There has been much confusion in the church about what “worship” really is and what it means to "be in the Spirit.” While Pentecostal and Charismatic churches emphasize the "acts" of worship and focus on a physical manifestation of the Spirit their passion and experiences are often sought after by other denominations as well. So what does it mean to do as Jesus said and worship God in Spirit and in truth? To determine this we must first define worship.
John 4:23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."
The Zodhiates Complete Word Study Dictionary defines worship in this passage as:
“proskuneo; To worship, do obeisance, show respect, fall or prostate before...In the NT, generally, to do reverence or homage to someone, usually be kneeling or prostrating oneself before him...Of God, used in an absolute sense...meaning he worshiped leaning upon the top of his staff...with the words expressing prostration.”
To worship means to show respect and honor to God, and when in his physical presence, that means to prostrate oneself in a manner in which you are showing his superiority over yourself. What we do not see in the definition is any reference to music, to the raising of hands, or to any of the other things that happen in what many churches refer to as a “worship” service. I am not saying that some of these things can not be done when worshiping, but they are not what defines worship nor are they required to do so.
“latreia; noun from latreuo (which means to serve, in a religious sense, to worship God), to worship. Service for hire or as a slave, divine service."
So here we have a word for worship which is actually used to mean worshiping as part of a religious act or service. It tells us what our actual act of worship should be.
Rom 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship . 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.
So how do we do this in Spirit and in truth? The phrase in the Spirit is again causing confusing because people have twisted the meaning of what it means to be indwelt by the Spirit of God. To worship God in Spirit means simply that we must have His Spirit, not that His Spirit must make us do, feel, or experience something unusual. Look at the original text in John again. The Samaritan woman was questioning Jesus about where they were supposed to worship. As a Samaritan, they worshiped God in a different place then Jews did.
John 4:19 "Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."
Jesus corrects her and explains that it is not about where you worship, but about how. In the Old Testament one could only get near to God in the temple and only the high priest was able to enter in. The Samaritans worshiped on the mountain where Moses sacrificed to God, again making the place the significant part of worship. But Jesus said:
John 4:21 Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."
The time Jesus was referring to came in the book of Acts. After Jesus died and rose again, He sent His Spirit to indwell all believers. Now we no longer need a temple (or a mountain) to worship God for every person in which the Holy Spirit resides IS the temple of God.
1 Cor 3:16 Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?
So when we read that we must worship in Spirit, it simply means that we must be indwelt with God's Spirit to actually worship. Consider this passage in Romans.
Rom 8:9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
If you do not have the Spirit of God you do not belong to Him and therefore cannot worship Him. However, If you do have the Spirit you are not controlled by the sinful nature any longer but by the Spirit and can therefore worship God. I believe that is all Jesus meant was that they would soon be indwelt by God's Spirit and then, and only then, could they truly worship. To realize the Spirit of the living God could literally indwell each individual was indeed a profound and enlightening statement, something that the woman at the well could not yet quite comprehend. This was much like the statement to Nicodemus that we must be born again. Jesus was telling of the new covenant that we were about to enter into it.
John 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth .
Jesus himself is also called the truth and is the only way to the Father.
John 14:6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
It is through the Scripture that we learn this truth.
2 Tim 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The Scripture is what will help equip for us every good work. However, an approved workman must also correctly handle the word of truth.
2 Tim 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
How do we correctly handle God's Word? James explains it rather well. We have to do more than just read and study it, we have to also do what it says.
James 1:22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
To read the word and ignore it is foolish and the person who does this has deceived himself. He is not truly following God. However, the man who reads it and does what it says will not only be blessed in all does, the Word itself (the perfect law) gives us freedom. To be truly free we must obey God's Word. People who act religious but are not following the truth of God's Word are deceiving themselves. Their worship is not valid nor accepted by God. This passage says His religion is worthless. Pure religion is one whose actions show that he is doing what God's Word says. Remember though, in order to handle the word of truth correctly we must first have the Spirit within us because Scripture is spiritually discerned. This is where we must tie worshiping in the Spirit and truth together.
1 Cor 2:10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment:
We must be saved and therefore receive the Spirit that will help us spiritually discern the truth of God's Word. Then we must actually do what it says.
1 John 2:3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
So to worship God in Spirit and in truth means to become saved so we are indwelt by the Spirit. We then must study the Scripture, through the illumination of the Spirit, to find the truth and through the power of the Spirit obey what we read and live a life that is holy and pleasing to God,. This is how we worship God in Spirit and in truth.
There may be times that we decide to physically react to the Lord as we worship Him. We may want to praise Him and show him honor in physical ways. Falling face before Him as you earnestly pray for a request, clapping your hands as you sing of his glory, raising your hands or saying an amen to display your agreement with Him are some ways that we may do that. It is important, however, to remember that those actions are merely our response to worship, they are not, in themselves, the act of worship. To worship means to show honor, respect and the superiority of the one you are worshiping. It must therefore always be respectful. True worship will draw attention to the one we are honoring, not to ourselves. We do that best, not by the actions we display in front of others during corporate worship, but by living a life each and every day that is holy and pleasing to the Lord.
Heb 12:28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our "God is a consuming fire."