What Is the Bible’s View?
What Worship Does God Approve?
“GOD is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) This is what Jesus Christ said to a Samaritan woman at Sychar, thereby indicating what God desires as to worship. But how can one worship “with spirit and truth”?
To get a more complete picture of what is involved, we might consider more of the conversation that the Samaritan woman had with Jesus Christ: “Our forefathers,” said she, “worshiped in this mountain [Gerizim]; but you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where persons ought to worship.” “Jesus said to her: ‘Believe me, woman, The hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you people worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, because salvation originates with the Jews. Nevertheless, the hour is coming, and it is now, when the true worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and truth, for, indeed, the Father is looking for suchlike ones to worship him.’”—John 4:20-23.
Unlike the Jews, the Samaritans worshiped at Mount Gerizim, claiming that this was the holy mountain of God. However, they had no basis for this. The five books of Moses, which they accepted as their inspired Scriptures, did not justify their viewing Mount Gerizim as sacred. Evidently to give credence to their belief, the Samaritans changed a passage in the fifth book of Moses to read “Gerizim” instead of “Ebal.” (Deut. 27:4) Furthermore, by rejecting the rest of the inspired Hebrew Scriptures, the Samaritans had but an incomplete concept of the true God Jehovah. Jesus, therefore, could rightly tell the Samaritan woman: “You worship what you do not know.”
The Jews, on the other hand, could appeal to the inspired Scriptures in support of their worshiping at Jerusalem. For example, 1 Kings 14:21 speaks of Jerusalem as “the city that Jehovah had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel to put his name there.” In harmony with this choosing of Jerusalem, the Israelites worshiped there as commanded at Deuteronomy 12:5, 6: “To the place that Jehovah your God will choose out of all your tribes to place his name there, to have it reside, you will seek, and there you must come. And there you must bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices and your tenth parts and the contribution of your hand and your vow offerings and your voluntary offerings and the firstborn ones of your herd and of your flock.”
So the Jews who accepted the Hebrew Scriptures and carried out their worship in the manner outlined in those Scriptures knew the One whom they were worshiping. No one could render acceptable worship apart from the Scriptural arrangement centered at the temple in Jerusalem. Additionally, the Messiah, as a descendant of King David, was a Jew. And only through him is salvation possible. Even the Samaritans who heard the testimony of the woman to whom Jesus spoke acknowledged this fact. They said to her: “We do not believe any longer on account of your talk; for we have heard for ourselves and we know that this man is for a certainty the savior of the world.” (John 4:42) So ‘salvation did indeed originate with the Jews.’
Although the Jews had a Scriptural basis for regarding Jerusalem as the center for worshiping God, Jesus’ comments to the Samaritan woman showed that this arrangement for worship was not to continue. The sacrifices, festivals, priesthood and the like, forming a part of the Jewish arrangement for worship, were a shadow of greater things to come. Regarding various provisions of the Law, the Scriptures tell us: “Those things are a shadow of the things to come, but the reality belongs to the Christ.” (Col. 2:17) “Since the Law has a shadow of the good things to come, but not the very substance of the things, men can never with the same sacrifices from year to year which they offer continually make those who approach perfect.”—Heb. 10:1.
Thus with the coming of the Messiah, to whom the reality belongs, the time had arrived for a change as to worship. No longer would worship depend upon the presence or use of visible things or geographical locations. A true worshiper would not rely on sight and touch. Regardless of the place or things about him, he would maintain a worshipful attitude. He would worship, not with the help of something he could see or feel, but with spirit, with an impelling force that shows appreciation for spiritual things. Worshiping with spirit, therefore, would rule out using images or other material objects as aids to worship.
To worship God with truth would require that one’s worship be in harmony with the truth found in his Word, the Bible. This includes acceptance of Jesus Christ as the only channel for making proper approach to the Father. Jesus Christ said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Hence, any effort to approach God through someone other than Jesus Christ would mean failing to worship ‘with truth.’
Likewise, a person’s trying to worship God within the framework of the arrangement outlined in the Mosaic law would be unacceptable. That arrangement had only a shadow, not the full truth. Jesus Christ fulfilled the shadows of the Law, revealing that he was the truth to which those shadows pointed. That is why he could refer to himself as “the truth.” Apart from Jesus Christ, worship with truth is therefore an impossibility.
But true worship is not limited to what might be called “sacred duties.” One’s whole life is involved. Wrote the Christian disciple James: “The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.” (Jas. 1:27) Acceptable worship, then, includes doing positive good for those in need and refusing to become spotted by the degrading, loveless ways of the world. It means shunning jealousy, contentiousness, pride, misuse of the tongue, selfish conflicts or warring, and the like. It calls for reflecting the wisdom from above, which is described as “first of all chaste, then peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey, full of mercy and good fruits, not making partial distinctions, not hypocritical.”—Jas. 3:1-4:4.
So if you desire to worship God “with spirit and truth,” keep yourself clean from the ungodly ways of the world. Be a person who eagerly responds with help to those in real need. Discard images and other material objects of devotion used by people as aids in worshiping God. Make your approach to the Creator through the one whom He has appointed—Jesus Christ—doing so in harmony with the full truth revealed in the complete Word of God.