Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017
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“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”John 4:24
Q4. What is God? A. God is a Spirit,1 infinite, 2 eternal, 3 and unchangeable, 4 in His being, 5 wisdom, 6 power,7 holiness, 8 justice, 9 goodness, and truth. 101 Jn 4:24; 2 Job 11:7–9; 3 Ps 90:2; 4 Jas 1:17; 5 Ex 3:14; 6 Ps 147:5; 7 Heb 1:3; 8 Rev 4:8; 9 Rev 15:4; 10 Ex 34:6–7.
It is the middle of AD. 27. The Lord Jesus has just begun His ministry in a rather dramatic fashion. He had gone to the temple as part of the Passover observance. But when He was there, He was rather infuriated by the sight of people buying and selling sheep, oxen and doves and changing money within the compound of the temple. He made a scourge out of small cords and started driving the traders out of the temple area. “Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise,” He exclaimed (Jn 2:16).
The Lord Jesus had made Himself unpopular, even as He began His work. He continued to labour on in Judea for a little while, during which time He led Nicodemus and many others to the truth. But soon, He was compelled to leave Judea for Galilee up north.
Our text tells us that He must needs go through Samaria. Commentators suggest that the usual route for a Jew heading up North would be to cross the river Jordan, travel northward in Perea and then cross back to Galilee. This is because the Jews despised the Samaritans and the Samaritans hated the Jews.
But our Lord is not taken up by prejudice. He must needs pass through Samaria, we are told.
Our Lord arrives with His disciples at a place called Sychar around noon. He is wearied because of the journey. He sends His disciples away into the city to buy food, whereas He rests by a well by Himself.
Shortly, a Samaritan woman appears carrying a waterpot. She has come to draw water from the well. It is unusual for a woman to come out to draw water at noon under the hot sun, so she is probably afraid to be seen by the other women in the town.
When our Lord sees her, He immediately asks her, “Give me to drink” (v. 7). She is surprised! The Jews have nothing to do with the Samaritans. They regard them as a mongrel race. But this man, a Jew, is talking to her and even asking her for a drink! So, without further thought, she asks Him: “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?” (Jn 4:9)
What follows is a remarkable and heart-warming conversation in which the Lord Jesus leads the Samaritan woman— step by step—to see her sin and her need for salvation.
For our purpose in this sermon, we do not intend to expound on the whole conversation. Instead, we want to focus our attention, particularly on one statement that the Lord makes, namely verse 24, where He says:
“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”Jn 4:24
It is from these words that we get the first part of the answer to our Shorter Catechism question 4.
“Q4. What is God? A. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”
What do we mean when we say that “God is a spirit”? What does the Lord mean when He says it to the Samaritan woman?
I believe the Lord is stating a crucial theological concept that we will do well to contemplate. One commentator has quite rightly suggested that: “This is one of the first truths of religion, and one of the sublimest ever presented to the mind of man” (Albert Barnes).
We may infer three things from what the Lord has said:
1. God has no locality.
2. God does not have body parts.
3. God must be worshipped in spirit and in truth.
1. God Has No Locality
This must be one of the first things the Lord is trying to impress upon the Samaritan woman when he says to her, “God is a spirit.”
She had queried the Lord, saying:
“Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship” (Jn 4:20).
The Lord Jesus does not argue with her observation. Instead, he says:
“Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father” (Jn 4:21).
And He adds:
“But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (Jn 4:23).
Why? Why is this so? He gives the reason in verse 24, which is our text: “God is a spirit.”
What is He saying? He is undoubtedly saying to the woman that it no longer matters where God is worshipped. In the first place, God is not bounded by space. He has no locality. He is neither restricted to Jerusalem, nor to mount Gerizim, nor anywhere.
But is this a new theology? Isn’t it true that in Old Testament times, God was to be worshipped in Jerusalem? Has God changed?
Of course not! God says, “I am the LORD, I change not” (Mal 3:6). Even in Old Testament times, God’s people understood that God is a spirit and has no locality.
Solomon was very clear about that. Although he built the temple, he knew it was only symbolic. It was not a dwelling place for God. He said in his prayer:
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?” (1Kgs 8:27).
God, you see, is a spirit. He is everywhere in the sense that he is not bounded by creation. He is transcendent. He has no locality.
But isn’t it true that in Old Testament days, God was to be worshipped in Jerusalem? Yes, it is true; but let us understand that almost everything about the mode of worship in the Old Testament was intended to be temporary and typical. That is to say, they were intended to point to spiritual realities that would be made clear in the New Testament, with the coming of Christ. In particular, Jerusalem was intended to be a picture and type of the Church. It stood as a symbol to represent God’s covenant people and God’s blessing towards them. Therefore, God commanded the Jews to worship in Jerusalem.
But as soon as Christ was crucified and raised from the dead, God’s covenant people would cease to be primarily Jewish. You see, the Jews were the ones who clamoured for the blood of Christ, and they even pronounced a curse upon themselves and their children for His blood. “His blood be on us, and on our children,” they exclaimed (Mt 27:25).
From then on, the Kingdom of God was given to another nation, even the Gentile (Mt 21:43). God’s covenant people would now be from all over the world. Thus the shadow and type would cease to be meaningful as a symbol of the Church. Earthly Jerusalem ceased to be holy and ceased to carry any spiritual significance.
Therefore, the instruction to worship in Jerusalem is no longer valid. It was a temporary provision and served only for a time before the coming of Christ and the gathering of the Gentiles. But the fact that God is a spirit, not bounded by space, and has no locality is an unchanging truth.
Let each one of us understand this fundamental truth. Because the Old Testament shadows and types have been fulfilled, today, no place on earth is more holy than another. Jerusalem is no longer a holy city. Israel is no longer a holy nation. Those who go on religious pilgrimages, whether to Jerusalem or to Mecca, have not understood this fundamental truth: God is a spirit.
Even the church building is not a holy place in the sense that the temple of old was holy. We can consecrate a church building for God’s use, but let none of us imagine that the church ground is more holy than the park beside the church.
We may worship God anywhere. The act of worship is holy, not the place of worship. Sacrilege is when we introduce elements not appointed by the Lord into His worship. Sacrilege is not when we use the church building for a concert performance.
God is a spirit means that God has no locality. He is not restricted or confined by space.
But secondly, God is a spirit means that God does not have body parts.
2. God Does Not Have Body Parts
What is the Lord’s answer to the Samaritan woman when she says that the Samaritans worshipped in Gerizim, whereas the Jews worshipped in Jerusalem (v. 20)? His first response is to suggest that God has no locality. But what is the second thing he says?
He says: “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews” (Jn 4:22).
What does the Lord mean by saying that the Samaritans know not what they worship? Do not the Samaritans also worship Jehovah? Well, yes and no! Remember that the Samaritans are the descendants of a mixed race of people brought to dwell in the land of Israel by the Assyrian king after the invasion of 722 BC.
We read this in 2 Kings 17:24:
“And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.”
At first, these people feared not the LORD. So when lions began to harass them, they pleaded with the Assyrian authorities to bring back some of the Israelite priests to teach the people. Remember that these were not the Levites because the Levites had migrated down south to Judah after Jeroboam introduced golden calf worship in the north. These priests were, instead, the descendants of those the king appointed. They knew about God’s laws and ways, but they cared not about the manner of worship.
Well, under their instruction, the Samaritans settled into syncretistic worship. We read at the end of 2 Kings 17:
“So these nations feared the LORD, and served their graven images, both their children, and their children’s children: as did their fathers, so do they unto this day” (2 Kgs 17:41).
So you see, the Samaritans were an idolatrous people.
But what is the basis of idolatry? Is it not that God must have a form? Idols are made to represent the form. When Absalom, the son of David, wanted the people to remember him, he made an image of himself. When Nebuchadnezzar wanted the people to worship him, he made an image of himself. So when people want to worship God and think that God has a form, they will make an image of what they imagine God to look like.
Thus when God would warn and admonish His people against making images to represent Him, He reminded them that He did not appear to them in any manner of similitude. Thus, the LORD warns through Moses in Deuteronomy 4:
“15 Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: 16 Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17 The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, 18 The likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: 19 And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them…”Dt 4:15-19a
The Samaritans did not understand that. So they, no doubt, worshipped Jehovah with the golden calves and also worshipped their other idols. This fact probably led to the glaring historical error in the Quran, which claims that the Samaritans made the golden calf for Aaron when Moses was up in the mount! The fact is that the Samaritans would not exist for another 700+ years! But it is probably true that the Samaritans did worship golden calves. To them, Jehovah and their gods have bodies and forms.
So when the Lord Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, “Ye know not what ye worship” and “God is a spirit,” He is, no doubt, pointing out the Samaritan error that God has a form or a body.
The truth is: God is a Spirit. That is to say: God is without a body. He does not have a physical body like us. He is not material or composed of parts. He is invisible. He is present everywhere. And He is pure and holy.
But does not the Scripture speak of God as having arms, hands, feet, eyes and ears (e.g. Nah 1:3; Isa 52:10; Ps 34:13). In fact, isn’t man made in God’s image? Does not then God look like us?
Let us understand that when the Scriptures speak of man as being made in the image of God, it is not a reference to physical likeness. In fact, the apostle Paul tells us that man is created in God’s image in knowledge, righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10). It is not a physical likeness. Thus, when the Scripture speaks of God as having arms, hands, feet, eyes or ears, we must think of them as anthropomorphic descriptions. This simply means that the description must be understood figuratively. God is describing himself in a manner that we can understand and relate to. They do not, at all, suggest that God has a body like us.
This, again, is an essential truth. We must never imagine God as looking like us, much less, make any image to represent God.
And neither should we make images of Christ.
It is true that since the incarnation, Jesus Christ has indeed taken on a human body so that He is fully God and fully man. But remember, we worship Him because of His deity and not because of His humanity. And His deity cannot be represented, because God is a spirit.
So the Roman Catholic Church is wrong not only because she violates the Second Commandment but because she fails to live out the implication of the doctrine that God is a spirit and has not a body like us.
But now, finally, let us understand that since God is a spirit, He must be worshipped in spirit and in truth.
3. God Must Be Worshipped in Spirit and in Truth
The Lord Jesus says:
“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
People who think of God in terms of bodily forms will tend to want to worship Him in bodily manners. If you imagine God to be like you, you will want to worship Him according to what you would like if you were God.
For this reason, there have been all sorts of innovations in worship—pagan, Samaritan, and even so-called Christian. As soon as we forget that God is a spirit and not like us, we will invent carnal worship methods. This may range from having sacrifices of pigs and ducks to sacrifices of chants and orchestra music, etc.
But all these are unacceptable worship. The Lord Jesus informs us that those who worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth.
What is it to worship God in spirit?
If God is spirit, then to worship Him in spirit must refer to worship that springs from the heart under the influence of the Holy Spirit. As Matthew Henry puts it:
“We must depend upon God’s Spirit for strength and assistance, laying our souls under his influences and operations.”
We must not imagine that we could genuinely worship God simply through some outward rituals and ceremonies. As Paul tells the Philippians:
“We are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3).
True worship is the savour of gratitude and love arising from hearts that are quickened by the Holy Spirit. It is not in outward conformity or actions. Thus Paul chides the Galatians: “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh” (Gal 3:3).
They began well, but by returning to Judaistic practices and insisting on circumcision and observance of ceremonial laws, they have slid back to carnal worship, not befitting God, who is a spirit.
The true worshipper must worship God with his spirit assisted by the Spirit of God (Rom 1:9). He must worship Him with spiritual graces produced by the Spirit. As the apostle to the Hebrews puts it:
“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28-29).
We must worship God acceptably in the way He appointed and with the right attitude of fear, reverence and love. All outward actions in worship, whether singing, praying, listening to God’s word, or participating in a sacrament, must be done with heartfelt love and gratitude towards the Lord. It must not only be in the lips or the outward motion, else it is hypocrisy, which the Lord Jesus condemns so vehemently.
What about worshipping God in the truth? To worship in the truth is not only to worship God in sincerity, which is included in worshipping God in the spirit. It is instead worshipping God according to that divine revelation which God has given to us. Every act of worship must be guided and regulated by the word of God. Nothing that God does not appoint in His Word for His worship is acceptable.
The idea that whatever is not forbidden is allowed is simply incorrect. If God is a spirit, how can we imagine what kind of worship is acceptable to Him?
This is why Calvin and the Calvinistic Reformers in the 16th Century understood that the 2nd Commandment is not merely about not making images, but about worshipping God in the way He has appointed. Just think about it. The 2nd Commandment forbids us from making any image of anything in heaven or earth or the sea for God’s worship. Yet, in the very tabernacle God ordained for His worship, there are images of cherubim. Indeed two golden cherubim sit on the holiest piece of furniture in the holiest of holies of the tabernacle and later of the temple. Did God contradict Himself?
Of course not! The second commandment is not merely about images. The prohibition against images is given because when men invent their own worship, they are most likely to make images. Why? Because they tend to think of God in carnal terms!
What, then, is the second commandment about? Clearly, it is to teach us that only what is appointed by the Lord is allowed for His own worship.
We must worship God not only in spirit, but in truth. What is the truth? The truth is in God’s Word. The truth is in Christ Jesus. He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn 14:6).
All true worship must be through Christ. All true worship must be according to God’s appointed Word. So we do not worship Him except with His own sufficient word. We sing the word of Christ in union with him. We strum our heartstrings and make melodies in our hearts. We hear the voice of Christ in preaching. We respond in faith, love and gratitude to Christ, the captain of our salvation.
“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”Jn 4:24
Once again, here are the three things we may derive from these words of the Lord:
1. God has no Locality. Let us not imagine that any church building, or chapel, or country is more holy than another. Let us not think it is appropriate to pray in the church premises, but not in a hawker centre. Let us learn to pray and worship the Lord where ever the Lord places us in.
2. God does not have body parts. He is not like us. Let us never imagine God as looking anything like the picture in the Sistine Chapel. Neither should we use pictures of Christ, for they will inevitably lead to idolatry.
3. God must be worshipped in spirit and in truth. Let us worship the Lord with sincerity and heartfelt gratitude and love. Let us also worship Him according to His appointment rather than according to tradition or to what we imagine is glorifying to God.
But most of all, let us worship God through the Lord Jesus Christ. God is a spirit. There is no way for us to have fellowship with Him except through Christ Jesus. Thus Christ Jesus came to be our mediator—the only mediator between God and man. To fulfil His role, He suffered for His elect, and died for them to pay the penalty due to their sin. All who believe in Him find salvation in Him. All who truly believe in Him have fellowship with the living and true God, who is a spirit infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. Amen.