The Spirituality of God


God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

John 4:24 ESV

In John 4, Jesus was passing through Samaria when He sat down to rest near a well. A woman then came for water, and a life-altering encounter ensued. Jesus asked for a drink of water, and the woman responded with amazement that a Jew would even be speaking to her.[1] Jesus then revealed that if the woman knew who He was she would be asking Him for living water, a water that yields eternal life. After asking Jesus for this water so that she would never thirst or return to the well again, He asked her to bring her husband. She answered simply, “I have no husband” (v.17). Unwilling to further explain her marital status, Jesus revealed His divine knowledge of her, saying, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true” (vv. 17-18).

Whether by shame of sin or of pain,[2] the woman then shifted the conversation to a theological discussion over where God should properly be worshiped. Jesus answered her:

Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 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. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

John 4:21-24

A MOST PURE SPIRIT

Unlike some of God’s attributes, His spirituality is explicitly affirmed by Jesus. God is spirit. Thus, the question before us is: what does it mean that God is spirit? Due to our limited and finite comprehension of God’s divinity, we often best describe God by via negativa (or the way of the negative), which is describing what He is not. His immutability, incomprehensibility, and infinity are each examples of this manner of speaking because they declare that God is not subject to change, that He is not comprehensible, and that He is not finite. Similarly, because the very concept of spirit is so difficult to grasp, God’s spirituality is often explained with at least three via negativa descriptions: immaterial, incorporeal, and invisible.

God’s spirituality means that He is immaterial. As the Creator, God formed all matter. Molecules, atoms, protons, electrons, neutrons, and quarks as the building blocks for all material substances were designed and generated by the LORD, and as material beings, we too are composed of these elements. God, however, as spirit, is beyond such matter; in fact, He is beyond matter itself. Indeed, God’s simplicity can only be true as long as He is also a spirit because all physical things are, by necessity, composites. Thus, even though the word for spirit in both Hebrew and Greek was also used to mean breath or wind, we must be wary of taking the imagery too far. Even the atmosphere around us is still composed of matter, while a spirit is entirely immaterial, not belonging to this physical plane of reality.

Since God is immaterial, He is also incorporeal, which simply means that He is without a body (although there is now a glorious caveat to this statement that we will discuss in a moment). Of course, the Bible does often speak as though God possesses various body parts. Genesis 6:8, for example, says that “Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.” Or Isaiah declared that “the LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations” (52:10). However, these are anthropomorphic figures of speech. They describe God in human terms so that we can comprehend a measure of His nature.

Finally, if God is immaterial and incorporeal, He must also be invisible. John tells us plainly that “no one has ever seen God” (John 1:18), which Paul likewise affirms, saying that “no one has ever seen or can see” Him (1 Timothy 6:16). This is because God is invisible (1 Timothy 1:17). He cannot be seen because He has no body or material to see.

But, we might interject, do not angels at times reveal themselves physically? And are they not also spirits? Yes, angels are also spiritual beings, although still having been created by God. Angelic manifestations are obviously sparse within the biblical narrative because it is not ordinary to see spiritual beings, but even so, they are occasionally seen. God, however, is different. His invisibility is not only connected to His spirituality; it is also bound to His holiness. Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, and others encountered the intimate presence of God and were even said to have seen God’s face (Genesis 32:30; Exodus 33:11). Yet again, this language must be figurative since God explicitly told Moses, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Isaiah saw God’s throne and robe and Moses saw where God just was, but these are the manifestations of God’s radiant glory. He Himself cannot be seen.

THE IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE

This understanding of God’s invisible, incorporeal, and immaterial spirituality provides us with a deeper glimpse at what makes the Second Commandment so important. True worship of God cannot be done through images because any portrait or sculpture can only denigrate the unfathomable reality of who God is. By their very presentation, images of God display Him as comprehensible. They belittle the otherness of the most holy Creator. And, as J. I. Packer notes:

Those who make images and use them in worship, and thus inevitably take their theology from them, will in fact tend to neglect God’s revealed will at every point. The mind that takes up with images is a mind that has not yet learned to love and attend to God’s Word. Those who look to manmade images, material or mental, to lead them to God are not likely to take any part of his revelation as seriously as they should.[3]

God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. Spiritual and truthful worship can only come through God’s revealed source, His Word. When God delivered His Ten Commandments to the Israelites from Sinai, He was not seen, but He was heard. The false gods of the nations could be seen, even held, but they could not speak. They could not be known, but they could not know. Though invisible and wrapped in light unapproachable, God can be known because He is and because He has spoken. He cannot be confined to images, but He has revealed Himself in His Word.

Yet there is a sense in which God has given us an image, and He also has also taken upon Himself a material, visible body. Although God’s glory was manifested in numerous ways, there is One who “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus, as Paul says, “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). He is the invisible God made visible to us, the incorporeal God incarnate, the immaterial God inserting Himself into the material, the God who is spirit becoming physical to rescue us. The incarnation of Christ, who is the eternal Word, is God’s visible image of Himself to us. Although no one can see the Father, Jesus declares, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). To behold Christ is to behold the fullness of God. This mystery of Christ’s hypostatic union, His full humanity and full divinity in one person, is on par with that of the Trinity, yet we rejoice in this glorious truth because through the incarnation God has made Himself visible to humanity.

Of course, for now, we cannot see Christ. He is no less incarnate today than He was two thousand years ago, but Jesus is not with us physically since He ascended to the right hand of the Father. However, following His ascension, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell His disciples, uniting us to Himself. Therefore, by the Spirit, we are in Christ, meaning that we cannot be separated from Him.

One day, Christ will return, and we shall see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). Although Jesus is God in human form, this will be no figure of speech; He will be forever with His bride. “And we all, with unveiled face” will behold the glory of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Yet take note of Owen’s warning: “No man shall ever behold the glory of Christ by sight in heaven who does not, in some measure, behold it by faith in this world.”[4] Through the Spirit’s illuminating work, we see Christ and His glory by faith in the Scriptures that He pointedly declared to be about Him (John 5:39-40). As we read God’s written Word, the Holy Spirit makes the image of Christ, the embodied Word, an even more vivid and wondrous reality to us than before.

God is spirit, and true worship of God in His spirituality comes by spirit and truth. We need the triune God displayed in the God-man Jesus Christ to give us His Spirit and awaken us to the truth. For now, we see by faith as we meditate on the Scriptures, and one day, we will behold by sight “the glory of God in the face of Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:6).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What does God’s spirituality mean? How does it relate to His immateriality, incorporeality, and invisibility?
  • How is the Second Commandment rooted in the spirituality of God?
  • How does Jesus’ incarnation relate to God’s spirituality? How does Jesus Himself enable us to worship God in spirit and truth?

[1] Samaritans were the descendants of Jews from the northern kingdom of Israel who returned after the Assyrian Captivity. They intermarried with Gentiles and, therefore, were rejected as being true Jews. Many have noted that the hostility between Jew and Samaritan was even greater than between Jew and Gentile.

[2] The default assumption is that the woman was an adulteress due to living with a man who was not her husband. While that is certainly a possibility, she could also have been brought into the man’s home out of pity toward her since her five husbands either died or divorced her. Her shameful avoidance of Jesus’ statement, therefore, could just as easily be one of pain from not having a husband and household of her own.

[3] Knowing God, 49.

[4] John Owen, The Glory of Christ, 4.

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