John 4:24

‘“God is spirit,
those who worship Him must worship in spirit
and truth.”’
(John 4:24)

It’s important to realise that ‘“God is spirit”’, so our relationship with Him will be spiritual primarily (i.e. ‘“in spirit”’ here), with some notable exceptions, like when ‘the Word… God… became flesh’(John 1:1&14) in the form of Jesus, and spoke these very words to a physical woman standing by a well in Samaria. Even so, His main point was to emphasise the spiritual to her. Moreover, as Jesus said elsewhere, His spoken ‘“words… are spirit”’(John 6:63) anyway. In addition to that, He was actually addressing our relationship with ‘“the Father”’(John 4:23), who being pure spirit is of course ‘invisible’(Colossians 1:15) physically, yet very real when perceived spiritually.

Our spirituality is an important aspect of what it means to be human, and something that we share with God. It’s part of our being made in His ‘image’(Genesis 1:27). In the ‘new heaven and… new earth’(Revelation 21:1) this will become even more obvious. There we’ll have ‘a spiritual body’(1 Corinthians 15:44) even, since ‘flesh and blood can’t inherit God’s Kingdom’(1 Corinthians 15:50). This is hard to imagine. Perhaps John’s later vision of the risen Jesus ‘like a son of man… “forever”’(Revelation 1:13-18) gives some clues, since ‘we will be like Him’(1 John 3:2). Certainly no ‘natural’(1 Corinthians 15:44) ‘“eye”’(1 Corinthians 2:9) has seen these realities, but the ‘Spirit’(1 Corinthians 2:10) of God can help the ‘spirit’(1 Corinthians 2:11ff.) of man to see them, at least ‘dimly… in part’(1 Corinthians 13:12), until the full glory of this hard to imagine eternity becomes clear. So we should set our minds on such things, as we ‘seek’(Colossians 3:1ff.) God and ‘“worship in spirit”’, as Jesus puts it here.

Importantly however, we shouldn’t think of God as being distant, in some yet to be encountered, hard to imagine future reality, whatever form that may take. It’s always been the case that God’s ‘Spirit’(Psalm 139:7ff.) wants to draw near, addressing our ‘inward… inmost place’(Psalm 51:6), in communion with our ‘heart… soul’(Deuteronomy 6:5) / ‘spirit’(Psalm 34:18 & 51:17). However, as Jesus was explaining to this Samaritan woman, ‘“the hour comes, and now is”’(John 4:23) when this would reach a new level (a New Testament level), like receiving ‘“living water… springing up to eternal life”’(John 4:10-14), as He’d just described it to her. In the preceding chapter, when talking to Nicodemus, Jesus had called this being ‘“born of the Spirit”’(John 3:6&8, cf. John 7:38-39), in a sense made newly ‘alive… through His Spirit who dwells’(Romans 8:10-11) within, as had long been prophesied: ‘“‘“I will put my Spirit within you”’”’(Ezekiel 36:27) – even like becoming ‘a temple of the Holy Spirit’(1 Corinthians 6:19).

So the risen Jesus breathed on His disciples and ‘said… “Receive the Holy Spirit!”’(John 20:22), who was poured out all the more on ‘the day of Pentecost’(Acts 2:1ff.). It’s how we’re ‘sealed’(Ephesians 1:13, cf. Romans 8:16) as ‘His’(Romans 8:9), and enabled to ‘worship God in the Spirit’(Philippians 3:3) like Jesus describes here, or pray ‘in the Spirit’(Ephesians 6:18, cf. Jude 1:20), and ‘walk by the Spirit’(Galatians 5:16), etc.

However, although it’s important for our spirits to be engaged in worship, enlivened and ‘one’(1 Corinthians 6:17) with the Holy Spirit within, we’re still in ‘natural’(1 Corinthians 15:44) bodies, for now. So we use our vocal cords to ‘sing with the spirit’(1 Corinthians 14:15), perhaps accompanied by other parts of our anatomy too (unless we’re more inclined to undistracted stillness). Either way, worship mustn’t be just from our ‘“lips”’(Isaiah 29:13, cf. Matthew 15:8), or whatever else we’re inclined to move, but rather flow from the ‘heart to the Lord’(Ephesians 5:19). The same applies to works, visible or invisible, which can also be part of worship from a regenerate/renewed heart/mind, ‘heartily’(Colossians 3:23) presenting our lives/bodies as a ‘living sacrifice… [in] spiritual service’(Romans 12:1), including practical giving from the ‘heart’(2 Corinthians 9:7), ‘an acceptable and well-pleasing sacrifice’(Philippians 4:18). This can even apply to art and architecture, like in Old Testament times, when some were specifically ‘“filled… with the Spirit… to make skilful works”’(Exodus 35:31-32ff.) – yet noting Jesus’ point here, that location doesn’t matter now (although design can help).

We should note also that ‘“in spirit”’ obviously doesn’t mean simply ‘with emotion’. Feelings are often involved, as we’re moved by the Spirit, but God’s Spirit also influences our ‘will… to work’(Philippians 2:13) for Him. Moreover, He guides us ‘“into all truth”’(John 16:13), which is why Jesus ‘“the truth”’(John 14:6) adds ‘“and truth”’ here. Paul similarly adds, ‘I will sing with the understanding also’(1 Corinthians 14:15).

So, ‘“in spirit”’, by the Spirit, we’re to feel, think, plan and act worshipfully for Him, who ‘“is spirit”’.

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