John 4: Worship in Spirit and in Truth

John 4: Worship in Spirit and in Truth


John 4:20-24:

v.20: Our fathers worshipped on this mountain but you claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem

v.21: Jesus declared: Believe woman a time if coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

v.22: You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.

v.23: Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth for they are they kind of worshippers the Father seeks.

v.24: God is spirit and His worshippers must worship in spirit and truth.


With these words Jesus concluded His discussion with the Samaritan woman. She had an understanding of spiritual issues based on her theology. She knew that the Messiah was coming and when He comes He will explain everything (v.25).  Jesus seized the moment and revealed himself to her as the Messiah (v.26).

What is happening here? It is something radical and drastic. In a different form Jesus repeats Mark 1:15: …The kingdom of God is near… The Kingdom is Jesus himself and the way His people relate to Him is part of kingdom life. Jesus ushered in a new mode of existence, a new reality. Jesus proclaimed that the time has come. The fulfillment of the ages was at hand in Christ by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:1-4; 1 Cor. 15:1-3; Gal. 1:4; 4:4-5).  History was marching along on God’s timetable.

Early in Jesus’ ministry, He touched on the topic of worship. Honor and worship is due God simply because God is worthy and man is a worshipping being. The Old Testament affirmed the proper worship of God by focusing on a locale, the Temple, and God’s presence. Pagan religions had their pantheon of gods that allegedly paroled and controlled their locale. Thus, local deities were established and worshipped. The worship was to a physical god in a physical manner and always to get some favor or to avoid its supposed wrath.  In the book of Deuteronomy these pagan practices were condemned as Israel was about to enter the Promise Land (12:1-4).  Rather worship shall be in the place of the Lord’s choosing in contrast to pagan worship (12:5-7). The site, the where, of worship was important to Moses and to the Holy Spirit.  However, the how of worship, an attitude of joy and devotion was to be an integral part of worship (12:7).  Lastly, the what of worship was outlined (12:15-19).  The people from the heart were to present their sacrifices as an extension of themselves to the Lord as an acceptable offering. In this way the people would enter into God’s presence and live.

Early in Jesus’ ministry, He declared the essence of true worship which had been prefigured in the Old Testament. The declaration was based on the reality that God is Spirit and that the Holy Spirit had come and was coming in a fuller form. In due time, the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost (Acts 2). Both Christ’s and the Spirit’s coming created a different realm of existence for the believer. The Holy Spirit equipped and enabled Jesus to do His work and He equips the Church and the believer to do their work. This includes the proper worship of God.

In John 4, Jesus declared the reality of true worship in His encounter with a Samaritan woman.  Jesus approached worship in the same format: where, how, and what. The venue of the discussion was in itself incredible. A woman and a Samaritan were considered second class citizens and not worthy of fellowship. To drink water from her hand was thought unclean by the Jews – contamination!  During Jesus’ conversation with her she demonstrated her moral impurity. Jesus confronted her and she attempted to turn the subject of the conversation from her to another subject. She chose worship (4:20-24).

Jesus seized the opportunity which was part of God’s providence. He reiterates one of His purposes in coming: worship would be to one God with one motive for the right reason according to the Spirit. Truth and knowledge were to be wedded in worship (v.22).  The woman had made worship according to a place the central fact. She spelled out the issue as one of understanding according to the Jews or the Samaritans. She had missed the importance of a universal church – Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:14-16). In verses 20-21, Jesus gives the women a choice: to believe Jesus or continue in unbelief. Jesus went on to explain that she misunderstood the where of worship as she has defined it. It is not a place issue and it is not a Jew or Gentile issue.  Worship is based on true knowledge and she did not have that knowledge (v.22). As He will explained, if one has the Being and person of God wrong, then worship will be wrong.

Jesus moved to the what and to the how of worship. First, worship is based on the knowledge that God is and that He deserves worship from every creature. Second, God is Spirit and He deserves worship His way and with a right motivation (v.23-24). Third, Jesus declared the presence of true worshippers with His coming. True worshippers were present in the Old Testament. But with Jesus’ coming a radical change occurred. The flood gates of God’s revelation were opened. What had been hidden in the Old Testament was now revealed. After the Holy Spirit was poured out, there would be greater clarity of God and worship through the Son by the Holy Spirit. Jesus ushered in a new existence for His people and for His creation.  The old was going and the new was being ushered in. Part of the new knowledge was the reality that God is spirit (v.24). Because He is, worship must be spiritual.  God is a living Spirit, a living Being in contrast to the dead objects such as a tree-deity, a stone-deity, or a mountain-deity. God’s essence is Spirit. Therefore God must be worshipped spiritually.



  1. Consider the where, how, and what of worship. How do you apply those concepts today to your life?
  2. What is the significance that God is Spirit?
  3. God is looking for true worshippers. Where will He find them and how will he know?



John 4: Worship in Spirit and in Truth: Part B

In Spirit


In Jesus’ ministry to the Samaritan woman and to believers in all ages, He taught basic principles regarding God, worship, and worshippers. In His conversation with her, He met her where she was in terms of theology and its application. She had a wrong view of worship because she had a wrong of God, herself, and others. She could not live and worship any way she chose.

She asked where true worship would be conducted and she gave two options (4:20). Jesus told her she was wrong on both counts (4:21). He then clarified that the true worshipper has proper knowledge of God and worship (4:22). In verse 23, Jesus drops a time-bomb. The hour is now that true worshippers have no specific ethnicity and they are to worship God in spirit and truth.  What hour is Jesus speaking? Jesus refers to His Messianic coming. The fullness of time is now – Christ has come, the new exodus of God’s people from darkness to light is in progress, and the Holy Spirit will soon follow in His fullness (Rom. 1:1-4; Gal. 4:4; Eph. 1:9-10; John 20; Acts 2). In verse 24, John declares that God is Spirit. Because He is, worship is to be in spirit and in truth.

Jesus gave the woman a twofold truth about God and herself. She was a worshipper as are all men. There is true and false worship and true and false worshippers. Since she is a worshipper by God’s design and God is to be worshipped His way for His glory, true worshippers must worship Him in spirit and truth.

By worship in spirit, Jesus may be referring to the inner person – the heart. Or He may be referring to worship that is Holy Spirit-informed, Holy Spirit- directed, and Holy Spirit–energized. Or He may be referring to both. It is thought-provoking to consider the fact that Jesus chose the subject of worship as the means to present himself as the Messiah. Jesus met the woman where she was. She brought up the subject most likely to deflect conversation into her own life. She received more than a theology session. She received Jesus. He revealed himself to her because He was in the Spirit and He was truth.

Only the believer can worship in spirit. All men are spiritual beings, image bearers of God. At the least, that fact means that man is a religious and worshiping being. He does and will worship. He worships the God of Scripture God’s way or he worships a god that he has created in the way that he thinks gives him the most advantage. Only the believer has been indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This indwelling brings God into a Father-child relationship with the believer and the believer into relationship and communication with God. The believer’s union with Christ makes all the difference in terms of living including worship. The believer is able to think God’s thoughts about himself and God. He is able to desire what God desires for God and for the believer. True acts of service to God and to others will follow. The believer knows God because He is known by God. The believer has been changed inside-out and has the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).

Christianity is an inside-out religion that moves out from the heart. For the believer, the activity of the heart should be manifested by concrete God-honoring-thoughts, desires, and actions. The externals are manifestations of a changed heart and should be true expressions of love of God and others (Matt. 22:37-40). Externals are important because they can be a barometer of the content of one’s heart. Heart allegiance and devotion to God and for God whether in a worship service or in daily life is in part what it means to worship in spirit.

Worship in spirit is predicated not only on what man is in relationship to God, but more so on who and what God is. He is Spirit. The very essence of God is that He is Spirit. This point stresses the fact that He is unique and distinct from all other beings. As Spirit, He is immaterial and invisible. He is not composed of parts. Therefore, God cannot be discerned by the bodily senses. Since God is Spirit, He must be acknowledged and worshipped in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. The fact that God is Spirit demands that a person be changed by the Spirit and begin to know God as He truly is.

Worship – corporate and individual in and out of church – must be actively dependent upon, regulated, and controlled by the Holy Spirit. Only then will worship be from a heart of love and faith to the true great God out of reverence for Him. Because God is Spirit worship must in accordance with the reality that He is Spirit. Man is body and spirit – inner and outer man, a duplex being. Man has a body but God has no body. Throughout history and today, idolatry is alive and well. Generally idolatry took the form of the worship of some physical object. The object was something that the people experienced with their senses:  they could see, touch, taste, and feel it. The idolater was at home in his world giving honor through ritual to himself as he did homage to this physical object. The believer no longer is a purely sensual being. He interprets what he takes in with his senses through saving faith (1 Cor. 13:12; 2 Cor. 5:7, 9).  He is what I call a suprasensual being.  Since God is Spirit, the believer will and must know and worship Him from a heart changed and growing by the Holy Spirit.

There is one God and only one form of worship – from the inside out according to biblical principles.  At the well, Jesus gave a theology lesson with God as the subject. God is not limited to any one place. He is Spirit and dwells everywhere. God seeks out true worshippers is tantamount to saying God seeks and saves those who are lost (Luke 19:10). God keeps His children and they develop as true lovers and worshippers of God.



  1. What does it mean to worship God is spirit?
  2. What are the reasons given for the call to worship in spirit?
  3. How is it possible for the believer to worship in spirit?
  4. What is necessary for a person to worship in spirit?


John 4: Worship in Spirit and in Truth: Part C

In Truth


In His ministry to the woman at the well, Jesus has taken the opportunity to teach her, and all believers, the truth about God and people. He meets this woman where she was in terms of her relationship with God. She needed the Spirit and she needed truth.       The woman had some idea of revelation. She acknowledged Jesus a prophet (4:19). She knew God deserved to be worshipped and that Scripture promised a messiah (4:20, 25). The where, how, and what of worship she missed because she did not know God.

Jesus began the theology lesson with knowledge in order for the woman to get the big picture. He taught that God’s revelation is progressive, expanding, and culminates in Jesus – His person and work. Jesus was about to fulfill what the Triune God decided in eternity past (John 6:37-43). Jesus presented himself to her as the Messiah (4:26). In that light, God dwells with His people and they dwell with Him. Locale is not the issue.

However, coming into God’s presence and remaining alive and well was a major concern for the Israelites. The Old Testament taught that to see God meant death (Gen. 16:13; 32:30; Ex. 33:20, 23). Entering into God’s presence and living was a question that was answered throughout redemptive history since Genesis 3:15. Jesus and the Holy Spirit progressively revealed God’s answer. Fellowship with God was His initial design but sin and God’s judgment entered the picture. God established the sacrificial, ritual system in the Old Testament by which a privileged high priest once a year could enter God’s presence and offer a sacrifice for himself and the people. The people could know if the sacrifice was acceptable if the priest returned to them. This system pointed to Christ as the High Priest who entered into the Holy of Holiness once and completed the task of atonement. The Old Testament gave insight into what was coming in Christ as revealed in the New Testament.

Worship in the Old Testament was God-ordained. It was robed in ritual, ordinances, and ceremonies which pointed to Christ. At the cross Christ, the privileged High Priest, entered the Most Holy Place and offered His shed blood as the atoning sacrifice. His resurrection confirmed that the debt God’s people owed to God had been paid in full. After His Ascension, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell His Church and His people. Without the Holy Spirit’s coming, Christ’s meditorial work (redemption accomplished) would have been for naught. The Holy Spirit is the dynamic of the new kingdom.

The Spirit is also the Spirit of truth and the new birth (regeneration). Jesus is truth (John 14:6) and His Word is truth (John 17:17). True worship is based on a proper knowledge of God, worship, and the person – the worshipper. True worship stems from one’s union with Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit. True worship, both individually and corporately, is a whole-person activity – thoughts, desires, and actions.

The Spirit was working in the Old Testament. While glorious, His fullness had not come until Pentecost. The Old Covenant while glorious gave way to the more glorious New Covenant (2 Cor. 3:6-21). A fuller knowledge of who the Triune God is takes the person back into eternity, pushes him into the present, and motivates him to look forward.  The Triune God is the true God of His true people. God was and is calling His people from every tribe and nation.

True knowledge of God compels a believer to assign to God that which is His. It is to give God full worth-ship.  Knowing and growing in the knowledge of God’s true worth-ship is part of worshiping in spirit and in truth. Knowing God and enjoying Him is the duty, privilege, and blessing of every believer. True knowledge of God always leads to true knowledge of self. Truth sets a person free when that truth is Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Otherwise it is not truth (John 8:31-32; 14:6, 16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:13).

In corporate worship, God is present with His Church. The special presence of God is also a privilege and blessing as part of the New Covenant. The Triune God is the audience as believers worship Him in spirit and truth. Every believer is able to relish the time he has with his God, not only in private and individual worship but also corporately as a church family. Corporate worship is the highest expression of worship and is a duty, privilege, and a blessing for God’s covenant people (Ps. 100).



  1. What is your understanding of John 4:20-24?
  2. The believer and the Church are Spirit-filled: what effect does that fact have on your thoughts, desires, and actions?
  3. What will you pray for when you ask the Holy Spirit’s blessing on your private and public worship service?



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