“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” – John 4:24
People are gathering in stadiums, coliseums and outdoor areas by the thousands all over the world. They are gathering for sporting events, concerts, seminars, and sometimes even for church. All of these gatherings have something in common. Whether people realize it or not they are groping and drawn by an appetite to fulfill something they were created by God to do. Humanity is created with “eternity in their hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:8). Humanity has a need to worship. Some attempt to fulfill this need in worship of the things of this world. That will never fulfil. Jesus revealed the solution to humanities’ insatiable need to worship when He said, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
John’s inspired gospel provides us with some must dos if we are to experience the abundant life spoken of by Jesus. We must be born again. That means we must experience a second birth; a spiritual birth. Jesus must be lifted up on the cross. He alone is the One who can go to the cross and pay the penalty for our sins. There is a death penalty for all sin. Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead so that all who trust Him as Savior can be forgiven their sins and receive spiritual life. And the one serving God must decrease and God must increase. Once we’ve experienced the spiritual second birth through faith in Jesus, we are to live for Him. And the life lived for Jesus involves Him increasing in our lives and us moving further and further away from a self-centered life. There is another “must.” We must worship God who is Spirit “in spirit and truth.” We must worship God as He prescribes. And He prescribes we worship Him in our spirit according to the truth of His word. That is the only way to truly fulfill our need to worship.
What is “worship”? The term “worship” is proskyneo in the original Greek. This word is derived from the prefix pros which means at, unto, to, with, up against and the term kyon which is the Greek word for dog or hound. The idea in its most basic sense is that of to kiss like a dog licking its master. From this we get the picture of one who bows before, fawns over, crouches before, prostrates oneself before, does reverence to, or adores. The word picture is one in an inferior position paying homage to one who is their superior. A dog licks its master’s hand and face because his master provides for them, interacts lovingly with them, protects them and has their best interests at heart. From this we think of the loyalty of a dog to its master. We can picture how a dog is always eager and happy to welcome his master’s homecoming. To worship is to lavish kisses on our Lord. How do we do that?
Jesus says those who worship God or lavish kisses on the Lord “must worship in spirit and truth.” Those who worship in the secular realm toward various objects or people suffer addiction. The addict never gets enough; never finds true lasting fulfillment. Religious ritual, ceremony or tradition that is performed without a person having been born again is inadequate. Such worship is like the affection of a lizard.
When I was a boy I had a pet horny toad. My parents got it for me to hold off on the pet I really wanted; a dog! This is typical parental strategy. Parents often see pets in terms of cost in time, nuisance and money. So they got me a horny toad. I don’t remember the name I gave him. Maybe it was “Harry.” After I got used to the peculiar look of the creature Harry really became quite boring. A horny toad has a lot of horns. But a horny toad is expressionless. A horny toad doesn’t smile. Harry didn’t smile or welcome me when I looked at him in his tank. A horny toad doesn’t have fur to pet. Harry had no hair. Harry never really showed me any affection or licked my hand. Harry the horny toad did appear to get excited when I fed him mealy worms, (at least he would move a bit, until I fed him too many and the mealy worms ate him!). Harry just didn’t have the capacity to be warm or loving, show affection or “worship.” An unregenerate person has no spirit; they have a Harry-the-horny-toad-heart. They don’t have the capacity to relate to God who is Spirit. Without the Spirit there is no relationship between God and the individual. There can be therefore no worship, no true living interaction between God and those who have not been born again.
After Harry the horny toad my parents broke down and got my sister and me a miniature Schnauzer. We named him “Freddy.” Freddy was lots of fun. He ran all over the place. He always wanted to play. Schnauzers don’t shed hair and if we were delinquent in getting Freddy groomed he didn’t care. He loved us. He was always happy to see us. We knew that because he always wagged his stubby tail, barked when we came home, ran to us, jumped on us, and yes, licked us profusely. Freddy was the exact opposite of Harry. Freddy had a heart to worship his masters. Freddy loved us and we knew it by how he “worshipped” us.
When we got older and had less time for Fred, we began to see him as more of a nuisance. If we took out our anger from life problems on him he still loved us. We weren’t interested in him as much as we got older. We didn’t take him out to play or go for a walk. Maybe we growled at him more than we talked to him. We weren’t always the best “masters” but he never stopped loving us, no matter what. God is our Master. But He, unlike we were to Freddy, is the perfect Master. He never gives us reason to not love or lavish our affection on Him. He is always looking out for our good. What He allows in our lives we may not always understand, or like, or even appreciate, but He always loves us. There is never a reason for us to not lavish kisses on our Master.
What is truth? “Truth” (Greek aletheia) refers to that which is in agreement with reality, that which agrees with the facts or evidence. If something is truly true, it is true all the time. Truth needs to be reliable and trustworthy. God’s truth is objective and absolute. Man’s “truth” is subjective and relative. God’s truth always trumps the opposing “truth” of humanity. The opposite of truth would be superstition or that which is a fantasy concocted by imagination and not in line with reality, facts or evidence. The world and those in religions outside of what God has revealed to us in His word, live in such a fantasy. They create “God” in their own image. They create a fantasy religion or “God” that suits them; that they are comfortable with and can live with. But that is seldom truly God.
The person who is born again is spiritually regenerated. They have the Holy Spirit living within them (Rom. 8:9-11; 1 Cor. 6:19-20). By the Holy Spirit within we know we are God’s children (Rom. 8:14-16). The Holy Spirit within them is their contact with God. WE are assured of our salvation and relationship with God by the Holy Spirit within. The Spirit gives life (John 6:63; 2 Cor. 3:6). The Spirit also provides the inspired, literally God-breathed word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). By the Spirit within we are enabled to understand God’s word (1 Cor. 2:9-14). Jesus says God’s word is truth (John 17:17). The word of God is our manual for life. It is reliable verifiable history. It tells us His story from the beginning to the end. It is God’s revelation to humanity; His truth; eternal truth; absolute truth. It is His love letter to us. It is authored by the All-knowing God. Therefore it communicates to us truth; things we couldn’t know on our own. God’s word provides us with enough truth to trust in Him for salvation.
Later in John’s gospel Jesus tells Pilate, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” (John 18:37). Pilate brushed off Jesus’ words by saying, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Truth is found in God’s word and in the life testimony of Jesus. If we want to have a correct and truthful world view or understanding of reality, we need to base our understanding on Jesus and God’s word. Our faith must be based on and guided by Jesus and God’s word. It is by Jesus and the word of God that we should, “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).
Before a person is born again they are devoid of the Spirit. Because of that they don’t have the capacity to comprehend the truth of God or His scriptures (1 Cor. 2:14). The unregenerate person doesn’t speak the language of the Spirit or God. The unregenerate person doesn’t hear their master’s voice, understand their master’s language, know their master’s touch, or even care to lavish kisses on their master. God is their Master but they live like a stray dog who has run away from home and left the relationship with their loving master. The Master is calling for His dog to return home.
“God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” You must be born again to worship God in “spirit and truth.” Do you have a heart to worship God? Is your heart like Harry the horny toad or like Freddie the dog? Have you been born again? He’s calling stray dog humanity to come home. Do you hear His voice? Will you follow Him? (cf. John 10:27).