The Infrastructure of "Worship in Spirit"

By F. M. Perry, May 5, 2002.

  • "But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall 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." (John 4:23-24, NASB).

In this scripture Jesus was speaking to a Samaritan woman at Jacob's well in Samaria. As background, you will remember that the Samaritans didn't go to Jerusalem to worship God in the Temple there. They attempted to offer worship to God in another temple on a mountain in Samaria. Many years before, during the time of the divided Kingdom, the Northern Kingdom of Israel had established its own temple on a mountain in Samaria while only the southern Kingdom of Judah remained faithful to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. During the time of Christ only a remnant of the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom, people of mixed blood, still lived in the area. They were called Samaritans and they were still going to the temple in Samaria to worship God. The woman speaking with Jesus at the well had raised the old question with Jesus, should temple worship be done in Samaria as she had been taught, or in Jerusalem as the Jews taught. Remember, she was referring to worship in a temple, a building built by people in a specific location on the map. Jesus answered her with the words quoted above from John 4:23-24.

In essence, Jesus said that the hour is near when true worshipers will not need to go to a specific temple building to find God to worship Him. In the future, worship will be done in spirit and truth. And to explain what He meant by the use of the word "spirit" He added, "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." It appears that Jesus was making a contrast to the thoughts of the Samaritan woman which were about going to the right place on the map of earth to worship God. Jesus, in His answer to the woman was looking to the time, shortly to come to pass, when the temple at Jerusalem would have served its purpose and would no longer be important in worship of God. No longer would people have to worry about which is the true geographical place of worship, whether it is in Jerusalem or in Samaria, for Jesus was saying that your worship from now on is to be centered in something spiritual rather than material.

People often seize on the latter part of the statement, the part which says, "those who worship (God) must worship Him in spirit and truth," and conclude that "worshiping in spirit" simply means worshiping with "the right attitude." With that simplistic explanation one assumes the word "spirit" here means little more than what we mean when we speak of the "the spirit of the competition," "the spirit of the football game," or "the spirit of the pep rally," giving the word "spirit" primarily an emotional content. We forget that in the first part of Jesus' statement He defined what He meant by "spirit" when He said, "God is spirit." The spirituality of God can scarcely be explained with the word "attitude."

In the New American Standard Bible as well as in several other authentic translations of the Bible, in the statement "God is spirit," the word "spirit" is not capitalized. It has a little "s." This means that the translators did not think that the use of the word "spirit" here denotes God's "Holy Spirit." It does not mean here that "God is Holy Spirit," although that is certainly one aspect of our Triune God. It means that God, in all His aspects, is part of the "spiritual realm." The Amplified Version of the New Testament says, "God is a Spiritual Being." The American Standard Version says, "God is a Spirit." So, when Jesus said "God is spirit," and when He spoke about our "worship in spirit," He was neither speaking specifically about the Holy Spirit nor was He speaking about the human emotional attitude toward worship. He meant that our worship must be in the "spiritual realm," the realm in which God and other spirits dwell.

What does "spiritual realm" mean? The existence of a "spiritual realm" is revealed in the Bible, but the Bible does not tell us a lot about it. The Bible informs us that the spiritual realm is an invisible realm and the spirits which inhabit it are invisible to the senses of the flesh. "A spirit does not have flesh and bones." (Luke 24:39). We can't "see" or otherwise detect spirits with our fleshly senses or even with scientific instruments which extend our senses. We can't see the angels. We can't see Satan or his demons. We can't see God in any of His three aspects at the present time, although God did make one of His personalities, known as the "Son," visible to us at one time for the Son took on flesh and lived on earth as Jesus Christ. But even the aspect of God, who took on flesh as the Son of Man, was transformed into a wholly spiritual being when He ascended into heaven in the spiritual realm. And He is no longer visible to the senses of the flesh, except in an historical sense.

Neither can we see our own human spiritual aspects, our personal spirits or our personal souls.

  • "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

Note that Paul referred to the complete human being as being triune in its nature, "spirit and soul and body." God created our bodies and gave them life by breathing into each of us a personal spirit. At the same time God breathed into each of us a personal soul that has become the unique essence of each of us. The human spirit and the human soul are invisible spiritual parts which will live forever. So even we three part humans are already spiritual in two out of our three parts. Our spirits and souls are residents of the spiritual realm. They will not die with our bodies. And though our bodies die and decompose in the grave, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ even our bodies will be resurrected and changed to spiritual bodies so that in heaven we will be complete again. Note that in our earthly lives we already live partially in the spiritual realm, even though we may not be aware of it, and some day after life on earth we will be wholly spiritual, living in God's spiritual realm.

The Bible reveals that, even now, God's invisible Spirit engulfs all humanity. God is here with us, as are many other spirits.

  • "But this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: 'And it shall be in the last days,' God says, 'that I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions., and your old men shall dream dreams;'" (Acts 2:16-17).

This scripture reveals to us that in this Christian age God has poured out His Spirit upon all flesh, or all mankind. In addition, to those who have become Christians, He has given His Holy Spirit to indwell them at the instance of their baptism into Christ.

  • "And Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38).

    "And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him." (Acts 5:32).

These verses confirm that the Holy Spirit has been given to indwell each Christian.

Paul informs us that the body of each Christian becomes a temple of God wherein the Christian's personal spirit is united with the indwelling Holy Spirit of God.

  • "But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body." (1st Corinthians 6:17-20).

    "For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. ... The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God." (Romans 8:14,16).

These verses confirm that the bodies of Christians become like temples in which God dwells in the person of His Holy Spirit, and that the personal spirit of the Christian becomes united therein with the Holy Spirit. I don't think that there is any way that we could have known this except God has revealed it to us in His word.

At the outset of the Christian era, in the beginning of these last days, after the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, each individual Christian has become a temple of God! Is this not a great innovation that was introduced into the worship of God for the Christian era? Think of it! The temple at Jerusalem is not the place to meet God anymore. God now dwells in the temple of the individual Christian. The body of a Christian in this Christian era now serves as an antitype of the temple at Jerusalem under the Mosaic era. Now Christians are all deeply involved with the spiritual realm and some of the great spirits that inhabit that realm, even though they may not realize it with the senses of their bodies. Is it any wonder that Jesus said that those who worship God in these last days must worship Him not only in truth, but also in spirit?

Think of the "behind the scenes" spiritual actions that occur when Christians truly "worship God in spirit." The priestly spiritual soul within the temple of each Christian's body directs each individual's worship. Here is where "worship in truth" comes in. Christian souls must direct worship in accordance with the truth of God's instructions in the Bible. Then the message generated in worship is conducted immediately to the personal spirit of the worshiping Christian. The personal spirit is the Most Holy Place within the temple of the body where God's Holy Spirit dwells. The instant that the worship message reaches the Holy Spirit within the Christian, it is surely dispatched instantaneously to God's throne where God the Father sits with His Son, the resurrected Son of Man, beside Him. In worldly parlance, Christians have a "hot line" to the throne of God. That's the astounding action that occurs when Christians truly worship in spirit.

And if Christians worship God individually within the temple of their individual bodies, when they worship in assembly together with other Christians at what are called the "worship services," then the church of Christ worships God corporately. The church then is another "temple," another antitype in the Christian era of the typical temple worship at Jerusalem during the Mosaic era. This is what Paul spoke of in the third chapter of 1st Corinthians.

  • "Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are." (1st Corinthians 3:16-17).

The context indicates that Paul spoke of the corporate assembly, the church of Christ, as the temple of God in the third chapter of 1st Corinthians. But he spoke of the body of the individual Christian as the temple of the Holy Spirit of God in the sixth chapter of 1st Corinthians. It becomes clear that the church of Christ on earth as a whole, corporately, is like a temple of God because it is composed of Christians whose bodies are individually temples of God's Holy Spirit. Where the Holy Spirit is, there God is.

When Christians meet in assembly at a church house to worship God as a corporate congregation, does God meet with them? Jesus told His disciples, "Where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst." (Matthew 18:20). How does the Son of God do this, meet with His people in their midst? He does it as a spirit, spiritually. He can't be seen among the Christians by the senses of their fleshly bodies. Jesus is with them invisibly because He is spirit. And how does the Spirit of Jesus come to be with the congregation? He is with them in the midst of the assembly because He came into the assembly with the Christians, themselves. He comes into the assembly because His Spirit (which is the same as God's Spirit) indwells the body of each Christian who comes into the assembly. The Spirit of Christ doesn't live within a church building. He lives in the temple of the body of each Christian, united with the personal spirit of the Christian. If the Holy Spirit of Christ meets with Christians in their assemblies, then of course, it may be said that God meets with them.

The temple at Jerusalem in Mosaic times was built basically on the pattern of the portable Tabernacle that served as the place of Israelite worship during the wilderness wanderings of the Israelite tribes. Both the temple and the tabernacle had an outer court into which any people could come. The outer court surrounded a holy place where the Israelite priests performed their priestly functions. And there was an innermost place called the Most Holy Place which no one could enter because it was the dwelling place of God's Spirit. The priests performed their functions very near to the dwelling place of God under the influence of God nearness, but they could not actually go into the Most Holy Place where the Spirit of God dwelled.

This place of Israelite worship served as a type, I believe, of the spiritual temple of worship in these last days of God's people on earth. The human body of the Christian is the antitype of the old temple. The flesh of the Christian's body serves as the outer court which functions among all the people of the world. The spiritual soul of the Christian functions as the Holy Place where all the priestly actions of the Christian are directed and carried out. And the personal spirit of the Christian, which originally was "breathed" into the body by God to give it life, serves as the Most Holy Place in which the Spirit of God dwells and influences the priestly actions of the soul. And as a result of the indwelling of God's Spirit in him, the Christian receives "eternal spiritual life" alongside the Son of God.

Is "worship in spirit" as important as "worship in truth?" It seems to me that one really can't "worship in truth" without "worshiping in spirit." You see, all actions of "worship in truth," whatever they may be, have to be, essentially, actions directed by one of the Christian's spiritual entities, the soul. The unique soul manages and directs everything a Christian does in the flesh. The soul directs the functions of intellect, volition, and emotion. These are the functions that define one's unique personality and, in the final analysis, the functions that actually perform "worship," both "worship in truth" and "worship in spirit." Certainly, "worship in truth" must be in accordance with the directions of the Word of God. But the Word of God has come to human beings only through the Holy Spirit. In the fleshly lives as Christians today, I believe the indwelling Holy Spirit united with one's personal spirit, through the functions of conscience, intuition, and communion, direct the soul to follow the truths of God's word in our worship. So, in consideration of the participation of the personal soul and the personal spirit in everything the Christian does, "worship in truth" can never be separated from "worship in spirit."

But what if a person has never realized that these invisible actions of his soul and his spirit are occurring in the temple of his body? He attempts to worship God as best he knows how. Does his worship reach the throne of God? The Apostle Paul in his Roman letter gives us assurance that sincere worship does reach God's notice although the Christian may be weak in understanding.

  • "And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." (Romans 8:26-27).

We are all living in a learning mode, I pray. As Christians we are "being transformed by the renewing of our minds" to make the transition from fleshly life on earth to spiritual life in heaven. (Romans 12:2). When my body dies and my soul and spirit pass "over the bar" out of further sight of the fleshly material realm in which we live on earth, I just pray that I will have an open mind. Because, on that day, I will have a sudden learning opportunity of the type that a new born baby has when he comes forth from his mother's womb.

I am convinced that as we worship "in spirit" in the "temple of the fleshly body," we are performing an analogy; we are again performing a "type" of which the antitype will be our worship in heaven, where we will be wholly spiritual beings, no longer hampered by the flesh. Then we will "see" God with the spiritual senses He grants to us. And that will make all the difference.

© 2002, F. Perry