It seems evident that there is, in almost every person, a sense of “Something” or “Someone” that’s beyond what our five natural senses can comprehend. [See: A Law-abiding Universe -- But Man!] And this sense of “mystery” has driven mankind to worship that “great unknown” — whether some impersonal “Force” or some “Person” somewhere out there in the unseen world or universe. That worship has taken many forms, has engendered many often conflicting ideas or concepts, many different rituals and rubrics. Thus we have today’s major “world religions” — Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism — not to mention the smaller but often aggressive religions.
In the midst of all this bewildering religious smorgasbord, one is left with the question: which of these religions is true? And which one offers and practices true worship?
Mankind’s history over the last millennia has been written in blood — in many cases because of religion, each claiming to be the true one! And for this very reason, the next few years will see more and more violence in the name of religion (see, for example, John 16:2 — and just watch or read the news)! [See: "The Next Chapter of History" and The Children of Abraham.]
Even in just the one religion alone — Christianity — people who claim to be Christ’s followers are sorely divided over how God, or Jesus Christ, is to be worshiped. This is indeed ironic, since its adherents claim Christianity to be the “true religion” which has the “true faith” (or belief) and which practices “true worship.”
“From the horse’s mouth”
Christians, who claim to worship Jesus Christ and God the heavenly Father alone, have an unmistakable testimony, from the very object of their worship, as to what true worship is. Were they to take His words seriously and sincerely, there would be no need for the baffling and disheartening confusion — and conflict — among them, about what that true worship is, and how it is to be expressed.
The sad reality is that there is so much confusion and conflict among the various hues of Christianity. And the reason behind this? There is an “author” of confusion (certainly not God! — see 1 Corinthians 14:33) that has had Christian believers divided. The apostle Paul declares that there is one — Satan — who has especially targeted the Christian faith in his devilish work of deceiving and destroying mankind (Revelation 12:9). “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age [Satan] has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). [See: Where Did the Devil Come From?]
Paul then goes on to explain how therefore Satan has beguiled and deceived many into believing and preaching “a different gospel” than what Paul, as Christ’s personally chosen servant, has taught to the churches of God (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). Paul says of these deceived, and deceiving, preachers: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ ["apostle" is from the Greek apostolos, meaning "sent"]. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). [See: Beware of False Prophets, About Pool of Siloam and Fake News.]
This counterfeit “Christianity” has, over the centuries, misled many into false worship — worship that God does not desire!
Now, then, let’s see what Jesus said is the kind of worship and worshipers God seeks: “But 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 4:23-24).
These are words which Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman by the well in the Samaritan city of Sychar (John 4:5-7, etc.). An understanding of the background of the Samaritans and their religion will help us see Christ’s words in true context and perspective.
The Samaritan religion
Long before Jesus Christ’s day, the Samaritans (inhabitants of Samaria — a geographical area directly north of the kingdom of Judah, or the land of Judea) had practiced a kind of religion that is a strange brew (theologians call this “syncretism”) of the Bible and heathen practices. For this reason Jews avoided the company of Samaritans (John 4:9).
The people of Samaria were survivors of the motley people whom the king of Assyria “transplanted” in the northern Kingdom of Israel after the Assyrians had carried the “house of Israel” away captive into other lands. [See: God's Kingdom and Israel.] This bit of history is well preserved for us in 2 Kings 17. Verse 24 tells us: “Then the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities.”
Because these “imported” people did not fear the LORD God of Israel, God plagued them with lions that devoured many of them. Thus they made a request of the king of Assyria, who then commanded: “‘Send there one of the priests [of Israel] whom you brought from there; let him go and dwell there, and let him teach them the rituals of the God of the land.’ Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the LORD” (Verses 27-28).
In short, these people brought into their new habitations their own pagan worship forms while ostensibly “fearing” the LORD God of Israel (Verses 29-33). They practiced their ancient pagan rituals, but they did not really fear the true God by obeying the commandments, statutes, judgments and ordinances He had given to Israel (Verses 34-39). Verses 40-41 summarize the Samaritans’ religion: “…they did not obey [the God of Israel], but they followed their former [pagan] rituals. So these nations feared the LORD, yet served their carved images; also their children and their children’s children have continued doing as their fathers did, even to this day.”
This was the kind of religion that the woman whom Jesus talked with by the well at Sychar in Samaria was practicing. Like many of her fellow Samaritans, she thought she was worshiping the true God — the God of Jacob or Israel. Jesus, whom she eventually accepted as a true prophet and in fact the prophesied Messiah, told her and her fellow Samaritans: “You worship what you do not know” (Verses 22, 19, 25-26, 29). Jesus then told her what true worship is.
In spirit and in truth
Without God’s Spirit and revelation through God’s word, man is bound to worship God any which way man fancies and devises — other than the way God desires and prescribes that He be worshiped. God, through Paul, reveals how one can truly worship Jesus as Lord: “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed [not worthy of worship], and no one can [truly] say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). [See: Is Jesus Your Lord -- Really?]
In order to truly know Jesus as the Lord and Christ, one has to be given God’s Spirit as a gift (1 Corinthians 2:9-12). Acts 2:38-39 shows how the gift of God’s Spirit may be received. [See: Predestination.] Jesus said that that Spirit is “the Spirit of truth” (John 16:13). And Jesus said of God the Father, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
At the time Jesus said this prayer, the available written “word” of God was the Old Testament. When the LORD, the God of the Old Testament, became a human being in Jesus Christ, He spoke more words and taught more truth. The apostle and gospel writer John put it this way: “And the Word [the God of the Old Testament, who created all things; see The True Christ and Peter Knew "The Holy One"] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus said that one of the reasons He came to this world was “…that I should bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37).
Therefore, it is but logical and reasonable to say that true worship of the true God is one based on truth — God’s Word. Worship that falls short of and does not agree with that Word or truth has to be a false one! It is worship that God does not desire nor require of His creation. False worship, worship not based on truth or God’s Word, is in fact detestable and abominable to God! That is why God forbade His people — the nation of Israel — to worship Him using the idolatrous and heathen forms used by the heathen nations whom He drove out of the land He had promised to the children of Israel.
Through Moses, God had warned the children of Israel: “When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods…” (Deuteronomy 12:22-31).
Sadly, as their history shows, over and over again the children of Israel soon forgot their covenant with their God and took up worship of the heathen gods of the very people they replaced in the land God gave to Israel. The books of Exodus through 2 Chronicles bear testimony to Israel’s unfaithfulness to their LORD God. Psalm 106 summarizes Israel’s history as one where the nation chronically forgot her God and turned instead to idols. The books of the prophets consistently condemned the children of Israel for their idolatry and urged them to repent and turn to their LORD God in true worship.
God’s law and truth
Psalm 119:142 gives this amazing connection: “Your [God's] righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your law is truth.“ Verse 172 declares: “My tongue shall speak of Your word, for all Your commandments are righteousness.” Verse 96 also reveals: “I have seen the consummation of all perfection, but Your commandment is exceedingly broad.”
God’s “law” includes not only God’s commandments (statutes, judgments, ordinances, testimonies) but all truth proclaimed in the Old Testament — as well as the New. For instance, Jesus quoted to the Jews Psalm 82:6, which He labeled as “written in your law” (John 10:34). The apostle Paul exhorted the Christians at Galatia to “hear the law” — and proceeded to tell the story about Abraham (Galatians 4:21-31). [See: Freed From Bondage and Law Added to Law Transgressed .]
True worship is thus one that worships the true God according to His law, in that broad sense!
The first four of the Ten Commandments tell us how we are to relate to, love, and worship the true God. We cannot say we are truly worshiping God while we disobey these commandments. We cannot say, for example, “I love God so much — I will honor Him by making an image of Him and bowing down to that image.” Jesus indicted the Jewish leaders of His day for following their many traditions which laid aside God’s commandments. He told them: “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men [quoted from Isaiah 29:30].’ All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition….making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down” (Mark 7:9, 13). [See: Did Christ Cleanse All Meats ?]
The latter six of the Ten Commandments tell us how we are to relate with our fellow human beings in such a way that wholesome family and community relationships are protected and promoted. [See: The Law of Moses Before Christ's Return.] Obeying these latter commandments is also a means or form of worshiping God. We show our true love for and worship of God when we love our fellow human beings — especially those who are our spiritual “brothers” — those who do the will of God the Father (Matthew 12:48-50).
The apostle John, under God’s inspiration, wrote: “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother….By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:10, 16-18). When Jesus returns, He will judge people on the basis of whether or not they have shown love to Jesus by doing acts of love to even the least of Jesus’ brethren (Matthew 25:31-46).
The American poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a poem, which later became a Protestant hymn, titled “O Brother Man.” I believe he caught the spirit of John’s exhortation. The opening stanza goes:
O brother man, fold to thy heart thy brother;
Where pity dwells, the peace of God is there;
To worship rightly is to love each other,
Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.
1 John 5:2, however, gives an identifying sign of true love for our brothers: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments.” We cannot truly love our brothers to the point of or while disobeying God’s commandments. We cannot say, for example, “I love my brother so much — I will lie, steal, and kill for him!” [See: The Law of Christ and God's Spirit and Obedience.]
Commanded worship times
Aside from God’s general laws and commandments, God has also given to His people (both physical Israel and spiritual Israel — “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16), which comprises God’s “firstfruits” of salvation, including both Israelites and Gentiles who are genuine Christians [see: Predestination] – His feasts as special times for them to assemble in worship. These are famously listed in Leviticus 23. Included are the weekly Sabbath (the seventh day of the week, known as “Saturday” in the commonly used Roman calendar, but which — in God’s calendar — starts at sunset on Friday and ends at sunset on Saturday), and the seven annual feasts days or holy days with their “Sabbaths.” [For more explanations on these feasts, see: What If the Sabbath Is Still Holy ? God's Feasts in the Book of Acts: Mere Time Markers -- or to Be Observed? God's Feasts and the Jews -- Part 1, God's Feasts and the Jews -- Part 2, and God's Feasts and the Jews -- Part 3.]
Sadly, like the Jews in Jesus’ day who laid aside God’s commandments for their human traditions, many who today call themselves Christians have set aside God’s commanded feasts and have substituted humanly devised holidays and traditions which heathens had observed for many centuries past. When we come right down to it, these traditional holidays are nothing but gaudy yet wretched counterfeits of God’s commanded feasts.
Who among us have been victimized by counterfeit money? Those who fell for these “falsies” were duped into thinking that some fake bill was real. A fake bill has about all the appearances of real money, but the bill is completely worthless — it does not have the real value as supported by a nation’s government financial institution. Alarmingly, fake bills have circulated and have fooled enough people — until the bills are proven counterfeits and are destroyed.
So it is with counterfeit ways to worship God. They may seem real — may even seem to have some Scriptural supports — but when we bring to bear The Whole Counsel of God (Acts 20:27) to test these false ways, we will see them for the deceit and lies that they are!
God will eventually destroy false worship on the face of this earth! Rather than duplicating what several have already written on these man-made holidays, let me just refer you to this link: http:www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, select “Books & Booklets” and scroll down to the booklets titled “Pagan Holidays or God’s Holy Days — Which?” “The Plain Truth About Christmas,” and “The Plain Truth About Easter.” You may also go back a step and select “Reference Materials” instead, and scroll down to books titled The Two Babylons and Babylon Mystery Religion.
The bright lights and merriment of the coming holiday season have been glorified by some to be symbolic of Jesus as the true “Light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5). But if we are to check the basis for celebrating the so-called birth of Christ on December 25, we will find that this basis is not supported by God’s word and truth, the Bible, at all! This celebration is, rather, based on a lie! How can a lie honor the God of truth? Can true worship be based upon a lie? No way! Isaiah 8:20 urges us to check all claims, against God’s law and testimony: “If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light [truth!] in them” (Isaiah 8:20).
Jesus said of Satan the devil: “When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). With his lies, Satan has in fact deceived not a few but the whole world (Revelation 12:9)! Satan is chief of the “rulers of the darkness of this age” (Ephesians 6:12). Yet Satan has succeeded in passing himself off as “an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). It’s time God’s true people became undeceived! [See: "Your Eyes Will Be Opened!"]
While the Bible does not give a specific date of Jesus’ birth, God has left us with some clues as to the approximate time of the year that this dramatic event took place. True, a lot of debate has surrounded this issue. But I believe more people who base their calculations on the Biblical evidence have proposed that Jesus could not have been born on December 25! [For example, check out this link: http://biblelight.net/sukkoth.htm. See also: Feast of John the Baptist.]
If the date of Jesus’ birth were so important and the knowledge of it so necessary for our true worship of Christ, God would have spelled it out — as He has done with His feast days — in His Word. The fact that this date is not revealed, and God has nowhere in the Bible commanded His people to celebrate Jesus’ birthday (whatever its actual date was), should give us pause. Why celebrate at all a date we are not even sure of?
Like what the Samaritans worshiped, what we celebrate and worship may be of dubious origins. Jesus might as well tell us as He told the Samaritan woman: “You worship what you do not know” (John 4:22). Could we be worshiping the devil or his instruments (idols) and not know it? Jesus says that’s quite possible!
To the honest student, there is ample evidence in history books and encyclopedias that shows the pagan origins of much of what people have celebrated as “Christian” holidays — Sunday, Easter, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, etc. They, ultimately, trace back to their cradle in Babylon [see: "Your Eyes Will Be Opened!"] — and, finally, in Satan the devil [see: Where Did the Devil Come From?].
Come out of Babylon!
At His return, Jesus will deal forcefully with an end-time spiritual Babylon that will have influenced the whole world (Revelation 18 and 19). God bids those who will heed: “Come out of her [Babylon], my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities” (Revelation 18:4-5). [See: Drunk With Strange Wine.]
Will you heed God’s command? Will you spare yourself from having to “drink of the wine of the wrath of God” which will be “poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation” on those who follow the ways of Babylon? Will you save yourself from being “tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb [Jesus Christ]” along with the human leaders of this Babylon (Revelation 14:9-10)?
Will you worship the true God “in spirit and truth?” Will you worship God as He has commanded in His Word, the Bible, which is truth (John 17:17)? Just before the final fall of Babylon, God will send an angel “having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth — to every nation, tribe, tongue and people — saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give glory to Him; for the house of judgment has come; and worship Him [God] who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water” (Revelation 14:6-7).
Reward of true worship
As we worship God in spirit and truth, we are imbibing His perfect nature. God, after all, desires that we eventually partake fully of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:2-3). God the Father and Jesus Christ promise to, in fact, make their home with us when we worship and love them by keeping God’s commandments (John 14:21, 23).
As we do, at Christ’s return we will be changed to glory — we will have a glorious and immortal body like Jesus’ body after He was resurrected from the dead (Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Corinthians 15:50-55). Whereas now, in this physical and corruptible body, we are not to be worshiped (Acts 10:25-26; 14:8-18), when we finally receive a spiritual body like Christ’s, God will in fact cause human beings to worship at our feet (Revelation 3:9).
Meanwhile, before that, there’s a need to refine and purify our thoughts so that we will conform with the mind of God the Father and Jesus Christ. Paul exhorted: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Let us strive, as Paul did, that Christ be formed in us (Galatians 4:19). That can happen only as we align our thoughts with God’s thoughts, as we find them expressed in His Word, the Bible, the truth. [See: The Flaming Sword East of Eden.]
As we do, we will be preparing ourselves to teach those mortal humans who will survive the “Great Tribulation” (Satan’s wrath, Revelation 12:12) and God’s wrath at Christ’s return (Revelation 11:15-18:24). During Christ’s reign on earth, these human beings, and their descendants, will be taught God’s thoughts in such a way that there will be unity and harmony in thought, word and action among them. As Zephaniah 3:9 prophesies, “For then I will restore to the people a pure language, that they all may call on the name of the LORD, to serve [and worship!] Him with one accord.” [See: The Great Wall.]
Gone will be the many different and conflicting ways people worship — or think they are worshiping — the true God. Gone will be all forms and manners of false worship! Only one and true worship of the true God will prevail — and proliferate — in all of the world. May that time come soon!
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.