus had a very similar conversation with a man called Nicodemus in John, chapter 3.
Intellectual, erudite, skilled in rhetoric and theology, Nicodemus came to Jesus seeking answers. Nicodemus was “the” teacher of Israel, their premier religious instructor. He had heard Jesus speak, he had seen the miracles Jesus had performed, and he accepted the truth that Jesus was a man sent by God, yet he was not a Christian. He did not accept that Jesus was more than a man sent from God, that Jesus was God in the flesh.
When Nicodemus approached Jesus, he gave him a very sincere compliment. He was met by a very confrontational reply, “Unless you are born again, you will not see the kingdom of God.” Jesus tells the premier religious teacher in Israel that he is not going to be in God’s Kingdom unless he experiences a spiritual rebirth. The word Jesus uses for rebirth means a transformation so complete that it will allow a person to enter another world and adapt to its conditions. He is telling Nicodemus that he needs to undergo a complete metamorphosis in order to enter the Kingdom of God. He is saying to Nicodemus, “Unless you allow me to spiritually transform you, you will not be able to survive in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus is insisting that Nicodemus undergoes a spiritual change from who he is currently, to what he needs to be. To Nicodemus, this statement is staggering. He understands what Jesus is implying, that his religion was futile. Nicodemus was a Pharisee. Pharisees tended to be hyper-legalists who externalized religion. They pursued a form of godliness that had no basis in reality. They were fanatically religious, striving to obey over 600 laws. For a Pharisee, salvation was obtained by works, doing things that they believed were pleasing to God. Being born again is something Nicodemus cannot do. Being born is something that happens to you, not something you do for yourself.
Nicodemus and Jesus did have something in common. Both were Jewish teachers. Jewish teachers taught spiritual truths in symbols. Nicodemus understands Jesus’ symbolism and answers back in kind. “How can a man, whose habits and ways of thinking have been fixed for so long, really be expected to change radically? Physical rebirth is impossible so is spiritual rebirth any more feasible? I can’t start over again. It’s too late. I’ve gone too far in my religious system to change now. I’d have to start all over again. My case is hopeless.”
Many people feel that way. Unlike Dinah, from chapter 3, they are too steeped in their religious tradition to be willing to change. They feel trapped and hopeless by beliefs that they have held all their lives and yet they are unwilling to change. It is not that they cannot change; it is that they will not change unless they allow God’s Spirit to convert them.
In order to satisfy the hunger of their hearts, in order to worship God correctly, they must allow God to transform their life spiritually. The new birth must come from the Holy Spirit of God. A person needs to be spiritually purified and spiritually reborn, and only the Spirit of God can only accomplish this.
We aren’t told how Nicodemus reacts to what he is told. He understands that Jesus is telling him that the new birth must be experienced in order to be understood. None of his scholarly wisdom will explain it. Only by immersing himself in Jesus will he be able to understand salvation.
Nicodemus knew about Jesus, had listened to Jesus, admired Jesus and complimented Jesus, but he did not know Jesus. He needed Jesus to transform his life through being born again.
Those whose hearts hunger to worship God must allow God to transform their life first. Then, they will be able to worship Him spirit to spirit. They will be able to hear Him and understand Him when He speaks. They will experience closeness, a sense of belonging, a kindred-ness with God that surpasses anything they could have imagined. This is what Jesus means when He tells us we have to worship in spirit.
The second criteria Jesus says is necessary to be able to worship God is found in the phrase, “and in truth.” Knowing whom to worship, Jesus, is of supreme importance. To worship in ignorance makes a sham of religion.
Truth, in biblical terms, is whatever is in harmony with the nature and will of God. The essence of true worship must be on God’s terms and He has revealed that the only worship He will accept is that which is based through Jesus Christ. The revelation of God in Christ is absolute truth.
The issue is not where a person worships, but how they worship and whom they worship. The how is in spirit. The who is Jesus. Worship is more than just emotion. Too many people confuse the terms praise and worship. Praise is rooted in emotion. Worship is grounded in knowledge – the knowledge of God’s Word and the knowledge of God’s Son.
By gaining a proper understanding of what Jesus said to the woman at the well, a person can come to worship God properly. A person can no longer sustain the argument that the format or form of worship does not matter. Jesus clearly states that it does. It must come from the spirit and it has to be rooted in God’s revealed truth. Not truth as a person feels it should be (subjective), but as it actually is, measured by divine revelation via the Bible (objective). When knowledge of God is deficient, worship of Him will also be deficient.
Since God has decreed that He will only accept worship that is grounded in and which flows through Jesus, this makes Christianity the only religion accepted by God. No other form of worship is accepted. A person cannot decide to worship God in whatever way he or she wants to. They did not make the standard. No religion can develop rules that make worship to God possible, because worship is rooted in and through the person of Jesus. Truth cannot be found in the Koran, Baghivad Gita, Pearl of Great Price or other religious works, because they do not contain the historical record of Jesus Christ and the truth of His life. Truth is not perception. Truth is an absolute.
To worship God in spirit and in truth requires a person to come to God on His terms, surrendering their life to His Son Jesus, accepting His forgiveness and cleansing from sin. At that moment, the heart is renewed, God’s Spirit comes in, and fellowship begins with God that will last for an eternity.
It is a wonderful thing to experience the transforming person of Jesus Christ. Just ask the Samaritan woman and her neighbors.
A Heart Hungry to Worship is available in print or Kindle editions from Amazon or from the author at http://discernmentministries.webs.com
Nicodemus meets with Jesus at night and what follows is a conversation that radically challenges one of the premier teachers of Israel