Worship in Spirit and truth

The message of Christ is much more than His payment for our sins; He also establishes the relationship God desires with us. And this relationship, as we have described, is a relationship in the Holy Spirit.

Before Jesus came, the Old Covenant relationship between God and His people was one of the observances of days and regulations. The priests prayed to God on behalf of the people. Even the relationship of the priests to God was very distant. Once a year, the high priest would go into a special chamber to meet with God. This meeting was very fearful, because if the priest entered this meeting with God, and had not atoned for his own sin, he could die.

But Jesus paid the penalty for our sin so that we are able to enter into “the most Holy place” (Hebrews 9:8), a relationship with Him in the Holy Spirit, by His blood.

This “New Covenant” is one of direct fellowship with God in the Spirit. Jesus’ gospel did away with the observance of days and regulations. Jesus taught us to worship God in spirit and truth, through the baptism of His Spirit, and through the remembrance of His sacrifice for our sins.

Through the prophet Hosea, the Spirit spoke of this new relationship:

“I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, her Sabbaths—all her appointed feasts . . . Therefore, behold I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her . . . . And it shall be in that day, says the Lord, that you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘My Master’” (Hosea 2:11, 14, 16).

The observance of days, which kept man at a distance from God, would be replaced by a New Covenant of true intimacy, true worship, by the body and blood of Christ, and by the Spirit—symbolically the bread, the wine, and the oil.

“The earth shall answer with grain, with new wine, and with oil; they shall answer Jezreel” (Hosea 2:22).

Jesus spoke of the New Covenant to the Samaritan woman by the well:

Believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father . . . the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:21-24).

Hosea prophesied that the Gentiles would share a part in God’s New Covenant:

“. . . I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and the birds of the air, and with the creeping things of the ground” (Hosea 2:18; Acts 10:12).

“. . . I will call them My people, who were not My people” (Hosea 2:23; Romans 9:25).

A Different Gospel

But, very sadly, the Gentile believers quickly departed from a relationship with God in the Spirit, and began to reinstate the distance from God of the Old Covenant, beginning with the observance of “Easter.”  Eventually, the Easter celebration was made longer and longer, until it was 40 days long; new religious days were added, and finally even priests were reinstated! Man was no longer one with God, joined in the Spirit, but was once again completely distanced from God; all beginning with Easter.

“A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9).

How did this happen?

In the Apostolic times, many Gentiles desired to participate with their Jewish brothers in the observance of the Jewish feasts.

Paul pleaded with the Gentiles not to observe these religious Sabbaths, but to pursue the worship of God in the Spirit. Jesus went even further than Paul. He spoke against: “the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews, and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” (Revelation 2:9; 3:9)

Eventually, the Gentiles limited their indulgence to the observance of the Passover, the Preparation, and the day of Pentecost, as Origen told us in the 3rd Century. 1 Origen belonged to the churches of Asia that rejected the Sunday Easter celebration instituted by the Roman Bishop in the 2nd Century.

The earliest Gentiles did not celebrate Easter, but some fasted on the Passover, the 14th day of the month, when they remembered Christ’s death. Therefore, Polycrates opposed the Roman Bishop. Polycrates wrote: “we keep the day (the 14th day of the month) precisely, without addition or subtraction.” Irenaeus added “some fast for one day, others for two, other even more.”2

The Departure of the Spirit of God

In spite of Polycrates’ objection, the Bishop of Rome insisted on instituting an annual celebration day for Christ’s resurrection on Sunday, for all Christians. In 193, he exalted himself above Christ, writing letters of excommunication to the Churches of Asia because they rejected his position. This event, called the Quartodeciman controversy, confirmed the “Primacy of the Bishop of Rome.” It resulted in the departure of the Spirit of truth, the abomination of desolation prophesied by Daniel.3

The Apostle Paul begged the Galatian Gentiles not return to their pagan ways, not to depart from the worship of God in the Spirit.

But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods, but now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you desire to turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain (Galatians 4:8-11).
Illustration of a bible scene, 1 Kings 11, Solomon builds and worships statues instead of God
Illustration of a bible scene, 1 Kings 11, Solomon builds and worships statues instead of God

Many of the early Gentile believers were used to the ways of their pagan religions, which liked to “use” their gods to make better lives for the worshippers. For example, pagan worshippers liked to celebrate when the days were getting shorter as a way of cheering themselves. Today’s “Christian festivals” came from their love of pagan festivals. As early as 279, the Church created the Christmas festival to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25, “the birth of the unconquered sun.”

Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to celebrate as the sun goes down, but God sent His Son because He no longer wants a relationship based on seasons or days and places—“worship on this mountain or in Jerusalem.” God wants to be worshiped “in Spirit,” “in spirit and truth.” Just as the Apostle Paul wrote:

You died with Christ from the basic principles of this world . . . set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 2:20; 3:2-3)

By basic principles of this world, Paul means the basic principles of time and space.

Hosea named his first son Jezreel, “Scattered,” even as spiritual adultery has scattered God’s Church into many denominations (Ezekiel 34:7–12; John 10:11–16).

He named his last son Lo-Ammi, “Not My People,” even as God’s Church, having begun in the Spirit (Galatians 3:3), left their first love (Revelation 2:4–5). God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in the Spirit. When they left this fellowship with God, they were no longer His people.

Hosea ends his prophecy with a prophecy for God’s adulterous bride:

“Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery, just like the love of the Lord for the children of Israel, who look to other gods and love the raisin cakes of the pagans” (Hosea 3:1).

In the next section, we will see God’s response to a harlot who committed harlotry with the kings of this earth.

  1. Origen, Contra Celsus Book VIII, Chapter 22
  2. Eusebius, Church History, Book 5, Chapter 24
  3. Daniel 8:11; “In vain they worship Me, teaching as commandments the doctrines of men.” Matthew 15:9