To worship in Spirit and in Truth

The Living Water

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10 ESV)

Every Bible Commentary* I’ve read concerning Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well focuses on water for drinking, a physical act that temporarily satisfies physical thirst, but never satisfies spiritual thirst. Jesus speaks of “living water” which satisfies spiritual thirst eternally. Physical water satisfies from without, temporarily, whereas living water satisfies from within, permanently.

waterfallThough unmentioned by Jesus in this passage, there was another purpose for drawing water for those who kept the law of Moses concerning ritual washings for cleansing the body and clothing when the people became contaminated. The OT priests also practiced ritual washings to prepare for their temple duties and before entering the tent of meeting. See Exodus 40:30-32, Numbers 19:20, John 2:6, et al. There are about 30 OT scriptures that address the Jewish rite of ritual cleansing.

Even though the Jewish people faithfully observed the Law of Moses and carefully maintained ceremonial cleanliness by washing with water, they still had to be washed in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14, 22:14, etc.) before they were truly cleansed and were able to enter into the Father’s Kingdom. The practice of washing with water was an external and symbolic act that provided temporary cleansing only.

With the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell all believers, there is no longer a need for ritual washings to cleanse ourselves. Instead, the Holy Spirit is a fount of “living water” flowing from within every believer who not only satisfies our spiritual thirst but who washes us from within. Thus the external act of washing with water, which was never able to clean the hearts of men (Matthew 23:25-28), is replaced by the internal act of washing by the Spirit (Titus 3:5).

In fact, the 6 stone jars filled with water that Jesus turned into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, were for the Jewish rites of purification (John 2:1-11). By turning the water into wine, Jesus first miracle marked the end of ritual washings with water. The water intended for external application to cleanse the body became wine taken internally in joyous celebration.

The only remaining practices of washing with water are 1) baptism and 2) foot washing. Baptism is an act of identifying us with and in Jesus whereupon our sins are forgiven (Acts 2:38); foot washing is a humble act of service to others symbolic of forgiveness for sins past and the promise of forgiveness for sins yet to be committed (John 13:3-15).

In Spirit and Truth

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” (John 4:21 ESV)

In the same way that Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well marks the transition from external ritual cleansings with water to cleansing and refreshing from within by living spiritual water, so also does this passage mark the transition from the external physical forms of worship specified in the OT to an internal spiritual form of worship.

Bible commentaries* agree that Jesus’ statement above marks the end of location based worship. Such is a reasonable conclusion since scripture also teaches that we are now the temple of the Holy Spirit which means we worship everywhere (1 Cor. 3:16, 6:19). However, the commentaries seem to overlook what I consider a far more important truth:

Jesus declared the end of bodily physical worship as practiced in the OT.

IF all Jesus had intended was to declare the end to location based worship, why didn’t He say instead “… the hour is coming when either on this mountain or in Jerusalem or any other location you choose, will you worship the Father.” Jesus DID NOT say “either” and “or”, He said “neither” and “nor, both of which convey the end of worship as the Jews and Samaritans had known it.

The Greek word meaning “neither” and “nor” is:

From G3756 and G5037; not too, that is, neither or nor; by analogy not even: – neither, none, nor (yet), (no, yet) not, nothing.

Notice that the Greek word οὔτε translates to “NOT” as well as “neither” and “nor”. “Neither” and “nor” are the prohibitive forms of “either” and “or”. Accordingly, Jesus could just as well have said “you will NOT worship on this mountain and you will NOT worship in Jerusalem”. For millions of Christians who attend weekly “worship services”, Jesus words have the potential to end church services as we know them! So did Jesus mean we will NOT “worship” God at all? Of course not! The key to understanding what Jesus said is Strong’s definition of the Greek word προσκυνέω for “worship”.

From G4314 and probably a derivative of G2965 (meaning to kiss, like a dog licking his master’s hand); to fawn or crouch to, that is, (literally or figuratively) prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore): – worship.

Per Strong’s Greek Lexicon, the verb “worship” used by itself refers to bodily prostrating oneself before the object or person being worshiped. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon adds that such worship is “token” or in recognition of the superior rank of another. None of the definitions imply that such worship is rooted in truth (genuineness). Rather, Strong’s dictionary cites the example of a “dog licking his master’s hand”, “crouching” and “fawning” which to me suggests a form of worship that is ungenuine, akin to begging or groveling; actions that are potentially dehumanizing and humiliating.

Such was the self-deprecating statement spoken by the Canaanite woman when she pleaded with Jesus to heal her son who was demon possessed. In her address to Jesus, she adopted the Old Testament position of worship. “And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table” (Matthew 15:27 KJV).

In saying “you will neither worship here nor in Jerusalem”, I believe Jesus means we will no longer worship Him “like dogs” or prostrate ourselves in token homage.

When Jesus expands on the word “worship” by adding “in Spirit and Truth”, our worship becomes an act of genuine love and adoration that springs forth from the heart. He has changed the very origin and nature of our worship from the external to the internal.

Since worship now originates within our hearts for God who wants us to worship “in Spirit”, there is no need to describe bodily physical acts of worship. So it should come as no surprise that there are relatively few scriptures in the NT concerning bodily physical worship as compared to the many and detailed scriptures found in the OT. Arguably, the bodily physical worship of the OT was never pleasing to God who is Spirit.

“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.” (Amos 5:21-23 ESV)

Nowhere in the NT is there conclusive evidence to suggest that the Church continued bodily ceremonial worship in the same manner as in the OT. Rather, scripture records a more heart-felt individualized type of spontaneous worship through the story of a woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, a woman who anointed Jesus’ head with expensive perfume and a leper who worshiped at Jesus’ feet after he was healed.

With regard to corporate singing, scripture records that Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn together, presumably without instrumental accompaniment, before going to the Mount of Olives (Mark 14:26). I am reluctant to refer to corporate singing as worship, since the apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 that the purpose of our singing together is to encourage, teach and admonish one another. Whether we regard corporate singing as an act of worship or not, it’s clear that each of these personal acts of worship occurred naturally as the people encountered and walked with Jesus. None were the result of a ceremony or scheduled “worship service” in a building.

Still, pastors wax enthusiastic about the “purpose and passion of worship” while asserting we were “made to worship” in manmade temples where “worship services” are held. I do not identify with the assertion that we were made to worship. In Genesis God said we are made in His image where like God, I am also a father. The inference that I, a man created in God’s image, would have (create) children to “worship me”, is repulsive to me. I had children because I wanted a family to love and who would love me in return, willingly. I believe that is the Father’s reason for creating us as well, a point He underscored when He gave His only Son to make us into “sons of God”. What is a son if not family?

There is also God’s first commandment to His children Adam and Eve which was to “go forth and multiply”; in other words God told them to “get busy and make grandchildren” for Him. Where the scriptures say God has made us into sons, priests, temples of the Holy Spirit, kings and heirs in Christ, it is abundantly clear that God has exalted us from the lowly position of underlings who prostrate themselves before a superior, or that of dogs who lick their master’s hand. God has exalted us to His own family, where we can call Him “Father” and “boldly approach” His throne as sons of God in Christ Jesus!

Accordingly, I view my own worship of God in a more natural, spontaneous and loving relationship like that which I have with my earthly father and that which my children have with me. If ever any of my children prostrated themselves to worship me, I’d raise them to their feet and embrace them. This is the very image Jesus painted for us in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-24). The Father ran to his son, embraced and kissed him, had him fitted with a robe, a ring and sandals, and celebrated his return with the fattened calf! Such was the father’s response to his son who came prepared to throw himself on his father’s mercy. The father raised up his son! He didn’t even let his son finish the confession he had rehearsed while making his way home! The father stopped the son’s confession before the son could prostrate himself, i.e., offer himself as a servant in his father’s household. The father would have none of that! This is MY son! GLORY!

prodigalIf ever there was a picture of “worshiping in spirit and truth”, it is the return of the prodigal son to his father’s home. Though the passage does not record how the son felt after the father exalted and restored him to the status of “son”, I am certain that the son’s heart was overflowing with the kind of love, praise and adoration for his father that the Lord is looking for from us, when we worship “in Spirit and Truth”. Such adoration is simply not possible in the old, bodily physical way of worship that Jesus declared at an end to the woman at the well. The Father doesn’t want dogs crouching and licking at His hands as if to beg for attention or a treat, He wants to embrace us as sons and daughters.

Concerning our new exalted posture before God as His sons, Justin the Martyr who recorded the history of the Church in the first century, wrote:

“We all rise together and send up prayers” (First “Apology”, Chapter LXVII, “Weekly Worship of the Christians”)

The congregation stood for prayer! Standing was a sign of joy and boldness, showing the freedom of God’s children to come boldly into his presence. Similarly, Mark 11:25 reads:

And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses (KJV)

Certainly I do not mean to imply that bodily physical worship of God is in any way wrong. We are free to do so if that is our leading and heart’s desire. What troubles me is the insistence of those who promote “worship services” in physical temples as a requirement for believers to attend, or who suggest believers are not worshiping with sufficient vigor during their “worship services”. Such misses the mark badly by putting the emphasis on physical worship over the spiritual worship our God desires.

Nowhere in the NT does Jesus criticize the worship of any worshiper, except to say that worship according to the doctrines and traditions of men is in vain (Mark 7:7-8). So isn’t it time we quit judging the worshipers of God by their bodily worship and whip-prodding congregations to “worship harder”? That man doing “jumping jacks for Jesus” may not be worshiping “in spirit and truth” nearly so well as the prodigal son who has finally come home to the loving embrace of his Heavenly Father.

*There are 22 commentaries freely available with the free eSword Bible application I use under Microsoft Windows. It is available to download freely at