Worship and the Holy Spirit

In John 4, as the Savior sat on the side of the well at Sychar, He chose an unlikely individual to receive an important and unexpected revelation. Diverting the Samaritan woman’s thoughts from the well-worn sectarian and nationalistic track along which they were running, He redirected her attention to a coming hour when neither the Temple at Jerusalem nor the slopes of Mount Gerizim would be the locus of divine worship. In that hour, true worshippers would “worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24 KJV).

Worship in spirit and truth is the hallmark of the dispensation that was imminent when Christ spoke, and which was inaugurated in Acts 2 by the descent of the Holy Spirit. Our worship, in the dispensation of grace, is in truth, not just because it stands in opposition to the false worship of Mount Gerizim, but also because it contrasts with the partial and provisional nature of the worship of God at Jerusalem. It is not just worship in spirit, in contrast to the physical and tangible worship that characterized the Levitical order, but it is worship in Spirit – that is, worship that is energized and enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 1 teaches us that mankind has an inbuilt capacity to worship God. The revelation of His “eternal power and Godhead” (v20) provided in creation was designed to provoke the consciousness of every human being to glorify Him and to be thankful (v21). Tragically, sin has diverted and distorted man’s capacity for worship. What should be exclusively for the Creator is now squandered upon the creature. And the consequence of that failure to worship God has affected every corner of man’s being: they “became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Because of the Fall, and the spiritual, moral, and intellectual havoc it has wrought, true worship is only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Worship in the present dispensation is spiritual in its sphere as well as in the power that produces it. But it is worth noticing that, even at the inception of the Levitical order, the Holy Spirit played a vital role in relation to worship. The first two references in Scripture to people being filled with the Holy Spirit are both linked to worship: Exodus 28:3 speaks of those who were enabled to produce Aaron’s garments of glory and beauty, while Exodus 31:3 describes the spiritual enablement of Bezaleel for the overseeing of the construction of the Tabernacle. Even in the context of the Jewish system, it was the power of the Holy Spirit that made worship possible. It is worth noticing too that Exodus 35:21 describes how “they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing, and they brought the Lord’s offering to the work of the tabernacle of the congregation, and for all His service, and for the holy garments” (KJV). If the ability to worship was spiritually produced, the desire to worship was, likewise, a spiritual exercise.

As believers in the dispensation of grace, we find ourselves in the hour foretold by the Lord at Sychar’s well. The Temple, the priesthood, and their sacrifices have all been swept aside – an event that took place with tragic ferocity as the Romans stormed Jerusalem in AD 70, demolishing the Temple and slaughtering the priests. But AD 70 was just the physical confirmation of what had already taken place spiritually. A new system has been introduced, in which believers are “lively stones … built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1Peter 2:5 KJV).

It is hardly surprising that, in such a system, the role of the Holy Spirit is paramount. The New Testament makes it clear that His ministry is vital to enable and equip our worship.

It is the Spirit who makes us worshippers. Romans 8 is perhaps the passage of Scripture that deals with the work of the Holy Spirit in most detail – He is mentioned there more often than in any other chapter of Scripture. Verses 14 and 15 are particularly relevant to this article: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (KJV). The Holy Spirit indwells all believers. And the inevitable result of receiving the Spirit of adoption is that the believer will be led to cry “Abba, Father.” This cry deserves our consideration. First, we should note that, in spite of the familiarity of the Aramaic “Abba,” this is not the cry of an infant – the context is dealing not with babies but with sons who have received the dignity of adoption. We should also notice that this is neither a wholly emotional nor a purely intellectual cry. That is, it is not a cry that is produced as a response to overwhelming circumstances, nor is it just a rational acknowledgement of God as our Father. Rather, the word used denotes a cry that involves the whole being – rational and emotional – in the recognition of Who God is. Romans 8 teaches us that prayer is instinctive to the believer. But, more specifically than that, it teaches us that every believer is a worshipper, because they are indwelt by the Spirit of God.

The Holy Spirit not only empowers us to worship; He also equips us to worship. As we have already noted in relation to Romans 1, true worship must be grounded in a revelation of God – it must be worship “in truth” as well as “in spirit.” It was wilful ignorance of the revelation of the “invisible things” of God that lay at the root of the distortion and diversion of man’s worship. Similarly, the Athenians of Acts 17 betrayed their ignorance of God’s true being and character by their deeply deficient attempts to worship Him. If we are to be the sort of worshippers that God wants us to be, our worship must be rooted in truth – in the knowledge of Who God is.

That knowledge is accessible to us through the Scriptures, but it requires something beyond our natural faculties to grasp it. 1 Corinthians 2 reminds us that the apprehension of spiritual truth requires divine enablement: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God” (vv9-11 KJV).

The human spirit in each one of us makes us self-conscious. The indwelling Holy Spirit makes us God-conscious. This is why an unsaved man can study the Bible intensively for years, and yet never arrive at a knowledge of God that matches that of even the simplest saint. And because the Spirit reveals God to us, He furnishes us with ability to truly worship God – to worship in response to Who and What He really is.

When we worship, we give to God. He seeks for and appreciates our worship. It should both humble us and cause us to exalt Him when we appreciate that it is only by the power of the Spirit that we are able to worship, and only as a result of His ministry that we have anything to offer. Here, as in every aspect of our lives, we have nothing that we have not received (1Cor 4:7).