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In Spirit And In Truth

They stood at the well together, the Samaritan woman who had known the rejection of human lovers, and the One who loved her with all the love of God. The Lord had to go to Samaria, itself a prompting of divine love (John 4:4). As well as offering her living water, He revealed to her a truth that has escaped so many: that the Father seeks worshippers who will worship in spirit and in truth (v.23). The phrase rolls off our tongue so often. What did the Lord Jesus really mean?

The word 'spirit' here does not refer to the Holy Spirit. Indeed we would be quite incorrect to imagine that others were not moved by the Holy Spirit in their worship or that our worship was any more in the Spirit than the sweet words of David or Asaph or Ethan. Worshipping 'in spirit' here is different from the truth of worshipping 'by the Spirit' (Phil. 3:3). Nor is it simply conveying that a person must feel what he is saying in his own spirit; a step beyond merely voicing the praise with affirmation. This is not to deny, however, that in worship there is communication between our spirit and the Spirit of God (Luke 1:47). Before confirming what the Lord was positively saying here, we need to also consider His other characterization of worship as being 'in truth'.

There is a difference between truth and the truth. The truth equates with the faith (Jude 3). These comprise the rules of the new covenant, just as the law had embodied the laws of the old covenant ratified at Sinai. Truth very often is simply the opposite of lies, but not in this case. It can also refer to that which is real and substantial over against that which is merely shadowy or typical.

So what was the Lord saying to this Samaritan whom He wished to enlighten? In spirit, here, is the antithesis of material ordinances, such as offerings and sacrifices, a mere shadow of good things to come. In particular, the Lord was indicating that physical venues at specific geographical locations would no longer be the important factor. Consistent with that, in truth is opposed to in type and shadow, which things merely pointed the way to better things prepared for us in a new covenant relationship. No longer are God's requirements written upon tables of stone, nor yet on whatever the Samaritans envisioned on Mount Gerizim. Instead they are written on fleshy tables of the heart, by the Spirit of God using His Word to direct us (Heb. 8:10).

The English word worship is from the Middle English worthship, and means the acknowledgement of the object worshipped. Our worship in a collective mode is a declaration of the worth of Christ, not with material objects or with the things in a physical house, but among living stones built up as a spiritual house for 'a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ' (1 Pet. 2:5). When the Lord made His double antithesis (in spirit and in truth) with the material shadows of old covenant worship, He was heralding the dawning of a new era in which the essential factor would be a spiritual appreciation of the true nature of worship by disciples of Christ world-wide yet associated in a spiritual house.

The woman at the well may not immediately have grasped what the Lord meant. Do we?