God-Focused Conversation and Worship

I am a devoted pursuer of this topic. Sure, I like ice cream, oak furniture, running shoes, fast bikes, tuned skis, ocean beaches, and exotic cultures. I drink Mountain Dew. I enjoy good mountaineering. I sprint after my kids for some fun tickle-tag, and I smooch my wife (an absolute blast). But it is God at the center who brings everything into true joyous praying.jpgharmony. The fuel for my needy, earthy heart is stepping into the mind of God, understanding God, giving glory to God, and serving God. I told Aaron Young, a good pastor pal in Nevada, that I can hardly wait for the God-Focused Conference at Red Cliff Bible Camp. It is a must that I become more God-focused.

My Heart Question

One of the most fundamental questions of Christianity that I have been pondering this past month is this: How am I truly able to worship God? I mean, look at me. I am an insignificant, struggling sinner out in the boonies of Idaho. How can I enter into worship that is real and authentic? How can I be a true worshiper among the legions of counterfeits in “Christian” America while at the same time realistically acknowledging that I battle my own sinful, internal wars (Rom. 7)?

Long ago, at a well in Samaria, the gentle Savior told a sincere but ignorant woman, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24, KJV).

That’s it! I have found the answer. This truth should be at the heart of Christian Fundamentalism. But as I read it again a second time, I step back, scratch my head, and frankly petition the Lord, “Now what does this mean?”

In past years, I had been fixated on my own heart sincerity in worship. This is certainly an important concept; it is heart worship rather than lip worship … heart issues of love and holiness rather than external issues of clothes and temples. But one question kept pounding me: How much heart sincerity do I show in worship to God? It was like asking myself in the early days, How much heart faith do I manifest for forensic justification? If I wavered in my mind with .07 percentage of doubt, does that mean I am still lost? Likewise, if I struggled in my inward spirit with .07 percentage of frivolity mixed in with the heart sincerity, does that mean I have fallen from true worship? People could tell me to lighten up and relax, but that wouldn’t be much comfort. These are serious questions that tormented me. Realize this. There is a settled word, “must,” in John 4:24. Like in John 3:7 and John 3:14, “must” means serious necessity.

Searching for Interpretation

Freedom for me came in realizing that my forensic justification is grounded not in the strength of my faith but in the object of my faith, the sovereign King and Savior, Jesus Christ. In similar fashion, the ultimate acceptance for the veracity of my worship to the Father is not rooted in my personal sincerity but in the revealed, living Word of truth, who possesses the Spirit without measure. Brothers and sisters, I respectfully disagree with the exegetical interpretation of this whole list of esteemed men: B.F. Westcott, Arthur Pink, William Hendriksen, John Philips, Greg Mazak, R.C.H. Lenski, James Montgomery Boice, G. Campbell Morgan, William Philip, Leon Morris, John MacArthur, and Mark Minnick.

My friend, Pastor Bob Gonzales, has done a fascinating and thorough job of communicating in a two-part sermon series the various interpretations of true worship in John 4:23-24. In a nutshell, he has outlined the verses as follows:

I. THE TERMS OF TRUE WORSHIP DEFINED

A. The phrase “in spirit and truth” as the absolute terms for true worship


  1. 1st interpretation: The phrase “in spirit and truth” conveys a single idea: It refers to an inward sincerity.
  2. 2nd interpretation: The phrase “in spirit and truth” conveys two closely related yet separate ideas: It refers both to an inward sincerity and also to an objective standard of worship.


B. The phrase “in spirit and truth” as the dispensational terms for true worship


  1. 3rd interpretation: The phrase “in spirit and truth” conveys two distinct yet inseparable ideas: It refers both to the Holy Spirit and also to the Lord Jesus Christ, truth incarnate.
  2. 4th interpretation: The phrase “in spirit and truth” conveys a single idea: It refers to the terms of worship according to the Gospel (i.e., the New Covenant), as opposed to the terms of worship according to the Law (i.e., the Old Covenant).


II. THE TERMS OF TRUE WORSHIP APPLIED

A. Genuine worship must be offered by genuine believers.
B. Genuine worship ought to be distinctively New Covenant in its characteristics.
C. Genuine worship should be Spirit-produced and Christ-centered worship

In the 26 typed pages that are sitting on my church office desk, Bob has done a very convincing and gracious job of arguing for the fourth interpretation, which in essence encompasses the first three interpretations. I will need to ponder his argumentation more, but for now my mind is aflame with all the expressions of the Triune God in John’s Gospel.

My Heart Cry

John 4:23-24 focuses directly on the Triune God, who is not like me. “Spirit” in the Greek text of John 4:24 is anarthrous to describe “God,” articular. He is not elohim with a physical body, hence also eliminating any Idaho/Utah speculation to authentic female counterpart deities like asherim (Isa. 17:8). (Yet let me clarify, lest any of my Latter Day Saints (LDS) friends reading this might misunderstand that I push for any preposterous logical extensions from John the Beloved’s writings. Though God is spirit, Jesus does not proclaim that God is impersonal or that God can carry no form or that God gets pegged as impassable. I don’t believe that John’s Gospel is imprisoned within Philo’s Hellenistic philosophy. Based on the biblical text, I will not accept Plato or Philo’s god.)

The Lord says, “God is Spirit.” But I do not trust the interpretation that Jesus is requesting in John 4—that therefore my sincere, immortal spirit must reach out in worship to God’s immortal spirit (James Montgomery Boice’s quoting William Barclay). Brothers and sisters, we can worship the Father only because of our union with the Spirit-filled Son (a single idea). We have a visible picture at Jesus’ baptism in which the Spirit and the Son meld as one (John 1). We worship the Father unlike us in the Son unlike us who has been given the Spirit unlike us without measure (John 3). This Triune God is awesome. God is light. God is love. God is Spirit. Like the woman at the well, I am overwhelmed.

The Father seeks true worshipers. To worship God, we worship in God. Earthly pictures like what we see in the Old Covenant are no longer important (which really messes with my current conception of a future temple and a specific place for millennial worship).

Have I whetted your appetite? Stick the Trinity in John 4:24! I am all ears to converse about God-focused worship.

Todd WoodTodd Wood is pastor of Berean Baptist Church (Idaho Falls, ID). He received his B.A. in Missions, M.A. in Theology, and M.Div. from Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC). But more than anything he hungers for the A.I.G. degree affixed to Apelles (Rom. 16:10). He also operates a blog called Heart Issues for LDS.
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