Dr. Richard L. Strauss
September 30, 1979
Our Lord Jesus was on His way to Galilee with His disciples. He hadn't taken the usual route for a Jew of His day—across the Jordan at Jericho, north along the east side of the river, then back across into Galilee. Instead He said He had to go through Samaria (John 4:4). The disciples didn't understand that; very few Jews ever went that way because the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans wasn't good. But the disciples went along without grumbling. They would soon learn why Jesus had to go that way. There were thirsty souls there who were ready to receive Him.
It was during that episode in Samaria that Jesus taught one of the most basic truths about God found anywhere in the Bible. We must begin study of God's attributes in Samaria, for this revelation about Him describes the very essence of His being.
By the way, some theologians distinguish between God's essence and His attributes. To me they are indistinguishable, God's attributes constitute His essence, His essential being, who and what He is. If you could describe all the properties of something, you would be describing what it is, its essence. Just so, if you could describe all God's attributes, you would be describing who God is. His very essence.
Obviously, we do not know everything there is to know about God. We are limited to what He has revealed about Himself in the Bible. And with our finite minds, we cannot even comprehend all of that. But what we do grasp of what He has revealed can enrich our lives on earth immeasurably and bring us greater pleasure than any other pursuit in life. It will bring us into personal touch with the living God.
There is also a debate among the theologians about how the attributes of God are to be classified and cataloged. (I know this won't interest most of you, but I have to share this with you just to be complete.) Some distinguish the natural attributes from the moral attributes, that is, those that belong to His constitutional nature and those that qualify Him as a moral being. Others separate the communicable from the incommunicable attributes—that is, those that can be understood by a comparison to something in human life, and those that cannot. Others insist there are immanent attributes that relate to God as He is, and transitive attributes by which He reveals Himself to His creation. So there are the three ways to classify God's attributes: natural vs. moral, communicable vs. incommunicable, and immanent vs. transitive. My simple mind asks, “Why do we need to classify God's attributes?” He is who He is. Let's just get to know Him as He is and not worry about pigeonholing everything we learn.
So come on back with me to a well by the side of the road near the little village of Sychar in Samaria (John 4). The disciples have gone ahead into town to buy food, and Jesus is sitting by that well talking to a Samaritan woman. It's not the normal time of day to be drawing water from the well, but she must have liked to draw water when no one else was around. Perhaps it shocked her to see Jesus there.
She is a rather unsavory character to say the least. She had been married five times, and was at that moment living with a man to whom she was not married. Jesus had worked the conversation around to spiritual things and was responding to her comment about where people ought to worship. She perceived that He was a prophet and the way in which people tested prophets was to ask them a theological question, so that's what she did.
"Jesus said to her, 'Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 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'" (John 4:21-23).
And that's when He says something about God that had never been clearly stated before. The truth was apparent from what had been said in the Old Testament, but it had never been put into plain words.
“‘God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth'” (John 4:24).God is a spirit. Actually, God is spirit. There is no article in Greek text, and that emphasizes the quality or essence of the word. And the word spirit occurs first in the sentence for emphasis. The literal idea is something like, "Absolutely spirit in His essence is God." Jesus didn't leave any doubt about it: God is spirit.
But what does that mean? Some folks have a strange idea of what spirit is—particularly children. To them spirit means a ghost. When two of my sons were small they were talking about ghosts. Mike, who was 5, said, "God is a ghost, the Holy Ghost." Mark, 4, answered, "Yes, but He's like Casper, the friendly ghost." Let's see if we can discover what it means for God to be spirit and then what it should mean to us.
1. God Is a Living Person
I Can Know Him
First, God is a living Person. Quite obviously, a spirit is alive. He's not an inanimate object like a pagan idol.
But our God is in heaven;
He does whatever He pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of men's hands.
They have mouths, but they do not speak;
Eyes they have, but they do not see;
They have ears, but they do not hear;
Noses they have, but they do not smell;
They have hands, but they do not handle;
Feet they have, but they do not walk;
Nor do they mutter through their throat.
Our God is alive. He's not like those pagan idols. He's obviously a living Person because He does whatever He pleases. A rock can't do what it pleases. The very word spirit means also breath, and breath is the evidence of life. Our God is alive. Throughout the Bible He is called "the living God" (e.g., Joshua 3:10; Psalm 84:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:9). One one occasion the Apostle Paul commended the Thessalonians for turning to God from idols to serve the living and true God.
But a spirit is also a person, not just an impersonal force that acts without purpose or reason. I'm sorry to disappoint you Star Wars fans, but God is not The Force; He does not act impersonally. He has a personality. He is a Person, not a force.
The essential nature of personality is self-consciousness and self-determination. God has both. He is conscious of His own being. A force is not conscious of its being; but God is. He told Moses His name was "I Am That I Am" (Exodus 3:14). He also has freedom to choose His own course of action according to what He considers best (Psalm 115:3; Ephesians 1:11). And He demonstrated that when He told Moses exactly what He wanted Him to do (Exodus 3:15-17). An impersonal force does not speak and give logical directions.
God is a living person; He has all the basic characteristics of personality: intellect, emotions, and will. And that is good news. Because He is a living person, we can get to know Him personally and communicate with Him freely. If He were an inanimate object or an impersonal force, there would be no hope of a personal relationship with Him. God is a living Person and we can know Him.
2. God Is a Living Person
I Can Know Him Apart from My Physical Senses
Second, God is invisible. Now just about everybody knows that you can’t see a spirit. You can't even see a human spirit. I can't see your spirit and you can't see mine. We have spirits, but we can't see them. Spirits are invisible. God is invisible; we can’t see Him. Paul called him "the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15), and "the King eternal, immortal, invisible" (1 Timothy 1:17). John assured us that no man has seen God at any time (John 1:18). Men have seen some visible forms which God has used to communicate with them. But they never saw Him in His spiritual being. There is no way they could. Spirits are invisible.
Some people get spooked out when they hear about a spirit. That's what brings us back to that Casper the Friendly Ghost concept. But it's actually a very comforting truth. Because He is invisible, not only can we know Him, but we can know Him apart from our physical senses. We don't have to see Him or feel Him to know Him. Some people think that the only way to get to know someone is through our physical senses, but that's not the case at all.
We have spirits, too, you see. God is a spirit, but we have spirits housed within our physical bodies. And when our spirits are made alive toward God through the new birth, by faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ, we have the capacity to commune with Him in our spirits—anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances. It doesn't depend on external things, because it takes place internally, in the spiritual part of our being. We communicate with Him with our spirits. That’s what Jesus was talking about to the woman at the well: We must worship God in spirit. It isn’t a matter of physical location or surroundings. It isn't even a matter of ritual, or liturgy or ceremony. It's not a matter of creating a certain mood or atmosphere. It's a matter of spirit.
It's hard for us to grasp that, since our spirits live in physical bodies and our physical bodies live in a physical universe. We want to put our relationship with God into the physical realm. We want to be inspired to worship by lavish cathedrals, great art, pleasant sounds, lovely aromas, and beautifully worded liturgies. Our human natures cry out for religious symbols, images and pictures to help us create a mood for worship. We often think we have to be in a church building to worship.
Now I'm not criticizing, but I do think we need to understand the true nature of worship. God says, "You can't reduce Me to physical things that can be experienced with your senses. I dwell in the realm of spirit and that is where I want to meet you." Physical things may direct our attention to God—particularly things He has made. But we meet with Him in our spirits.
That was one intent of the second commandment:"You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Exodus 20:4-6).
We don't need religious trappings—physical things—to enjoy our relationship with God. We can enjoy Him riding to work in the car, pushing the vacuum cleaner through the living room, walking from one class to another, or anywhere else. We can be thinking about God and adoring Him. That's true worship.
Our church bulletin calls this a "worship service." That may be a misnomer. I have studied carefully the New Testament to see why the church meets together. There was worship there, but you'll find far more references, when the church meets togeter, to instruction than worship. The church meets, basically, to be instructed, equipped, to go out into the world and live for Jesus Christ. Now when we learn truth in God's Word, it often causes us to worship Him in song or in the spoken word. But our primary purpose for being here is to learn and to grow through the instruction of God’s Word. We don't need this place or any physical thing to worship God. We can worship Him anywhere at any time.
We know Him and enjoy Him in the spiritual realm, apart from the physical senses, because He is a spirit, and spirits are invisible.
3. God Is a Living Person
Knowing Him Delivers Me from My Bondage to Material Things
Third—the major thing we learn about God as spirit is that He is immaterial. By using that word I do not mean "insignificant" but rather, I mean He is "incorporeal." That is, He doesn't have a body.
Jesus reaffirmed that truth to His frightened disciples after the resurrection. Remember, He had appeared to them in a closed room. He had a glorified body he was inhabiting at that moment but it was still a body. And they thought they'd seen a ghost. So Jesus said to them:
"Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have" (Luke 24:39).
A spirit doesn't have flesh and bones. There can be a spiritual body. Jesus, from the incarnation on, has a body. He also has a Spirit that can be everywhere. But He now also has a glorified body and sits at the right hand of the Father. But God the Father, as spirit, does not have a body.
Now wait a second. I've just said that God does not have a body, and yet I've also said that Jesus sits at God's right hand. That's a problem to some people when they read in the Bible about the Lord's hand or the Lord's ear (Isaiah 59:1), or the Lord's eye (2 Chronicles 16:9). That is what theologians call an anthropomorphism (meaning "human form")—that is, a symbolic representation used to make God's actions more understandable to our finite minds. God is a spirit, and Jesus said spirits do not have flesh and bones. God is not dependent on any material thing. He has no material substance. He dwells in the realm of the spirit.
That has some pertinent implications for our lives. If we know and love and serve a God who has no material substance, it is going to diminish our interest in material things. Let me say that again, because I want to talk about that with the time I have left today:
If we know and love and serve a God who is spirit, then it's going to diminish our interest in material things.
That would make us different from the world around us, wouldn't it? Particularly in the United States of America. We live in a culture that continually feeds our desire for the things money can buy and the security money can provide. And it is nearly impossible to escape that influence. Yesterday's luxuries become today's necessities. And the more we get, the less it satisfies. And if we ever get everything we want, we will find that none of it brings any real contentment.
Not long ago I met a man who had made his fortune very early in life. Roger Blancard wanted to be a millionaire by 45. He made it by 43. But he was telling me, "I can go anywhere I want to go and do anything I want to do, but not one thing satisfies me. What I really want in life is to get to know God."
Now we hear that, but we really don't believe it. We keep trying to acquire more and more money and material things, simply because it has become our way of life. We're constantly asking ourselves, "How can I invest this money so it will make me more money?" It's estimated that there are probably 300,000 millionaires in this country today . Many of them are Christians. And their Christian friends sometimes invite them to meetings to tell how God has blessed them. They equate God's blessing with net worth. That is so far from what the Bible teaches.
God isn't opposed to money. I don't want to be misunderstood here today. He allows us to make the money we have—gives us the health, strength, brains, and opportunity. It all comes from Him. But the point is this: A God whose being is spirit doesn't measure blessing in terms of bank accounts, investment portfolios, and land holdings, gadgets of all descriptions. He measures it in terms of inner peace, real contentment, deep satisfaction, meaning and purpose, loving and joyful relationships with other people. Money can't buy those things.
A lot of people are running around talking about how much God has blessed them who know very little of what true blessing really is. They should be testifying to how little satisfaction money brings. Unbelievers can make lots of money, too, but that doesn't mean God has blessed them. Dr. Earl Radmacher wrote a little book called What is God Like? (MP3 is found here), and in one chapter he wrote, "If material things are the measure of God's blessing, then the most blessed people today must be the Mafia." If money is the measure of blessing, then the crime syndicates and drug traffickers are blessed above all. You see how ridiculous it is to measure God's blessing by material things? A God whose being is spirit does not measure blessing by material things.
Neither does He measure security in terms of how much money or how many material things we have stored up for the future. He can wipe out million-dollar reserves as quickly has hundred-dollar reserves (or ten-dollar ones). He wants us to find our security in Him, not in money or material things. He wants everything we have to be available to Him. He may not ask for all of it, but again He might. He asked everything of a rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-27), and that misguided man gave up the opportunity to receive eternal life because he was afraid of what discipleship would cost him. God wants us willing to give up any possession, any investment, anything He asks—and to trust Him for the future.
The question we should be asking is not "How can I invest my money to make more money?" or even, "How can I provide financial security for myself and my family?" It should be, "How can I use my spendable income and my available capital to glorify the Lord, to advance His cause, and to help others in need?" Yes, God gives us money—some more than others. And there is nothing wrong with savings. But He makes it very clear that money is not primarily to store up for ourselves. It is to use for God's glory.
That's the emphasis of the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21). He stored up riches for himself (Luke 12:18), but God never let him live to enjoy it.
"But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:20-21).
To be rich toward God is to take what we have over and above our needs, and invest it in God’s work: the salvation of souls, and the spiritual strengthening of God's people. That's real blessing, and real security.
The Lord Jesus summed it up beautifully in the Sermon on the Mount.
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21).
We read that, we smile in agreement, and we go right on laying up treasures on earth. "You never know about inflation. You know what we should do—buy gold." Come on now! God can take all that gold in your safety deposit box away just like that. Our security isn’t found in gold! Maybe it won't rust, but it could disappear. Our security is in God.
Why is it that we agree with it when we read it, but we don't practice it? Why do we continue to store up treasures on earth? We haven't gotten to know the God who is spirit very intimately. We haven't learned that while He is interested in material things (He made all of them, after all), and while He can provide what we need, they are not the most important things to Him. He Himself is spirit, and the things on top of His priority list relate to the spirit. They are spiritual things. Are you giving as much attention to developing your spirit as you are to increasing your net worth?
Shortly after the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord gave His disciples an opportunity to put His instruction into practice. He sent them out to minister two by two and said to them:
"Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food" (Matthew 10:9-10).
Now that doesn't mean that when we go out we can't take two coats with us. When I go out to speak I usually take two suits with me. That's not what that means. In fact, the Lord did tell them to take some of these things later on in His ministry. The point He was making here is simply this: They were about to learn that when put God's work first, He will take care of their needs.
We have an opportunity to put His instructions into practice as well. God’s work has needs. How will we respond? There is something exciting happening right now that probably not many know about. It started with one or two men who are in leadership capacities at our church and it spread throughout all the leadership of the church: pastors, elders, deacons. There is the exciting possibility that God may want us to raise the entire amount for the construction of our future youth building. There are other options we can use, but we think that maybe God wants us to raise it all before we build. And the fact that it could happen is literally exciting. It's going to take some sacrifice on the part of some people who are getting to know God, who are more interested in spiritual things than in hording up treasures.
Now you're saying that I preached this sermon this morning to lay the groundwork to raise a million dollars! You’re suspicious, aren't you?! I planned to preach this message this morning long before that idea was ever entertained in this church. [Dr. Strauss typically prepared messages six weeks in advance of giving them.] That's not why I preached it at all. I want us to get to know God, who is spirit. But the application is right there in the Bible, folks: People who know God is spirit don't get tied to material things.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
I'm surely not even trying to imply that you ought to give us money for the youth building—a place where we can train young people and bring them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.Those who intimately know the God who is spirit will be giving more attention to the spiritual realm and less to material things. That's for believers. But some of you are not believers. Still, you have a spirit. It lives now in a physical body, but someday that body will die and decay. Yet the spirit lives on&md\either in the presence of Jesus Christ, in conscious joy and delight; or it will live separated from Him, in conscious torment.
If you've never trusted Christ as your Savior, you need to understand what God says:
"And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).
The judgement. The sentence will be passed: the determination as to where you will spend eternity. And that rests solely on whether you've ever acknowledged your sin, and believe that God sent His Son to die on the cross in your place to pay for that sin. If you've never done that, we invite you to do it today.
Heavenly Father, we ask you now to move in us and among us to show us our needs. For believers, we need to know God as spirit. And unbelievers need to know God for the first time in their lives, and come to You through the blood of Jesus Christ, which was shed for them. We pray that even this morning some will understand their need of a Savior and believe that Jesus is that One, and put their trust in Him. We ask it for His name's sake. Amen.
God Is Spirit
God is spirit; and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.
John 4:24 NASB
Continue to AT-04: From Everlasting to Everlasting