How to Worship in Spirit

In my previous article, I interpreted what Christ said when He said that God is spirit and we must worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24). The conclusion then wasn’t that we ought to interpret “spirit” to mean “attitude,” though that is important. Rather, our worship of God isn’t physical as it would have been for first century Jews and Samaritans given that Christ was speaking with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well when He said this. If the focus of our worship is not connected to a physical location where many works are performed, how is it that we worship our God in spirit?

Remember that the Jews were attached to the physical temple in Jerusalem, one that was later destroyed at the hands of the Romans in AD 70. Jesus referred to His own body as a temple that would be destroyed but raised in three days—speaking of His resurrection (John 2:19–22). In a similar account, Mark noted that Christ said that He would build “another” temple (Mark 14:58) which is the church (cf. Matt. 16:13–23; 1 Cor. 3:16). In the temple that is the church, Jesus is our chief cornerstone which was rejected by men but in whom if one believes they will not be put to shame (1 Peter 2:6–8). We who are Christians are living stones who offer up “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

Therefore, if we offer up “spiritual sacrifices,” what exactly are those sacrifices which are spiritual by which we may worship God in spirit? The Bible illuminates the answer for us. First of all, our entire bodies are to be given to God as living sacrifices, and this is our “reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). Interestingly enough, the term translated “service” here is the same word Jesus used when He said to Satan that God alone is to be “served.” It’s a word sometimes translated as “worship.” The lives we live ought very much to coincide with the worship we give God in the Christian temple of the church, even up to martyrdom (cf. Phil. 2:17). Second, Paul points to the offering given to him by the Philippians as a spiritual sacrifice. Note the sacrificial language he used to describe the offering: “a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18; cf. Heb. 13:16).

Third, our prayers and praise (singing) is a “sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips” (Heb. 13:15). There’s a close connection to prayer and singing. The early Christians used to chant their prayers. If you’ve ever seen Jews at the Western Wall of Jerusalem, they are often rocking back and forth. That’s because they are chanting prayers and the rocking back and forth is like a metronome where they keep time. When Paul and Silas were in Philippian jail, the New Testament reads that at midnight, “as they were praying, Paul and Silas sang hymns to God” (Acts 16:25; DBH trans.). The two are closely connected here.

We also mustn’t forget that when physical sacrifices were made that the worshipper ate some of that which was sacrificed. We partake in eating of the body and blood of Christ when we receive from the Christian altar the bread and fruit of the vine (cf. Heb. 13:10; John 6:53–58). Looking at the spiritual sacrifices listed here, there are the lives we live, the money we give, the prayers and praises we offer, and the eating of the Lord’s Supper that is spiritual sacrifices. When we do these in the Christian temple, the church, we have worshipped God in spirit.

Steven Hunter (PhD, Faulkner University) is the preaching minister for the Glendale Road Church of Christ in Murray, KY. He's also authored several books for Start2Finish, and Classically Christian explores Christianity from a church-historical perspective. Steven enjoys reading books, drinking coffee, and is a practitioner of Goshin Ryu Jujutsu—a traditional Japanese martial art.