Monday, June 24, 2019

Anonymous Asks (46)

“Spiritual worship: like ghosts and stuff? I don’t understand it.”

No ghosts, but if you’re not familiar with the concept of worshiping God in spirit, maybe it can be a bit confusing.

Jesus said God the Father is looking for people who will worship him “in spirit and in truth”. That became possible when the Father sent the Son into the world to reveal God to mankind.

To understand the meaning of worshiping in spirit, we need to understand a little bit about the alternative.

The Alternative to Spiritual Worship

The alternative to worshiping in spirit is worshiping at a fixed location according to a specific set of religious instructions.

The subject came up when Jesus stopped at a well near the town of Sychar in Samaria. For a number of good (and bad) historical reasons we won’t get into today, Jews and Samaritans did not get along. Their differences were both racial and religious. The gospel of John says, “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” But despite being a Jew and fully obedient to God’s law, Jesus felt no obligation to follow the customs his people had tacked on to that law, such as turning one’s nose up at Samaritans. With more important things on his mind than centuries-old grudges, he surprised this Samaritan woman by asking her for a drink. The two began to talk.

Realizing Jesus was a prophet, the woman tested him with a question about worship based on the religious differences between Samaritans and Jews. She said, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” She didn’t have a chance to get to the “Who’s right?” part, but it’s pretty obvious that’s where she was going. Much like some real estate agents, she was fixated on location, location, location.

Neither Here Nor There

Jesus replied with this:
“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Very likely this woman was expecting a completely different answer. She probably anticipated being told her people were all wrong in their beliefs, and in order to really please God they must humble themselves and make the trek to Jerusalem to offer the sacrifices Moses prescribed. After all, Jesus started with the statement that “salvation is from the Jews.”

And yet he did not.

Worship without Limitations

Firstly, then, spiritual worship is worship that is not limited to a specific location. It doesn’t require a special mountain or a trip to a special building. True worship takes place in the human heart through the indwelling Spirit of God, which means it can happen anywhere and anytime. No longer must worship be accompanied by animal sacrifices and rituals laid down in the Law of Moses, and no longer can it only be conducted through the mediation of a priest.

Secondly, spiritual worship is not limited to a specific privileged race. Once, salvation could legitimately be said to come through the Jews. If you wanted to approach the God of Israel in worship, you had to become a proselyte of Judaism. The Jews were the ones with a specific revelation from God for the world. The Samaritans “did not know”. The Jews did. Today, however, not just Samaritans but men and women of all nations may approach God in spirit to worship. We are not required to convert to Judaism to do so.

Thirdly, spiritual worship is not limited to a specific religious routine. A man could offer a sacrifice in the temple in Jerusalem without any heart-engagement in what he was doing. In fact, so long as he followed the prescribed rules laid down in the Law as to how to present his sacrifice, onlookers had no idea whether he was actually worshiping or simply play-acting a ritual to signal his deference to a favored religious system. When men and women worship in spirit, however, it is their hearts God sees and judges, not the outward form or ritual in which they are engaged. For this reason, perhaps, there is almost no detail given in the New Testament about what sort of routine spiritual worshipers should follow.

So no, spiritual worship has nothing to do with worshiping spirits. It has to do with worshiping God in your spirit through his Spirit. Only those who have God’s Spirit living within them can worship him that way. No set of rules and rituals, no privileged racial status, and no sanctified location will help.

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