Part Four of The Holy Spirit in John
True worship takes place in Spirit and truth.
In Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in Samaria, water becomes a symbol for God’s life giving gift that Jesus bestows.
Jesus answered the woman, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:10-14)
The use of water as a metaphor is a recurring theme throughout John’s gospel . As the conversation progresses, Jesus turns to the Spirit’s role, creating one of many pairings of water and Spirit in the gospel of John.
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:19-24)
Just as the Holy Spirit is necessary for true life (John 3:5-8), so the Holy Spirit is necessary for true worship. Note that Jesus is not describing a manner or style of worship, but a location. Jesus says, “Not in the mountain and not in Jerusalem, but in spirit and truth.” To contrast Jerusalem and Samaria with divinely-inspired ecstasy or human enthusiasm or sincerity or any other quality of worship is to make a category error. The locus of true worship, Jesus says, is Spirit and the truth.
So where does one find Spirit and truth? Jesus is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit (John 1:33). Jesus is the one from whose side the Spirit flows like water (John 7:37-39). Jesus’ words are Spirit and life (John 6:33). Jesus is the word made flesh and full of truth (John 1:14). Truth came through Jesus (John 1:17). Jesus tells the truth that sets people free (John 8:32). Jesus is the truth and the way into the Father’s presence (John 14:5). The Spirit, in fact, is the Spirit of truth (John 14:17, John 15:26, John 16:23).
Where do you find Spirit and truth? The Spirit of truth comes from the Father as a result of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection:
The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you (plural) and will be in you (plural). (John 14:17)
True worship takes place in the community in which the Holy Spirit dwells, the same community in which the truth of Jesus continues to live.