Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…” (John 4:21, 23)
There was a time where God had chosen a central place for his people to worship (Deuteronomy 12:5-7). From King Solomon’s reign until the time of Jesus, Jerusalem was that place—the place where the temple stood with the Holy of Holies, where God would most manifest himself among his people.
In John 4 as Jesus and his disciples traveled from Judea to Galilee, passing through Samaria on the way. When they came to Jacob’s well Jesus sent his disciples ahead while he stopped to rest. There he had an encounter with a Samaritan woman who was living in sin. When Jesus confronted that sin, she tried to change the subject to worship.
The Samaritans were essentially half-Jews, a remnant of the Israelites taken into Assyrian exile who mixed in marriage with those who worshiped other gods. From this the Jews and Samaritans developed a bitter attitude toward each other. One of the many things about which they sharply disagreed was the proper place for worship.
Jesus let this woman take her rabbit trail, for it was the turn in the conversation that Jesus used to point her faith to him. In the process Jesus also said that the day was coming, and indeed already had, that true worship would not be centered on a place either in Jerusalem or in Samaria.
The systems of ceremony and worship described in the Old Testament had run their course. After all, every detail of every act was pointing to Jesus as Israel’s Messiah, the Savior-King of the world (John 3:16 & 5:39). Fulfilled in him, Jesus became the temple of his people and as his body we also become the temple of God, filled with his Spirit (Ephesians 2:18-22 & Revelation 21:22).
This means wherever followers of Jesus are God’s temple exists. So no longer do we have to concern ourselves about a place, so long as we pursue God in spirit and truth. The truth is that we pursue God on his terms through his means. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life—and no one can approach the Father but through him (John 14:1-11). And the word of God, the Bible, which points us to Jesus is also truth—truth which changes us and shapes us to be more like Jesus (John 17:13-17).
Worship in the spirit could mean one of two things, or both since they are related to one another. It could mean that we worship God through our own renewed spirit or that we worship through his Holy Spirit dwelling within. But again, you do not have one without the other. In Ezekiel 36:25-27, God promised to give his people a new heart and a new spirit as he puts his Spirit within them. And in John 3:1-15, Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born again, to have new spiritual life, which is accomplished by the Spirit. So to worship in spirit is to worship God from a renewed heart and life brought about by the Spirit of God transforming us.
Everywhere we go followers of Jesus are able to worship God in spirit and in truth. We can worship God anywhere. This is a liberating grace that reminds us daily that God is not far away and unreachable. He is close, intimate, and even within. We are still called to worship God together with other followers of Jesus; we must not neglect the gathering of church (Hebrews 10:24-25). But we also have the freedom as disciples to join together as a church in a place where we choose—a person’s house, a communally owned building, a school gymnasium, an open field, etc.
For where we gather we unite as God’s people and God’s temple in worship of him. So let us worship him individually and corporately in spirit and truth.
This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.