Modern worship prides itself on being “spiritual”. People experience carnally pleasing episodes, which they claim make them feel close to God. Hands are raised and bodies even dance in many churches today. Is this really what Jesus envisioned for His Church? Does He really want people to flail around, constantly cry, and jump about on a stage? This is a debate which has raged for a few decades now, but it is not over.

If we are to understand exactly what is expected of us in worship, then we must turn to God’s Word. We will have to see what Jesus Himself said is spiritual worship. If we do this, then we will be able to conclude whether modern day worship is acceptable to God or not.

Thinking about His early ministry we come to the story of the woman at the well. There, Jesus has a discussion about acceptable worship. The woman is content to say that her way is acceptable, based on her background (Jn. 4:20). Jesus, however, stops her in her tracks and says: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” (Jn. 4:21). Here, he is showing that cultural battles over the location of pure worship is not important, because things were about to change.

This is very important today, because worship preferences are often argued on the basis of culture and background. The point He is making is that our culture, background, location, etc.. do not matter. What matters is our hearts in worship. He affirms this as He says: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (Jn. 4:24). Our hearts must be spiritual, yes. Despite this, they must also be filled with truth. The only way to have a heart, properly geared for worship, is to do so in spirit and truth. What does this mean? We will find out by examining what these words “spirit” and “truth” mean in the context of worship.



The common thought that we need to worship in a spiritual manner is absolutely correct. That is what Jesus said. We are to worship in spirit. This means that our worship is led by all its sacred intentions. It is something real, authentic, and genuine. Not something we fabricate out of nothing, but something based on real life experience and knowledge of God. Sproul once wrote: “He [Jesus] was calling us, in the first instance, to see that the worship we offer comes from the depths of our souls, from our inner spirits, from the very cores of our being.”1R. C. Sproul, John. Reformation Trust Publishing. Orlando: FL. (2010). 64.

If this were what the majority meant when they talk about spiritual worship, then we would be fine. The problem, however, is that “spiritual worship” to the majority means an overdrive of emotional euphoria. People go to church to worship, not to reflect on the deep and profound truths of God, but to get emotional highs. This is a far cry from Jesus’ meaning. He in no way links worship to sentimental ecstasy. Spiritual worship is linked to something else: truth.

Spiritual worship is something that responds to spiritual realities in our cores. That is because the soul has absorbed biblical truth. Worship is the response to that truth.



Do you see the important point here? We must have absorbed the truth of God’s Word before we can worship Him spiritually. We cannot divorce our worship from the truth. To make this divorce is to fail to worship God. We will worship, for sure. The object of our worship, however, will not be the biblically revealed, Triune God of the Bible. If we do not seek to study, be convicted by, and confronted with the truth as we come to worship, then we cannot worship properly. There is no separating these two. If we are to worship spiritually, then we must also worship in and according to the truth.

How does this work out? Have you studied the Scriptures to learn the narrative of the Bible? Have you worked through its technical details to frame your theology? Have you reflected on its practicalities and how the truth has changed your life? It is these things which inform our worship? We simply cannot worship properly if we do not understand the truth.

I remember when I first became a Christian. I went to church and sang songs. I did not really understand what I was singing at the time. It was only as I worked hard to understand God’s Word that I began to understand the songs I was singing. Gradually, meaning began to be very real as I sang about sin and repentance. What God has done for me became more vivid as I sang praise for His good works. The more I understand the truth, the deeper and more impactful worship has been on my heart.

This should be the experience of any Christian. As we grow in our faith and knowledge, these things should be more and more profound. No longer will we be experiencing momentary emotional highs. Instead, we will be responding to the deep wells of truth that are already sealed up in our hearts. Are you responding to spiritual truth in your worship? Or are you responding to your own emotional drive to feel something?

If we want to worship properly, then we will also search God’s Word to discover how He would have us worship. An overall bent to understand the truth in informing our worship will also lead us to work out how to worship in God’s way. God has given us specific guidelines throughout the New Testament on how to worship Him.2I have detailed this in an article with Reformation Heritage:

This is important. If we fear God (see the first article in this series), then we will want to do what is acceptable to Him. The truth dictates how we must worship, not our feelings, preconceptions, or desires. What does this look like practically, though? Sproul adds to the discussion: “We have to keep a close watch on what we do in worship, asking ourselves: ‘Is this according to the truth of God? Is this God’s teaching in His Word?’ Our worship must be based on God’s self-revelation in Scripture. He is truth and His Word is truth.”3Sproul John. 65.

Are you examining your worship in light of the Scriptures? Are you seeking to step back from your habits while going back to Scripture to make sure you are worshiping properly? There is nothing to lose by going back and studying worship to make sure that all is in-line and proper. There is much to lose by neglecting this call. We, as Christians, do not want to anger our holy God. He demands that we worship Him properly and not how we want.

The truth alone can set us on the right path. Are you studying and seeking to understand? Are you determined to do this right by working hard to gain insight and wisdom? Is the Word directing how you worship or is something else throwing a spanner into your spiritual worship?

Our Savior’s words could not be clearer. Spirit and truth go together. They must go together. Pure biblically spiritual worship is otherwise impossible. We cannot have one without the other. You cannot worship on the grounds of pure truth on its own. Neither can your worship be spiritual if you do not have reserves of truth stocked up in your heart.

Failure to keep the two together will cause people to worship wrongly. They will quickly be given over to man-made ways of worship. The truth will be obscured and true spiritual experiences will be tainted by lies. John MacArthur concludes correctly about this:

 “The world is filled with false and superficial religion. We who love Christ and believe His Word is true dare not accommodate our worship to the styles and preferences of an unbelieving world. Instead, we must make it our business to be worshipers in spirit and in truth. We must be people who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. And to do that, we must allow Scripture alone – sola Scriptura –to regulate our worship”[/mfn]J. F. MacArthur, Worship: The Ultimate Priority. Moody Publishers. Chicago: IL. (2012). 41.[/mfn]

Ask yourself now: is my worship regulated by Scripture or by my own emotional desires? Have you decided that the way you want to do things is more important? Have you lost yourself in debates over “Jerusalem or the mountain” and forgotten that the heart of your worship is Jesus Christ? Direct your heart to Him now and worship Him in all it means to worship in spirit and truth.

  • 1
    R. C. Sproul, John. Reformation Trust Publishing. Orlando: FL. (2010). 64.
  • 2
    I have detailed this in an article with Reformation Heritage:
  • 3
    Sproul John. 65.