Worshipping in Spirit and in Truth: Blending Doxology with Theology

Beware equally of an undevotional theology and of an untheological devotion.”[1] Theology sometimes gets a bad rap among us. Fundamentally, theology is the study of God as He is revealed in the Bible. You have been redeemed by God at the cost of the blood of His Son, and yet you don’t want to know more about Him? Shame on you. Admittedly, theologians sometimes communicate their beliefs in a dry and proud manner, giving the impression that their study is merely academic without any consequence in their heart – shame on them. The quality of your worship is not defined by whether or not your voice trembles or your eyes tear up. Nonetheless, if your consideration of God has no effect upon your spirit, do you truly realize Who you are considering? Are you experiencing a connection with the God of the Bible, the God of glory?

Theology Produces Doxology

A doxology is a verbal expression of God’s glory. There are quite a number of these bursts of praise in the Scriptures’ sacred pages (e.g., Rom 11:33-36; Jude 24-25; Rev 1:5-6), and they are good examples of worship. But these statements are not thoughtless utterances of men in an ecstatic trance, nor are they a momentary feeling brought on by someone else’s musical excitement. They are statements of truth. They are carefully chosen words that reflect a biblical knowledge of God, i.e., theology. As a result of contemplating God and His ways, they feel compelled from within (the Holy Spirit working with their human spirit) to verbally worship God. Romans 9-11 is a very profound portion of Scripture. Even a partial understanding requires serious Bible study. But the fact that it culminates in a rich, majestic doxology teaches us that our worship of God should not be separated from our intelligent study of God and His word. “On the one hand, there can be no doxology without theology … All true worship is a response to the self-revelation of God in Christ and Scripture … On the other hand, there should be no theology without doxology. There is something fundamentally flawed about a purely academic interest in God … Our place is on our faces before him in adoration.”[2]

We Must Worship God in Spirit

The Lord Jesus taught this same lesson to the Samaritan woman: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24 ESV). The Holy Spirit is active within us to generate our worship of God (Rom 8:15-16; Phil 3:3 in ESV), but it is correct to use a small “s” in both occurrences of “spirit” in John 4:24. The first is a reference to God’s essential nature (like saying God is light, 1John 1:5, and God is love, 1John 4:16). The second is a reference to the redeemed spirits of men and women.[3] There is a correspondence between the nature of God and the nature of our worship – it is spiritual. We must worship God apart from a dependence upon external form and ritual. True worship stems from our inner man being in contact with God.

Therefore, to express words in prayer or in song without being touched in our hearts is not true worship. Although we should not be given to emotionalism, God did create us as emotional beings. Some individuals are more given to express emotions, but whether there is a visible manifestation of emotion or not, worship should be a result of deep appreciation within the heart. “Sincere heart-devotion … is indispensable if men and women would present to God worship which he can accept.”[4] When words of praise come from your mouth, do they really mean anything to you? Have you taken time to think about them?

We Must Worship God in Truth

Thinking about God and the words we use to worship Him is important. We are to love God with our minds, and how we think of Him and what we know of Him is a much more secure basis for worship than fleeting feelings. So while our worship should be heartfelt, our mental study informs and enhances our worship in a way that mere emotions never can. “Worship is not just offering to God what we feel we like. It is offering to God what God has said he likes.”[5] We must worship Him in truth.

In the Gospel according to John, the Lord Jesus identifies both Himself (John 14:6) and God’s word (John 17:17) as truth. Therefore, to worship in truth is to worship in accordance with God’s revelation – in Christ, and in the Scriptures. We cannot honour the Father without coming to Him through His Son (John 5:23; 14:6), and we cannot offer true worship to God if it isn’t consistent with His word. We come into the knowledge of God through faith in His Son, but that knowledge grows and deepens as we think about God and study His word.

This issue of the magazine shows that worship is not confined to a brother praying on Sunday morning. But it is precious to hear a prayer and observe a clear connection to scriptural understanding and meditation. And it may be a sign of spiritual weakness when individuals simply say the same things over and over, as if they haven’t appreciated anything afresh, as if worship were a mere external ritual.

Do you look for the glories of Christ in all the Scriptures? Does your Scripture meditation lead to your thinking great thoughts about God? Do you read books or listen to teaching to help you understand the Scriptures and think deeply about God? Remember, theology is the study of God as He is revealed in the Bible. Christians should do theology – sincere, heartfelt, serious thinking about God and His word. And meaningful study will lead you to a doxology, as it did for the human penmen of Scripture. Beware equally of an undevotional theology and of an untheological devotion.

[1] Handley Moule, cited by John Stott, Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Downers Grove: IVP, 1994), 312. Moule was a respected evangelical Anglican minister from the late 1800s to early 1900s.

[2] John Stott, Ibid

[3] See the January, 2000 Truth & Tidings Q&A

[4] F.F. Bruce, commenting on John 4:24, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 111

[5] David Gooding, Studies in Zechariah (Coleraine: Myrtlefield Trust, 2017), 22. Dr. Gooding offers a good analogy under the old covenant – imagine a man trying to offer a pig instead of a sheep on God’s altar.