Always Worship God in Spirit and in Truth

by: Howard Denham




In strengthening souls and preparing them for eternity, the worship of God is absolutely vital. Humanity must come to the realization that the welfare of people ultimately centers on their relationship with the Creator.

In John 4:24, Jesus declared to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well just outside the ancient city of Sychar: “God is a spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” * The New Testament describes the value, vitality, and form of worship that God desires from us today.

There are a number of things especially stressed in that simple statement in John 4:24 concerning New Testament worship of which we need to be aware, in order for our worship to be pleasing and acceptable to God. The text stresses that –


The woman at the well perceived Jesus to be a prophet of God. As a result, she desired to know from Him which form or place of worship was that which God really authorized. Was the worship of God to take place in the temple built by Sanballat on Mt. Gerizim, as her fathers had said, or was it to take place in the temple at Jerusalem, as the Jews claimed? Jesus’ answer noted that the Jews knew whom they worshipped: “for salvation is of the Jews.” In other words, the Jews were right. However, there was a time coming when worship in either place would not be the norm under God’s law. “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (John 4:23).

There would be a change in the realm of worship. Worship would no longer occur at the temple on Mt. Gerizim or even in the temple in Jerusalem. The word “true” is especially significant. It not only conveys the idea of true as opposed to false or “not true.” It contextually is referring to a system distinct from that embodied in the worship then being observed by either the Samaritans or the Jews. Judaism was a type or shadow of that which was to come, the true and the substance. The New Testament system of worship would supplant the Old Testament system of temple worship.

The New Testament system is predicated on the proposition that the God of Heaven is not contained by the walls of any man-made temple. As Paul would later proclaim:

God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with man’s hands, as though He needed any thing, seeing He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things. (Acts 17:24-25).

God is not a material Being who is in need of material things for His life and sustenance. Hence, Jesus said to the woman, “God is spirit…” The indefinite article of the KJV is not needed. In fact it somewhat obscures the idea. The force of the syntax is that God is non-corporeal. He has no physical body, but is in essence purely a spirit Being. In fact, He is “the Father of spirits” (Heb. 12:9). True worship will reflect the more proper connection and emphasis with the spiritual over the material. Judaic worship tended toward the material over the spiritual, with the latter being present but always hidden within the form, expressed by the type, or covered within the shadows of the law.

Christian worship brings the spiritual to the fore-front and places the emphasis upon the Creator in a way that the previous systems of Patriarchy and Moses could not. These served well for the purpose of preparing humanity for the coming of the Gospel system, but could only accomplish so much. A truly universal system of worship with greater emphasis upon the spiritual nature of the Creator would be embodied in the New Testament system. Each of the previous stages had provided some light, though limited, on the nature of God. But the fuller revelation of this wondrous Being was reserved for the coming of the Son of God near the close of the latter dispensation to prepare for the Gospel Age. As the star-light dispensation of Patriarchy gave way to the moon-light dispensation of Moses, so the latter gave way to the Son-light dispensation of Jesus Christ, who, as “the Sun of righteousness,” has arisen “with healing in His wings” (Mal. 4:2). The worship that He has devised, developed, and delineated in His New Testament is that which is binding upon us today. Gone are the Old Testament festivals and forms that emphasized the carnal and the physical speaking mutely of that which was to come (Eph. 2:14-15; Col. 2:14; Heb. 10:9; Rom. 10:4)! Here now are the forms and substance of true worship – what worship ultimately was intended to be – that which recognizes and operates in harmony with the spiritual nature of the proper Object of our worship.


“God is spirit, and they that worship Him…” God is the proper Object of worship. He not only desires worship. He rightly deserves worship. Whatever worship entails He is the rightful Recipient of it.

Men are not to be the object(s) of worship. When Cornelius fell down at the feet of the apostle Peter and “worshiped him,” the latter said: “Stand up; I myself also am a man” (Acts 10:25-26). What a vastly different attitude Peter showed compared to the Roman Catholic Popes who claim that Peter was the first Pope! Whether one calls it dulia, hyperdulia, or whatever, Peter refused to receive it. He knew that worship rightly is something due to Jehovah God and not mere men.

When the apostle John fell down before an angel to worship him, the angel rebuked him, saying: “See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that bhave the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10). Even angels, despite their power and ability, are not worthy of worship. Religious service (threskeia) offered to angels is clearly forbidden (Col. 2:18). How much more so concerning man, who is made “just a little lower than the angels” (cf. Heb. 1:6-7)?

(1) God deserves worship because He is the Creator of all things (Gen. 1:1-2; Psa. 19:1; 95:1-11; 111:1-10; Acts 17:24ff.). (2) He also deserves worship because He is the owner of all things. Everything ultimately belongs to Him (Psa. 24:1-2; 50:10; Hag. 2:8; 1 Cor. 10:26, 28). (3) He deserves worship because He provides everything that we enjoy in this world – He is the great Benefactor of humanity, especially for His people (1 Tim. 6:17; Matt. 5:45; Acts 17:25-26; Jam. 1:17). It is no wonder that in the heavenly scene of Revelation 4:10-11, John sees the 24 elders falling down before God and worshipping Him, as they proclaimed:

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created. (Rev. 4:10-11).

What right does any mere mortal have to claim prerogatives that only belong to the Great I Am? Yet earth’s history is filled with such characters who thought themselves His equal, and many, who would not otherwise consciously submit blasphemy, do nonetheless blaspheme Him and cease adulation due to Him alone by the way in which they live their lives. They do so each day by putting themselves first in all of their plans and deeds (Eccl. 12:13-14; Matt. 6:33). Even on the day in which they ought to be worshipping the God of heaven, they instead seek other pursuits for their own pleasure and glory (Heb. 10:25). The first day of the week, our Sunday, is called “the Lord’s day” for a reason (Rev. 1:10). It is no accident that the Greek term kuriakos, which is not the usual term for “Lord’s” (kuriou), is used of this day, as the only other time it is used in the New Testament is of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20). The royal feast on the royal day to honor our God!


Man is to worship God “in spirit.” Again, the text reads in part: “God is a Spirit, and they that worship must worship Him in spirit…” So, for our worship to be acceptable, it must involve our spirit. The word “must” shows obligation. It is not an optional matter.

Another thing to observe is that reference is not to the Holy Spirit as the mode of worship. It is the human spirit, despite the current “Spirit mania” that has overtaken liberal brethren. It is the human spirit about which the Lord speaks. By it He has reference to the right attitude, the right disposition of heart and mind, the right focus of one’s reflections and thoughts. He is teaching that man’s own sight must be involved in the act of worship. We must engage our intellectual, emotional, and volitional powers in the act(s) of worship for us to truly worship. Doing the right things without the right attitude, etc. is meaningless.

This is because the basic meaning of “worship” is “homage or adoration paid to Deity.” This is the essential signification of the verb proskuneo (“to worship”). Now, that homage or honor is paid through specifics acts, as we shall see, but they are themselves dispositions of mind toward God that are so expressed. They arise from the heart or mind of the worshipper. The worshipper approaches God from this perspective of love and admiration. He also does so reverently and fervently to show the kind of respect and awe that God rightly deserves from His creature.

Joshua’s great Farewell Discourse has a similar text, which reads:

Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve Him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt, and serve ye the Lord. (Josh. 24:14).

While the broader term “serve” is used, it still deals within itself with the same basic truth that the proper attitude is needed whether in serving God (the larger class of which worship is a part) or in worshipping God (the more specific form of service). All worship is service, even though not all service rendered to God or on God’s behalf is worship. That the two are different is seen in the Lord’s statement in Matthew 4:10, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.” The Lord did not commit a tautology. He reasoned from the specific to the more general category.

Christians are to cultivate the right condition of heart that permeates their being with the right disposition to be able to humbly, lovingly, and reverently approach the throne of God in bestowing the kind of worship He desires and deserves. We are to “…serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28-29).

Chewing bubble gum, clipping finger-nails, talking on the cell phone, text-messaging, listening to a radio program or recording through a sound device, thinking about the dinner one’s planning to eat, or focusing in one’s thoughts on the afternoon football or baseball game one wants to watch, or any number of other distractions should not be found among those who profess to be the true worshippers of God. Such worship is vain, fruitless, empty, and barren of any meaning and usefulness. It is stillborn. It is an expression of obligation and not appreciation. While we are to worship God, our worship ought to flow from hearts filled with love for the father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We ought to treasure the time we are able to spend together as brothers and sisters in Christ expressing our mutual thanksgiving in obeisance to our God.

No greater privilege can be afforded on this earth than to have the right to approach the presence of our God through the means of worship in the acceptable and blessed way laid out in Holy Writ. Those who do not avail themselves of this privilege are robbing themselves of a great blessing. They are robbing also their brethren in Christ as worship, as shall be seen, entails joint participation to the benefit of all parties. But most of all they are robbing God of that which He rightly deserves, and they are showing such abject disrespect for His power, disregard for His many gifts, and disdain for His majesty, that they not only impoverish their souls but place them in peril of Hell fire! Civil dignitaries they often treat with greater respect than the God of heaven!


Worship by definition involves actions that express the homage or adoration paid to Deity. The very presence of the verb proskuneo implies action – something which is to be done. Jesus goes further to state that we must worship not only in spirit, but also “in truth” (John 4:24). Worshipping “in truth” means that we are to worship in keeping with God’s word, which is truth (John 17:17). Our worship must accord with Bible authority. The acts then that we are to engage in to worship God must be those that God has authorized (Col. 3:17).

As we are to “walk by faith” (2 Cor. 5:7), we must do so according to the word of God: for “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Furthermore, we must have faith in order to please God in what we do (Heb. 11:6). There is no faith, and thus no pleasing God, where we are not acting in keeping with God’s word.

In the New Testament, the word of God has specified 5 acts or avenues of worship. Each act has certain aspects that are delineated and other aspects that are left to human judgment as the most expeditious way to get them done.

(1) One act of New Testament worship is singing. The early congregations sang “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” in their assemblies (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). In so doing, they taught and admonished one another in the faith and in daily Christian living. This singing was directed “to the Lord.” Deity was the focus of the activity.

Christians need to realize that the singing is not to be designed to please themselves but rather to please God. We also need to understand that the words are important. The teaching ought to be sound and Scriptural. We can be guilty of teaching false doctrine through our singing. Also, we need to reflect on the words as we sing them. We sing “one to another.” The Greek uses reciprocal, reflexive pronouns stressing this fact. You sing to me, and I sing to you. There is mutual edification and instruction taking place in the process. Songs can lift our hearts, deepen our faith, strengthen our resolve, comfort us in our sorrows, and carry us beyond this veil of tears into the sublime throne-room of heaven! Thus, singing is designed to bring benefit to the worshipper as well as express his or her adoration to God.

Many brethren understand that the New Testament does not authorize mechanical instrumental music in worship. There is simply no authority for it. It is not an aid or expedient, because (A) there is no obligation that it meets in using it, and (2) there is obviously no advantageous way of meeting an obligation that does not exist.

Some brethren understanding this have said that the New Testament authorizes only vocal music. But this is only partially true. The New Testament authorizes not just “vocal music,” but a specific type of vocal music – singing! That means it does not authorize humming, whistling, beat-boxing, or any such use of the mouth and voice box that is not “singing.” Singing properly entails not only pitch and melody, but also words or lyrics that comprise the song. There really is no song without lyrics. One may have a melody, but such is not of itself a song. There must be words that convey a message.

One other notation is important here is the need for enthusiasm and zeal in our singing – really in all of our acts of worship. It is instructive that in the context of Colossians 3:16 we have also the exhortation by Paul, though principally tied to the service bondservants were to render to their masters, that, “whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Col. 3:23). This again entails the proper attitude in our worship.

(2) A second act of worship is the giving of our means. The early churches practiced giving as part of their worship. In Acts 2:42 the word translated “fellowship” is koinonia, and in this specific text contemplates giving. It stands alongside of 3 other acts of worship that we shall examine shortly. Giving involves “fellowship” in that there is a joint participation in the action, but also in that the items given (whether money or material objects of value) are one way in which each member aids together in the mission and works of the Lord’s church. Paul spoke of the aid from brethren in supporting the teaching of the Gospel or assisting in benevolence as “fellowship” (cf. Phil. 1:5; 2 Cor. 8:4).

Our giving is to be purposed. “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give…” (2 Cor. 9:7). For this reason we are to “lay by in store” on the first day of each week (1 Cor. 16:1-2). We must plan our giving.

Our giving is to be proportional. We are to give as we have been prospered. One is to “lay by in store, as God has prospered him…” One may give “beyond” his power (2 Cor. 8:1-5). The gift is accepted by the Lord on the basis of “according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not” (2 Cor. 8:12).

Our giving also is to be with a proper spirit. We must give cheerfully. We are to give “…not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Once more the proper attitude is seen in conjunction with the proper action. We give because we want to give. It is a free will offering made to the Lord. The New Testament does not bind the practice of tithing. Rather it teaches free will giving. As Christians have received the greater blessing, how then should we give?

Our giving especially is concerned with a particular day. We are to give on the first day of the week, which is Sunday (1 Cor. 16:2). It is particularly an act of worship to be observed in connection with the Lord’s Day, which provides a convenient time for the gathering of that which is set aside for the Lord’s work.

One thing we must understand relative to our giving is that whether the money we have in our possession is contributed or not, every bit of it is still the Lord’s money. It is His before you receive it in the form of pay. It is His when it is in your pocket or in your bank account. It is His when you put it in the collection plate. And it still is His when it recycles through the system of giving and receiving.

(3) A third act of worship in New Testament teaching is prayer. The early congregations prayed as part of their worship (Acts 2:42). Belief in the efficacy of prayer is essential to its acceptance with God (Jam. 1:5-8). Belief in God’s providence – that God provides for His people – is essential to this end (Rom. 8:28, 31).

All too often prayer is treated as a perfunctory act in worship – just “something we do before we move on to more important acts in worship.” That seems to be our thinking at times. Yet, through the act of prayer we are to come boldly before the throne of our God on the merits of the blood of Jesus Christ, who, acting on our behalf as Intercessor, is ready to plead our case and make our petitions known to our Father in heaven (Heb. 4:14-15; 1 John 2:1-2). How churches rob themselves of access to God’s power in providence by a lack of faith in the avenue of prayer!

Our prayers must arise from the proper condition of life. The Bible teaches that, “…the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (Jam. 5:16). The Greek says that prayer is powerful. One must be right with God in order for His petitions to be accepted of Him (1 Peter 3:12; Psa. 66:18; Prov. 15:8).

Our prayers must be expressed from the proper reverence for God. Jesus taught the disciples in the model prayer to pray, “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name” (Matt. 6:9). Again, we see the act coupled with the proper spirit.

Our prayers ought to be coupled also the proper determination to obey. We need to work with our prayers. For example, when you pray for your daily bread, do you just sit at the table and wait for God to rain biscuits from heaven? Or do you go out and work to bring home the money to buy the bread to which by the providence of God you have access (cf. 2 Thess. 3:10; 1 Tim. 5:8)? Brethren, when we pray for the Gospel to have influence in the lives of people, are we doing what we can to carry it to them? Or do we expect that the preacher is going to do that for us? “‘Go ye’ means go me!” The Great Commission is great in part because it is a job given to the whole church (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47; Acts 8:4). When we pray for the sick, we also give the sick medicine. When we pray for the lost, we need to give the lost the saving truth of the Gospel (Rom. 1:16-17).

(4) A fourth act of worship is preaching. The early church was “steadfast in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). Again, this is stated by Luke in connection with other acts of worship. Further, Paul in Acts 20:7ff. preached during the services of the congregation at Troas when they came together on that occasion to break bread. Preachers are exhorted by him in 2 Timothy 4:1-4:

I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

The study of God’s word is essential to the spiritual growth and strength of a congregation (1 Tim. 4:16; 2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Pet. 2:1-2; 2 Pet. 3:18).

The charge to preach the word entails a serious responsibility. One should note the appeal to the authority of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ as to the foundation for the charge to preach the word. Furthermore, the fact of the coming judgment and the ushering in of the ultimate state make this charge more pressing, because they entail an accounting before the Lord (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10-11; Acts 17:30-31).

The charge to preach the word also involves a sincere focus. The preaching of God’s word is deadly serious business, despite what the world may think. Preachers are to be “instant” or urgent in delivering their lessons. They are also not to be concerned with being men-pleasers in doing so (Gal. 1:9-10). Rather they are to preach it “in season” and “out of season,” or as Marshall Keeble often said concerning the auditors of it, “when they like it, and when they don’t like it.” Reproving, rebuking, and exhorting are involved in the methodology of delivering the message. There are both positive and negative aspects to these. We must not fail to preach “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

The charge also cites a specific reason – apostasy! Human beings tend to wander away from God’s truth and follow after their own desires. Ear-tickling false teachers feast on such folk. The charge also implicitly places upon those who hear the preaching of God’s word the obligation to pay diligent attention to it. Learning is a two-way street. Preachers have the obligation to preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (John 8:31-32), but hearers have the obligation to “receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save {their} soul” (Jam. 1:21; Hos. 4:6).

(5) The fifth act of worship in the New Testament is the Lord’s Supper. The early disciples met on the first day of the week to partake of it (Acts 20:7). The phrase “to break bread” or an equivalent is often used of it in the Scriptures (e.g., Acts 2:42; 20:7).

The observance of the Lord’s Supper involves the proper elements – unleavened bread and fruit of the vine (1 Cor. 11:23-26; Matt. 26:26-29; et al.). The former represents the body of Christ, and the latter His precious blood.

The observance also involves the proper emphasis – the death and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We do “shew forth the Lord’s death, till He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). It is a memorial feast observed in honor of His atoning work.

The observance also involves the proper manner. We must observe it with all due reverence while reflecting on the death of Christ and its significance (1 Cor. 11:27-30). Once more we see the combining of the proper disposition with the proper form in this act of worship.


In our worship we pay homage and express adoration to Almighty God. We give to God what is rightfully due to Him as our Creator and Sustainer in life. We must ever remember that singular fact.

Also, we must understand that worship consists of specific acts offered in the prescribed forms and from the proper disposition of heart. Our attitudes and actions must be right. We can go through all the proper forms and still worship improperly because our attitude is wrong. We can also have a good attitude in large part, but try to express worship through unauthorized forms and be wrong in doing so. We must remember that our worship ought to be designed to please God, not our own selves: for we walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7), which is essential to please Him (Heb. 11:6). There is no pleasing God where there is no faith, and there is no faith where there is no testimony from the word of God (Rom. 10:17).

* All Scripture quotations are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.

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