Scripture Reference: John 4
Jesusí meeting with the woman at the well is replete with spiritual lessons. This essay focuses on one of those lessons: the transition from physical, or external aspects of "religion," to the spiritual, or internalization of God's Truth.
The Old Testament is full of physical images: a literal people called Israel, their covenant relationship to Jehovah God, and their rituals, laws, and physical movements. (Almost every physical presentation has a spiritual lesson in it; but that is another topic.) Everything was bound up with the physical movements of the chosen people of God, and with their actions in time and space. Worship was to be carried out in a prescribed external manner, in a particular place, and at a particular time. The Jews were bound, first to the tabernacle, and later to the temple and its sacrifices, which had to be carried out precisely according to a certain form. Even the slightest deviation from the prescribed form carried out at the prescribed time and place, would result in awful consequences prescribed by God's Law.
When Jesus talked to the woman, who was not a Jew, but a Samartian -- an enemy of the Jews -- she began talking of the Samaritansí prescribed place and time, centered in their interpretation of the law of Moses. Keep in mind that the Samaritans were outside the covenant Jehovah God had with the Jews. But they did not know it; they believed that they had the truth. That is why the woman told Jesus, in John 4:20, that the Samaritans worshipped in the temple in Samaria, even though the Jews said that the right place to worship was in Jerusalem. And Jesus answered her, in verse 22, that the Samaritans worshipped falsely, for "salvation is of the Jews."
The Messiah was to come from the House of David, according to fulfillment of certain prophecy, and of all the types and shadows laid down in the Old Testament. The Samaritans had no part in that plan. Note, though, that Jesus did not say, "Salvation is only for the Jews." Rather he said, "Salvation is of the Jews." There is a big difference. Salvation has come forth from the Jews, but it is meant for all people. Jesus included the Samaritans in this great fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, types and shadows, when He told the woman, (John 4:10) that if she had known to whom she spoke, she could have asked and He would have given her Living Water. It is of Living Water that we now speak, something not seen, not held, not carried out in physical action or ritual, but something spiritual, that gets on the inside and wonít let go, that bubbles up like a fountain, spreading to every aspect of oneís being.
The woman, whose name we do not know, is nonetheless one of the most well-known people of the New Testament. She had, perhaps aside from Nicodemus, the longest recorded conversation with Jesus. (Men today attempt to make women second-class citizens, but not Jesus!) She was presented a truth from Jesus that, as far as we know, had not yet even been shared with His closest disciples. The truth presented was: True "religion" is not dependent upon the keeping of law, or rituals, or time or place. It is, rather, inner communion with God. Jesus did not say this in so many words to her, but He certainly taught the principle here, as well as other places in the New Testament. As did the Apostle Paul.
The woman seems set on the physical aspects of religion. She believed God must be worshipped at a particular place, and according to a particular laid-out set of rules and laws. Although she did not mention "time," you can be assured that there was a particular "time" associated with her concept of worship, and it was whatever time proclaimed by the "revised" Mosaic Law the Samaritans followed.
Many today believe the same way. Worship to many takes place on Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. and is binding to true worshippers. One is also bound to a place called The First (name of a Denomination) which is their church, and the only right one. You see, the Methodists think, as pertaining to the Baptists, "You say that men ought to worship in the Baptist Church, but we worship here, at First Methodist." The Baptists think: "The Baptist Church is the true place to worship." And the Catholics think, "You are both wrong, because the right place and form of worship, is the Catholic Church." And, in their thinking, if you are not of them, you are "bound for hell." In every denomination and sect, and in every religion in and outside of Christianity, this kind of debate goes on.
Religious people, all convinced they are right, blindly follow a system they have been told is the "true" system.
But Jesus, in this passage, emphatically says that kind of thinking is not right! He says,
Jesusís teachings were terribly controversial even to His own people. He was saying the temple in Jerusalem was no longer the appointed "place" to worship God. There was no longer an appointed "place" but an appointed condition: spirit and truth. Jesus was in the process of establishing a transition, from physical law and ritual keeping to inner spirituality, which He alone would make possible. Even as He spoke, the transition was taking place. He said, "The hour is coming," and then He said, "It is already here." The hour that was to come had already arrived, because the One Who was to make the transition possible had arrived.
At the time Jesus walked the earth, and long before, the people of Israel were bound to journey to Jerusalem at certain times to carry their offering to God and to worship Him in His Holy Temple. All of this was bound up in an intricate system of law. Deviation from the law carried severe penalties, the most severe being death. Deviation from the law was sin, and all sin was punishable by death, unless atoned for by certain sacrificial offerings.
Suffice it to say that Jesusí statement that the time had now come when men would no longer be bound by those intricate laws but would be "set free" to worship God in a different way, was a very controversial one indeed. It was one of the things, we may assume, that got Him crucified.
You see, religious" people, especially religious leaders, do not like it when you "rock their boat," or contradict their system. Their entire state of being in charge, in power, even their very livelihoods, are affected by what is taught and believed. When the people come to understand that they are not bound by systems, institutions, or laws dictating their every movement, and they begin to live and walk in the Life of God, they are set free. No earthly power dominates and controls them. The truth comes directly from the throne of God to the believer.
Would Jesus be welcome today in most of the religious sects and denominations? Would they listen carefully and accept His words, "This church building is not the place where you must worship God, but you must worship Him in spirit and in truth." Would they accept when He corrected them, when He told them that they were not walking in truth, but error as they imposed all kinds of rules and laws on His people? What would they do if He told them, "You are wrong to tell people they must be baptized in YOUR tank, according to YOUR prescribed manner," in order to be right with God? Or, if He should proclaim, "You are not made right by a religious ritual, you are made right by being born again and worshipping God in Spirit and in Truth. God is a Spirit, and those that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth."
What would they say? Would they react as the Pharisees of Jesusí day reacted, in anger and retaliation? Or would they listen, and obey? For He is telling us that very thing today, and it is found clearly and succinctly in His Word. Even though we do not have Jesus physically with us today, we have His Word. His Word is the Truth that He speaks of. We must worship God in truth, that is, in accordance with His Word.
And we must worship God in Spirit, that is, by the indwelling of God's Holy Spirit instructing us in the Word. One is as important as the other --inseparable-- like a two-sided coin. The Spirit illuminates the Word, and makes it alive. The Word, received in faith, gives us access to the Spirit. The Word is the Bread of Life, the Spirit is the Water of Life. Both are necessary for spiritual life, just as bread (food) and water are necessary to sustain physical life.
An individual is born again spiritually because of the Word taking effect inside of him. If you are a "born again" believer, this is what happened to you. You have been enabled to worship God in spirit and in truth, because you have accepted the truth that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life. (John 14:6) You have participated in His Cross and Resurrection. (Romans 6) You have spiritually "eaten" His Body and His Blood. Note: You have eaten Him in a spiritual sense, which the physical taking of communion represents!
And because His Word -- His Truth -- has taken hold of you, you are worshipping Him in Spirit. The Holy Spirit -- the Comforter -- has been given to you, to live inside of you and continue to lead you into ALL truth! God is Spirit and desires this spiritual communion with us.
So many believe that worship is merely (only) going to church at an appointed time and place, sitting listening to sermons, and singing hymns. Many attend these services in great reverence, and then go out and devour their neighbors, act deviantly in business matters, gossip and backbite, and ambitiously climb over others to get to the top in life. Some are better; some are worse. But all the while, Worship to so many is only an external occurrence, something they take their bodies to, done in accordance with rule and regulation. And if they carry out their appointed time and place of worship, God (they think) will smile down on them, and they will "go to heaven" when they die.
Nonetheless, as Jesus states, true worship is a condition of the heart, carried out in spirit and in truth. One cannot truly worship God who refuses to seek Him and draw close to Him in a spiritual way. God must rule our hearts by His Truth and by His Spirit. When we have that, we do not need law to keep us right with Him. When we have His Truth and His Spirit, our entire beings are in a state of worship! God, in Christ, is the center of our lives, our very source for being.
We should assemble ourselves together, because we need fellowship with other believers, and because God has commanded it. We come together, not to merely carry out our acts of worship, but to have corporate fellowship, and to pray, study and worship together as a Body. At the same time, we must know that we are not just one with that little small group, but one with all who worship God in Spirit and in Truth, wherever and whenever they may be. Those who do not believe today, hopefully, will be those who believe tomorrow. We should pray that all will come to worship God in Spirit and in Truth.