19 The woman [a woman of Samaria who came to draw water] said to him [Jesus], “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 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. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:19-24, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV).
What does “God is spirit” mean? What does “those who worship him must worship in spirit” mean? I’ll answer each in turn.
God Is Spirit
Yesterday my family and I read in our after breakfast Bible reading time Wayne Grudem’s explanation of “God is spirit” in Chapter 12, “The Character of God: ‘Communicable’ Attributes (Part 1),” of his Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994). Here are the main Bible passages that Grudem considers besides the one quoted above:
– “Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol [the abode of the dead], you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:7-10). God is not just infinitely large, His being everywhere.
– “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house [the Temple built by Solomon] that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27). God is not infinitely small, His not being able to be contained by any place in the universe, even the heavens.
– “You shall not make for yourself any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in the heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4-5a). God is not like anything that He created and thus should not be pictured like them.
The passages tell us some things that God is not, but what does it mean that He is spirit? Here is how Matthew Henry answers that question in his classic expository commentary, A Commentary on the Whole Bible, “He is an infinite and eternal mind, an intelligent being, incorporeal, immaterial, invisible, and incorruptible” (Fleming H. Revell undated reprint, volume V, page 907). To his similar definition Grudem adds that God exists as spirit because it is the best form of existence.
Their definitions suggest that God’s spirituality could be categorized as an incommunicable attribute, but God’s having given us spirits with which we worship Him (as shown in the first three Bible passages below) and with which to go into His presence when we die (as shown in the other three Bible passages below) indicate that it is properly categorized as a communicable attribute.
– “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
– “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful” (1 Corinthians 14:14).
– “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).
– “And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
– “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46).
– “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenent, and to to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24).
Those Who Worship Him Must Worship in Spirit
Another classic, Stephen Charnock’s Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God, concludes its explanation of what spiritual worship is with:
God is a Spirit infinitely happy, therefore we must approach to him with cheerfulness; he is a Spirit of infinite majesty, therefore we must come before him with reverence; he is a Spirit infinitely high, therefore we must offer up our sacrifices with the deepest humility; he is a Spirit infinitely holy, therefore we must address him with purity; he is a Spirit infinitely glorious, we must therefore acknowledge his excellency in all that we do, and in our measures contribute to his glory, by having the highest aims in his worship; he is a Spirit infinitely provoked by us, therefore we must offer up our worship in the name of a pacifying Mediator and Intercessor. (Baker Book House reprint, 1979, volume I, pages 222-242)