|A102 : by Tony Garland |
While it is beyond the scope of our question-and-answer format to plumb the full meaning of the terms spirit and truth, we can look at their basic meanings in order to gain a better understanding concerning Jesus' statement to the Samaritan woman at the well:
God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:24, NKJV)
Truth, (ἀληθείᾳ [alētheia]) describes reality—the way things actually are. Truth is used to describe those things which have certainty, "the real state of affairs, especially as divinely disclosed" (Rom. 1:18).
Spirit (πνεύμα [pneuma]) conveys several meanings in the Bible, including: 1) physical breath, life, or wind; 2) the immaterial life-force given to all mankind by God; 3) the third person of the Trinity (the Holy Spirit).
In John 4:23-24, where spirit and truth are combined, the point Jesus is making is that God must be worshiped in both spirit and truth.
Spirit is mentioned because those who worship God must be "born again" or "born from above" and recipients of God's Holy Spirit—which baptizes them into the Body of Christ (1Cor. 12:13). Only born-again people can truly worship God because the Bible indicates that before one is "born of God," one is spiritually unresponsive—unable to truly perceive or respond to God (Ps. 14:2-3; Isa. 64:6-7; Rom. 3:10-11). This is why regeneration is considered to be a "birth" since prior to that time we have no spiritual life (John 3:3-7).
Truth is mentioned because having God's Spirit, but failing to submit to the revealed truth from God (the Bible, John 8:31-32) will cause unacceptable and false worship based on an incorrect notion of God and what He desires and requires from those who would please Him. At the same time, having truth, but without being spiritually alive—born of God—makes it impossible to worship. One can also argue that perceiving truth correctly is impossible without having been born again—as numerous passages make clear the impossibility of unregenerate people to understand God's revelation (Mat. 13:11-13; John 8:43; 1Cor. 2:14; 2Cor. 3:16).
So spirit without truth is in error and cannot please God. It may be of "a spirit," but it cannot be the work of the "Spirit of Truth" — the Holy Spirit (John 14:17; 15:26) and therefore cannot please God. At the same time, a mere knowledge of the truth (objective facts) without spiritual revelation provided by the Holy Spirit cannot respond to God in true worship. As James observes:
You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! (Jas. 2:19, NKJV)
The demons know the truth, but they are not "born of the Spirit" and therefore cannot respond appropriately or worship God. Both spirit and truth are required.
Numerous errors in Church history can be attributed to a failure to understand the need for both elements in true worship which glorifies and pleases God.