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. (John 4:23, ESV)
When I read that verse, the question that first comes to mind is “what is a true worshiper?” What is it that separates a true worshiper from an “untrue” worshiper? To answer that question, we must first understand what worship really is.
In today’s culture, we often think of worship as being the songs that we sing to God on Sunday morning. We make it about the music. But if we were to define it based on what the Bible teaches, would we describe it in the same way, or would be begin to look at it differently?
Reading that same verse in The Message translation might begin to bring some clarity to that question. If we begin reading in the second half of verse 23 and on into verse 24, we begin to understand how Jesus is defining worship to the woman at the well:
It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.
Jesus makes it very clear that worship is about far more than music. In fact, in the context of this passage, he’s not talking about music at all when he defines true worship. He’s talking about a lifestyle. He’s talking about offering our lives to God , being eager to pursue truth and knowledge of the God we worship. In church today, we often dress up our music – our “worship” – in lights and performance as we try to create a certain atmosphere to elicit an emotional response. We often get caught up in how we do it, rather than who we worship. But without God, worship is pointless. Without God, the words that we sing have no meaning. But with God, worship is everything. God wants us to worship Him as a natural response to his supreme greatness, because he is the One worthy of all praise. That is true worship.
The Apostle Paul describes worship in much the same way in Romans 12:1-2, saying that we must offer our lives to God as a spiritual act of worship:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (ESV)
In this passage, Paul covers all the main elements of true worship. In order for us to worship, we must be motivated to worship. God is that motivation. “The mercies of God” are all the things God gives us that we don’t deserve: saving faith, grace, eternal life, righteousness, forgiveness, freedom from sin, and the list goes on. Our knowledge of these gifts, and our pursuit of truth, should stir up a desire within us to lavish God with praise. That is true worship.
The passage in Romans also describes how we’re to come before God when we worship. We’re to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” In other words, we’re to give all that we are to God – our mind, emotions, and body. But how do we do that? It’s nice to say in theory, but how does it become a reality in our lives? According to Paul, it’s by “‘the renewal of your mind.” It’s easy to go through life being “conformed to this world,” but we need to go through a transformation that involves trading in the things of this world for the things of God. That means letting go of the wisdom of the world, and even the traditions of the church, and replacing it with the truth from God that He gives to us through His Word. As we do that, we’ll no longer worship God with our emotions, but we’ll worship Him with our renewed minds, and with renewed knowledge and understanding of who it is we’re worshiping. When we understand who it is we’re worshiping, as we study the Word and begin to truly believe it and become convicted by it, our natural response will be true worship.
Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration. (John 4:24b, The Message)
True worship is something that we feel inwardly and express outwardly to God. It’s not something that we do only in church, nor is it something that we do only when singing praise to God. True worship is acknowledging who God says He is in His Word, and reflecting that truth in all that we do. And living a lifestyle of true worship means living a life in obedience to Him and to His Word.
That is true worship.