Real Worship: Part 5: “In Spirit and truth”

Mount Gerizim

Only now are we ready to understand John 4 —

(John 4:19-20 ESV) 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”

According to Josephus, under the Maccabees, when the Jews threw off the rule of the Seleucids and gained independence for the first time since Nebuchadnezzar, the Jews invaded Samaria and destroyed the Samaritan temple at Gerizim. This is surely one reason the Samaritans hated the Jews.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that the woman asks Jesus whether God should be worshiped only at Jerusalem. After all, the Jews destroyed the temple complex at Gerizim to enforce the rule that God may only be worshiped in Jerusalem.

(John 4:21-22 ESV) 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.”

Archaeological remains at Mt. Gerizim

Jesus declares that things are about to change. Worship (proskuneo) will no longer be limited to a particular location. However, Jesus reinforces the correctness of the Jewish interpretation, but in a sly way. After all, yes, salvation is from the Jews, but that’s because Jesus is from the Jews. And no one knows God better than Jesus!

The Samaritan woman was talking to the Savior — salvation personified — but she didn’t know him. Not yet.

(John 4:23-24 ESV) 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Although salvation is from the Jews, the Father is seeking worshipers — obviously not just the Jews. Indeed, no longer will worshipers be defined by race or nationality. Rather, the test of who is a true worshiper is whether that person worships “in spirit and truth.”

Now, many people (not just those in the Churches of Christ) have interpreted “spirit” to mean “good attitude” and “truth” to mean “right rules.” But this is clearly bad exegesis. Very bad indeed.

First, the argument is that the Jews had the right rules and a bad hearts, while the Samaritans had great hearts and the wrong rules. Jesus says no such thing, and Jesus commends some Jews’ hearts — such as the widow who gave her mite to the Temple. Jesus condemns the Pharisees and the political leaders, but not Jews in general. Jesus nowhere suggests that the Samaritans have the right heart. The argument reads the prejudices of history into the text, which is a huge mistake.

Second, Jesus inserts “God is spirit” for a purpose. He’s not teaching a lesson on the nature of God so much as on the nature of worship. To worship God we must become like God (a recurring theme you’ll notice). How do we become like God? Well, by worshiping “in spirit” in the same sense that “God is spirit.” “Spirit” in this context is the nature of God’s substance. He’s not physical but spirit.

So how does a physical being become spirit? Well, Jesus had just said,

(John 4:13-14 ESV) 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

“Living water” is the indwelling Holy Spirit. John makes certain we don’t miss this later in the Gospel —

(John 7:37-39 ESV) 37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

And, of course, in chapter 3 John had just related the story of Jesus and Nicodemus (“born of water and Spirit”), and earlier John had quoted John the Baptist —

(John 1:33 ESV) 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’

The indwelling Spirit is a major theme of the first several chapters of John. “Spirit” is a reference to the Holy Spirit. Only by being baptized in and indwelled by the Spirit can we worship “in Spirit.”

(Eze 37:1-14 ESV) The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.” 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”

True worship is only for those made alive by the Spirit. Dry bones can’t worship.

And so, what is “truth”? As long-time readers will recall, I posted a brief series on this question a while back —

The “Teaching of Christ” in 2 John

John’s Gospel

“Truth” in Paul, Part 1

“Truth” in Paul, Part 2

“Truth” in Hebrews, James, and 1 & 2 Peter

The short answer is that Jesus is the truth, Jesus teaches the truth, and Jesus lived the truth. The truth is the gospel as embodied in Jesus.

(John 14:6 ESV) 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Therefore, the test of true worship is no longer where you worship or whether you are a Jew, but whether you’ve received the Spirit and the gospel of Jesus. Indeed, worship in Spirit and in truth is to follow the example of Jesus of sacrificial living and service — because the truth is the truth about Jesus and the Spirit leads us to Jesus.

It’s not just that we worship Jesus as Lord, but that we live as Jesus lived.

(Mat 16:24-25 ESV) 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

(Mat 20:26-28 ESV) 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

(John 13:14-15 ESV) 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

(Eph 5:1-2 ESV) Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

(Col 3:12-13 ESV) 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

(1Pe 2:21 ESV) 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

(1Jo 3:16-18 ESV) 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

How are we to be returned to the image of God? Well, by imitating God. And what is God like? Well, just like Jesus. And how do we imitate Jesus? Through self-sacrifice, service, and submission. By generosity and forgiveness and mercy. Jesus is the Way.

What, then, is true worship? To be like Jesus. How can you worship “in truth” and not be like the truth? And the Spirit, who testifies about Jesus, works in us to make us like Jesus. What can it mean to be “in Spirit” except to submit to the Spirit’s work within us?

Worship, therefore, is all about Jesus — because Christianity is all about Jesus.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in Real Worship, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to Real Worship: Part 5: “In Spirit and truth”

  1. Skip Gross says:

    Worship is much bigger than imitating Jesus and following Jesus. In the OT when Moses was told to go to Pharaoh to release the Israelites, the excuse Moses gave for every visit to Pharaoh was that he wanted to take the Israelites into the wilderness so that they could "worship" God. Moses never asked for their release simply to free them from slavery. In Revelation, we see the elders worshiping, the creatures worshiping, and the angels worshiping. If we are going to heaven, we will feel uncomfortable unless we start to learn worship now.

    Worship certainly involves imitation and service but first and foremost worship means to pay homage, to extol, and to exalt Jesus and His Father.

    The Church of Christ seems to be very Arminian in that we have a predilection for interpreting most scriptures as a request for action. Worship can and does lead to action but worship itself means to stand in awe of God and to give him thanks and praise. There are literally hundreds of scriptures that indicate this. Psalm 34 is a great example. Does our Sunday worship really have songs that show adoration and praise for God? Do our prayers really seek to praise and extol God? Or is our weekly worship service merely another call for change and action?

  2. Jay,

    One of my mentors, Richard Rodgers, used to ask:

    How can you be godly without God?

    How can you be Christian without Christ?

    How can you be spiritual without the Spirit?

    When you ponder those questions, you will come to a definition of worship very much like that which you have presented here.

    Skip, you do not get to this place without paying homage to, extolling, and exalting Jesus and the Father. I agree with you that our worship assemblies are sadly lacking in these elements – and consequently are sadly lacking in our calling people to the true worship that is in Spirit and Truth (that is, in the Holy Spirit and in Him who said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life).

  3. Emmett says:

    Worship clearly entails following Jesus, and it's noteworthy that Paul calls us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, which is our reasonable worship. But the assembly for worship should not be downplayed either. The very word church is a straightforward reference to an assembly.

    I understand and sympathize with those whose intent is to grow us beyond the so-called five acts of worship. The rote fulfillment of that paradigm has beaten down many a brother or sister, including myself. But worship in the sense of praise and adoration as a group is definitely part of the equation. Skip Gross has expressed that aspect well in my opinion.

    I believe that worship in spirit involves an interaction that simply doesn't happen except in a group setting. It is my sense that the Spirit moves differently within a group than He does on an individual basis. Things "happen" in an assembly of spirit filled individuals that don't happen, in my experience, as an individual…

  4. Skip Gross says:


    I think we said the same thing. Worship of God and Jesus certainly must occur individually but like Emmett says, this also HAS to happen in our assemblies too and I have never seen this practiced well in any of the Churches of Christ that I have ever been a part of. One church had great worshipful songs that gave praise but the prayers did not reflect that we understood the content of the songs we sang. Almost as if no one understood that we were trying to praise God.

    Isaiah 6 shows how Isaiah worshipped Jesus. That is a good place to start.

    (BTW, I loved hearing Richard Roger's preach.)

  5. Emmett & Skip,

    I agree whole heartedly that the assembly is crucial. My comment was to the effect that one reason our assemblies are so spiritually impoverished is that we are "without the Spirit" and hence do not know how to worship in Spirit. Too many times, we are also without God and without Christ – though calling on their name.

    One thing that can happen in an assembly that does not happen in individual times of praise is edification and exhortation of one another to the love and good works that Paul says is our "spiritual worship."

    I have more to say about worship in <a / rel="nofollow">this series, and specifically about the assembly in number 14 of that series.

  6. Skip Gross says:


    I understand and completely agree that we have to have the Spirit to help us to worship and interestingly many CoC have not believed in an indwelling HS therefore real worship could not be possible.

    My NIV version of Romans says in Romans 12:1 that offering my body as a living sacrifice is a spiritual "Act" of worship not worship itself. Otherwise every sacrificial person whether Christian or not would be worshiping. When we truly experience the worship of God individually or corporately, it compels us to sacrifice and this leads us to "action".

    I am encouraged to see like-minded brothers on this.

  7. Skip Gross says:

    As a follow-up, Isaiah in Is 6:1-8, Isaiah first worshiped Jesus and then AFTER he saw His majesty and glory, and realized his own sinfulness he tells the Lord, "Here am I send me". Isaiah's worship led him to sacrificial service. But sacrificial service alone is not worship. It is merely an act prompted by worship. A subtle difference but a huge one in my opinion.

  8. laymond says:

    Jhn 4:23 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.

    (in spirit)

    Mat 22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

    (in truth)

    Mar 12:32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:

    We are called to worship (one God) with all (our spirit) ,

    not, another spirit.

    If you notice it also said, "But the hour cometh, and now is"

    Not the hour cometh, after I die. why was that? because we now knew the "truth".

  9. laymond says:

    Jhn 4:23 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.

    Instead of leaving anything to the imagination, lets look at all that was said about worship from Mark 12:29 t0 Mark 12:34. I was giving credit, where credit may not be due, some readers may never have read these scriptures, I doubt it, but, here it is.

    Mar 12:29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments [is], Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:

    Mar 12:30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this [is] the first commandment. Mar 12:31 And the second [is] like, [namely] this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

    Mar 12:32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:

    (pay special attention to 12:33)

    Mar 12:33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love [his] neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.

    Mar 12:34 And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him [any question].

  10. Skip Gross says:

    It is hard to love a God that we do not know or understand. Our theology is based upon our perception of God. If we view God as a lawgiver and rule maker then it is impossible to love God as Mark 12 commands. Our first step towards standing in awe of God and being enabled to truly worship is that we must get rid of our old misconceptions and ask God to open our eyes to his true and awesome nature. Worship means to stand in awe and give praise to God but this requires that we have a healthy knowledge of Him.

  11. Emmett says:

    When I first became acquainted with the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, one of the things that kinda put me off was the reference to, "God as we understood Him". As it turns out, for many this is a crucial distinction as their understanding of God is significantly flawed. Many recovering addicts will tell you that their understanding of God had to change before their behavior could change. This has been a real eye opener for me.

    "Jesus, let us, come to know you…"

  12. laymond says:

    Skip said, "As a follow-up, Isaiah in Is 6:1-8, Isaiah first worshiped Jesus—-"

    Skip, why do you think this refers to Jesus ?

    Who was "lord of hosts" ?

  13. Laymond wrote, "If you notice it also said, “But the hour cometh, and now is” Not the hour cometh, after I die. why was that? because we now knew the “truth”."

    Why must you assume that "and now is" was not a parenthetical expression inserted by the author?

    For it to be an explanation added by John to the exact words of Jesus fits the context much more than assuming that Jesus started to say something and then had to correct himself.

  14. Skip Gross says:


    John 12:40-42 says that Isaiah saw Jesus glory.


  15. laymond says:

    Jery asked, "Why must you assume that "and now is" was not a parenthetical expression inserted by the author?"

    Jerry, I don't know how it got there, I was simply pointing out the fact, that it is.

  16. laymond says:

    I guess it could be understood in that way, I just never have. but that could be a long discussion.

  17. Skip Gross says:

    Yes, it could be a long discussion. I believe that there are several Christophonies in the Old Testament.

  18. Sonny Childs says:

    I was blessed to read the article this morning. Great challenge. I think there should be little debate that “spirit” refers to God’s nature. I also agree with the conclusions about the word “truth”. I would add, however that the word used in John 4:23-24 is defined by W.E. Vine as “true in the sense of real, ideal, genuine”. Jesus is the personification of truth, yet only when He is followed sincerely (without the insincerity of legalistic self-salvation) does God find worship to be true.

  19. I am inclined to agree with @Sonny Childs when he says, “there should be little debate that ‘spirit’ refers to God’s nature,” The Bible says, “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). How is the mind renewed? By studying God’s Word (the Bible) or by “another entity” dwelling in our bodies, taking control of our minds and renewing it? Wouldn’t the second premise be similar to a maker reprogramming a robot?

  20. Jay Guin says:

    Thomas D,

    We struggle with the Spirit often because we ignore the OT background. Paul in Rom 8 makes far better sense if you’ve read the Law and Prophets. Let me offer a very abbreviated introduction. You can easily dig out the rest with a concordance and cross-referencing Bible.

    We start with —

    (Deut. 10:16-20 ESV) 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear.

    which takes us to

    (Deut. 30:6 ESV) 6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

    God commands Israel to change their hearts from stubborn to loving God with all their heart and soul. Later, he prophesies that there will come a time when God himself changes (circumcises) their hearts. This is not a prophecy of God’s word coming to them, as the Israelites had the Law of Moses and were told to get their hearts right (circumcised). The difference is that GOD HIMSELF would change their hearts.

    (Jer. 31:31-34 ESV) 31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

    This passage is where we get the term “new testament.” “Testament” is an archaic term for covenant. God says under the new covenant, God himself will write his laws on the hearts and minds of his people. The change will be God doing the writing — to change hearts.

    This passage is quoted in full in Heb 8 and is applied to the new covenant instituted by Jesus.

    To similar effect is —

    (Jer. 24:7 ESV) 7 I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

    Again, the emphasis is on the heart. God himself will change hearts.

    (Ezek. 36:26-27 ESV) 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

    Ezekiel then promises “a new heart” and God’s “Spirit within you,” the result being obedience.

    Now, to imagine that Moses, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are speaking of the Bible alone is absurd. The point is that God’s written word is not enough – not until God himself enters our hearts and changes us. This is NOT Calvinism. It’s Moses and the Prophets, and the passages don’t say that God will overcome our free will. Rather, they say our hearts will be softened so we can love God as we should and so “live” (Deu 30:6 – echoed throughout these passages).

    This leads to —

    (Rom. 2:25-29 ESV) 25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

    Paul is echoing the prophets — and declaring that the Gentiles who love God and obey his will obviously have had their hearts circumcised by the Spirit, as Moses had prophesied for the true Israel. And if you, even if a Jew, don’t obey God, you don’t have circumcision of the Spirit — and so your physical circumcision is of no value.

    Which brings us to —

    (2 Cor. 3:5-8 ESV) 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?

    Paul doubtlessly had Deu 10 and 30 in mind. The “ministry of death, carved in letter on stone” is the Law of Moses — which commanded the Jews to circumcise their own hearts. It failed.

    But the “ministry of the Spirit” in which God softens our hearts and writes his laws on our hearts so that we obey is of far greater glory.

    “The Spirit gives life” refers to the promise in Deu 30:6 that if God circumcises our hearts for us, we will live.

  21. Dwight says:

    John states in John 4 “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth”, so there is a progression of thought in John.
    It shouldn’t take us other passages to understand that the spirit of man must connect to the spirit of God through and in worship, after all Paul spends a great deal of time. God is spiritual in nature, so we must be spiritual in nature. God is truth, so we must worship with the same integrity. I don’t for a second believe that truth relates to doctrine, at least not here, but rather sincerity and genuine.

  22. Jay Guin,

    Thank you for the “abbreviated introduction”. However, how does God change/transform our hearts? Isn’t it through the sharp written word? There are Scripture passages to this effect which we know of. Or is it by faith? How does the Spirit indwell us? Convince me please, it is important. I have to know definitively. I want my mental struggle of 33 years to end in a “logical” conclusion. I believe in an infinite God, the Eternal Spirit, with Whom everything is possible and beyond. I want to know whether He operates in our heart independent of the written word. If He does, how do we know it? How do we become aware of His power at work in us? (Using Paul’s language.)

  23. Jay Guin says:

    Thomas D,

    Thanks for your questions. I have a touch of insomnia, and so I have time to answer.

    First, in the Bible, “word” rarely refers particularly to the Bible as the written words of God. It’s usually the message from God. For example, the early church learned about Jesus solely from oral testimony. The first NT book likely wasn’t written until around 54 AD — a quarter century after the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The Gospels came after Paul’s letters, most likely.

    Even in the First Century, the OT was found in the form of several scrolls, which were extremely expensive. I read somewhere that a Torah scroll might cost the equivalent of $500,000. Hence, they were kept safely stored in the synagogue to be shared by the entire local Jewish community.

    That’s not to minimize the value of the written word, just to correctly define our terms and keep us in historical context.

    Second, I’ve answered all these questions in my book The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace, which is now available as a free ebook download. /books-by-jay-guin/the-holy-spirit-and-revolutionary-grace/ I know of two Bible colleges that changed their position on the indwelling based on my chapters on the Spirit.

    Third, obviously the Spirit works in conjunction with the word (written or oral), but not only that way. I speak from personal experience, as do many others. Even today, there are reports of Muslims from around the work seeking evangelists to teach them about Jesus because of dreams and visions they’re receiving. You can choose to doubt, but I see no reason to deny their testimony. I know too many people who’ve had experiences that can only make sense with the Spirit. To take a simple case, if you pray for someone to be healed, and God heals them, why deny that God did that through the Spirit? Why are we good with Providence even though the Bible routinely credits the Spirit with miracles?

    Fourth, how does God change our hearts? Well, the passages I cited to you say the Spirit does it — and they specifically contrast God changing our hearts with our changing our own hearts. The promise is that God will do it. I believe the promises.

    Fifth, we tend to reduce “the word” to rules and regulations about how to do church. The Bible speaks primarily about the Spirit’s work on our hearts. When you think of your religion as centered on patterns and rules, and you have to work hard to sort through the silences and inferences, you don’t feel the Spirit doing much — nor do you feel the need for the Spirit. But when you think of your religion as being being about having a heart like God’s, well, if I’m learning to love even those who hate me, maybe it’s because God is softening my heart through the Spirit.

    Paul beautifully expresses the tension between our free will and God’s work in us in —

    (Phil. 2:12-13 ESV) 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

    When we “work out” our own salvation — by learning to become obedient as Jesus was, in context — then it’s really God in us, through his Spirit, working in us to will (desire) and so to work for God’s pleasure. The “want to” comes from the Spirit, Paul says. It’s not that we have no free will, but that the Helper helps — not by magic but by softening our hearts to become more receptive. To shape us into Christ-like people.

    (2 Cor. 3:18 ESV) 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

    The verb is passive. We “are being transformed” by the Spirit into the image of Christ. Earlier in the chapter, Paul explicitly contrasts the Spirit’s work in us to mere letters written on stone — the 10 Commandments, surely —

    (2 Cor. 3:3 ESV) 3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

    Paul gets this not only by inspiration but from Moses, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, etc.

    Sixth, Paul uses the Exodus as a type or example demonstrating the nature of the Spirit’s indwelling. He indwells us just as God dwelt among the Israelites in the desert —

    (Exod. 29:42-46 ESV) 42 It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43 There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.

    (Exod. 40:32-38 ESV) 32 When they went into the tent of meeting, and when they approached the altar, they washed, as the LORD commanded Moses. 33 And he erected the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work. 34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 36 Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. 37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.

    So although God is omnipresent, he has a special, intense, personal dwelling among the Israelites. Thus, Paul sees us traveling through the desert of life guided by the indwelling God through the Spirit. He lives among us to consecrate us and to lead us. And much of this language is found in Rom 8 — just as is Deu 30:6 and Eze 37 (the valley of dry bones). Paul assumes we know our OT. We don’t. I didn’t until I looked all this up to write the book.

    Seventh, turn to Heb 8 —

    (Heb. 8:7-9:1 ESV) 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. 8 For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” 13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

    This is an extensive quote from Jer 31 (previously covered). God says that, in contrast to the Law of Moses, God will now HIMSELF write his laws on our hearts and minds. The Israelites had the Law of Moses in written form. Many memorized the whole thing. They studied it intensely — often knowing it far better than we know our Gospels. And God said that even obsessive study would not accomplish what he would accomplish in the hearts of the people.

    Eighth, how do we know it? Well, lots of ways.

    * We know it by the Spirit’s testimony in our hearts (Rom 8:26).

    * We see the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (Gal 5:22-25). Paul could not more plainly say that these things come about due to the Spirit’s work in us —

    (Gal. 5:22-26 ESV) 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

    Notice that the Spirit produces heart-changes. This is not about Five Acts of Worship or how to use the church treasury. It’s about the core of who we are, our character, our passions, our desires. And these are far more important to God than whether we comply with some imagined handbook on how to do the assembly. He wants us to “will and to do” his will. He wants us to actually desire what God desires.

    * We cry out to God as Abba!

    (Rom. 8:15 ESV) 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

    We love God as a three-year old loves his father. He doesn’t have to be commanded on threat of a spanking. He loves his Daddy because he can see his Daddy’s love for him in his Daddy’s eyes. He feels the love of his Daddy when he’s tucked in at night. It’s unfeigned, natural, and deep in the core of who he really is. And his Daddy doesn’t have to write a book to make it so, but he might.

    Ninth, here’s the great paradox at the heart of Christianity. We cannot love God or worship God out of fear. If we only worship or love because of fear of hell, then our real motivation is self-love. We are afraid for ourselves, and so we try to learn to love the person terrifying us.

    But with the Spirit, our hearts are changed to truly love and to truly worship. It’s not feigned in order to get something (self-love). We learn to love selflessly. By the Spirit.

    (Gal. 5:18 ESV) 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

    “Led by the Spirit” is yet another Exodus allusion. If the Spirit leads us as the Israel was led by a column of smoke and fire, we no longer need a map. The Spirit is enough. But where does the Spirit lead? To rules about church names and structures? Or into the arms of Jesus? To deeper faith? To greater reliance on prayer? (So now we see something of what it means to pray in the Spirit.)

    To wrap up (getting sleepy), the Spirit changes us to serve, submit, sacrifice, and even suffer as Jesus does. It helps us have the heart of Jesus. And thereby obedience is no longer about fear of hell but having a passion to do what pleases God because we so love God — and that’s so much better. We internalize the commands as part of our essential character rather than trying to please God by seeking out silences to obey on penalty of damnation.

    I’ve tried it both ways. I much prefer the Spirit-led way.

    None of this contradicts the scriptures. Nor does the Spirit create new revelations that require writing down new scriptures. It’s not like that. We tend to confuse the fact that the Spirit inspired the scriptures with this is the only way the Spirit can work — but that is far too narrow an understanding of the Spirit’s work in us. And far too narrow an understanding of what God wants from us. He wants far more than obedience. He wants our hearts. Circumcised by the Spirit to want to live as Jesus lived.

    Does the Spirit work through the Scriptures? Absolutely. Only through the Scriptures? Of course, not. Sometimes it’s through a sermon. Or through a word from a friend. Or from experience. Or in prayer. It could be a sunset that reminds you that God loves you so much that he painted the sky just for you.

    Does it replace the Scriptures? Obviously not. The Spirit inspired the Scriptures.

    Does this mean the scriptures are not enough? Yes. They are sufficient for what God designed them to be. But they aren’t God. And they don’t replace the personal work of God the Spirit in each of us.

    (2 Cor. 3:1-6 ESV) Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. 3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

    This is surely built on the contrast found between Deu 10:16 and 30:6 covered earlier. The letter is good and holy and from the very breath of God. But it only brings death unless we have the Spirit so that we can love God as we should.

    (Deut. 30:6 ESV) 6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

  24. How do I explain this to some of my brethren who say that the Spirit does indwell us “but through the word”? These brethren also pray for the physically afflicted for help and healing from God but “through the medication and care”? See my predicament. How my heart disagrees with the brethren but I can not speak up (being timid my nature and abhorring mental disharmony/ conflict). Why seek God’s help when you expect people to recover through medication and care? Why express the Spirit’s indwelling but limit it to “through the word”? I did write an article on the indwelling of the Spirit using Scripture as proof. Boy, did it cause a loud THROUGH THE WORD ONLY public proclamation! How I squirmed! That truly shut me up effectively. I retreated into a shell and started questioning my belief in Scripture. I read up both sides. However, considering God’s care that I have experience in life, I am will to return to my earlier belief of the Spirit’s indwelling and guidance. He will enable me to speak up on the matter again, if that’s His will.

  25. Dwight says:

    I too grew up in a “word” only atmosphere, but it is not so prevalent as it was before in many places, although it does a strong under current in the coC. One thing is true is that we must have the word…that is to say Jesus and the apostles. The message is the point. As Jay pointed out they believed through what was told to them as much as anything, i.e. Act 2.
    And they had to have a receptive heart, which is the point of the sower.
    This allows the HS to work, but they must allow him to work as well.
    In acts 2 the gift of the HS could go one of three ways, the gift being salvation, the gift being the HS or the gift being the HS and salvation. In Acts 19 salvation came with the HS.
    In Rom. 14-15 they are receiving things through the HS.In 1 Cor.6 “your body is the temple of the HS who is in you” which shows a personal dwelling .
    This is my thought…but is it a deal breaker that we know exactly how…I don’t think so, but to make it law and thus a sin on the mechanics is where we go wrong. The indwelling itself becomes just anot her point to separate from others, which almost shows they lack understanding of the word an the right spirit.

  26. My article, “God With Us: The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit” is here
    It written about 20 years ago.

  27. Dwight says:

    I read it and it is well laid out and hard to argue with. I would gather that most people will not attack the article, but will attack the writer and use certain scriptures as talking points. The article could have been written yesterday. But you might find the con arguments have softened somewhat these days. You might find more people believe how you do and/or many just don’t have a voice to do so. But good job.God Bless.

  28. Today, I decided to stop resisting and revert to what my heart has always believed. By faith, I accept that God dwells in us by His Spirit, Who is holy. What a relief.

  29. Kevin says:

    For years, I didn’t pray at all. I mean…what for? I went through the motions during worship services, but in the back of my head I was conflicted…Is any of this really doing any good? That’s just tragic, and I know that I am not alone.

    Ironically, our prayers, even in the most conservative of CoCs, are contradictory. But no one even recognizes it. Which makes me wonder if anyone else is really listening to the prayer either. For example, I have attended congregations that would never fellowship Mac Deaver because of his stance on the operation of the Holy Spirit, yet at the same time it is not uncommon to hear these statements in prayer:
    -“We ask that you be with Bro. X as he brings the word this morning. Give him a ready recollection of the thoughts that he has prepared.”
    -“We ask that everything done today will be in accordance with your will.”

    Well, the first quote sounds a lot like the HS working apart from the word to me! And I do wonder how a prayer will magically turn a possible error in worship into truth and acceptance by God.

  30. Jay Guin says:

    Thomas D,

    Thanks so much for sharing your decision. We bloggers rarely get to know the impact we have on our readers so directly.

  31. Dwight says:

    Amen Jay.
    Way to go Thomas D.
    And so true Kevin.

  32. Monty says:

    Welcome to the Club, Thomas D.!

  33. Kevin says:

    (Exod. 40:32-38 ESV) 32 When they went into the tent of meeting, and when they approached the altar, they washed, as the LORD commanded Moses. 33 And he erected the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work. 34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

    This is a good passage for helping us frame NT baptism. In Exodus, God dwelt among His people via the tabernacle and later the Temple. Christ came as the true Temple and dwelt among us. As Christians, God is indwelling us individually as “temples.” We spiritually cleanse ourselves through baptism in preparation for the indwelling Spirit to fill us as tabernacles. It’s all connected, and that is pretty cool.

  34. Kevin says:

    And I figured out the italics thingy… Thanks for the instructions, Jay.

  35. Kevin says:

    Gary Burge in his NIV Application Commentary on John (John 4:23):

    Just as “God is love” or “God is light,” so “God is spirit.”
    These describe the ways God reveals himself to and impacts men and women in our world.22 Therefore “worship in spirit” does not refer to “the human spirit.”23 It is worship that is dynamically animated by God’s Holy Spirit. But it is more. One preposition governs “spirit and truth” in 4:23–24 (which the niv shows incorrectly). Such worship “in spirit and truth” means that we do not have a catalogue of two features here, but one inseparable concept. This is worship empowered by God but also informed by the revelation of God and provided to humans by the One who is the truth, Jesus Christ (14:6). Later Jesus will refer to this Spirit as “the Spirit of truth” (14:17; 15:26). This is worship not tied to holy places but impacted by a holy Person, who through his cross will inaugurate the era in which the Holy Spirit will change everything.

  36. Dwight says:

    Kevin, unlike love and light, God is actually spirit in form (not fleshly or earthly), the others are characteristics of his quality. Man has a spirit and this spirit came from God. Constantly in the NT we are called on to be spiritual, which doesn’t mean being more like us, but being more like God, by accessing that thing that God put in us.
    It is notable in John that it says that God is spirit and we must worship him in spirit and in truth, but doesn’t say God is spirit and truth and we must worship him in spirit and in truth. The truth is not directly connected to God, but to us in worship, even though it is clear in other verses that God is truth as well, the text/context of John doesn’t argue this.
    The last part of your quote connects to this reality. The person becomes the place of worship to God, because God dwells in him.

  37. Jay Guin says:


    I like the Exodus analogy for baptism!

Comments are closed.