When I first read John 7:37-38, I was struck with wonderment at the promise of my heart flowing out rivers of living water. After all, water is necessary for life, so think of how crucial living water from Jesus must be for our spiritual life. But what exactly is living water, and why did Jesus’ words strike the officers who came to arrest Him with awe such that they proclaimed that “no one ever spoke like this man!”?
Scholars agree the rivers of living water refer to the Holy Spirit, which John states had yet to be given to the people because Jesus was not yet glorified. This is interesting, because before I read this I did not remember that the Holy Spirit became accessible only through Jesus’ crucifixion for our sins. But now, if we believe, we have unlimited access to his grace accompanied by His Spirit. It is freely available to those who are thirsty and come to Jesus and drink.
The context here in John 7 is that Jesus is speaking about this living water during the Feast of Booths, a harvest celebration that “commemorated God’s protection of, and provision for, the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.” Water was poured out in front of the altar of burnt offerings, in part to recall the time of Moses when God brought rain. According to one scholar, the Israelites were also in anticipation of the day when they could receive “water from the wells of salvation to quench their thirst.”
In this context, Jesus speaks of living water, which is a spiritual blessing that goes very far beyond the blessing of rain for crops. It is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit from one’s heart, where Jesus would reside after his death and resurrection, making us a new creation. As I contemplate this, I crave this type of water, and praise be to God, I have it. I am assured that the Spirit will intercede for me and know that I can ask God anything and God will reply in some fashion (even if it’s not a direct answer to my question). In journaling, I have often been amazed by what I have gotten from Him.
To me, the Holy Spirit is a mystery, but one can see its fruits in believers. For example, some scholars connect rivers of living water to the fruits of the Spirit. Both Ezekiel and Revelation make this connection, describing fruit-bearing trees “that will heal the nations” growing on either side of the river. In making the connection, one scholar notes that the ultimate fruit is “holiness” (Romans 6:22).
I would add to this by saying that despite our brokenness, our salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection is assured, and through this we are also holy and set apart as God’s children. With this new identity, Christ is now willing to live in our hearts, which serve as a temple for the Holy Spirit to flow forth as living water. So in this season of Lent, let’s be awestruck by the promise of living water and pursue holiness, remembering that we are a temple for Christ. As Paul says in Romans 12, we should present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship.
Wesley Sholtes is a founding member of Advent. He recently moved to Rosslyn, but his life is still mostly in the District. He enjoys fellowship with Adventers most of all, but dabbles in public speaking, standup comedy, swing dancing, and an occasional winery tour (but not during Lent!).