They will worship the Father in spirit and truth
This is not a exposition on Jesus’ words in John 4:23, exactly, but rather, I’m using these words as a picture of an explanation of Christian worship. In the culmination of Jesus’ conversation with this Samaritan woman at a well outside Sychar, Jesus describes part of his mission to her: restoring true worship of God in this world. An important feature of this phrase is the word ‘true.’ The Apostle John uses this word a lot in this Gospel book, and it’s usually meant not so much as ‘correct’ as it is meant ‘complete.’ When Jesus says his body is ‘true food’ he’s not saying that a juicy steak isn’t really food, he’s saying that his body is complete food, perfect food, the food of foods, if you will. So in this verse, when Jesus talk about ‘true worshipers’ he’s not discrediting Old Covenant worship as fake worship, but incomplete, or imperfect.
Now, I’m not knowledgeable enough to make any flippantly-claimed complete explanations of what Jesus meant by worshiping “in spirit and truth,” but I can offer a cursory summary: complete worship is comprised of both prayer (spirit) and sacraments (truth).
True worship being in the spirit, at the very least, refers to the fact that all prayer is guided (and even enabled) by the Holy Spirit of God. It’s not just us talking to God, it’s us talking with God. How can we talk with someone properly unless there’s a direct line of communication? The Holy Spirit is that line of communication – the person of God who is inside of us, thus drawing us into the inner being of God the Trinity, wherein we address the Father in the name of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. This understanding of “praying in the spirit,” once Jesus explained it, shows up all over the New Testament.
True worship being ‘in truth’ may seem a little trickier to parse out at first, but when you remember that truth means completeness or perfection, an answer begins to shine forth: true worship is holistic. We worship God with more than our spiritual selves, but we offer our whole bodies as living sacrifices as our acceptable act of worship. This idea of a spiritual reality (worship) appearing in physical form (whole bodies/selves) is actually down the same road as the definition of sacrament – an outward sign of an inward grace. Just as Jesus was the perfect sacrament of the Father, the Church is the (as yet imperfect) sacrament of Jesus, and every Christian is a (very imperfect) sacrament of the Church. There’s something sacramental about our very existence as Christians in the world. (To give just one example from the Bible, we can look at the idea of light. Jesus is the light of the world, and we’re called to be lights to the world on his behalf.)
Beyond this, even, are the “official” sacraments identified in Scripture and by the Church as means of realizing God’s grace in this world. After all, Christ did not come just to cleanse humankind from sin and save people, but to reconcile all of creation to himself. So true worship isn’t even just about humans glorifying God, but creation also playing its part. Bread & wine for the Eucharist, water for Baptism, oil for various anointings, music that we sing and play, art that we create and gaze upon, clothes that we wear, the books, cups, plates, candles, linens, and anything else that we might use in the course of a worship service – all these pieces of creation can have a role to play in the worship of God. One could point to any number of Psalms depicting mountains praising God, which although could be argued to be simply metaphor, Jesus himself observed that at one particular point if people failed to praise him, the rocks underfoot would pick up their slack.
So I offer this as a brief introduction to the concept of worship: prayer and sacraments; spirit and truth. I’ve already written on a number of specifics, and likely will continue to do so for the rest of my life, but already by this point if you click on the sacrament and prayer and worship tags on the right-hand side of this window, some good details should be available already. I admit I have yet to put down a robust sacramentology in writing, but I’ve gotten started, at least.