John 4:23-24 – But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.
If you’ve been a Christian for any considerable length of time you’ve probably heard these verses before and, if you’re like me, have never completely understood exactly what this means. I’ve always thought, “I know Jesus didn’t say that just because it sounded good, but I just can’t wrap my mind around what it means.” Jonathan Edwards is a good place to start. He taught that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. So how do we glorify God?
Let’s start with how God glorifies Himself. Listen to what Edwards had to say: “God is glorified within Himself these two ways: 1. By appearing…to Himself in His own perfect idea, or in His Son, who is the brightness of His glory. 2. By enjoying and delighting in Himself, by flowing forth in infinite love and delight towards Himself, or in his Holy Spirit.” In other words, God glorifies Himself in His Son, who is God in bodily form, the perfect idea of who God is. And God also glorifies Himself by enjoying Himself infinitely with love and delight through the Spirit. Now the question becomes, what is our part?
Let’s go back to Edwards: “So God glorifies Himself toward[s humans] also in two ways: 1. By appearing to…their understanding. 2. In communicating Himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying, the manifestations which He makes of Himself.” Did you catch spirit and truth in those last two points? God is glorified in us by appealing to our understanding (or our minds) by revealing the truth of who He is to us, and He is also glorified in us when we enjoy and delight in the truth He has revealed to us (which happens in our spirit).
You guys hear Mark and I harp on this all time that the Christian life is mind and heart, will and affections, and maybe we can add to it spirit and truth. I even touched on this in another recent post how knowing God leads to worship of God. The more we know about Him, the more reason we have to worship Him.
So back to this idea of worship in spirit and truth – I’ve often wondered, “Why isn’t it enough to worship God in truth or spirit alone?” To worship in truth means to worship God as He is and for who He is. It is critical to be informed by God’s word on this as that is how God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. If worship is not informed by the Word, we will inevitably create things about God that aren’t true. To worship in truth also means to confront areas in our own lives and in the lives of our friends where truth is laid aside. We must understand who we are in relation to who God is and not worship Him for who we think He is or who we want Him to be.
To worship in spirit means our affections, thoughts, feelings, and emotions are towards God. He has our heart in worship. This is not confined to a “worship service” as God is not confined to any one geographic location. Worship in spirit can happen anywhere at anytime. Also, God is spirit and so we should not create images of God as this would be nothing more than idol worship.
So what is the importance of practicing both of these aspects? Let’s go back to Edwards. “God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. His glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart.” In my own words, if we worship only in spirit we may end up worshipping a god that doesn’t really exist, a god not informed by the truth He has revealed abut Himself. The Bible refers to this god as an idol. Worshipping this god may feel good and look like true worship, but in the end serves only to increase our self-esteem. What about worshipping only in truth? In the end, this person is very stoic and can become self-righteous as they judge others for not understanding the truth they have come to understand. Remember, God is more glorified by us understanding the truth about Him and us delighting and rejoicing in that truth – mind and heart, truth and spirit.
So seek to know as much about God as you possibly can. If we know the truth about God, the truth will set us free. But don’t stop with knowing. True worship is not just knowing the truth about God, but rejoicing and delighting in that truth. Worship that stops at the truth is incomplete. God wants your mind but He also wants your heart. I’ll leave you with Edwards:
God made the world that He might communicate, and the creature receive, His glory; and that it might [be] received both by the mind and heart. He that testifies his idea of God’s glory [doesn’t] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his [approval] of it and his delight in it.