Worship in Spirit and in Truth

In a recent discussion I heard that worshipping in spirit and in truth means that we are free to worship how we see fit. There had never been a time when I found myself forced to meditate on what this passage meant. Think about it, often we read something and fly right by it without a second thought. However, if we truly understand the treasure that is Scripture, we would never overlook a single word of Scripture. Thus I have decided to offer what I have concluded based on my initial study of this passage. Also, I have included the proof texts used by the Westminster Confession of Faith in the endnotes under the appropriate notation. First let us begin with the passage itself.

“23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”  John 4:23-24 KJV

This passage appears to be talking about the main aspects of worship. In fact, I believe this passage gives us the essence of what worship is. The essence is twofold, both internal and external. The internal aspect is the worshipping in spirit, while the external aspect is worshipping in truth.

Before diving into the spiritual and truthful/faithful [1] aspects of worship, let’s look at why we worship. Why worship? It is my opinion that the reason we (Protestant Christians) worship God is because God commands it. Now that is not meant to downplay Him being worthy of worship, for that is in itself a most excellent reason to worship God Almighty. But I believe we worship primarily because God commands it (Ex. 20:3-6; Deut. 6:13). The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) says, “Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to Him alone;(c) not to angels, saints, or any other creature:(d) and since the fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone.(e) [2].

The spiritual act of worship is the part that isn’t seen. It is the worship that our spirit engages in of God who is Spirit. Arthur W. Pink said concerning John 4:23, “To worship spiritually is the opposite of mere external rites which pertained to the flesh; instead, it is to give to God the homage of an enlightened mind and an affectionate heart.“[3] The WCF says that worship includes the “conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith and reverence(t)”[4]. Scripture gives us an example of the Bereans worshipping in spirit. After Paul preached in the Jewish synagogue in Berea, we read that the Bereans “were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). As you can see, “they received the word with all readiness”  (i.e. the conscionable hearing of the Word), and after they had received the preaching of the word they then examined what Paul said to make he was in accord with Scripture (i.e. conscionable hearing of the Word, with understanding).

To worship in truth is basically worshipping according to the prescription that has been laid down by God in His Word. It involves the constant reforming to those statues in order to purify your worship. All throughout scripture we find things that are and are not to be done when we gather to worship God, whether it is private family worship or corporate Lord’s Day worship with our local body of believers. Again the WCF confirms this by saying, “But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.(b)” [5] This idea is also seen Deuteronomy 12:32 by God’s statement, “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.” Going back to Pink for some further insight regarding John 4:23-24, we find a definition of what worshipping in truth is. Pink said, “To worship Him truly is to worship Him according to the Truth, in a manner suited to the revelation He has made of Himself; and, no doubt, it also carries with it the force of worshipping truly, not in pretense, but sincerely. Such, and such alone, are the acceptable worshippers.” [6]

Thus to “worship in spirit and in truth” is the giving “to God the homage of an enlightened mind and an affectionate heart” according to the prescription God has given in His Holy Word.


[1] Utley, Robert James. Vol. Volume 4, The Beloved Disciple’s Memoirs and Letters: The Gospel of John, I, II, and III John. Study Guide Commentary Series. (Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International, 1999). 45

[2] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21, Paragraph II accessed through http://www.westminsterconfession.org/confessional-standards/the-original-text-of-1646.php Here are the Scripture verses for each point. (c) Matt. 4:10 with John 5:23 and II Cor. 13:14. (d) Col. 2:18, Rev. 19:10; Rom. 1:25. (e) John 14:6; I Tim. 2:5; Eph. 2:18; Col. 3:17.

[3] Pink, Arthur Walkington. Exposition of the Gospel of John. (Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot, 1923-45). 206

[4] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21, Paragraph  V. (t) James 1:22; Acts 10:33; Matt. 13:19; Heb. 4:2; Isa. 66:2

[5] Ibid. Paragraph I. (b) Deut. 12:32; Matt. 15:9; Acts 17:25; Matt. 4:9, 10; Deut. 4:15 to 20; Exod. 20:4, 5, 6; Col. 2:23.

[6] Pink, Arthur Walkington. Exposition of the Gospel of John. (Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot, 1923-45). 206


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