The idea of worshipping the Lord “in spirit and truth” comes from Jesus’  conversation with the woman at the well in  John 4:6-30. In the  conversation, the woman was discussing places of worship with Jesus, saying that  the Jews worshipped at Jerusalem, while the Samaritans worshipped at Mount  Gerizim. Jesus had just revealed that He knew about her many husbands, as well  as the fact that the current man she lived with was not her husband. This made  her uncomfortable, so she attempted to divert His attention from her personal  life to matters of religion. Jesus refused to be distracted from His lesson on  true worship and got to the heart of the matter:  “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the  Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him (John 4:23).

The overall lesson about worshipping  the Lord in spirit and truth is that worship of God is not to be confined to a  single geographical location or necessarily regulated by the temporary  provisions of Old Testament law. With the coming of Christ, the separation  between Jew and Gentile was no longer relevant, nor was the centrality of the  temple in worship. With the coming of Christ, all of God’s children gained equal  access to God through Him. Worship became a matter of the heart, not external  actions, and directed by truth rather than ceremony.

In Deuteronomy 6:4, Moses  sets down for the Israelites how they are to love their God: “You shall love the  Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your  might.” Our worship of God is directed by our love for Him; as we love, so we  worship. Because the idea of “might” in Hebrew indicates totality, Jesus  expanded this expression to “mind” and “strength” (Mark 12:30Luke 10:27). To worship God  in spirit and truth necessarily involves loving Him with heart, soul, mind and  strength.

True worship must be “in spirit,” that is, engaging the whole  heart. Unless there’s a real passion for God, there is no worship in spirit. At  the same time, worship must be “in truth,” that is, properly informed. Unless we  have knowledge of the God we worship, there is no worship in truth. Both are  necessary for satisfying and God-honoring worship. Spirit without truth leads to  a shallow, overly-emotional experience that could be compared to a high. As soon  as the emotion is over, when the fervor cools, so does the worship. Truth  without spirit can result in a dry, passionless encounter that can easily lead  to a form of joyless legalism. The best combination of both aspects of worship  results in a joyous appreciation of God informed by Scripture. The more we know  about God, the more we appreciate Him. The more we appreciate, the deeper our  worship. The deeper our worship, the more God is glorified.

This melding  of spirit and truth in worship is best summed up by Jonathan Edwards, the 18th  century American pastor and theologian. He said: “I should think myself in the  way of my duty to raise the affections [emotions] of my hearers as high as  possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth.” Edwards  recognized that truth and only truth can properly influence the emotions in a  way that brings honor to God. The truth of God, being of infinite value, is  worthy of infinite passion.