Jesus, in His discussion with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), gave the answer to this question when He said, "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24). Therefore, true worship of God must come from the spirit and must be in truth.
First, let's deal with what it means to come from the spirit. A person must be wholly dedicated to God to worship Him truly. This has nothing to do with our outward actions—it is fully internal. One person cannot tell if another person is truly worshipping God. For a person to truly worship God, that person must trust wholly in Jesus. A person cannot worship God if he/she does not believe and follow God's Word, and that Word says the only way to be with God the Father is through faith in God the Son—Jesus (Acts 4:12).
Second, let's look at what it means to be in truth. Worship of God can be defined as honoring and loving God in a totally selfless fashion. It includes giving oneself completely in praise, adoration, and service. It isn't partial—it takes all of our being. I can't worship God in truth and hold part of my being back from my worship. Worship in truth is an all-or-nothing affair. Now, we can look at this description and conclude that, since there may be parts of my being that I am holding back unknowingly, I cannot worship God. Fortunately for us, God recognizes that there are parts of us that are not yet surrendered to Him and therefore cannot worship Him. We are to worship Him with all we have and hold nothing back consciously. As we grow in our Christian life, we will surrender more and more to Him.
Romans 12:1–2 tells us how to worship. It says, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." How do we present our bodies as a living sacrifice? We ask the Holy Spirit to renew our minds. We "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We continue to read and study God's word, the Bible. We spend time with His people (Hebrews 10:24–25). Then we will be able to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, which is our spiritual worship.
Nowhere in this discussion is any description of the specific actions we take during worship, such as following a liturgy, not having musical instruments, spontaneous ecstatic utterances, lifting hands, etc. What matters is the state of our relationship with God rather than what actions we take. Some people find it easier to worship without emotions, while other people worship very emotionally. If both have a right relationship with God, both styles are right. If an individual does not have a right relationship with God, worship is impossible regardless of actions.
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