Does God accept all worship? Some people seem to think he does. “We’re all worshipping the same God, just in different ways,” right? Well, that’s what so many say, and often they’ll even extend that acceptance toward non-Christians. However, Jesus said, “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15:7-9 ESV). The Lord was speaking particularly against hypocrisy, so we can confidently say God doesn’t accept the worship of hypocrites. We can also now say God doesn’t accept all worship. It just remains to learn what worship he does accept and offer him that worship.
In John’s gospel, Jesus said, “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 4:23-24 ESV). Note the word “must.” The only worship acceptable to God is “in spirit and truth.” Jesus said, “I am the truth,” (John 14:6), and praying to God the Father said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Therefore only “in Christ,” that is, “Christian” worship is acceptable to God, and it must be according to his word, the Bible. We should also say acceptable worship must “truly” be worship, that is, it must be genuinely intended. We gladly offer God worship as instructed in Scripture, and shun any thought of offering him any other kind.
What does worship “in spirit” mean? The most basic answer is it is the opposite of worship “in flesh.” True worship isn’t about your location or surroundings. It isn’t about suits and ties. It’s got nothing to do with looking worshipful or pious. It’s about submitting in my spirit to the worthiness of the Infinite Spirit, responding as directed in Scripture; glorifying him for his greatness. It includes offering worship with attitudes consistent with spirituality. These include thanksgiving and joy (Psalm 95:2), and fear and trembling (i.e. deep, genuine reverence) (Psalm 2:11; Hebrews 12:28). Finally, spiritual worship is rational and instructive (1Corinthians 14:15) and reflects the order of God’s own throne room, to which we are transported in the spirit when we enter into true worship (1 Corinthians 14:40). Worship is a great privilege. It’s also serious business. Take worship seriously and be sure to offer acceptable worship.