Worship that Isn’t Worship

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. —John 4:23

John 4 includes some of the most influential verses regarding the discipline of worship – how better to understand whether or not our worship is authentic than through the words of God the Son. When Jesus says, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth,” He provokes us to wonder if we are among the congregation “the Father is seeking.”

By mentioning “the true worshipers,” Jesus is also indicating there are false ones. There are those who practice worship and those who pretend to worship—a distinction that leads to the question: which are you? A true worshiper or a false one? To put it another way, is your worship authentic?

Before you answer, you may want to submit to Jesus’ test. In verse 22, He pointed out to the woman at the well that she was an ignorant worshiper: “You worship what you do not know.” We face the same choice between making a god to suit our tastes or worshiping the one true God who has revealed Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ. The choice is ours.

But ignorant worship is only one kind of false worship. Another is hypocritical worship—when you show up for church to get an “A” for attendance, but your heart is far from God. You may go through the motions, but you’re thinking of things you couldn’t possibly reveal to the people around you. Yours might be the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. You know your life is a mess and that God offers something far better, but you’re still not ready to give up the charade of independent living. You’re idolizing a false freedom that is actually bondage. Many of us can identify with that part of the story.

Or maybe you’re not the prodigal son (see Luke 15), but his older brother. You’re the one who always did the right thing, always said the expected things. You carry your Bible, but your heart is also far from God—that’s hypocrisy too. You get an “A” for performance; an “F” for reality. Friends may be fooled by appearances, but God looks at the heart. You can’t fool Him with hypocritical worship.

True worship also rejects apathetic participation. And many people attend church with an apathy that is apparent—they look like they can’t wait to get out. It’s a tragic condition if you can see God touching other people and moving in their lives, but feel nothing yourself—and it doesn’t even bother you. Apathy has no part in true worship.

Has ignorance, hypocrisy, or apathy crept into your worship? Are your “lights on but no one’s home” when you’re with other believers who are exalting the Savior? If any kind of false worship has become your current practice, thank God for making you aware of it. Ask Him to help you surrender in earnest adoration. Carve out some time to meet with Him by yourself. Read the Gospels and reflect on who He is and what He’s done for you—and is still working in you! Prepare your heart before the next time you join others in worship, so it will be in spirit and truth.


  • Which aspect of false worship do you struggle with most: ignorance, hypocrisy, or apathy?
  • For each of these, what is one positive step a person could take to address that issue in their lives?


Lord, I can’t think of a more self-destructive pattern than calling something true worship when it is ignorant, hypocritical, or apathetic. And yet I confess that these problems can infect my worship. I am prone to wander into attitudes or practices that take me away from You, rather than toward You. O God, burn away in me the chaff and stubble of these false things and kindle a flame of longing for true worship of You in spirit and truth. Teach me as You draw me to Yourself. In Jesus’ name, amen.