God is not looking for ‘passionate’ worship(ers)

“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.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” {John 4:23-24, ESV}

It’s amazing how ingrained certain interpretations become. One of the benefits of lifelong Scripture reading is the refinement that comes to our understanding of God’s revelation, and thus, of God himself. A prime example of our need for lifelong, remedial reading is found in John 4:23-24 where Jesus describes the kind of worshiper the Father seeks. For the longest time I took Jesus’ call to worship “in spirit and truth” as a call to balanced worship. That is, true worship consists of emotion/passion/style (i.e. spirit) and doctrine/theology/content (i.e. truth). But this understanding misses the point for at least two reasons.

First and foremost, the statement concerning worship is grounded in God’s nature. That is, worship must be “in spirit” because God is spirit. “God is spirit” is a statement concerning God’s essential nature which is decidedly bigger than emotion and/or dynamism. Whatever “spirit” means in this context it must, in some sense, be transferable between worship and God. It would seem that the point has to do with God’s essential “otherness”–He is spirit, we are flesh. If God’s essential nature is completely “other” than our nature it stands to reason that His worship is “other” than our self-generated worship.

Second, the statement concerning worship is in the broader context of Jesus’ offer of an all-satisfying, new life which replaces the never-satisfied life of this world (4:10ff). In keeping with the flow of discussion it is living water that makes a true worshiper. Neither living water nor true worshipers are found in this world whether in Samaria, Jerusalem, or the Bible belt (4:20-21). True worshipers are other worldly in nature.

Just as John 3 offers the hope of new birth John 4 offers the hope of new worship. If natural birth must be superseded by new birth then natural worship must be superseded by new worship. This singular transaction concerning life & worship leaves us in utter dependence on a supernatural work of God by the power of his Spirit (Jn 3:8). In the end “balanced” worship, apart from the Spirit’s regenerating work, is no worship at all–no matter how passionate or orthodox the worshiper may be.

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Author: Jonathan P. Merritt

Happily married father of six. Associate pastor for education at Edgewood Baptist Church (Columbus, GA). Good-natured contrarian and theological Luddite. A student of one book.

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