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The Spirituality of God (3)

The truth of the spirituality of God (John 4:24) places a holy calling upon us. First, God’s spirituality is the deathblow to all idolatry. Whereas the unity of God underlies the first commandment: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Ex. 20:3), the spirituality of God is the basis for the second commandment: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments" (4-6).

All pagan idolatry is prohibited. Man must worship the Creator and not any creature (Rom. 1:23, 25). "Christian" idols are forbidden also, such as Roman Catholic statues or pictures of any of the Persons of the Holy Trinity or Eastern Orthodox icons of Christ. It is no good saying, "We do not adore the physical representations. We merely worship God through them." The pagans say exactly the same thing!

Second, God’s spirituality means that all worship must be spiritual and inner. This is Christ’s own teaching in John 4:24: "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." The second use of the word "spirit" refers to man’s spirit. Worship that is not hypocritical but sincere, true and genuine is required. It must be spiritual worship arising from our spirit or heart so that we mean what we say. For this, our human spirits need the Holy Spirit, for we are totally sinful of ourselves and He alone can work the necessary graces and virtues in us.

To express this slightly differently, living faith is necessary, for it is the inward power that enables us truly to worship the one true God. Faith deals with invisible and spiritual realities revealed in the Word, and "without faith it is impossible to please [or worship] him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Heb. 11:6). Thus the new birth is essential for true worship because regeneration begets faith, without which we cannot praise and serve the Almighty.

Commenting on John 4:24, J. C. Ryle writes, "The importance of the great principle laid down in this and the preceding verse can never be overrated. Any religious teaching which tends to depreciate heart-worship, and to turn Christianity into a mere formal service, or which tends to bring back Jewish shadows, ceremonies and services, and to introduce them into Christian worship, is on the face of these remarkable verses most unscriptural and deserving of reprobation."

Third, God’s spirituality means that all worship must be regulated according to the Word of God. As our Lord says, our worship must be not only "in spirit" but also "in truth." "What doth God require in the second commandment? That we in no wise represent God by images, nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded in His Word" (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 96).

Since God is spirit and we are sinful, we are blindness itself as regards knowing how we ought to worship Him. As our Lord said, "That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15). Thus the God who is pure spirit writes Scripture by His Holy Spirit to reveal what worship pleases Him.

This is called the regulative principle of worship. The regulative principle teaches that the church’s worship must include Christian prayer, the two sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), offerings, the singing of the inspired Psalms (Ps. 95:2; Col. 3:16) and especially preaching. In the faithful proclamation of the gospel, Jesus Christ is "evidently set forth, crucified among you" (Gal. 3:1). The incarnate, crucified and risen Christ reveals, and leads us to know and worship, the spiritual God (John 1:18; 14:6), for He is the express image of the invisible One (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3).

The Westminster Confession gives a fuller treatment of the biblical elements of worship according to the regulative principle: "The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear; the sound preaching, and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith and reverence; singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: beside religious oaths and vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner" (21:5).

Now let us return to the Samaritan woman in John 4. Here the Saviour instructed her that acceptable worship is not a matter of a "holy" place (such as Mt. Gerizim or Jerusalem) or a location with a physical connection to the church fathers (such as Jacob’s well). Especially in the New Testament age, these things are, at best, irrelevant: "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" (23).

The Lord Jesus taught the Samaritan woman that true and acceptable worship must be "in spirit" (from the heart) and "in truth" (according to the Word of God) and therefore offered by one who is walking in obedience. Thus, one cannot live in adultery (like the Samaritan woman) and bring to Jehovah the sacrifice of praise. Those who enter God’s courts with adoration must have "clean hands, and a pure heart" (Ps. 24:4).

Christ declared to the Samaritan woman and to us that the Triune God seeks such to worship Him (John 4:23). This is not to be understood in an Arminian sense, as if God earnestly desires and tries His best to convert everybody (and fails miserably with respect to most people). Rather, as the absolutely sovereign God, He effectually seeks, i.e., desires and so creates, such worshippers, as Christ did with the Samaritan woman that memorable day at Jacob’s well in Sychar.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 14
  • Issue: 6
Stewart, Angus

Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)

Ordained - 2001

Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001


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