One day when Jesus was passing through Samaria, he sat down beside a well because he was tired. There, he met a woman who came to draw water and struck up a conversation with her that eventually included the topic of worship. What Jesus told her about worshipping God in spirit and truth has been a foundational teaching for the Christian church and followers of Jesus Christ for two thousand years.
Worshipping God in spirit and truth means that all followers of Jesus Christ, because of the cross, can exalt the Father through the Holy Spirit, no matter their race, language, or nation of origin. Worshipping in spirit and truth also conforms to God’s nature and opposes idolatry and blasphemy.
What did Jesus say to the Samaritan woman about worship? How did the subject arise? What is a “true worshipper” according to Jesus? What does it mean to worship God in spirit? What does it mean to worship him in truth? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see How Do You Know If You Have Blasphemed the Holy Spirit? to learn more.
What did Jesus say to the Samaritan woman about worship?
What Jesus said about the Samaritan woman’s personal life is fascinating, and readers are encouraged to study it in depth. Yet the transcendent theological topic in their conversation regarded worshipping God.
What caused their discussion to progress from her private life to the nature of worshipping God was when she realized that Jesus was no ordinary person but that there was something holy about him.
The woman said to Jesus, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship” (Matt. 4:19-20, ESV). Earlier in the conversation, the woman pointed out that she was a Samaritan and Jesus was Jewish (v. 9). After she became aware that Jesus was extraordinary, she mentioned a key difference between the racial groups.
The proper place to worship God was among the most divisive topics between Jews and Samaritans. The Jews worshipped in Jerusalem, and the Samaritans worshipped on Mount Gerizim. In response, Jesus explains that a new era is on the horizon that will transform people’s worship: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (v. 21).
Before discussing transformed worship, Jesus gave a one-sentence history lesson that is important for the Samaritan woman and all followers of Jesus to understand. Jesus says, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (v. 22).
His statement about the ignorance of the Samaritan people may refer to their conviction only to use the Pentateuch, that is, the first five books of Moses and not the rest of the Old Testament. Then Jesus says that salvation is from the Jews. He doesn’t say it’s exclusively for the Jews but from them. So, Jesus isn’t dismissing the Samaritans but including them among those to whom salvation extends.
While God blessed the Jewish people, he also intended them to be a blessing to non-Jews, as Genesis 12:3 reveals, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (emphasis added). All the families of the earth included Samaritans and other people of different races, nations, and languages, as God wants everyone to worship him.
Next, Jesus teaches about the kind of worshippers that God desires. “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” (v. 23). But who are the “true worshippers” and how do they exalt God?
Also see What Does It Mean To Be Filled With the Holy Spirit? to learn more.
Spirit and Truth: Worship That Pleases God
Jesus said that “true worshippers” worship him in spirit and truth. Jesus’ arrival (the time is “now here,” v. 23) bridged the divisions regarding worship rooted in different Scriptures, races, and meeting places.
New Testament scholar D.A. Carson writes, “The distinction between true worshippers and all others turns on factors that make the ancient dispute between the conflicting claims of the Jerusalem temple and Mount Gerizim obsolete… the true worshippers cannot be identified by their attachment to a particular shrine, but by their worship of the Father in spirit and truth” (emphasis Carson’s). 
John illustrates the new reality in a description of true worshipers in heaven: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Rev. 7:9, emphasis added).
Also see How To Be Filled With the Holy Spirit to learn more.
Worshipping God in Spirit
In context, worshipping God in Spirit is partly a response to the Jerusalem versus Mount Gerizim debate between Jews and Samaritans. The transformation Jesus inaugurates means that worshipping God won’t be confined to a physical location (i.e., “neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem,” v. 21). Instead, true worship consists of a person’s faith in God through Jesus Christ (cf. John 1:12).
Worshipping God in Spirit also corresponds to his nature. In the next verse, John says, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (4:24, emphasis added).
Worshipping God in Spirit also corresponds to a worshipper’s salvation. No one can be saved from sin and its consequences with the Holy Spirit. In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
Jesus continued, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, You must be born again. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8).
Conversion also includes Jesus baptizing a believer with the Holy Spirit. Matthew 3:11 reads, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Also see What Are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit? to learn more.
Worshipping God in Truth
First, worshipping God in truth means exalting him through Jesus and according to his teaching about God and worship. Jesus said, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'” (John 14:6).
Approaching God in worship in ways that Jesus didn’t condone is equivalent to false worship. The Bible repeatedly refers to the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of truth”:
- John 14:16-17, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will beg in you.”
- John 15:26, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”
- 1 John 5:6, “This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.”
Pastor Erwin Lutzer writes, “We must worship in truth. Worship is not just an emotional exercise but a response of the heart built on truth about God. ‘The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth’ (Psm. 145:18). Worship that is not based on God’s Word is but an emotional encounter with oneself.” 
Also see What Are the 12 Fruits of the Holy Spirit? to learn more.
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