God Is a Spirit (Phil Johnson)

John 4:24   |   Sunday, October 28, 2012   |   Code: 2012-10-28-PJ

by Phil Johnson

     This morning I want to look at a single verse in John 4. This is that famous account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar. There was a centuries-old dispute between the Jews and the Samaritans regarding the proper place of worship. The Samaritans were a hybrid race and a hybrid religion, the offspring of Jews who had intermarried with pagans during the Assyrian Captivity. According to 2 Kings 17:24, the king of Assyria sent most of Israel into exile and deliberately salted the land with pagan settlers from Babylon and other pagan regions. They intermarried with the stragglers from Israel who were left behind, and the result was this new ethnicity and religion that was utterly abhorrent to the faithful remnant of Judah, because their worship, their lifestyle, and every aspect of their culture was corrupted with pagan ideas.

     The Samaritans declared that Mount Gerizim, not Jerusalem, was the most holy place on earth, the only rightful place of worship—and (more than five centuries before Christ) they built a temple there. The Samaritan Temple was destroyed during the time of the Maccabees (two centuries before Christ). But the Samaritans still insisted that Gerizim was the rightful place of worship, and this was one of the relentless arguments they had with the Jews. (By the way, there is still a small community of Samaritans that live at the base of Mt. Gerizim, and to this day they insist that this is the only rightful place of worship.

     The Samaritan Woman brought up that debate in her discussion with Jesus. She knows He is Jewish. So in verse 20, she says, "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship." She has just realized Jesus is a prophet (v. 19), and the very first thing her mind goes to is this ancient theological debate, which, by the way, she and her people have been totally on the wrong side of for centuries.

     Now, if this were two typical combatants in an ancient theological debate, this could have turned into a long discourse. If Jesus were like the average Calvinist trying to straighten out an Arminian who just can't seem to grasp the truth of eternal security, he might have taken the opportunity to deliver a long lecture.

     He doesn't do that. I love Jesus' answer. He tells her she's wrong, but basically shifts the focus away from the point of doctrine she was asking about, because the question of where the Temple should be located is mere trivia compared to the greater question of who God is. Verse 21:

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."

Now, we're going to go back and take a longer look at the larger narrative so that you have a better sense of the context, but my focus this morning is going to be very narrow. I want to highlight three words in verse 24, "God is spirit," and we're going to discuss the implications of that statement. This is one of the key attributes of God: spirituality. "God is spirit."

     Spirituality is probably not one of the first words that comes to mind when you think of the divine attributes. In fact, I think if we chose a dozen of our seminary students at random and asked them to name as many divine attributes as they can think of, it wouldn't surprise me at all if none of them named "spirituality." When we think of the attributes of God, we typically think of things like love, righteousness, holiness, wrath, truthfulness, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, self-existence, transcendence, longsuffering, mercy—and a list of things like that.

     Frankly "spirituality" sounds almost like it doesn't even fit in that list, especially when you consider how that word is used today. Spirituality has become a kind of watered-down substitute for religion. You constantly hear people nowadays say things like, "I'm spiritual, but not religious." The word "religion" carries negative connotations—and even lots of Christians think of it that way. I became a Christian in the 1970s, and I hadn't been a believer for 48 hours before I heard someone say, "Christianity isn't a religion; it's a relationship." And I learned very quickly as a new believer that the word religion is almost universally disliked—even among believers. So I had some re-thinking to do when my study of the New Testament got me into James and I read where James said there is a kind of religion that is true and undefiled, and it's something we ought to pursue.

     But that's an idea I still frequently encounter. ("Christianity isn't a religion; it's a relationship.") We don't like the word religion. Our whole culture conditions us to believe that religion is oppressive and archaic.

     But "spirituality"—now that's something entirely different. Spirituality is somehow noble and respectable, even in a secular, self-absorbed culture like ours. It has the ring of the New Age to it: Spirituality.

     I think in the minds of a lot of people, the word religion implies that you recognize some supreme deity—a divine authority to whom everyone is ultimately accountable. But you can be "spiritual" even if the only god you recognize is yourself. So "spirituality" has become quite common and stylish. It's the religion of Oprah Winfrey: you get to decide what path you will follow, and whatever you choose is right for you, simply by virtue of the fact that you chose it. And no one has any right to question anyone else's chosen spiritual path. Each person is essentially free to worship any god of his own making, or be a god unto himself, or deny the existence of any kind of deity (which is really the same thing as making a god of oneself). That is the very essence of postmodern "spirituality." And the word spirituality has therefore taken on connotations that can be confusing when you apply that word to God himself.

     But when we speak of "spirituality" as an attribute of God, that's not even close to what we are saying. In fact, this may be one of the easiest of the divine attributes to understand. It doesn't really require any special exegesis or advanced-level theological instruction. When we say spirituality is an attribute of God, what we are saying is simply that God is a Spirit. He's not a material being. He doesn't have a tangible, visible, corPOReal body. He is a pure, transcendent Spirit. That's not to suggest that He is a bare spiritual substance (like an impersonal cloud or an inanimate vapor). But He is a sensible, wise, willing Spirit, who is holy, just, and good.

     This is what Jesus told the woman at the well in John 4:24: "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (Some translations say "God is a spirit" (with the indefinite article.) It can be translated either way, and at the end of the day, it means the same thing anyway: "God is Spirit." His very essence is pure spirit—not reducible to parts or any kind of composition. He exists as a spirit-being.

     Here's an interesting fact: John 4:24 is the only text in the whole Bible that says, in so many words, that "God is [a] Spirit." Scripture is full of expressions that seem to attribute body parts to God: Isaiah 52:10: "The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations." Psalm 34:15: "The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry." Numbers 6:25: "The LORD make his face to shine upon you"—and so on. Those, of course, are anthropomorphisms—figures of speech that describe other attributes of God in terms suited to human understanding.

     But we're clearly not supposed to take them literally. They are symbols for various attributes of God. "The arm of the Lord" is an expression that speaks of His omnipotence. "The eyes of the Lord" and "the ears of the Lord" are expressions that speak of His omniscience. "The face of the Lord shining on you" is an expression that speaks of divine grace. "The hand of the Lord" is His creative power; and "the mouth of the Lord" is a reference to the power of His Word. We're not supposed to envision literal body parts when we hear expressions like that, and the context always makes that sufficiently clear. "God is a spirit," and in Luke 24:39, Jesus says, "a spirit does not have flesh and bones."

     Now there have always been people, rank heretics most of them, who insist on taking the figurative expressions literally, and they find a way to explain away or ignore the one verse in John 4:24 that clearly says, "God is spirit." We excommunicated a man from our fellowship a few years ago who subsequently started his own cult, and among his many false teachings was the idea that God has a tangible, physical body of flesh that is indistinguishable from any normal human body.

     That is one of the many ways unbelievers try to dethrone God and remake Him in their own likeness. They imagine Him as if he had a body. Lots of pagan deities supposedly exist in physical or bodily form. Many false religions ascribe supernatural bodies to their deities—bloodless bodies, bodies that can materialize and dematerialize, wispy forms that are almost invisible but not quite—and so on. The sadducees, of course, denied the existence of the entire spiritual realm, so their concept of God was bodily.

     Again, it is one of the ways pagan minds diminish God—by conceiving of Him in some material form that fits into time and space.

     But Scripture doesn't permit us to think of God in such terms. This is one of the chief reasons the second commandment forbids the making of idols. It is not possible to represent God properly by any object, animal, or material form— because He isn't a finite being who can be confined to time and space or contained in bodily form.

     The one exception to that principle (and it's not really an exception) is the miracle of the Incarnation of Christ. All the fullness of the Godhead belongs to Christ, and the divine glory is declared to us in bodily form by Christ.

     But the incarnation is first of all about the humanity of Christ, not His deity. In His deity, Christ is and always has been an omnipresent spirit, not confined to a physical body. to quote John Calvin:

     [Although] the Word in his immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that he was confined therein. [But, Calvin said, in some mysterious way even while he was an infant in His mother's womb] he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning!

     Philippians 2:6 says that from eternity past, Christ existed "in the form of God"—a pure spirit, because that is the very essence of the divine existence. In the incarnation, He took on the form of a man (Philippians 2:7): He "made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." Notice: He took on humanity. He didn't divest himself of deity. The Incarnation wasn't an act of subtraction; it was an act of addition. Christ took on a full human nature and a truly human body. But the body of Christ pertains to His humanity; not His deity. The essence of God is pure spirit, and Christ's incarnation did not nullify that or change the reality of it. Christ in His deity is still manifest in bodily form—in the resurrected, glorified body that ascended to heaven. But as God, He is not confined to that body, which is how He could say in Matthew 18:20, "where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them." And Hebrews 13:5: "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

     Believers are spiritually united with Christ, and the omnipresence of His divine spirit is essential to that reality.

     In fact, practically everything you could say about the incommunicable attributes of God underscores the truth that "God is [a] spirit." Even though that explicit statement appears only once in all of Scripture, the spirituality of God is strongly implied throughout the Bible. In fact, if you accept everything else Scripture says about God, you can come to no other conclusion than this: "God is [a] spirit."

     Scripture says, for example, that God is invisible. In the benediction of his first epistle to Timothy, Paul writes, "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen" (1 Timothy 1:17). Hebrews 11:27 refers to God as invisible: "[Moses] endured as seeing him who is invisible." Colossians 1:15 says the incarnate Christ "is the image of the invisible God." If God is not pure spirit, He can't be truly invisible. If he had a body and simply kept it hidden from us, that's not invisibility; that's concealment. Someone might say, well, the air we breathe is a material substance, but it's invisible. Not in Southern California, it's not. In fact, air isn't truly invisible anywhere. The atmosphere is what makes the sky blue in the daytime. It's visible enough to obscure the stars.

     God is truly invisible—pure Spirit. If he were not a spirit, He could not be truly infinite. Bodies are finite by definition. For the same reason, if God were not pure Spirit, He could not be omnipresent. Bodies by definition occupy a definite volume of space. And even a body as vast as a whole galaxy still would not be truly omnipresent, because by definition, two bodies cannot occupy the exact same space. But Scripture says God fills heaven and earth. Jeremiah 23:24: "Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD." And the only way to make sense of that truth is by understanding that God is pure spirit; he exists on a spiritual plane that transcends heaven and earth, time and space. His infinitude; his omnipresence; his immutability; His eternal self-existence; and His utter perfection all depend on the truth that He is a spirit. In the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith: "[God is] a most pure spirit, invisible, without body [or] parts . . . "

     That, again, is exactly what Jesus was saying to the Samaritan woman in John 4, and in the time we have remaining I want to go back to the beginning of this passage, and work our way through the narrative. We're going to focus mainly on what it says about God, and what the implications of God's spirituality are when it comes to our duty as worshipers. And then we'll summarize it with a brief outline at the end.

     This is a powerful passage. My very first affiliation with John MacArthur came thirty years ago when I was an editor at Moody Press and he was one of our authors. The first book of his I ever edited was taken from a sermon series titled "True Worship," based on this passage from John 4. And it profoundly changed my view of what worship is all about. That book came out in an expanded anniversary edition earlier this year. You ought to read it if you never have.

     Anyway, let's look at this truth that God is a Spirit, and we want to pay special attention to the implications Jesus Himself drew from that truth.

     So let's start with verse 5. I'm going to try to move through these verses quickly, and we'll stop at verse 24 and consider the implications of spirituality as one of God's attributes.

     Here's some background: It's early in Jesus' ministry. He is taking an unusual route from Jerusalem to Galilee. Jewish people always took a route north that bypassed Samaria. Jesus instead chose a route that took Him through Samaria. This was deliberate a move that frankly was socially unacceptable. Decent, respectable, devout Jewish men in Jesus' culture never traveled through Samaria. They considered the whole Samaritan nation unclean.

     So what Jesus does here is not just unconventional; it would have been spiritually scandalous to everyone schooled in the Pharisees' doctrines. This was not an afterthought or an accident. John 4:4: "He had to pass through Samaria"—not because he was compelled by bad weather, road hazards, or anything beyond His power to avoid—but because He had a divine appointment with this woman. Chapter 3 is about how Jesus gave the gospel to Nicodemus, a highly respected Jewish ruler. Chapter 4 then tells in equivalent detail how He gave the gospel to a Samaritan woman who wasn't respectable in any sense, not even by Samaritan standards. But don't get the idea this was something forced on Jesus that He would have avoided if He could. This was a divine appointment. Jesus said in John 8:29: "I always do the things that are pleasing to [my Father]." That was precisely what compelled him to go through Samaria. This pleased the Father.

     Verse 5:

So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. [By the way, this village in the Old Testament was named Shechem, and it was situated right at the base of Mt. Gerizim, very near the Samaritan holy place. It was the heart and capital of the Samaritan nation.]

6 Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."

8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.)

9 The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)

She is amazed, and she is immediately curious why this respectable Jewish teacher would ask her for a drink. By the customs of that time, any water she drew from the well would be deemed ceremonially unclean. Any water dipped from the well with her utensils would likewise be considered defiling to a Jewish traveler. This was an extraordinary request Jesus made of her, so of course she challenged him on it.

     It's not that she resented the work of drawing water from the well. It's true that the well was deep (verse 11). That well is still there to this day, and you have to lower a vessel on 125 feet of rope in order to get to the water level. That's equivalent to a 12-story building. So it's no small effort to haul water up that far.

     Still, it would not be the least unusual for a Jewish traveler in Jewish lands to request a drink of water from a Jewish woman drawing water. It was always the woman's responsibility to draw water from the local well for household needs. I've seen this sort of thing myself in India, where women go to a community well with large pots, draw enough water to meet their needs for a full day, carefully stack the full pots of water on their heads, and walk back, sometimes great distances, to their homes. That's grueling work by any standard, but to give a cup of water to a traveler in the process of filling great pots with water was not really a great inconvenience. What astonished and perplexed this woman was not the request itself, but the fact that it came from a Jewish traveller. It didn't compute.

     So Jesus startles her even further by giving her a hint of who He was. Down in verse 26, he is going to tell her plainly that He is the Messiah, and here he hints at it. It's a remarkable exchange, because Jesus had never plainly declared that He was he Messiah before, and it isn't characteristic of his subsequent ministry, either. Often He commands people to tell no one who He is. But here in verse 10, He begins to drop hints to this woman, under the most unlikely circumstances, about who He really is. (Verse 10):

Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."

11 The woman said to him, "Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?

12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock."

13 Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,

14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

15 The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water."

Like I said, drawing water was a taxing chore, and one that had to be done daily. We're spoiled by plumbing, but imagine if a woman in your household had to walk, say, a quarter of a mile to a community well every day and draw enough water for all your household needs for the day. You'd be taking fewer showers, I bet. And they'd be a lot quicker.

     So when Jesus started talking about living water, which (if you drink it) you'll never be thirsty again, she is thinking in literal terms about literal water, and her reply is almost giddy, with a clear tone of skepticism. She seems to think He's a joke. Or perhaps she thought He was mocking or taunting her, and she's responding in kind. She is definitely not being serious here. In the first place, He has nothing with which to draw any kind of water (v. 11). In the second place, no matter how superstitious and simple-minded she may have been, I seriously doubt that she really believed he could produce some kind of literal, magic water that you could drink once and never need water again in your life. So this isn't a reverent request from a heart of faith. When she says, "Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water"—it's more of a dare—spoken with a tone of skepticism (or perhaps resentment).

     But if there's any hint of disbelief in her reply, He is unfazed by it. He says (v. 16), "Go, call your husband, and come here."

     Now this is a very quick back-and-forth dialogue. Verse 17: "The woman answered him, 'I have no husband.' Jesus said to her, 'You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.'"

     And at this point you can almost hear her gasp. There's no way she saw this coming. Jesus clearly knew every detail of her broken life. He meticulously recites the embarrassing specifics of her situation: "five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband." This was a deeply disgraced woman. In fact, this probably explains why she was at the well alone. For women in a village like this, the one relief to the drudgery of drawing daily water rations was that you got to mingle with the village women and catch up on the gossip and whatnot. So they gathered at the well, usually during the cool of the morning, so that everyone generally did it together, and it was a social time instead of pure, lonely drudgery.

     But this woman's horribly failed marital history (together with the fact that she was now living with a man she wasn't legitimately married to) made her a total outcast, even in the Samaritan culture. She had to come to the well alone, probably during the heat of the day, because she would have been ostracized by all the other women of the community.

     Here Jesus clearly knows all the precise details of her horrible life history—and yet He drinks the water she drew; he drinks it from her cup; he talks to her—and he talks to her in a gracious way, even though he knows all about her. Whatever he meant by it, He had offered her living water!

     So now she is totally floored. Verse 19: "The woman said to him, "Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet." She instantly knows that He is from God; He knows things only God could know. There's no veil over her sin and shame. And suddenly her past is the topic of their conversation. This was not a comfortable situation.

     Now, we don't know and we're not told what she was thinking at this point. Some commentators accuse her of trying to change the subject, to get the topic of discussion away from her own sordid past. So she poses a question totally out of left field as a kind of theological puzzler, to steer the conversation a different direction.

     I don't think so. She recognized and confessed immediately that Jesus was a true prophet, which in effect was a humble confession that everything he said about her was true. But then where would she find forgiveness and redemption from the guilt of her sin? She was an outcast, living on the fringes of Samaritan society, and she knew the Jews considered all of Samaritan society outcast in the first place. What was the answer to her sin? Should she seek forgiveness as a Samaritan on Gerizim, or become a proselyte to Judaism?

     That's what the context seems to suggest she was thinking, because Jesus answered her question accordingly. Verse 20, she says, "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship."

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."

So that's the context of the statement "God is spirit," and Jesus' answer to the woman's question was as clear as it could possibly be: Samaritan worship was wrong from the start. It was a syncretistic system born out of ignorance "You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know." Of the two systems, Judaism was the true one, "for salvation is from the Jews." The Scriptures, the true law, the God-ordained throne of David, and the Messianic line all came through the Jewish nation. When the Samaritans rejected pure Judaism and replaced it with their own hybrid religion, they were in effect turning away from the salvation God provides.

     And yet the worship of 1st-century Judaism pertained to the Old Covenant, which was about to give way to a new and better covenant. All the forms and ceremonies; the priesthood and sacrifices; and even the Temple itself were going to be done away with, because those things prefigured Christ and His sacrificial work.

     So Jesus tells this woman the hour is at hand when the place of worship and even the rituals of Jewish worship would give way to something more pure and more truly spiritual than the external forms and ceremonies of the sacrificial system. The time had now come when authentic worship would not be in this mountain or at that place, but "the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him."

     And then the key text, verse 24: "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

     Now I want to unpack the implications of that statement with you, and we'll do it quickly, so that we can finish on time.

     By the way, this woman was truly and genuinely converted. Jesus declares plainly to her that He is the Messiah, and He says so with unprecedented clarity in verse 26. She runs back into the village and gathers as many people as she can to come back and meet Jesus. Meanwhile, the disciples return from buying food, Jesus is clearly ecstatic over this woman's conversion. This is where he talks about the fields being white with harvest (v. 35). And as if to prove it, this woman's simple testimony moves others in the village to find Jesus, and they become believers also. Verse 39:

Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me all that I ever did."

40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days.

41 And many more believed because of his word.

42 They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world."

So this is an amazing encounter, and this little village essentially becomes home to what is perhaps the first-ever Christian awakening, and many of the villagers become true worshipers—in spirit and in truth.


     Now let's talk about some of the characteristics of authentic worship, because according to Jesus, these are direct implications of the truth that "God is spirit."

     Just from the context of this passage there are three truths about worship that I want to point out to you, and all of them are direct ramifications of the spirituality of God. See: the most important question about worship is how, not where. The Samaritan woman's God was too small. She was thinking, like many people in that culture, that God was either on Mt. Gerizim in Samaria, or on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem—and if you wanted to worship Him, you first of all had to go to the right place. But, Jesus says, "God is Spirit." He isn't contained in the ark in the holy of Holies, and he certainly isn't wandering around in the ruins of the Samaritan temple on Gerizim.

     And since God is a spirit-being, authentic worship of Him must likewise be spiritual. It is not merely ritualistic; it is not expressed in the motions of our bodies or the location of some altar—but true worship engages the very spirit and soul of the worshiper. That was Jesus' meaning, and I think it's clear that these Samaritan villagers understood the gist of it. And there are three key lessons here that we need to take note of as well: three ramifications of the spirituality of God as it pertains to our worship of him. Number one is that—


1. Authentic worship emanates from human temples, not brick-and-mortar buildings

     This is one of the key truths of Christianity: the entire Old Covenant sacrificial system was symbolic of something greater. That includes the priesthood, the sacrificial animals, every ritual and every offering, all the furnishings in the Temple and even the temple itself. All of those things were temporary, representative symbols. All of them pointed to something greater, and that "something greater" was Christ. He made the perfect sacrifice, once for all. It doesn't need to be repeated daily like the Old Covenant offerings. He fulfilled everything the Old Testament sacrificial system signified.

     Furthermore, in the greater reality of the New Covenant, the temple of God is not a literal brick-and-mortar building, fixed and stationery. But under the New Covenant, the Temple of God is the people of God. First Corinthians 3:16-17: "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple." The "you" in that passage is plural: You (collectively) are the Temple of God. He dwells in His people. And it is likewise true in an individual sense that every believer is a temple where God dwells. First Corinthians 6:19: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." Let your body be the temple from which true worship of God sounds forth.

     This is inextricably linked to the truth that "God is Spirit." He indwells us—and don't think of this in the sense of occupying physical space. It's something much greater than that. Our spirit is united with His Spirit, so that we literally and permanently are God's dwelling-place. That also means for a believer, Moriah is no more or less holy than Gerizim, and Sun Valley California is no less sacred than the holy of holies in Solomon's Temple. No matter where you go, there God is.

     And that means for a believer in Christ, worship can and should take place no matter where you are. Worship ought to be a full-time activity for us. Scripture says so as emphatically as possible. First Corinthians 10:31: "whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Worship of God is not supposed to be relegated to a particular time and place; for the believer, worship should infuse and energize everything we do. And if you are doing anything that is incompatible with authentic worship, you should stop doing it, because if you are a believer using your body for some sinful purpose, you are defiling the temple of the living God.

     So that's implication number 1 of the spirituality of God: Authentic worship emanates from human temples, not brick-and-mortar buildings. Here's a second implication:


2. Authentic worship flows from the spirit, not merely from the lips

      God is spiritual in His very essence, and therefore He must be worshipped with spiritual worship—worship in the energy of spirit; worship that engag­es and employs our entire spirit, not just the motions of our hands and the words we form with our lips; not bare ritual; but a true expression of the heart and soul. "Worship in spirit."

     "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." Jesus is making a deliberate contrast between the worship God seeks and the typical kind of worship that is dominated by human tradition, obscured by empty ritual, and buried under meaningless layers of pomp and ceremony. Listen to Christ's criticism of the Pharisees' religion (Matthew 15:3, 8): "Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? . . . You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.'"

     They had all the ceremonies down. Many of these were rituals prescribed by Moses' law, ordained by God, and therefore good things if used properly. They were fine if seen for what they really were: symbols of a greater reality, aids to worship; not the end-all and be-all of worship. But the Pharisees were more enamored with the rituals than they were with the truth the rituals signified. And so they added layers of their own manmade rituals on top of what the law prescribed: extra washings; more complicated ceremonies; more elaborate costumes—longer tassels on their robes and whatnot to exaggerate the liturgical impact of all the pageantry and spectacle. The flesh loves that. And the ceremonies themselves became what they thought of when they thought of "worship." It was a flamboyant display for the benefit of the worshiper rather than an expression of praise and honor to God. They were worshiping Him with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. They were indulging their flesh, not worshiping in spirit.

     And let's be honest: we all have a sinful tendency to do that. We go through the motions without really engaging our spirit in worship. We seize the opportunity during the pastoral prayer to look at our watch, or send a text message during the congregational hymn, or whatever. Jesus said that's not authentic worship; It's not worship at all unless we "worship in spirit and truth."

     This is a much abused and widely misunderstood principle today. Jesus is not calling for the kind of shallow passion that responds to the music and the atmo­sphere. He's not saying we should aim at working ourselves into a frenzy of feeling and passion devoid of any rational content.

     And that's the third implication Jesus draws from the spirituality of God. 1. Authentic worship emanates from human temples, not brick-and-mortar buildings; 2. Authentic worship flows from the spirit, not merely from the lips. Now, third—


3. Authentic worship is concerned with truth, not bare passion

     It's a common misconception today that worship in the spirit requires us to empty the mind of anything rational. I visited a charismatic church a few years ago where the worship leader said that very thing: He encouraged people to "sing in the spirit"—and in order to do that, he said, "you need to empty your mind and let the spirit take over your voice. Close your eyes and forget where you are, and just feel the worship."

     A lot of contemporary worship is just like that. We use music and atmosphere to build raw passion to a crescendo. And lots of people think that's the purest form of worship—when you are basically so overwhelmed with emotion that your mind is unattached and unengaged in any kind of rational thought. In fact, music is so important to the process that when you use the word "worship" today, most Christians assume you are talking about music.

     But notice that Jesus gave truth, not music, the place of prominence in worship: "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

     That's loaded with even more implications we simply don't have time to unpack. But let me abbreviate it for you. "Truth" here stands in contradistinction to bare ritual. It also contrasts with raw passion. Jesus is saying that sound doctrine, a clear conscience, and a true heart are infinitely more important for authentic worship than the place where we worship, the forms with which we worship, the style of our music, or any of the other things people usually want to talk about and fight over whenever the subject of worship comes up.

     What's important in worship is what you believe, not what tribe you belong to. Authentic worship is about how you think of God, not just how you "feel" when you sing about Him. It's about lifting up your spirit and opening heart before Him, not merely raising your hands and closing your eyes.

     "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

     "True worshipers . . . worship the Father in spirit and truth, [and] the Father is seeking such people to worship him."