A Website for Basic Christian Doctrine

What is True Worship?

By Jeremy Cagle

If you asked the average American 200 years ago, “Why do you go to church?,” he would probably say, “Because of the preaching.”  He would say that he goes to hear the Word of God expounded and explained.  A high value was placed on the office of preacher in the 1800’s.  Sermons were talked about in the local newspapers, sometimes favorably and sometimes not so favorably.  Churches were packed to maximum capacity when famous preachers came to town.  And, all in all, 200 years ago, the average American attended church to hear the pastor preach.1

If you asked the average American 100 years ago, “Why do you go to church?,” he would probably say, “I go to church because of my Christian heritage.”  He would say that he goes to maintain the values and religious morals of his father or his mother.  His parents were Methodist and, therefore, he is a Methodist.  His grandparents were Baptist or Lutheran or Roman Catholic and, therefore, he is Baptist or Lutheran or Roman Catholic.  And, all in all, 100 years ago, the average American attended church to honor the tradition of his family.2

But if you asked the question today, “Why do you go to church?,” to a random group of professing Christians, many of them would probably tell you that they go to church for the music.3  We live in an age where music is given an extraordinarily high priority in the church of Jesus Christ.  In the 21st Century, Christians choose churches and Christians leave churches and Christians start churches over the style and the tone of the music that a church plays in its worship service.  To my knowledge, there is no period of church history where music was given such a high priority as it has been given in our day and age.

Here is a little bit of history as to how all of this came about.4  Before the 1950’s and 1960’s, the only music heard from churches was hymns.  Hymns are songs of praise written by theologians and scholars to be sung in congregational worship.  Hymns are not written to be performed in concert.  They are not intended to be sung by unbelievers or on the radio or to be placed on a record for mass production.

Hymns are written with one purpose on mind: to lead the church of Jesus Christ in its worship of God through music.  They are and were written to be sung in the church, for the church, and by the church.  They are not intended for any other audience.

But in the 1950’s and 1960’s, all of that began to change.  In the middle of the 20th Century, several bands appeared on the radio and on television playing rock-n-roll music with Christian lyrics (quite a controversial thing to do back then).  Groups like the Joystrings and the Jesus People began to play what they called “Jesus Music” for revivals and Christian youth gatherings.  “Youth Praise” published in 1966 became the first and most famous collection of these songs.

By the 1970’s, with the hippie movement underway and the Jesus Movement in full swing, “Christian Rock” or “Contemporary Christian Music” was officially born.  Maranatha! Music, which still exists today, became the first Contemporary Christian Music recording company signing on its first band in 1971.  It was followed soon afterward by Broken Records in the early 1980’s, which signed on bands like Daniel Amos and The Choir.

Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, Contemporary Christian Music became a major force to be reckoned with in the American music industry.  It caught on so fast that for a period of time, Contemporary Christian Music rivaled country and hip-hop in its album sales.  Radio and television stations soon began to pop up all across the country playing Christian rock 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to audiences everywhere.

Churches began to replace hymns like “Amazing Grace” and “Just as I Am” and “The Old Rugged Cross” with songs like “Shout to the Lord” and “Every Move I Make” and “I’m Coming Back to the Heart of Worship.”  Christian youth became as familiar with the names of Michael W. Smith and Stephen Curtis Chapman and D. C. Talk as they were with the names of Moses and Simon Peter and the Apostle Paul.

The interest in Contemporary Christian Music has even become a major part of the way the church today operates.  Church auditoriums have begun to look more like modern music halls than places of worship.  In some cases, the Sunday morning worship hour sounds just like a rock concert and feels about as reverent as one.  The pianos have been replaced by the drums.  The organs have been moved out to make way for the guitars.  Shorts and t-shirts are in.  Suits and ties are out.  Contemporary has taken the place of Traditional.  The old has made way for the new in how the church conducts its worship service.

But with all of this going on in Contemporary Christian Music and with all of its influence on the church, it begs the question: What does true worship look like?  What does the Bible say about the worship of God?  What instruments should we use?  What clothes should we wear?  What songs are we supposed to sing?  How do we show reverence for God?

Surprisingly or maybe not surprisingly, Jesus answers all of these questions for us in John 4.

To give some background on this passage, in John 4, Jesus Christ has been speaking with a woman from Samaria.  Many of us know her as the Woman at the Well.  She was a Samaritan, which means that, according to the Jews, she was from a despised race.  She was a woman, which was considered a despised gender in the First Century.  And she was an adulteress, which has been a despised lifestyle for anyone at any time.  So she had three strikes against her here in John 4.5 She had a dirty race.  She had a dirty gender.  And she had a dirty life.  Yet the passage tells us that Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, evangelizes her and tells her how He can made her clean again.

And He does it by offering her “living water” in verse 10.  Living water would have been a reference to a new life and a fresh start.  But, in Bible times, living water would have also been a reference to moving water or clean water that came from a river or spring.  Well water could be full of bacteria and disease because it sat still all day long.  But river water was pure and fresh and was usually clean because it kept moving.  This is why the Jews only used living water in their sacrifices and temple rituals.  This is also why ancient cities were usually built around major rivers.6

And, with all of that in mind, Jesus uses that imagery to offer this sinful woman a new life.  As they are sitting by a well that is probably full of old, stale water, the Lord offers her “living water” (i. e. clean water) that can save her from her sins.  But she does not see Jesus’ reference to salvation, so in verses 13-14 He gives her a more direct offer: “eternal life.”

And, as the passage tells us, she still does not see Jesus’ point.  In verse 15, she thinks He is talking about physical water and she asks Him to give her some so she can stop coming to the well to get something to drink.  So, in verse 16, Jesus tries another approach and He brings up her sin.  He says, “Go, call your husband and come here.”  As long as Jesus used figurative expressions, the woman did not understand Him.  As long as He beat around the bush, she did not get the point.  So Jesus goes straight to the heart of the problem and He mentions her adultery.

Needless to say, this offends her.  So she tries to downplay the subject in verse 17 but Jesus refuses to let it go.  He describes her sin in detail by telling her that she has sinned in the past by five different marriages and she is sinning now by living with a man that she is not married to (vv. 17-18).

So this conversation is getting pretty intense.  Jesus is becoming personal with this woman.  And, in response to this, read what the Woman at the Well says next:

Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship (vv. 19-20).

What is she talking about here?  What does a mountain in Samaria and a mountain in Jerusalem have to do with her adultery?

Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

She is trying to change the subject.  She is trying to steer the conversation in a different direction.  All of this talk about her sin and her depravity and her moral wretchedness is making her uncomfortable, so she just brings up another topic for discussion.  Jesus says, “You are in sin.”  And the Samaritan woman says, “I can see that you are a prophet, let me ask you a prophetic question.”

We have all had the same thing happen to us in our evangelism.  We have told people, “Friend, you must trust in Christ to save you from your sins or you will die in Hell.”  And they have said to us, “I can tell that you are a prophet, let me ask you a prophetic question.”  “I can tell that you are religious, let’s talk about my religious concerns.”  “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  “How can the Lord be sovereign and still give us free will?”  “Why does a loving God send people to Hell?”

Jesus had the same thing happen to Him here.  The Woman at the Well tries to change the subject and she mentions what I like to call “The Dilemma of the Competing Mountains.”  What she is referring to in verses 19-20 is an ancient controversy between the Jews and the Samaritans over the correct location of the Lord’s Temple.  Jesus was Jewish.7  This woman was Samaritan.8  So what she is mentioning in these verses is something of a racial / religious controversy that had been going on for hundreds of years.

The Jews believed that the Lord’s Temple should be located on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem9 and the Samaritans believed that the Temple should be located on Mount Gerizim in Samaria.10  Verse 5 tells us that this conversation was being held at the village of Sychar, which history says was located right at the foot of Mount Gerizim.11  This explains why the woman says in verse 20, “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain . . .”  Mount Gerizim was actually right on top of her as she described it.  You can almost see her pointing to it as she talks with Jesus.  “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain . . . This one right here!”

The Samaritans only followed the five books of Moses.12  They did not accept the rest of the Old Testament as being inspired by God.  So they never read in First Chronicles 21-22 that King David decided to build the Lord’s Temple in Jerusalem at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebuste.  And they did not read in Second Chronicles 5 and 7 that the Lord approved of the Jerusalem Temple by filling it with His presence and sending fire down from Heaven to consume the animal sacrifices in the courtyard.

The Samaritans ignored all of this and came up with their own tradition.  They came up with the idea that God should be worshipped on Mount Gerizim in the center of Samaria.  According to the Samaritans, Mount Gerizim was where Abraham offered up Isaac as a sacrifice to God.  It was also where Abraham met Melchizedek, the priest king of Salem.  In fact, in Samaritan literature most of the events in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob occurred on or around Mount Gerizim.13

The Samaritans even believed that Mount Gerizim was the tallest mountain in the world!  In spite of the interesting fact that Mount Ebal, also visible from the village of Sychar, was 225 feet taller than Mount Gerizim.  You could actually see that Ebal was taller than Gerizim from the well where Jesus sat.  But the Samaritans still said that Mount Gerizim was the tallest mountain in the world.

So what this woman was saying to Jesus in verses 19-20 was essentially this: “I can see that you are a prophet because you know all about my life.”  “So let me ask you a prophetic question: Mount Gerizim or Mount Moriah, which one should we worship on?”  “Your mountain or my mountain?”  “The Samaritan Temple or the Jewish Temple?”  “Which one is the right one?”

She was trying to draw Jesus into a trap.  He had confronted her.  He had offended her.  He had called her an adulteress and pointed out the fact that she was living in adultery during this conversation.  So she tries to get back at Him by bringing up a theological debate.  She tries to change the subject in an attempt to get Jesus caught in an endless argument involving racial problems and geographical issues and interpretational approaches.

But Jesus refuses to fall for the bait.  Instead, He addresses the issue that she brings up.  And, as He does so, the Lord gives this Samaritan woman two themes of true worship.

How are we supposed to worship God?  What instruments should we use?  What clothes should we wear?  What mountain should we worship on?  Jesus answers all of these questions in verses 21-24.


1. True Worship is Not about Geography

John 4:21 goes on to say,

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.”

Verse 21 is the only time that Jesus uses the phrase “Believe Me” in the Gospels.  He typically uses “truly”14 or “truly, truly”15 or “I tell you the truth”16 before He says something unusual.  But here the Lord uses the expression “Believe Me . . .”  He is about to tell her something that will be hard for her to understand, so He uses an expression to get her attention: “Woman, believe Me . . .”  “Woman, trust me . . .”  “Put your confidence in Me . . .”17

Jesus informs her that a time is coming when she will not worship on Mount Gerizim or on Mount Moriah.  A time is coming when she will not worship just in Samaria or just in Jerusalem.  A time is coming when she will worship neither on her mountain nor on Jesus’ mountain.  A time is coming, Jesus says, when this debate will be finished because geography will not matter anymore.

The word for “worship” in this verse and in this passage is proskuneo. It is used eight times in these four verses in some form or another.  Literally proskuneo meant “to kiss the hand.”  Figuratively it meant “to show reverence to someone; to fall on your knees and touch the ground with your forehead out of respect.”18

We have all seen Middle Eastern people do this in movies, where they bow down with their head flat on the ground to honor someone.  That is the idea here.  Proskuneo meant to prostrate yourself in humble adoration.  It meant to humble yourself in selfless praise, giving honor to the one that you adore.  To “worship” something was to show it reverence and respect to the highest degree.

And to a Jew and to a Samaritan in the First Century A. D., the way that you worshipped God was in His temple.  The way that you worshipped God was by offering sacrifices to Him and by praising Him in His house.  You must prostrate yourself before God in His holy sanctuary.  You must fall on your knees and touch the ground with your forehead in the Temple.

That was true worship.  That was showing deep and solemn reverence for God.  Sure you could do this somewhere else and it could still be worship but worship in the Temple was different.  It was more “holy.”  It was more “solemn” than worshipping at other places.  You cannot worship God on the wrong mountain.  You cannot offer Him praises from the wrong Temple.  That was tantamount to blasphemy.  Close enough was not good enough for God.  You must get your geography right.  You must go to the right temple.

That was the mindset of a First Century Jew and a First Century Samaritan.  But Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that a time is coming when all of this will change.  He says that a time is coming when all of this way of thinking will be over.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.”

If you visit the land of Israel today, you will see a very cluttered place.  Every site where a Bible event happened has a church or a shrine or some kind of religious statue built on top of it where people light candles and burn incense and rub their handkerchiefs and say prayers.  And all of them are crowded.  And all of them charge a fee to get into.

You see the clutter in Bethlehem where Jesus was born.  You see the clutter in the Garden of Gethsemane where the Jesus prayed on the night He was arrested.  You see the clutter on the Temple Mount where King Solomon’s Temple once stood and where the Dome of the Rock now stands today.  But, in my humble opinion, the most cluttered place in Israel has to be the Church of the Holy Sepulcher that was built in the 4th Century on the plot of ground where the Lord was crucified and resurrected.19

The church has three stories or levels to it.20  Below the ground in the basement are some tombs and burial places of famous people such as Helena, mother of Constantine the Great.  At the ground level is the actual church, along with several offices of the Roman Catholic Church and Greek Orthodox Church.  The ground level also has a slab of stone where Jesus was supposedly taken down from the cross and a huge shrine built on the spot where supposedly He rose from the grave.21  And, on top of all of this, the rooftop of the church contains an Ethiopian Monastery where several monks live.

Why do they do this?  Why are there three stories of stuff built on the spot where Jesus Christ was crucified?  Why do the Ethiopian monks live there?  Why do the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic priests hold office there?

They live there and they minister there because they think just like the Samaritans and Jews did 2,000 years ago.  They think that religious is like Real Estate.  It is all about location, location, location.

The priests and monks in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher certainly think that way.  They think that if someone Godly lived there, then in order for them to be Godly, they must live there too.  They think that if something Godly happened there, then in order for them to be Godly, they must go there too.  To them, true worship is all about the externals.  It is all about the “smells” and the “bells” as they say in Jerusalem.

They get it all wrong.  They think that God is not interested in the heart.  They think that God is not interested in the soul.  They think that God is interested in land.  They think that He is interested in Real Estate.  As their reasoning goes, one has to have the right location and the right piece of property and it must have been blessed by the right holy person if it is to be true worship.  Or, as the Samaritans and the Jews would have looked at it in John 4, true worship is worship in the true temple on the true mountain.  Pick the wrong mountain and the wrong temple and your worship will be all wrong.  God will reject it.

That same faulty logic led to this heated debate between the Jews and the Samaritans in the First Century.  But Jesus tells this woman in verse 21 that a time is coming when all of that will be done away with because true worship has nothing to do with the externals.  It has to do with something much, much greater than that.

2. True Worship is Not about Genealogy

True worship is not about your ancestry.  It is not about your forefathers.  Jesus says this in verse 22,

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

The Lord continues to answer the Samaritan woman’s question by saying that her people worship in ignorance what the Jews worship in truth.  For salvation is from the Jews.

The Jews had God’s Word to back up what they did.  The Samaritans did not.  The Jews could trace their ancestry back to Abraham22 and Moses23 and David24 and Solomon.25  The Samaritans could not.  The Jews could show from the Scriptures why the Lord’s Temple should be located on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem and why true worship should take place there.26  The Samaritans could not.  The Samaritans had no authority at all for what they did.

At this point, you have to ask the question: Why was there a debate about this?  Why was this such a big deal?  On what grounds were the Samaritans arguing with the Jews about the correct location of the Lord’s Temple?  Where did they come up with the ridiculous idea that Abraham sacrificed Isaac on Mount Gerizim or that the Lord’s Temple should be located on Mount Gerizim or that Mount Gerizim was the tallest mountain in the world?!  If those ideas did not come from the Bible, where did they come from?

The Woman at the Well gives us the answer in verse 20: “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain . . .”27  These ideas did not come from the Bible.  They did not come from the Old Testament or the Prophets or the Law of Moses.  They came from “our fathers.”  The Samaritans could not turn to the Scriptures to prove that they had the right to build the Temple on Mount Gerizim, so they turned to their fathers for their authority.  True worship, for the Samaritans, was based on the tradition of their ancestors.  It was based on their genealogy.

This is such a problem among professing Christians that it is a little bit sickening.  Ask the average church-goer today, “Why are you a Christian?” and they will probably tell you, “Because my father was a Christian.”  “Christianity was good enough for my father.  Christianity is good enough for me.”  “I want to honor his memory.”  “I want to believe what he believed.”  “I want to be who he was.”  “So I am a Christian because my father was a Christian.”  “I am a Christian because I am the son of my father.”

And if you ask them, “Why do you teach that doctrine?” or “Why do you worship in that fashion?,” they will give you the same answer that the Samaritan woman gave to Jesus: “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain . . .”  “These are the songs that my family sang to the Lord.”  “This is the doctrine that my predecessors taught.”  “This is what my denomination believes.”

They rarely say, “We teach this because it is in the Bible.”  For most people in the pew, that is nowhere on their radar.  You seldom hear, “I preach this doctrine because the Apostle Paul preached this doctrine.”  It is unusual today to hear someone say, “We worship like this because we believe that this style of worship is what the Scriptures teach.”  “We sing these songs because they uphold God’s Word.”

None of that.  For many, their authority is their fathers.  They go to their ancestors for guidance first and they go to the Bible afterwards to see if it agrees with their ancestors.  If it does not, it is usually ignored.

Now please do not misunderstand the application of this passage.  Jesus is not saying that it is wrong to sing your parents’ songs and He is not saying that it is wrong to sing old songs.  Some of the most worshipful songs that we have in English today are old hymns that have survived the test of time.  We have a very rich heritage of good music from our fathers and we should take advantage of that.  What Jesus is saying in John 4 is that, when it comes to how we show reverence and honor to God, our fathers are not our authority.  Every man will have to answer to God for his behavior.28  He alone determines the standard of worship,29 not our fathers.

True worship is not based on your genealogy.  Jesus did not accept this woman’s explanation for what she did.  Genealogy was not a good enough authority to justify her behavior and it will not be a good enough authority to justify yours and mine.  True worship is not determined by what your ancestors did.  God is not honored when you mindlessly repeat the songs and the doctrines of those who came before you.  It takes more than that to worship Him.


1. True Worship is about Genuineness

In verse 23, the conversation continues.

But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit . . .

When Jesus says, “But an hour is coming and now is . . .,” He is referring to His arrival on the earth.  Jesus Christ will change the way that God’s people worship.  Before the Son of God came, there was a huge emphasis on the Temple30 and its offerings.31  But, now that He has come, the emphasis will be on the spirit.

What does it mean to worship in spirit?  The Greek word for “spirit” here is pneuma. It is the same Greek word used for “wind” in John 3:8.  In Greek philosophy, pneuma was the word for “soul.”  It meant “the invisible part of man that made all his decisions.”  It was “the power by which the human being thinks, feels, and acts.”32

Jesus tells this woman that true worship is not about doing stuff anymore.  Now that He has come, true worship is no longer about making animal sacrifices or coming to the temple on Holy Days or keeping the Sabbath.33  In fact, now that He has come, all of that will be done away with.  True worshippers are now those who worship with their soul or their inner man.  They worship with their “spirit.”

Worship that God accepts is not about the body.  It has never been about the body.  It is about the soul.  Worship is not about your appearance; it is about your heart.  Worship is not about the right location of the temple; it is about your right attitude before God.  God does not care what you look like if you are a hypocrite.  God does not care what kind of songs you play or what type of instruments you use if you are living in sin.  True worship is internal.  True worship is genuine and sincere and with the right attitude.

Why the change in emphasis?  Why is true worship spiritual worship and not physical worship?  Why is that the priority that Jesus emphasizes here?  Verse 24 tells us:

God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.

You must worship God as He is.  Since God is spirit, you must worship Him in spirit.  If God was a physical being, the emphasis of worship would be physical.  But God is not a physical being.  God is spirit and, therefore, His people must worship Him in spirit. True worship is not about your outward expression; it is about your inner constitution.  True worship is not about your physical location; it is about your spiritual disposition.  It is about having motives that honor God.  It is about being genuine.

I mentioned earlier that the church today is interested in music in a way that is unprecedented in church history.  There is another thing that the church today is interested in on an unprecedented level: carnality.34  The church is interested in things of the carnal nature more than ever before.  It is interested in fleshly things.  Worldly things.  Material things.

Just visit the local Christian bookstore and walk down the aisle and what kind of books do you see?  You see books on weight loss.  You see books on finance.  You see books on relationships.  Many of these bookstores have Christian video games and Christian movies and Christian t-shirts and bumper stickers.  One store in the town that I live in has an electronic game called “Guitar Praise” which is a spin-off of “Guitar Hero.”  In the game, you play guitar in a contest to see who is the best at performing Christian worship songs.

All of that stuff is not bad.  Some of it is okay.  Christian movies and Christian books on relationships and t-shirts and games are all fine as long as they are doctrinally sound.  My point is simply that the church is becoming increasingly carnal.  It is moving more and more away from focusing on the internal and more and more toward focusing on the external.  It is moving from focusing on the spirit to focusing on the flesh.

How a pastor looks and his personality are becoming more important to Christians than what he says in the pulpit.  What a band sounds like is now given precedence over whether its music leads believers to revere and adore and humble themselves before Almighty God.  What children’s programs or Wednesday night activities or Senior Adult ministries a church has take priority over the doctrinal statement and the constitution.  Christians today are becoming increasingly and increasingly carnal.  Their flesh is their focus.  Their spirit is not.

God cares about something else when we worship.  He cares about our motives.  He cares about the quality and sincerity and humility of our heart.35  He cares about His people growing in love towards Him.36  He cares about His followers manifesting the fruit of the Spirit37 and growing in Godliness.38  That is true worship.  That honors Him.

Children’s ministries and the quality of the music and a decent church building are okay to consider when choosing where to worship but your main priority should be God’s main priority.  And that main priority is a spiritual one.  Does the church help its members develop a sincere, heartfelt love for the God of the Bible?  That is what true worship looks like.  True worship is all about genuineness.

2. True Worship is about Guidance

All of verses John 4:23-24 read,

But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.

If worshiping in spirit refers to sincerity, worshiping in truth refers to reality.  You cannot worship God and believe the wrongs things about God.39  God is not honored by efforts that ignore facts.  Your doctrine must be right if you want your worship of God to be right.  Just like God does not approve of a hypocrite, God does not approve of a heretic.

In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  First John 1:5 says,

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.

God is light and God is truth.  Therefore, the only way to offer Him true worship is with the light and with the truth.  God is not pleased when the church sings songs that have bad doctrine.  God is not honored when preachers preach sermons that contradict His Word.  God is not shown respect when cultists and heretics and false professors passionately and sometimes sincerely propagate lies in the church.

True worship is worshiping God with the correct spirit but true worship is also worshipping God with the correct information.  What you believe may not matter to some people but it matters to God.  Believe the wrong thing and your worship is all wrong.

With that in mind, if carnality is common in many worship services today, it probably goes without saying that shallow doctrine is as well.  While there are many good modern praise songs out there, there are also many that are way too shallow in their doctrine.40  Almost anyone can enjoy their lyrics because there is no content in them.  You cannot disagree with them because they are not saying anything.

And, as such, a lot of what is produced today for worship cannot help us.  It does not have enough of the truth in it to help us worship.  We need deep, rich theology to give us a deep, rich reverence for God.  We do not need 7-11 songs that sing the same 7 words 11 times.  That does not lead us in worship.  It leads us in repetition.

We need songs with doctrinal substance.  Songs like “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”41 and “There is a Fountain”42 and “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”43 and “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”44  And those are old songs.  There are new songs with doctrinal substance as well.45  But new or old, guitar or piano, drums or organs, to worship the Lord in truth, we need songs that contain truth.  We cannot worship God by shutting our minds off any more than we can worship Him by shutting our hearts off.  God wants our hearts and our heads to worship Him.  We revere Him with our souls and our minds.  We honor Him with our emotions and our intellect.  We worship him in spirit and we worship Him in truth.


So what does true worship look like?  What kind of worship does God accept?  Drums or pianos?  Organs or guitars?  Ties or t-shirts?  Suits or shorts?  Modern-style or Traditional-style?  Contemporary music or hymns?

Jesus does not answer those kinds of questions here in John 4 or anywhere else in the Bible.46  He does not tell the Samaritan woman what to wear or what to play in order to worship God.  He does not tell her how modern or ancient her song book needs to be.  Instead, He focuses on the condition of her heart and He focuses on the condition of her head.

True worship is not about geography and genealogy, the things of the flesh.  True worship is about genuineness and guidance, the things of the spirit.  True worship is when a believer is sincere and when he knows and believes the truth.  True worship is when the worshipper knows God’s Word and applies it to his life.  True worship is whole-hearted and true worship is whole-headed.

It is not about whether you can sing or not.  It is not about what instruments you play or what clothes you wear.  It is about the submission of your soul and mind to the Word of God.47  Both must be involved if God would be truly worshipped.

  1. Charles Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, Volume 1 (Carlisle, Penn.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005 ed.) 303-328. This was a world-wide phenomena. In London, Charles Spurgeon’s sermons were often talked about in the local newspapers. An entire chapter in his autobiography is devoted to criticisms that he received, most of them coming from the secular press. []
  2. Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992) 361. This can be seen in the overwhelming number of Americans who belonged to a church at the start of the 20th Century. According to one statistic, between the years of 1860 to 1926, the number of Americans who attended church rose from 37 percent to 58 percent. Throughout most of the 1900’s, especially the early-to-mid 1900’s, those statistics remained high as Americans continued the religious heritage passed on to them by their forefathers. []
  3. One example of the popularity of music in churches today is the recent phenomena known as “worship wars” where congregations fight over the style of music to be played in the worship service. For an article documenting some of this, see Steve Thorngale’s “New Harmonies” at www.christiancentury.org as of 9/11/12. []
  4. The following history is taken from several different sources including Larry Eskridge’s “The ‘Praise and Worship’ Revolution” available at www.christianitytoday.com as of 9/11/12; John Blanchard & Dan Lucarini’s Can We Rock the Gospel? (Darlington, Del.: Evangelical Press, 2006) 11-76; and John MacArthur’s Fool’s Gold: Discerning Truth in an Age of Error (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2005) 111-130. []
  5. D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John in The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991) 217-218. []
  6. Ibid., 218-219. []
  7. Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38 give Jesus’ genealogy so that there is no doubt that the Messiah was a descendant of Abraham. []
  8. Jn 4:7. []
  9. 2 Sam 24:16-25; 1 Chron 21:16-26; 2 Chron 3:1. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume Three, ed. by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986) 413. []
  10. John Bowman, The Samaritan Problem: Studies in the Relationships of Samaritanism, Judaism, and Early Christianity (Pittsburgh, Penn.: The Pickwick Press, 1975) 29. []
  11. Merrill C. Tenney, John in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981) 54. []
  12. The five books of Moses include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. For more information about these five books in the Samaritan religion, see R. J. Coggins’ Samaritans and Jews: The Origins of Samaritanism Reconsidered (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975) 148. []
  13. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995) 237. []
  14. See Matt 6:5, 16; 8:10; Mk 10:15, 29; 11:23; 13:30; Lk 4:24; 18:17, 29. []
  15. Jn 3:5, 11; 5:19, 24, 25; 6:26, 32, 47, 53; 8:34, 51, 58. []
  16. Jn 16:7. []
  17. W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, & William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1996 ed.) 61. The word in Greek is pisteuo and it means “to believe, to be persuaded of, to place confidence in, to trust.” []
  18. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. by Gerhard Kittel, Volume VI (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006 ed.) 758-766. []
  19. The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. by J. D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978) 477. It is important to mention that this site is where most scholars believe that Jesus was crucified and resurrected. However, it cannot be held with absolute certainty that this is the actual location. In the words of D. F. Payne, “The authenticity of the site can be argued on the grounds that in Constantine’s reign there was already a strong and unrivaled tradition in support of it, and that during the preceding two centuries the site was inaccessible to pilgrims.” []
  20. For pictures and a brief description of what these places look like today, visit www.bibleplaces.com as of 9/11/12. []
  21. I use the word “supposedly” because the exact location of these events is unknown. []
  22. Gen 12-25. []
  23. Ex 2-Deut 34. []
  24. 1 Sam 16-1 Kings 2 []
  25. 1 Kings 1-11. []
  26. In 1 Kings 9:3, the Lord said this       to Solomon about the temple at Mount Moriah: “I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have built by putting My name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually.” []
  27. Italics mine. []
  28. Matt 12:36; Rom 14:12. []
  29. Deut 5:7-8; 6:13-15. []
  30. Consider how many times the temple is referred to in the Book of Psalms: 5:7; 11:4; 18:6; 27:4; 29:9; 48:9; 65:4; 68:29; 79:1; 138:2. []
  31. Consider how many times offerings are referred to in the Book of Psalms: 16:4; 20:3; 40:6; 50:8; 51:16, 19; 66:13; 96:8; 119:108. []
  32. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume VI, 352-359. []
  33. Colossians 2:16 addresses this issue directly when it says: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” []
  34. Michael Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008) 56-57. Horton summarizes the wrong thinking that leads to this emphasis on carnality in the following way: “When we adopt a human-centered approach that assimilates God to our own experience and happiness, the world is no longer God’s creation; it too, like God, exists for our own personal well-being. Everything that exists is there for us to consume for our happiness. So, for example, drugs and sexual promiscuity are not wrong because they offend God . . . but because they cannot compare with the joy and happiness of living God’s way. They’re not wrong as much as unfulfilling; they wear off.” []
  35. Proverbs 24:12 says that the Lord judges the heart. “Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?” []
  36. The greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37). []
  37. Gal 5:16-26. []
  38. Eph 4:15; 1 Pet 2:1-3; 2 Pet 3:17-18. []
  39. The authors of Scripture minced no words in condemning those who knowingly taught bad doctrine in the church. Jude 12-13 says, “These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.” []
  40. www.lyricsbox.com as of 9/12/12. An example of this would be the song “Your Love is Beautiful” by Hillsong. Read the lyrics and note the presence of very little specific doctrinal content. “You surrounded me with songs of praise; You have brought me to this place where your love and grace, move within my life; Now Your message is my light. Your love is beautiful; Your love is beautiful; It’s the reason why I sing; All around the world, let the praise begin; All around the world, let the praise begin. I am planted here by the waters and I’m living for the King; I have found my peace in the house of God; This is where I’m meant to be.” []
  41. The Celebration Hymnal: Songs and Hymns for Worship (Nashville, Tenn.: Word Music, 1997) 324. []
  42. Ibid., 336. []
  43. Ibid., 151. []
  44. Ibid., 21. []
  45. www.elyrics.net as of 9/12/12. One example of this would be the modern hymn “In Christ Alone.” Note the presence of specific doctrinal content: “In Christ alone my hope is found; He is my light, my strength, my song; This Cornerstone, this solid ground; Firm through the fiercest drought and storm. What heights of love, what depths of peace; When fears are stilled, when strivings cease; My Comforter, my All in all; Here in the love of Christ I stand. In Christ alone, who took on flesh; Fullness of God in helpless Babe; This gift of love and righteousness; Scorned by the ones He came to save. Till on that cross as Jesus died; The wrath of God was satisfied; For every sin on Him was laid; Here in the death of Christ I live, I live.” []
  46. Other Bible passages that talk about the subject of worship include Ephesians 5:19; Philippians 3:3; Colossians 3:16. []
  47. Lk 6:46; Jn 15:12-17. []