When you think of New Covenant writings that relate to worship, chances are that, before long, Jesus’ discourse with the Samaritan woman in John 4 will come to mind.
Truly, this is a mountaintop passage for Christians as we seek to understand the nature of worship, and yet many sincere Christians (ahem … among people of my own Christian heritage, mostly) have drastically misunderstood the import of this passage. For instance, three main elements of John 4:24—the words “worship,” “spirit,” and “truth”—have been commonly understood to mean “living a sacrificial life,” “attitude,” and “doctrinal correctness,” respectively. I think there’s so much more to the concepts in this verse.
I firmly believe that if I “get” John 4, I will have made a quantum leap toward understanding New Covenant worship. First, I need to understand that the word “worship” in this text derives from proskuneo and that the concept is a specific one. (This is not Romans 12; it is John 4.) I also need to be clued in to the meaning of “in spirit.” Since Jesus calls attention to the nature of God’s existence (“God is Spirit”), it seems to me that this expression pertains to communication in the spiritual realm—involving both the Holy Spirit and my spirit.
And the phrase “in truth” does not appear to refer directly to accuracy, “doctrinal” correctness, towing the line, or living up to a certain set of expectations which are commonly transmogrified into some nebulous body of material that some dogmatically call “truth.”
My reading of John 4:24 doesn’t deny that God has a set of expectations. It’s just that “in truth” has been used by many of us to mean “within our schema of interpretation,” and our expectations, it seems to me, have superimposed a layer or three on top of His expectations. It bears mention that John does seem to relate the word-concepts of a) Messiah and b) Truth throughout his gospel, but I’m not prepared to deal with that aspect here.
Certainly, God desires certain things from those who would worship Him. He is looking for those who will actually “proskuneo” Him spiritually. He wants us to bow before Him sincerely and spiritually.