Worship in Spirit and Truth

Worship in Spirit and Truth

Of all the sins that men and women commit, of all the wrong decisions we make, of all the wayward wanderings on which we go, none is more persistent than this: that we are religious.

Every culture throughout time has some kind of religion, some kind of practice, whereby people try to appease a god. We have an innate desire to worship God, but we lack a desire to know the truth. We are satisfied with worshipping ourselves as god. We are satisfied with a religion.

For this reason, the Bible warns us very heavily about idolatry. It speaks vigorously about the sin of religion. Through His prophets, God declared that He will not accept our festivals, our Sabbaths, our sacrifices, our religion; and yet we are incurably religious.

Amos 5:21-24 I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never ending stream!  

God is seeking righteousness, not religion. The heart of the issue is that God wants us to have a righteous, intimate relationship with Him; however, He has no fellowship with sin. But what do we do instead of repenting and making Jesus our Lord? We choose to cheapen the relationship that Jesus made possible on the Cross by reducing it to a business transaction—how much we tithe. We choose to reduce our relationship with Him to rites and rituals and duties. That’s religion.

I suspect you are mystified by what I am saying. Aren’t we church folks supposed to be religious? Isn’t that what God expects—that we do our church thing and perform our routines every Sunday, right on schedule.

No, God expects much more than that! God has created us for a relationship, not for religion, for righteousness, not for ritual! Jesus died on the cross for love, not for legalisms; for oneness, not for self-determination!

Let’s reconsider the conversation Jesus had with a woman at a well in Samaria. Jesus was thirsty. So when a Samaritan woman came to draw out water with her earthen jar, it seems natural enough that He would ask her, "Give me something to drink." Natural enough to us, maybe, but not to her. She was startled, because she could see that He was Jewish, and that He was male; therefore, all she expected was silence, not a conversation. But as the conversation went on, Jesus began to speak to her of living water, the Holy Spirit, which would quench the thirst in her soul forever.

Then He spoke about her personal life. Having never met before, Jesus reminded her that she had been married and divorced five times, and she is now living with a man who is not her husband. She perceives He is a prophet. Therefore, to change the subject, to talk about something less personal, the woman begins to talk about religion.

John 4:19-24 "Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."  Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." 

Instead of dealing with her own life issues, the woman at the well talks about religion. Instead of moving forward to unburden her heart about all these failed marriages, she asks about the right place to go to church. Instead of letting Jesus tackle the issue of her sin, she'd rather discuss who's right, the Jews or the Samaritans? Today, we would ask, “Which denomination has the best theology?”

Religion tempts us away from what matters to focus on insignificant things. We would rather debate religion than live our faith. We would prefer to get caught up in technicalities than to get caught up in ministry for Christ. We'd rather major on minors, split and divide ourselves over religion, than invest ourselves in a relationship with the living God. And that is sin!

When you and I share the good news about Jesus Christ, inevitably folks will try to change the subject and discuss religion. They are going to want to talk about how much water we use to baptize or how long the preacher preaches or how much money we are expected to give or what kind of songs we sing. Why? Why will they not want to talk about Jesus, and why will they not want to deal with their relationship to the living God? You know—because religion makes us comfortable by obscuring the conviction of our sin and our lack of a relationship with God.

What God seeks on Sunday morning, and every other day of the week, is those who will worship Him in spirit and truth. That means that God wants those whose worship is personal, genuine, and relational. God has made us for Himself, and He will be satisfied only by our love, and not by our religious routines.

Religion says, “What formulas can I use to appease God? How can I make sure He's on my side?" But faith says, "How can I love God? How can I tell my Lord that I love Him and trust Him and want to be with Him?"

Religion says, "Baptize me so that I can be saved;" but faith says, "I want an intimate relationship with Jesus and I will do whatever it takes to have it."

God is spirit. And those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit. Worship of God is personal, interactive, and spiritual. And by being spiritual, that doesn’t mean loud. That doesn’t mean full of pious language. No, to worship God in spirit is to face Him, and to face our sin. To worship God in spirit is to meet with a Living Being and to hear what He has to say. To worship in spirit involves our whole life (spirit, soul, and body) and everything we do and say.

Rom 12:1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.

God wants us to worship in spirit, but Jesus also said something else. He said God also seeks those who will worship Him in truth. In other words, God wants us informed, aware, and careful about what we are doing and thinking. God seeks someone who loves Him, in heart, soul, strength, and mind. That’s why the Holy Spirit wants to transform us by renewing our mind—so we can worship in truth.

The Holy Spirit will never have us do something contrary to God’s Word and He always glorifies Jesus Christ. That is a good test: if you are prompted to do something contrary to the Bible or something that doesn’t glorify Jesus, you are not being led by the Holy Spirit.

We have seen a renewed emphasis on worship during the past several decades. This has revived many churches and started several others, which is commendable. However, too often, Christians confuse entertainment and worship. As a result, the effectiveness of worship is often judged on the basis of personal enjoyment and the size of the crowd rather than biblical truth. Christian entertainment has its place in the church; however, it should not be a substitute for worship nor confused as such.

The use of choirs and worship teams can be effective in leading worship, but unfortunately, they too often degenerate to a means of showcasing an individual or a group. They provide entertainment rather than leading the worshippers into the presence of the Lord. The music chosen often seems to be designed to create an emotion rather than to honor Jesus. The melody or the rhythm seems more important than the theology of the lyrics. Repeating a chorus or a phrase over and over, numerous times, is geared more to inducing a hypnotic state than encouraging thoughtful spiritual worship.

Nevertheless, God still seeks those who will worship Him in spirit and truth, those who will love Him in a deep personal way, but who also will obey His Word. The best way for a song leader or worship team to lead a congregation in worship is by not by being a “cheerleader” (everybody clap your hands) but by worshipping the Lord themselves while leading the song.

It is our desire to be those God seeks. And so when we meet together, don’t come expecting to be entertained. Come here expecting to meet Jesus, who loves you and who is reaching out to you. Come here for an intimate encounter with the living Christ. And come here expecting the Holy Spirit to teach you about yourself and Jesus Christ. Do not come with empty heads and wandering thoughts, but come and focus on truth, on the truth in God’s Word that reaches out to expose your sin, to claim you for Christ, and to motivate you to repent and to live for Him.

After all, what God wants is not prancing preachers and carefully refined rituals. What God wants is not self-centered saints or fleeting feelings. What God wants is you, in spirit and in truth.

So, what is spiritual worship? First, spiritual worship is liberating. 2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

God never changes. Some things might look different to us. Some things are clearer to us because of Jesus, the Cross, the New Covenant, and the Holy Spirit, but God Himself never changes. In the Old Testament, God required a specific place of His choosing for the place of worship—the place where He would meet with His people. He requires the same thing today. As we sit in this building this morning, our mind automatically wants to make this the place, as a new version of the Old Testament temple. But it’s not. On this side of the Cross, God does not have any temples or tabernacles built by man that He inhabits. When Jesus died on the Cross, the veil of the temple was torn in two. That signified many things, but one of the things it signified was that the place of worship—the place of meeting—had changed. As a matter of fact, from that point forward, the temple was just a building. And that building was completely destroyed less than 40 years later.

So if God never changes, and that building is destroyed, where is the place of worship today? The place of worship today is in the body of every believer.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

When Jesus saves you, you become the place of His habitation. You are the place where the Lord calls you to commune with Him and worship Him. We worship God corporately in a special way when we meet as the church gathered, but we also worship continually when we are apart from one another as the church scattered. The Lord, the Holy Spirit, lives in the body of those who believe in Jesus Christ.

So, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. When we worship in spirit and truth, we are liberated from a specific location. We are liberated from certain objects. We are liberated from rituals. We are liberated to pour out our love to Jesus in words, in praise, in actions, and in music straight from our heart, because that is the place where He has placed His Spirit.

We have a certain order of service that we follow when we are together because God is not a God of disorder but of peace. (1Cor 14:33) But that is not what makes it worship. The music and its style is not what makes it worship. The sermon and how it is delivered is not what makes it worship. What makes it worship is the expression of love we have in our hearts for Jesus.

The Lord has given us His written Word. On top of that, He has given us His Holy Spirit to shine the light on that Word and open our eyes to what it says. But God knew it wasn’t enough to tell us in His Word how much He loves us and how we’re supposed to respond to His love. He knew we still wouldn’t understand, so He gave us the picture of marriage. When Jesus saves us, we become part of the Bride of Christ. The relationship between a husband and wife is a picture of Jesus’ relationship to the church. That is why the enemy is so hell-bent on destroying God’s picture of marriage.

Ephesians 5:31-33 "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

God is seeking unity—intimacy—oneness with us—just like in a marriage. What does an intimate marriage relationship look like? Are there ever times of deep, emotional expressions of love? Are those expressions of love ever verbal? Are they ever expressed with gifts? Are those emotional outpourings ever expressed physically?  If you answered “yes” to these questions, do you express your love for Jesus in these ways? After all, you are His Bride.

If I, as Kathy’s husband, never poured out my love to her with visible, verbal, giving, physical expressions… what would you think of our marriage? Oh, you wouldn’t think much of it? But wait, I do my duty. I provide for her. I do the work that I’m supposed to do. I fulfill my obligations to her. Is that not enough?

If I come home with a dozen roses, and as I hand them to her, I say, “I’m giving you these because it’s my duty and I’m fulfilling my obligation.” How do you think she would feel? If you thought “unloved”, you are right; there is not much intimacy there.

But if I came home with that same dozen roses and said, “Honey, I brought you these because I love you. They don’t express my love adequately, but in some small way, I want to show you how worthy you are of being loved.” Do you think her response would be different? Of course it would, because even though the action was the same, the attitude was different. One was motivated by obligation. The other was motivated by the expression of love.

Do you love Jesus? What kind of marriage relationship do you have with Him? When you worship Christ, are you showing Him what you think of Him or just going through the motions out of obligation?

Eph. 5:18-21 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Preachers have frequently emphasized the necessity of avoiding drunkenness by referencing the 18th verse that warns, “Do not get drunk with wine.” If we concede that this text prohibits drunkenness, then we must be equally adamant that it demands that believers be “filled with the Spirit.” We cannot worship in spirit and truth if we are not filled with the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, this Scripture describes our how our spiritual worship should be expressed in a corporate setting. We are to share psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We are to sing and make music in our hearts to the Lord, giving thanks for everything, and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Worship involves your spirit—the part of you that motivates you and drives you and makes you care. It’s about your spirit communing with the Holy Spirit of Christ who lives in you. And as you commune and fellowship with Him, you do what He does. The Holy Spirit always points to the Truth. He always magnifies Christ. So when your spirit communes with the Holy Spirit and you are led by Him, you join Him in what He’s doing, not because you have to, but because you love Him and you want to. That’s worship in spirit and truth.

So I’m going to ask you again—do you love Jesus? If you say you do and you don’t pour out your love in worship to Him every day, you’re fooling yourself. Your relationship is based on duty like the Pharisees was. And that’s not love at all—it’s an obligation—it’s religion.

If you are not worshipping the Lord in spirit and truth, it can mean a couple of things. First, it can mean you’re not capable of worshipping Him. If you have never submitted to Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are not capable of worshipping Him. You can sing and shout and wave your hands all you want to, but it is empty and hollow. It’s empty and hollow because there is no relationship there. If that is you this morning, ask Jesus to make you alive in Him. Believe in Jesus Christ and ask Him to save you. Repent and submit to Him as Lord and worship Him with your first act of obedience by being baptized. You will be born again by the Holy Spirit and worship will become as natural to you as breathing.

Secondly, maybe you have professed faith in Christ, but haven’t been truly showing Him how worthy He really is. This morning is the time to begin acknowledging all that He’s done for you and pour out your love to Him in worship. If that means crying—so be it. If that means raising your hands—so be it. If it means singing a little louder—so be it. If that means kneeling—so be it. Whatever it means, let the Holy Spirit lead you in worship every moment, each day, as you offer your body as a living sacrifice—a temple where God resides.