The larger picture of John 4 details the dialogue Jesus had with “the woman at the well.” As you read through the story, you come to a twist in the conversation where Jesus confronted the woman with her personal morality. Rather than respond to Jesus’ insight, she changed the subject to religion.
“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?” (John 4:19-20, NLT)
Credit the woman for looking for the right method of worship. Unfortunately she only saw two options. The Samaritans only accepted the first five books of the Old Testament and rejected the rest. They were enthusiastic about their worship, but lacked all of the truths of salvation history, most notably the Davidic line that would trace all the way through to the Messiah. Their worship could be characterized, if you will, as heat without light.
The Jews, on the other hand, had at their disposal all of the Old Testament scriptures. They had the “truth,” but lacked any kind of joy or enthusiasm. Their worship could be characterized as light without heat. Their barren orthodoxy is what led Jesus to remark “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Mark 7:6, NLT).
It was from that backdrop that Jesus not only responded to her question, but also gave us two important tests to discern appropriate worship. True worship, according to Jesus, is inspired by the spirit and informed by the truth.