In Spirit and in Truth

How do we worship? Is it by actions or by attitudes? Do feeling count? Is there one right way, place, and time? As Jesus Christ confronted the Samaritan woman at the well with the truth of who He is, He said:

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.” John 4:23-24 English Standard Version (ESV)

Remarkably, in this statement lie answers for the questions with which we opened this post. Calvin comments on the passage:

But the hour cometh. …To show that God does not choose to be worshipped either in Jerusalem or in mount Gerizim, he takes a higher principle, that the true worship of Him consists in the spirit; …hence it follows that in all places He may be properly worshipped.

Why, and in what sense, is the worship of God called spiritual? The worship of God is said to consist in the spirit, because it is nothing else than that inward faith of the heart which produces prayer, and, next, purity of conscience and self-denial, that we may be dedicated to obedience to God as holy sacrifices.

But the Old Testament Church had elaborate ceremonies in their public worship. Did they worship in spirit and truth under the Law?

I reply, as God is always like himself, he did not from the beginning of the world approve of any other worship than that which is spiritual, and which agrees with his own nature. …Moses…declares in many passages that the Law has no other object than that the people may cleave to God with faith and a pure conscience.

…Thus we may justly say that the worship [described in] the Law was spiritual in its substance, but, in respect of its form, it was somewhat earthly and carnal; for the whole of that economy, the reality of which is now fully manifested, consisted of shadows.

…In all ages God wished to be worshipped by faith, prayer, thanksgiving, purity of heart, and innocence of life; and at no time did he delight in any other sacrifices.

But what about public worship in today’s visible Church?

…There are indeed among ourselves, in the present day, some outward exercises of godliness, which our weakness renders necessary, but such is the moderation and sobriety of them, that they do not obscure the plain truth of Christ. In short, what was exhibited to the fathers under figures and shadows is now openly displayed.

…Thus all who oppress the Church with an excessive multitude of ceremonies, do what is in their power to deprive the Church of the presence of Christ. I [dismiss] the vain excuses which they plead, that many persons in the present day have as much need of those aids as the Jews had in ancient times. It is always our duty to inquire by what order the Lord wished his Church to be governed, for He alone knows thoroughly what is expedient for us.

So why was there a difference between the Old and New Testament Churches?

The true worshippers. … Knowing that the world would never be entirely free from superstitions, [Christ] thus separates the devout and upright worshippers from those who were false and hypocritical.

…What it is to worship God in spirit and truth appears clearly from what has been already said. It is to lay aside the entanglements of ancient ceremonies, and to retain merely what is spiritual in the worship of God; for the truth of the worship of God consists in the spirit, and ceremonies are but a sort of appendage.

Finally, why is worship not elaborate ceremony but in spirit and truth?

God is a Spirit. …God is so far from being like us, that those things which please us most are the objects of his loathing and abhorrence…As we cannot ascend to the height of God, let us remember that we ought to seek from His word the rule by which we are governed. Christ simply declares here that his Father is of a spiritual nature, and, therefore, is not moved by frivolous matters, as men, through the lightness and unsteadiness of their character, are wont to be.

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As Mark Dever preaches, our whole lives are acts of worship if they’re lived in obedience to God. Our public worship consists of: prayer, singing, hearing the Word read, hearing the Word preached, and participating in baptism and the Lord’s supper. Worship is hearing God’s word and responding to it in obedience.

Mark Dever: Worship in Spirit and Truth, Ligonier Ministries

I’m Sorry, Please Forgive Me

How often do we say: “I’m sorry; please forgive me?” Rarely, is my guess, based on how often I hear it. I suspect that no longer seeking forgiveness is the result of permissiveness seeping into what used to be common practice almost everywhere. That’s not to say that these words aren’t still necessary for good relations with others.

Most of us know that my standard is the scriptures, and specifically, in this case, the Gospels. Here, we see how the Lord’s disciples tried to evade this very burden; but He didn’t let them do it:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22 English Standard Version (ESV)

And

“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Luke 17:3-6 (ESV)

We’re all prone to doubt others’ motives when they keep repeating the same offenses and “seeking forgiveness” time and again. We’re not to be punching bags, after all. However, the Gospel of Matthew lays out a clear process of reconciliation for us to follow:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.

First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)

And

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)

So, if they refuse to listen to the church and continue to persist in their sin then, as the Apostle Paul states, do not associate with them:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (ESV)

Until, perhaps, the Lord may grant them repentance, or even salvation, if that’s what’s lacking.

Now such a reconciliation process should not be an occasion for gloating; rather, it should give us pause to reflect on our own behavior. We should be humble toward one another:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3 (ESV)

And this sacrificial love (i.e., agape) is, for the professing church, the mark by which we are to be known:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 (ESV)

We have to remember right relationships require humility and not anger:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:19-21 (ESV)

To do this, we must exercise self-control:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, Titus 2:11-12 (ESV)

We must make our actions agree with the words we profess:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:18 (ESV)

So, then, let us press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus.

Prodigal Son, Rembrandt

The Return of the Prodigal Son, circa 1668, Rembrandt (1606–1669), Public Domain in the US