(Discourse with the Samaritan woman at the well)
(John 4:21-24) – “Jesus said to her, “Believe Me, woman, that a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. But a time is coming, and even now has arrived, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
This is a very powerful and revelatory text. It teaches us what is true worship and at the same time exposes what is false worship. Jesus is having a conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. The topic is worship. She seems blind and unaware of what true worship is all about. She thinks that true worship must be done in some special place – either on a mountain top or in the holy city of Jerusalem. But she was only revealing her ignorance in all this. Jesus exposed her ignorance completely so that it could be removed from her mind and replaced with the truth. He showed in effect, that she didn’t know WHO to worship, WHERE to worship nor HOW to worship. All spiritually blinded people fall into this category and hence worship wrongly. But let’s start at the beginning.
Man has been created to worship God: There is inside of man a desire and a longing for his Creator, a deep longing for intimacy with God. But he does not recognize this longing and where it springs from. Take a look at the following two quotes:
Augustine: “Our hearts are restless until they fine their rest in thee.” [Confessions Book 1].
Blaise Pascal: Was a French Mathematician and Religious Philosopher who lived in the 1640s. He was not a great spiritual saint, but he too made a profound spiritual statement. In his search for the meaning of life, he said observed that man was constantly experiencing a void inside: He said: “What is it, then, that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.” [Pascal, Pensees #425]
You can see from both these statements by Pascal and Augustine, that they were basically referring to a vacuum that lies in the heart of man. This was later referred to by many as a God-shaped-vacuum. An inner emptiness that is infinite and cannot be filled with anything except an infinite God Himself. God has created Man with this vacuum inside of him that propels him to worship. We are made for worship. This inner desire to worship will drive us to worship something; anything, because the heart longs to have this void filled.
So, man is constantly searching for meaning in life. He wants to know why he was born, what is his purpose and what is his destiny. Only when the Creator (who created us in this way) fills our hearts – thus filling the void within – is our search for fulfilment met and satisfied. Only then is the deep desire for intimacy met. When a man does not find it in God, he will try to fill it with substitutes such as alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex and other such vices. Men do this because they are actually searching to fill this void. But because they do not know Christ or refuse to acknowledge Him as God, they end up trying to fill the void with choices of their own making. [See Romans 1:21-30].
It is important to note, that as pointed out by Blaise Paschal above, this inner void in the heart of man is infinite and cannot be filled with any finite thing or person or object or substance. That is why it is often referred to as the God-shaped-vacuum because only He, in His infiniteness can truly fill it and satisfy it. Jesus makes things clear – God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in “Spirit and Truth”. Hence, true worship requires two things to be in place. It must be in SPIRIT and it must be in TRUTH. Let’s look at Truth first.
Worship in Truth: Worship in Truth is two-fold.
1) To worship in Truth – firstly means to be rightly related to God. Without this, our worship will not be accepted by God. God has ordained only one way for us to be rightly related to Him and that is through the Finished Work of Jesus on the Cross. Jesus said in John 14:6 – “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except by me.” Reason: Jesus died as our substitute on the cross to pay the price for our sin. We can only be rightly related to God by being rightly related to the Son via the Cross. No one can come to the Father except he comes through the Son via the Cross (Finished Work). In other words, when I believe in Christ and His finished work atonement on my behalf by faith, He comes to live inside of me through His indwelling Holy Spirit and His Holy Spirit connects me to God the Father who is Spirit.
2) This right relationship with God must translate into right living. Now that I have made my peace with God through the Cross and are filled with His Holy Spirit, I become a new creation, the old has passed and the new has come (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17). God takes over my life and my will and as I surrender to Him on a daily basis, His Spirit guides me and empowers me to live righteously. My life must reflect in living for Him in a truthful way. Otherwise something is wrong. God’s purpose in saving us and imparting to us His righteousness is so that we can live righteously. Only then can we be a living witness for Him in the place where we are planted.
The picture of the Cross with its vertical and horizontal beams reflect this truth. Firstly, as explained above, the Cross itself is the means by which we become rightly related to God. Secondly, it is the vertical beam that shows us that it first makes us right with God. And then thirdly, that right relationship with God must translate into right living on a horizontal plane here on earth.
Paul states this clearly in Romans 12:1 where he states: “Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (NASB). He rightly points out that true worship results in a righteous life lived out through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Worship in Spirit:
Since God is Spirit, we must worship Him through our spirits with the help of the Holy Spirit. It is important to note that, till we believed in Jesus, our spirit was dead, alienated, cut off from God because of our sin. But the moment we believe in Christ, He comes into our lives through His Holy Spirit and quickens our dead spirit and makes it alive again. (see Ephesians 2:4-5). When this happens I am able to connect with God and because of this connection which is through my spirit, I am able to worship Him in Spirit.
Since we are made alive in this way and our spirits are now connected to God through the Holy Spirit, we can worship Him at any time and from any place because we are worshiping Him in Spirit. Just like a Wi-Fi connection in our homes, we can connect to it from any corner of the house.
So, Jesus was explaining to the woman at the well – you do not have to worship from a mountain top or from a holy place – Jerusalem. No special places required. Because if God is Spirit and if He is omnipresent, then He is present everywhere. But most of all His Spirit is present within every believer. So, the moment we begin to worship, we are immediately connected to Him (provided there is no unconfessed sin) and this connection is in a way that the unbeliever cannot experience.
Jesus said, the time is coming and now is, when the Father seeks true worshippers who will worship in Spirit and Truth (John 4:23) The Father knew that the time had come for Jesus to go to the cross and then He would die and rise again and be glorified at the Father’s right hand. And after that, the indwelling Holy Spirit would be poured out on the earth upon all those who would believe in Christ. So now that Jesus had accomplished the ultimate sacrifice on the Cross with His own life, and had died, and was buried, and was raised up and is now seated at the right hand of the Father (glorified), the indwelling Holy Spirit could now be sent as promised (see John 7:37-39). The Father now no longer would be looking for animal sacrifices on altars in the Holy Place in the temple. Those were temporary measures till the real Lamb of God was slain and the veil of the temple was rent in two, opening up the way for all those who would believe in Him to enter in. Further, because the Holy Spirit has now been given to each believer to indwell him, it is this Holy Spirit who enables the believer to connect with God. No human being can achieve this through his own doing.
On the other hand, when a person is still dead in his sins and his spirit is still dead spiritually, he will end up worshipping through the senses. This is because we know that the God-shaped vacuum within our hearts drive us to worship. But because they cannot worship in spirit, their spirits being dead, they will end up worshipping through the senses. So, man will attempt to worship what he can see, and touch and feel. So, he ends up making images of clay or stone or wood and bows down and begins to worship these idols. When the spirit within us is dead, such false worship by use of the senses is the natural outcome. But God is Spirit and demands that we worship Him in Spirit.
Think of the idol – a dead inanimate object without life. How can it respond to you? Since an idol has no life, no spirit, we cannot truly worship (connect with) it. Straight away, you can see how idolatry is baseless and false. These idols are therefore robbing us of a true relationship with God through Christ. This is why God forbids idol worship at all times. These idols may be inanimate objects or also take the form of uncontrollable desires and attitudes of the heart which come in between me and God.
The only other thing that can interrupt our connection (worship) of God in Spirit is sin. Psalm 66:18 tells us that “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me”. Sin and the holiness of God are mutually incompatible. God cannot and will not commune with us if we are living in willful, deliberate, unconfessed sin because this negates the salvific work of Jesus on the Cross on our behalf. If connection or communication with God was enabled due to the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross which removed the sin barrier from the way, then getting back into willful sin only brings back the barrier into place. Does this mean we have to be sinless to stay connected to God? No, because of our inherent sin-nature no human being can be sinless. But we can be blameless before God; which means that any given moment I am not aware of any un-confessed sin coming in between me and God. He says in 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, so that He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God has made a wonderful provision of confession that takes care of such eventualities of sin. The parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 shows us how a life of daily confession and repentance helps to keep our communication lines of worship open and unhindered.
God and God alone deserves all our worship. We have been made to worship Him in Spirit and Truth. We need to make such kind of worship a lifestyle. This is what pleases Him and brings Him praise and glory.