In Spirit and Truth

What does it mean to worship God in Spirit and in Truth? Does this imply a rejection of religion in favor of informal spirituality?

Artwork from the Torah Club Jesus, My Rabbi study, lesson "The Well of Jacob". (Image and art © First Fruits of Zion)

Where’s the correct place to worship God? The Jews claimed that God desired to be worshipped at the Temple in Jerusalem, but the Samaritans claimed that He wanted the Temple built in their territory on Mount Gerizim. The Samaritan woman asked Yeshua to weigh in on an age-old debate. Yeshua reframed the discussion, “An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).

He alluded to the future destruction of the Temple when He told the woman that “an hour is coming” when people would no longer worship on Mount Gerizim or in Jerusalem. When He told the Samaritan woman that “an hour is coming, and now is” when true worshipers will worship God in both spirit and truth, He implied that this will happen in the Messianic Age to come, but can also happen now, regardless of where people worship. To the extent that people lay hold of the kingdom of heaven in this current age, they may enter the beatific worship of the Messianic Age to come even now—in the present moment.

God desires people who will worship Him in both spirit and truth. The question is not one of being Jewish or Samaritan, nor is it one of worshiping in Jerusalem or on Gerizim. The important matter concerns the heart attitude of the individual worshiper and the revelation of God. To worship God in spirit is to worship Him as one spiritually reborn from above, born again.

Conventional interpretations of John 4 sometimes take His words to imply a dismissal of the Levitical system, the Temple worship, and Jewish practice. Such interpretations imply that the outward formalism of ritual observance is only an empty shell of legalism and stands in antithesis to real, spiritual worship. According to this interpretation, “spiritual worship” happens inwardly, in the heart and by means of the Holy Spirit, whereas Judaism is an impediment to such spiritual worship.

What did Yeshua mean when he said, “True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth”? To worship God in truth is to worship according to the truth of His revelation—the Torah of Moses and the words of the prophets. The Samaritans worshiped neither in spirit nor in truth. They did not worship according to the “truth” revealed by the Scriptures. Yeshua told the woman, “You worship what you do not know” (John 4:22). The Samaritans did “not know” the God they worshiped because they misinterpreted the revelation of His Torah; rejected the writings and teachings of His prophets, and they practiced enmity toward His people, the Jewish people. The Jewish people, on the other hand, do worship in truth, as Yeshua told her, “We [Jews] worship what we know” (4:22). Psalm 76:1 declares, “God is known in Judah.”

Yeshua told her that an hour is coming (the Messianic Era) when all humanity will worship the LORD in both spirit and truth because the LORD will pour out His Spirit on all flesh, and they will all know Him, from the least of them to the greatest of them. No more will anyone have to urge his neighbor to “Know the LORD.” Yet a person need not wait until the Messianic Era to begin worshiping the LORD both in spirit and in truth.

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This year Torah Clubs are studying the Gospels from a Messianic Jewish perspective. Every week Club members encounter Yeshua of Nazareth in his Jewish context. Discover the historical and cultural backdrops of the gospels and be amazed as the teachings of Yeshua snap into focus and clarity. Unravel his difficult words and parables; study Jewish parallels to his teachings; and ultimately know Jesus better.

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