"God is [a] spirit, and must be worshipped in spirit and truth" - by Keith Petersen
“God [is] a spirit; and they who worship him must worship [him] in spirit and truth.”
John 4:24 says, “God [is] a spirit; and they who worship him must worship [him] in spirit and truth” and there is perhaps no other single Scriptural truth more important, more misunderstood and, reflexively, entered into less in our practical Christian path here.
The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 “But this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit God's kingdom, nor does corruption inherit incorruptibility.”
Between the framework of these two scriptures lays, in a broad sense, the entirety of our Christian calling. It is vital to recognize that there is a “new man, which according to God is created in truthful righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24) and another man which in nature is “the old man which corrupts itself according to the deceitful lusts” (Ephesians 4:22) – and there is nothing in Scripture showing that God intends for us that the two natures can be mixed together morally and accepted as being compatible. The converse is true and for this reason we see that, in Leviticus 19 the Holy Spirit records, “My statutes shall ye observe. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with another sort; thou shalt not sow thy field with seed of two sorts; and a garment woven of two materials shall not come upon thee.”
Two foundational Christian principles are highlighted as a result of the comprehension of the above: (1) “Because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God; for neither indeed can it be: and they that are in flesh cannot please God” and (2) “But ye are not in flesh but in Spirit, if indeed God's Spirit dwell in you”.
The simple truth, then, is that Christianity is entirely a system engendered of God through the power of the Holy Spirit, and, over against this the mind of the flesh – the natural side – has no part morally in this spiritual system at all. Of course, we while here remain in a flesh and blood condition – Paul writes that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels” – but, to what end and expectation is there to be in this mixed condition other than that of an overcomer to the result “that the surpassingness of the power may be of God, and not from us.”
It is of great moment when we understand that God has centered everything in Christ. This includes what Paul writes in Ephesians – that God “gave him [to be] head over all things to the assembly, which is his body.” The body, of course, embraces all believing Christians; but, more than that, we are told that God has set His Christ “to head up all things …. the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth.”
Many Christians approach Christianity as if, in a practical way, Christ is still here in “this present evil world.” But, our great Head is not here – He is “holy, harmless, undefiled, separated from sinners” and has “ascended up on high.” The Lord distinctly says in John 16 that when He Himself is not here and the Holy Spirit will have come, the Holy Spirit “will bring demonstration to the world, of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe on me; of righteousness, because I go away to [my] Father, and ye behold me no longer; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”
Who rules this world according to the scripture just quoted above? It is Satan. The Lord says in John 12 that “Now is [the] judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” Of course, God is in ultimate control of His universe; however, clearly, Satan is shown in scripture as the immediate ruler and prince of this world. When tempting the Lord in the wilderness he took Him and “leading him up into a high mountain, shewed him all the kingdoms of the habitable world in a moment of time. And the devil said to him, I will give thee all this power, and their glory; for it is given up to me, and to whomsoever I will I give it.” These are sobering words in relation to any proper moral considerations as to this world.
Thus, we need as Christians to recognize two vital realities in relation to our testimonial path here: (1) that we can only properly please God if we walk here in the Spirit and, conversely (2) if we are morally attached to and enmeshed in the pursuits and proclivities of this world we are in an estate that is not pleasing to God – James writes “know ye not that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore is minded to be [the] friend of the world is constituted enemy of God. Think ye that the scripture speaks in vain? Does the Spirit which has taken his abode in us desire enviously?”
Of course, we have to live and move in this world here and the Bible makes room for this. Paul writes to the Corinthians that “I have written to you in the epistle not to mix with fornicators; not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the avaricious and rapacious, or idolaters, since [then] ye should go out of the world.” We rub elbows with such every day in school, or business, or the marketplace, etc.; however, we are not to mix morally with such!
What is this mix? We have to live and work here – as stated, we have schooling, shopping, business, etc. Paul writes specifically as to this “mix” in 2nd Corinthians 6: “Be not diversely yoked with unbelievers; for what participation [is there] between righteousness and lawlessness? or what fellowship of light with darkness? and what consent of Christ with Beliar, or what part for a believer along with an unbeliever? and what agreement of God's temple with idols? for ye are [the] living God's temple; according as God has said, I will dwell among them, and walk among [them]; and I will be their God, and they shall be to me a people. Wherefore come out from the midst of them, and be separated, saith [the] Lord, and touch not [what is] unclean, and I will receive you; and I will be to you for a Father, and ye shall be to me for sons and daughters, saith [the] Lord Almighty.”
This section of scripture is emphatic. “Be separated,” saith the Lord, “and touch not what is unclean.” What is unclean? The world system is unclean in and of itself away from God, and all that this system generates to feed the proclivities of the natural man is unclean – “the whole world lies in the wicked one.” This world lies in the wicked one – solemn language. It is an evil world, it is rapacious, it is avaricious, it is idolatrous – much else could be said; but, this is simple to understand. The world system of men away from God is darkness morally, and we are called as intelligent, exercised Christians to “walk in the Spirit” and to be separate from this world system. Some of the gross evils we can more readily see – casual sex outside of marriage, gender issues such as LGBT diametrically opposed to God’s simple provision of husband and wife, crime, cheating in and ruthless practices in business, political chicanery and corruption at any level, hatreds and strife, lust and avarice, drunkenness, revels and so much more that is distinctly catalogued by the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5.
However, one of the greatest and most effective strategies of Satan involves those advantages he gains through what is in practical application more subtle. Idolatry is a prime example. Perhaps there is nothing more testing for us routinely than the natural attractions of our hearts and minds to that we consider to be lesser or harmless influences. Lot was a righteous man (see 2nd Peter 2) and he was tormented with the lawless condition of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah; yet, he stayed there! He had originally “beheld all the plain of the Jordan that it was thoroughly watered, before Jehovah had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah; as the garden of Jehovah, like the land of Egypt, as one goes to Zoar.” It all appealed to his natural senses.
However, it was anything but the garden of Jehovah, and the Lord had slated it for destruction – just like this world in which we live (see 2nd Peter 3). Lot is much like our natural selves. He rubbed elbows, so to speak, for a long time with the citizens of Sodom and was enormously concerned as to the sin; yet, when remonstrating with them when they would sodomize the men (the angels) who were in his house he called them “brethren.” We easily become occupied with elements, social aspects and idolatries of this world which leave us less than peaceful – the Holy Spirit is not pleased, on the one hand, and we cannot really be happy since we cannot have the fullness of the world, on the other hand. Most importantly, we are denying ourselves the ineffable peace of walking properly and fully with God.
This brings us to the critical point that is at the heart of determining the nature of our testimony and path here as Christians – and it devolves down to this very word – heart. The Word of God is explicit – “And Jesus answered him, [The] first commandment of all [is], Hear, Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thine understanding, and with all thy strength. This is [the] first commandment. And a second like it [is] this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is not another commandment greater than these.”
The heart is vital in any relationship – how much more so in this Divine realm. “Out of the heart are the issues of life.” A fundamental question is asked in 2 Kings 10: “Is thy heart right, as my heart is with thy heart?” It is a simple reality that any relationship suffers in the same degree as the lack of engagement of the hearts in that relationship. God’s 1st and great commandment is not arbitrary – it is phrased as it is in the reality that God has entered fully into relationship with us through the Cross of Christ – the expectation is that we do the same. In addition, the 2nd commandment shows that, in reflex to the first commandment, we can only be in proper relationship with others here if we are first in proper relationship with Divine Persons. It is apparent that, speaking generally, Christian failures here involve a failure of the heart in relation to Divine Persons, and, in the same context, if we are walking properly with God while here we will consequently be right in all our horizontal relationships, as well. It is of note that the Lord’s very first rebuke to the seven assemblies in The Revelation was to Ephesus, and He said “I have against thee that thou hast left they first love.” All the subsequent failures in any assembly as addressed by Him in those early chapters of The Revelation ultimately would have devolved back to this primary failure.
The overcomers as presented in the Bible are those who gain a practical victory over this world – it is only as we maintain what is provided by God to us through the Holy Spirit that we can fulfill John 4:24. So, how is this done? It is of little value to preach the benefits of the Cross of Christ without communicating in an understandable way how these victorious benefits are to be implemented while here in a scene of contrariety. What does Scripture say as to this? John writes, “For all that has been begotten of God gets the victory over the world; and this is the victory which has gotten the victory over the world, our faith. Who is he that gets the victory over the world, but he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
Two things stand out here: (1) that, having been begotten of God we now have through new birth and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit a nature that is without sin – John writes that “Whoever has been begotten of God does not practise sin, because his seed abides in him, and he cannot sin, because he has been begotten of God.” Thus, only God’s sons have the ability to morally overcome in this world. It is a change of man from the old Adam to the newness of life in Christ – as it is written, “The first man Adam became a living soul; the last Adam a quickening spirit. But that which is spiritual [was] not first, but that which is natural, then that which is spiritual.”
(2) We see that it is in the constancy and fullness of faith in Christ that our Christian path leads to victory. The Bible makes much of faith – indeed, the very basis of salvation involves that we are “saved by grace, through faith.” We cannot emphasize enough the infinite value of and the great results of faith (see Hebrews 11). And, in relation to our subject of worshipping God, verse 6 in this wonderful chapter of Hebrews 11 simply says, “without faith [it is] impossible to please [God].”
We can see from all the foregoing that, as has been well said, `Christianity is an out-of-this-world condition realized in the power of the Holy Spirit’ or, as has been said another way, `Christianity is Christ over again in His people.’
Christianity is a system centered in and of Christ, and properly available only as we walk in the Spirit. By maintaining what Christ has secured for us (and understanding that the victory has been implemented at the outset through His Cross – “but be of good courage: I have overcome the world”) we can walk here in a way that properly answers to the mind and heart of God. “Walk in [the] Spirit, and ye shall no way fulfil flesh's lust” (Galatian 5). Thus, as walking in the Spirit we can walk here as fulfilling John 4 - being worshipful “in spirit and in truth.”