ESV - 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
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Jesus spoke these words to the Samaritan woman whom He met at the well in Sychar, as recounted in John 4:1-42. In an attempt to divert Jesus from a discussion of her multiple marriages, the woman had mentioned a dispute between Jews and Samaritans about the proper place to worship God, with the Jews contending that it should be at the temple at Jerusalem, while the Samaritans worshipped on Mount Gerizim (which had been the mount of blessing in Deuteronomy 27:12). Jesus' response to her (which included the verse cited in the question) indicated that the proper worship of God was a matter of both truth and spirit -- not an observance of traditions, a matter of physical considerations or locations, or the outward conduct of rituals unaccompanied by inner belief, but a faith based on the truth of God's word, as revealed by the Holy Spirit, that thoroughly permeates the individual, and that results both in a change of attitudes, and in Spirit-guided actions.
Only Christians (believers in Jesus) can worship God in spirit and truth. Why? Because Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Jesus came announcing the kingdom of God, his message proclaimed the gospel (good news) of a New Covenant with God - based on his birth, life, ministry, suffering, death and resurrection - because he is the Son of God and Messiah (Saviour of the world). When we believe this truth and accept Jesus as our saviour, then our worship will be acceptable to God. Jesus also told this woman about the living water he could give her, which is a veiled reference to the Holy Spirit. When we believe in Jesus, our sins are forgiven and we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, who seals this New Covenant with God, guaranteeing our eternal inheritance. When the Holy Spirit comes he breathes life into our dead spirits and we are born again; we become a brand new person. Through the Holy Spirit we have access to the throne room of God and we can ask for anything in Jesus name and God will give it to us. We begin an intimate personal relationship with God and our worship is acceptable to God. Since we are united with Christ, a part of us is worshipping in the very presence of God in heaven. This is the gift and privilege that Jesus was offering the Samaritan woman at the well. She believed Jesus because he told her things about her life that only God could know. She was an outcast in her community but she told her story and many people in that community came to faith in Jesus, all because of a discussion about worship. Jesus' gospel message is relevant to any and every discussion we have in life.
There are two ways to answer this question. First, in the context which Jesus spoke it: in Samaria to a Samaritan woman. The second is in a more abstracted way - removed from the text. Either way, you will end up with the same/similar conclusion. I will first answer it in its original setting. Samaritans and Jews both believe in the same God. The Samaritan Bible is called the "Samaritan Pentateuch" - and consists of only the first 5 books of the Bible (Genesis - Deuteronomy). Samaritans were gentiles mixed with Jews when the Assyrians took the northern ten tribes into exile. But there were priests of God sent back to teach the people how to worship God in that land (2 Kings 17:27-28). Samaritan worship took place on/near Mount Gerizim (Deut. 11:29; Joshua 8:33). Like two brothers that don't get along - the Jews and the Samaritans were continually fighting with each other over matters of worship. Each one claiming that access to God is only available from their respective locations and by their respective religious practices. Jesus is pointing to two things here. One, the temple in Jerusalem is going to be destroyed. That mechanism of access to God is going to be completely eliminated. When the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost (Acts 2:1) - the physical temple was no longer needed. A new temple was being erected - a temple of living stones (1 Peter 2:5) - in which worship was now a matter of following the "truth" (John 14:6) and connecting to God through the Holy Spirit. Second, Jesus is heralding the good news that gentiles - through faith in God through Jesus Christ - have the same access to the promises and blessings of Abraham. For the gentiles, it is a matter of your heart, not the physical worship. For gentiles, worship becomes a matter of following the truth and worshiping through the power of the spirit. This is what God has desired all along. He wants all humanity to worship him by walking in the truth and through spiritual means rather than rote religious practices. ---------- Second way - more abstract: God is truth. He is the ultimate reality. Everyone must contend with Him and His precepts whether they acknowledge him or not. God wants us to walk in the world as if his truth is the ultimate and must be honored in all ways and with all of our being (Deut. 6:4-5). In this sense, we worship him "in Truth." When we put into action the truth of his creation, His glory is manifested: don't lie, don't steal (Lev. 19:11), love your neighbor (Lev. 19:18), forgive your enemy (Lev. 19:18), maintain justice (Deut. 16:20). God is spirit. We live in physical bodies yet we are spiritual beings. Because we live in the physical we often lose sight of the spiritual. Often, our actions are as if ONLY the physical is the most important thing. In reality, we need to live spiritually-minded (Rom. 8:6). When we worship God in "spirit" our perspective changes. Jesus tells us that we shouldn't worry (Matt. 6:25) about the physical but to focus on the Kingdom of God and all of our needs will be met. To live in peace today with God we must engage our spiritual side through spiritual practices. When we do, we gain a spiritual perspective on eternity and the worries of the world melt away (Phil. 4:6-7). Having a spiritual perspective gives us a spirit of strength (2 Tim. 1:7) to walk in the truth and be a witness to the power of Jesus.
To worship God in the Spirit is to remember it is what He did for us that saved us, not on what we do or do not do. Our works. Jesus died to pay our sin debt in full so that we would not have to go to hell to pay for them. He is the savior. He gave His life to save us. We only received the free gift. If Jesus had not paid the price for all sin, First John 2:2 No one could be saved. Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Romans 3:10 There is none righteous no not one. First John 1:8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But Jesus lived a perfect life, went to the cross and took the punishment we deserve so we would not have to go to hell to pay for our sins. We did nothing but believe it. He paid the price. John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus, that WHOSOEVER, ANYBODY, BELIEVETH in Him, should not perish, but HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE. We have eternal life now because of what He did for us. We have no way to pay the debt. Jesus one blood sacrifice satisfied God for the sins of the whole world, so that anyone who believed it would be saved. First John 2:2. So we worship God knowing that if Jesus had not come down from heaven and lived a perfectly sinless life and took the punishment we deserve, we would all go to hell for ever to pay our sin debt. Romans 11:6 AMAZING GRACE, JESUS PAID IT ALL AND WE PAID 0. HE PAID THE DEBT AND SET US FREE. All we had to do was accept His sacrifice for our sins. John 3:18 No longer condemned to hell because He paid our bride price. Just because He loved us so much He was willing to pay the price so we could live with Him in heaven forever. It is the greatest love story ever told. God loved us sinners so much He was willing to send His own Son to die in our place. We could never repay in a million years what He did to pay our sin debt in full so we would not have to go to hell for ever and ever and ever. We will never quite understand why God would love us so much. Our minds can not comprehend His love for us. So all we can do is worship Him for what He has done to save us from a literal burning hell that we had no escape.
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