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Worship in Spirit


John 4:21–26

21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 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. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

Jesus here articulates the type of worshippers God is looking for. Remember, in the context of the conversation, he has already said the idea of worship requiring a specific location is no longer valid. He then goes into what God is really looking for in worshippers. He says these worshipers should worship in spirit and in truth. Today we will talk about the “in spirit” aspect of this statement. Tomorrow we will look at what he means by “in truth”. Although, Jesus seems to mean for these two to be taken together by the construction of this sentence, as they are both governed by the preposition “in”. So we should think of both of these qualities being present in the type of worshipers God is looking for, yet for the sake of time and space we will look at what each of them mean separately.

When Jesus says God is looking for worshippers to worship him in spirit the obvious question is what does he mean by spirit? Does he mean our spirit or God’s Spirit, as in the Holy Spirit. Translators indicate their decision on this matter by whether or not they capitalize the word “spirit”. The ESV, NLT, NASB, NKJV don’t capitalize it. The NIV does indicating the interpreters are taking it to be a reference to worship in the Holy Spirit.

When we aren’t sure of a reference it is best to look in the context for what it would likely mean. In the immediate context we find verse 24 which says, “God is spirit.” This is likely the most significant contextual clue to making this decision. The meaning of this statement is that God is of a different nature than humans. Humans exist in the realm of flesh and location, God exists in the spiritual realm. Therefore, to worship him properly humans must worship him in the spiritual realm as well. This aspect of humanity must be “born again” as Jesus references in his conversation with Nicodemus (3:5-8). This rebirth is only done by the work of God’s Spirit. So to thoroughly confuse everyone, with the multilayered way which John writes he may have in mind both. The meaning may very well be, “genuine worshipers worship God with their spirit, which has been made alive and constantly maintained by the work of God’s Spirit. This is likely the meaning the translators have in mind when they choose not to capitalize “spirit”. Confusing. I know.


What does it mean for you to worship God in spirit? It’s not enough to go through the motions or just to feel it. Does your worship reflect this deep union with the Spirit of God–this new life that God has given you in Christ?

Additional Content

True Worship – by John Piper

*ff to 4:02 in the audio for additional content.

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