“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
We all know the story right? Probably heard it preached a thousand times and so I understand why it becomes really easy to accept that we’ve probably got it all figured out already, and so we brush right over this story and move onto the next verse in our reading. The Spirit must mean the Holy Spirit, and truth must mean the teachings of Jesus, right?
And while that seems logical to surmise if we only consider the verse independent of the rest of the chapter, or even the rest of the Gospel of John, I think that we should remember to stop for a moment to take inventory of who is writing here, and consider more closely what he might be saying.
I remember as a child growing up that my parents had these grand house parties and all of my relatives would attend.
When my dad was cooking in preparation for our guests, I always wanted to be in the kitchen cooking with him.
When my dad started playing the music on his cool professional stereo system, I wanted to play the music with him.
And even when the night progressed and my dad finally got out onto the floor and began to bust a move, I wanted to dance along just like him also!
I mention all of this because only when we understand our human nature as children long before the influences of the world, our hurts and bitterness, and our bad experiences jade our souls, do we begin to see that God has placed us in the design of families in order for us to learn something very important about how He desires for us to relate to Him later on in a life with spiritual maturity.
I also point these things out because I think that in our methodology for reading the Scriptures, we have sometimes imposed upon the writers original intention an interpretations of things where we have assumed far more than has ever been made known to us.
For example, as I read the opening verse again, I realized that this is not the first place where the writer John uses the word ‘Truth’ in this gospel. Back three chapters in verse 1:14 is his very first usage where he says:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
So the first thing that we can faithfully assert is that whatever ‘Truth’ is to John, it would seem that Jesus was full of it.
The second time the word truth is used by John is just a few verses later when he says:
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ
So the second thing that we can faithfully assert is that whatever this “truth” was that Jesus was full of, it was not the Law of Moses, because in this verse John asserts that the Law came through ‘Moses’, not Jesus, but that this ‘Truth’ that was coming into the world, was coming only by way of Jesus himself.
Now the third time that we see the word ‘Truth’ used by John is in the third chapter when he says this:
Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
From the way that John now uses the word Truth in this chapter, we begin to see that this ‘Truth’ that he spoke of would be active in accomplishing something incredibly profound and contrary to our natural human inclinations in the lives of those who encountered it. It seems that whereas people who previously did not know this Truth would avoid transparently acknowledging their most intimate shortcomings, failures, and sin for the most part before God, their interaction with this ‘Truth’ spoken of would somehow transform them to be contrastingly compelled to now not only acknowledge but also forsake all of these things with candor and honesty.
So when Jesus says in chapter 14:
I am the way the truth and the life.
It would be fair to say that he was speaking by the same Spirit that leads men to declare the truth. And this is relevant because John also says:
When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
To recap, here is my first conclusion:
Truth, then, is not so much informational in Scripture as it is personified – or rather, a person.
So if Jesus told the woman at the well that the true worshippers would worship in “spirit and in truth,” then the Holy Spirit part of the equation is not the ‘spirit’ part, but it’s actually the ‘Truth’ part.
So, this begs the question: what then does Jesus mean to worship God in ‘Spirit’?
To understand this part, we’d need to now look at a few more instances where the word ‘Spirit’ is used by John, prior to Jesus’ discourse with the woman at the well.
The first mention of ‘The Spirit’ is back in Chapter one and used in this way:
Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
So now John is asserting that Jesus alone is the only one who can perform this action: to ‘baptize someone with the Holy Spirit.’ And that he is performing this action on account of having the Spirit come down like a dove and remain on him.
Coming down is the description of an action
Baptizing others is the description of an action.
The next mentions of the Spirit are in chapter three where we learn that:
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.
Entering is another action word.
Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
Giving birth – again, action words.
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Moving around from place to place – more action words.
So in essence, John’s Gospel has thoroughly captured Jesus explaining in various ways how a person is moved about by the spirit to various actions, AND speaks at various times by the Spirit of truth. And when we understand that the Holy Spirit is God, then a person who lives their entire life both filled with, and then submitting themselves to be led by Him into action, and used by Him as a mouthpiece to speak forth His truth, has not only paid God the greatest Fatherly compliment by saying in effect ‘I want to be just like you’ but has also accomplished the greatest possible devotion in worship of God, because it says that we truly see Him as worthy to be followed.
It’s no coincidence then why men and women who have a poor relationship with their earthly fathers usually end up holding very distorted views of God and do not want to follow him.
Earthly fathers were given by God with intentionality in His design to show forth an example of the sort of relationship we as human beings are intended to move on from in a natural sense with our earthly father to experience in dependence upon as an adult with our Heavenly Father.
So if we had a poor example and experience through our earthly Father, we can subconsciously not even realize that we are believing erroneous things about our Heavenly Father.
That’s why sometimes even those who profess to know Him and read His Word consistently can mistakenly interpret His character through the lens of their own bad experiences, and that is usually when you will find poor examples of God’s love even amidst some church attendees.
Exceedingly blessed are we that God sent His only begotten Son to reveal to us what the love of the perfect Father is truly like so that in the face of Christ, not only do we find forgiveness where we fall short, but we all have the opportunity to learn the truth of our God who is:
Merciful – Just – Peace-filled – Loving – Full of Grace and Truth
and worthy of all true worship!
Which is why I implore you,
Trust ♔ Jesus!