In Spirit and In Truth
John 4:24, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (See also John 3:6; 14:6,9; 16:14-15).
In Spirit, I believe, means that one must be “born of the Spirit,” or to use a systematic theological category: “regenerated.” A person cannot worship the Father until they have been born again, born from above, regenerated, made alive to God in Christ by the Spirit of God…..just as an infant cannot nurse from her mother until she is born. So, true worship must be worship in spirit (little “s”), in the sense that the worshipper must be spiritually born by the working of the Spirit (big “s”). I think there is also the idea that the Spirit Himself must be the context of worship. We cannot worship—that is to say, know and love and express that knowledge and love—we cannot worship the Father apart from or outside of the working of the Holy Spirit who is Himself—I believe—God’s own infinite and perfect love of Himself. True worship is ever and always and only expressed within the sphere of and by the working of the Spirit who carries us along to sing and make melody in our hearts to God (Eph. 5:19).
In Truth means, most simply, that we must actually know the truth about the Father. Worshipping a thing that you do not know (ie, the “unknown god,”) is not worship…..we worship God for what we know of Him, and we worship YHWH and not Baal because we know true things about YHWH that are not true of Baal……we know who YHWH is and what He has done, and this knowledge of Him—given by His gracious self-revelation—is the fuel for our worship of Him. If we worship without knowledge, we are not worshipping the True God, the God who has defined edges, as it were, who has a character, a Name, a history in time and space that we must know if we are to know Him and so worship Him.
Now…what this means is that we cannot worship the Father unless we know Him in His crucified and risen Son, the Son who is Himself the TRUTH (John 14:6). Jesus is the definitive truth about God, the definitive revelation of the Name of the Father, such that to receive Him is to receive the Father and to refuse Him is to refuse the Father (John 12:44-45, 14:9, 15:23). If we would worship the Father in truth, then we must worship the Father ONLY as the one whom we know in the Son….and not just an imagined Son, but the Son—most primarily—who suffers and dies on the cross in love to the Father and the rebellious Bride. We must know God in the crucified Lord if we are to know Him in truth and so rightly worship Him…..There is no true, saving knowledge of God apart from the God who is lifted up on the cross for our sins—who suffers our hell in our place, and the God who is buried in the heart of the earth, and the God who rises again three days later…..THIS is the truth about God….and unless we, with Thomas, fall down and cling to the crucified hand of the risen Lord and declare from the spring of our regenerate soul, “my Lord and my God!” unless that recognition of Truth is worked in us by the Spirit, then we do not know and cannot worship the Father.
So, to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth is just another way of saying that we must know and enjoy God in the crucified and risen Son by the illumination of the Spirit….or again, of saying “eternal life” (John 14:9 + 16:14-15 + 17:3).