In John 4 Jesus met a woman at the local well. She was a Samaritan, from a people group despised by the Jews. She was alone, as was he. This made their conversation awkward, especially when Jesus told her to go fetch her husband. She didn’t have one. Her current live-in lover followed a string of five divorces. She was undoubtedly the subject of a lot of raging rumors in that small town.
The woman simply replied, “I have no husband” (verse 17). Jesus already knew that. When he revealed the details of her past, she was obviously eager to change the subject. So she asked him to settle a bitter debate between their peoples: Where is the proper place of worship? Was it Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim? The fact that they were standing in the shadow of Mount Gerizim added tension to the question.
This launched one of the most significant discussions on worship in all the New Testament, which we find in John 4:21–24. What does real worship look like? Jesus repeated it so we wouldn’t miss it. Real worship is in spirit and truth.
Churches often debate the proper form of worship. What style of music? Does the building matter? What elements should worship include?
For Jesus, the real question is not about the style of worship but about the heart of the worshipper. Valid worship arises from the Spirit and Truth. In the gospel of John, Spirit and Truth are more persons than virtues. Jesus is identified as the embodiment of Truth (1:14, 17; 5:33; 7:18; 8:32, 40, 45–46; 14:6; 18:37), and the Holy Spirit is described as the “Spirit of truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13). The strikingly new nature of Christian worship honors the Father, as experienced through Jesus, by the indwelling of the Spirit.
Judaism focused only on God. Without Jesus, however, we don’t have a clear view of God. Without the Holy Spirit, we don’t have the true heart of Jesus. Hence, when we worship in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, it opens access to God himself.
What differentiates Christian worship from other religious activities is the Spirit. The Spirit leads us to the Truth embodied in Jesus, who escorts us directly to the Father. That’s what true worship looks like.
Describe a time when you experienced true worship.