Contemporary religious groups worship in many different ways. Some have a choir and an organ, others have acoustic guitar and drums, others have laser light shows and men repelling from the ceilings. Some set a mood that is joyous and celebratory, others are serious and reverent. As with any aspect of life, so it is also with worship that God’s will is revealed in scripture. In John 4:24 Jesus said “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” These two concepts – spirit and truth – can provide a basic framework for considering our worship.
In scripture, the spirit is understood to be the core of one’s being, and the source of our desires, and emotions. We therefore understand worshipping in spirit to be a calling out from deep within ourselves. It is giving our all to Him both with our hearts and our minds.
Truth as understood from scripture is an objective reality that emanates from God. The truth about gravity, for instance, is that a person’s body will be pulled down towards the earth. As the gravity example illustrates, truth is not at the whim of our opinions. Worshipping in truth is about submitting to the realities that God has established regardless of our opinions.
Examples that illustrate the principles of worshipping in spirit, and worshipping in truth are both found in the Bible:
Romans 12:1 describes worship as the giving of our very selves as living sacrifices to God. Matthew 13:45-46 describes a man who joyously gives up everything that he has in his excitement at having found God’s kingdom. This man is worshipping in spirit, he is zealous for good and eager to give his all. Rather than worshipping out of compulsion or a sense of guilt, he worships because he is in awe.
Passages such as the rejection of Cain’s offering in Genesis 4, the consumption by fire from heaven of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10, or the striking dead of Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6 demonstrate the Biblical importance of worshipping in truth. For a New Testament example consider 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, in which the church is harshly reprimanded for taking the Lord’s Supper in a manner that is not in accordance with God’s will. All of these examples demonstrate that our “feelings” are not sufficient grounds to worship in a way that God does not accept.
Much confusion surrounding how to worship may come from an overemphasis on one of these principles to the detriment of the other. Our great zeal to worship God can be disastrous if it is unchecked by a deep respect for His will and the utmost concern for worshipping in a manner that He accepts. On the other hand, a solemn commitment to adhere strictly to God’s guidelines can still produce an empty worship if it is done out of obligation rather than true adoration.
The working out of the many implications of God’s desire for worship both in spirit and in truth is a subject too broad for a short bulletin article, but establishing these principles lays the groundwork for developing an understanding of worship that is full of both respectful obedience and heartfelt adoration.