Now I understand. I don’t know how many times that I have read this passage in the past and it just never fully clicked. You’ve had those moments. I was reading John 4 of Jesus’s conversation with the woman at the well at Sychar. She had given to Him the time worn dogmas of her people. “Our people worship in this mountain and you say that it is in Jerusalem where it is necessary to worship” (20). Strange how she could quote the doctrines and never really experience life change.
Jesus explained to her that salvation comes from the Jews (22) but that the Father, far beyond location is really seeking out true worshippers who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (23). It’s the next verse that really gripped me, that really opened my understanding to this passage.
The English translators tend to say, “God is spirit”. We understand that God is not flesh and blood as we are, though Jesus took on flesh and blood that “through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb.2:14-15). It is true that God is not built as we are, at least in our humanity.
Yet the word order of the next verse is important for in the Greek the order is reversed. Rather than saying “God is spirit”, it actually says “Spirit is God” (24). Why is this important for our understanding? The Greek again expresses it this way. “And the ones who worship Him in spirit and truth it is necessary to worship” (24).
The Spirit is clearly identified as God, not simply wind or breath or a presence. He is the third Person of the Triune God, enabling true worshippers to worship the Father in spirit and in truth. So how does He do this? It’s not enough to simply bring our minds into conformity with the Scriptures and correct doctrines. We may know truth, like the church at Ephesus but have left our first love (Rev.2:4). Simply knowing the right answers will not in itself bring life change. Ask the woman at the well. She had been married five times and is now living common-law (18).
Real change comes from the inside out, not the outside in. I have learned and continue to learn to bring my spirit, the core of who I am into alignment with the Spirit. From that center, my soul (mind, emotions and will) are brought into alignment with the Spirit of truth. My body then acts on that truth within me. As I “lean into the Spirit”, He opens my mind to truth and my heart to true worship.
“As deep calls unto deep” (Ps.42:7), so also does the Spirit take us deeper into worship. “Past the outer courts and into the holy place, past the brazen altar and into the holy place”. My prayer echoes that song: “Take me into the holy of holies; take me in by the blood of the Lamb; take me into the holies of holies, take the coal touch my lips, here I am.”