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Lesson 43: Rivers of Living Water—for You and from You (John 7:37-39)

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February 9, 2014

When you read Jesus’ words here, where He promises that from the innermost being of the one who believes in Him will flow rivers of living water, you have to stop and ask, “To what extent is that true of me? Since I trusted in Christ as my Savior, has it been my experience that ever-flowing, abundant rivers of living water have gushed up inside of me and flowed out of me?”

Those questions are both convicting and hope-producing. They are convicting because none of us, if we’re honest, can say, “Yes, those words nail it! That’s exactly how to describe my life since becoming a Christian!” Honesty forces me to say, “Well, there has usually been a trickle of living water, although there have been some droughts where even it has dried up. Occasionally, there has been a creek of living water. But ever-flowing, abundant rivers (plural)? It would be a stretch to describe my Christian life like that!” So Jesus’ words convict me with the barrenness of my walk with Him.

But Jesus’ words also give me hope. If my life doesn’t match His description here, it can! So can yours! This is a promise from the Son of God to all who will come to Him and drink: Out of your innermost being will flow rivers of living water. It describes, as Calvin points out (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], pp. 308-309), an ideal that none of us can possess perfectly in the present life because of indwelling sin and because of differing measures of faith. But it’s an ideal in which we can make progress as we walk with the Lord. We really can experience consistent fullness of joy in Him that flows from us to others. And so we should have hope because He who began the good work of salvation in us will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6). But we need to press on toward the goal (Phil. 3:12-16). Here is Jesus’ promise to all:

Jesus Christ blesses all who believe in Him with rivers of the living water of His Spirit so that we will bless others.

There is the promise, an implicit requirement, and the result:

1. Jesus Christ blesses all who believe in Him with rivers of the living water of His Spirit.

Note five things about this wonderful promise:

A. The person of the promise: Jesus’ claim shows Him to be God in human flesh.

To appreciate Jesus’ claim here, we need to note the setting. It is the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths), the third important feast in the Jewish calendar (after Passover and Pentecost (or Weeks). Tabernacles was a harvest feast of thanksgiving to God. The Israelites lived in booths to remind them of God’s care for them in the wilderness, when He provided manna and water from the rock. The feast also looked forward to the final harvest and ingathering of the nations during Messiah’s kingdom.

During Jesus’ time, the feast was also characterized by a daily procession led by a priest carrying a golden pitcher of water drawn from the Pool of Siloam. The water was poured out at the base of the altar at the same time that another priest would pour out a pitcher of wine on the other side of the altar, which pointed to the future outpouring of the Holy Spirit as predicted by Isaiah (Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services [Eerdmans], pp. 280-282). Isaiah 12:3 says, “Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.” And Isaiah 44:3 states, “For I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring and My blessing on your descendants.”

John wants us to see that Jesus Himself is the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles. In 1:14 he told us that (literally), “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” Paul tells us that Jesus is the rock that supplied Israel with water in the barren desert (1 Cor. 10:4). He is also the bread of life, the fulfillment of the manna that sustained Israel in the wilderness (John 6). So now, on the last day of this feast, Jesus claims to be the source of living water to all who will come to Him and drink. In other words, He fulfills all that the feast symbolized.

The water pouring ceremony took place every day for seven days, followed by an eighth day when a holy convocation was held. Scholars disagree on whether Jesus made His offer on the seventh day, when the final pitcher was poured out, or, more likely, on the eighth day, when His offer of living water showed that He was the fulfillment of the pouring ceremony of the previous seven days. John says (7:37-38) that Jesus stood and cried out, or shouted in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”

That’s an astonishing claim! No mere human could make such a promise: “Come to me and drink and I’ll fulfill the Scriptures by causing rivers of living water to flow out of your innermost being!” Who, except God in human flesh, God “tabernacling” among us, could legitimately make such a claim? Note, also …

B. The breadth of the promise: Jesus’ offer is open to all.

“Anyone” is as broad as you can get! It extended to Jesus’ enemies, who were trying to kill Him. They could come and drink. It later extended to a man who described himself as the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15), the apostle Paul. By giving the offer in the temple, it extended to the religious Jews, who had come to Jerusalem from all over to celebrate this feast. Even though they were going through all of the prescribed Jewish rituals, those rituals could not save them. Religious observances cannot save anyone, then or now. Everyone needs to come to Jesus and drink.

Because the Spirit inspired John to record Jesus’ words here, the offer extends to each of us. Whether you grew up in a Christian home and have always gone to church or whether you are a complete pagan or a convicted criminal, the offer is for you: Come to Jesus and drink. No one is excluded. To underscore this truth, the Bible virtually ends by repeating Jesus’ offer (Rev. 22:17): “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.” Note, also:

C. The condition of the promise: you must be thirsty.

Jesus cries, “If anyone is thirsty….” You have to be thirsty for God. The Bible often uses that kind of language (as we just saw in Rev. 22:17). Isaiah 55:1 proclaims, “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” The psalmist cries out (Ps. 42:1), “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God.” David cries (Ps. 63:1), “O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; my soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” And in Revelation 21:6b, Jesus says, “I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.”

At first glance, being thirsty for God seems easy enough. But the problem is, because of sin people either don’t recognize their thirst or they seek to satisfy it in wrong ways. John Piper’s dad, who was an evangelist, told him that the most difficult thing was not getting people saved, but getting them lost. In other words, people don’t sense their desperate need for Christ. They don’t feel thirsty for Him. Instead, they try to quench their thirst with many wrong things. They think that success, money, fame, sexual pleasure, or other things will satisfy the inner thirst. But thirsting for things other than God and His glory is the root of all sin. J. C. Ryle observed (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], 3:40):

The beginning of all true Christianity is to discover that we are guilty, empty, needy sinners. Till we know that we are lost, we are not in the way to be saved. The very first step toward heaven is to be thoroughly convinced that we deserve hell.

But once you recognize your thirst for God, the good news is that the offer is a free gift. You don’t have to work all your life to earn it. You don’t have to clean up your life first to qualify for it. This points to…

D. The simplicity of the promise: To receive the living water, come to Jesus and drink.

Isn’t that great! Jesus didn’t say, “If anyone is thirsty, keep digging and eventually you’ll hit water!” He didn’t say, “If anyone is thirsty, let him join the church, get baptized, take communion, do penance, give money to the church, clean up your life, and attend church every Sunday!” Jesus simply said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.” “Me” implies that it is a personal relationship with Jesus, not a bunch of religious rules or rituals.

What could be more simple? You’re outside working in the yard on a hot day and your wife comes out with a pitcher of ice cold lemonade and says, “Come and drink!” It doesn’t take a lot of effort or will power or a college degree to come to her and drink.

To come to Jesus is to come to the One who loved you so much that He came to this wicked earth and suffered the horrors of the cross to pay for your sins, if you will believe in Him. That’s what drinking of Jesus means, as the parallel comment in verse 38 makes clear: “He who believes in Me ….” (John repeats “believe” in the clarifying statement of verse 39). To receive the living water that Jesus offers, come to Him and drink, or believe in Him. Make Him your own by faith. Appropriate what He did on the cross for your sins. A river running through the desert does you no good if you don’t drink from it. If you feel thirsty, ask Jesus to satisfy your thirst with His abundant, free salvation.

So the person of the promise is Jesus, the eternal God in human flesh, who gave Himself on the cross for our sins. The breadth of the promise is as wide as humanity. The condition of the promise is that you must be spiritually thirsty. The simplicity of the promise is that all you have to do is come to Jesus and drink.

E. The supplier of the promise: The Holy Spirit dwelling in each believer supplies us with every spiritual need.

John 7:39 explains, “But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” The Greek text is literally, “the Spirit was not yet,” but clearly John does not mean that the Holy Spirit did not yet exist! As early as Genesis 1:2 we meet the Holy Spirit, moving over the waters in creation. There are repeated references to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament (e.g., Ps. 51:11; Isa. 11:2; 42:1; 61:1; 63:10, 11).

Rather, John means that the Spirit was not yet manifested on earth as He would be on and after the Day of Pentecost, after Jesus was crucified, raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven (“glorified”). In the Upper Room on the night He was betrayed, Jesus said to the eleven (John 14:16-17), “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” (See, also, John 15:26; 16:7.)

Then, after Jesus was raised from the dead and just before He ascended, Acts 1:4-5 reports, “Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’” On the Day of Pentecost, they all were baptized with the Spirit who came on them with power, they spoke in tongues, and they became powerful witnesses for Christ.

Some say that we, too, need to experience what the disciples experienced at Pentecost: Subsequent to salvation we need a dramatic experience of the baptism of the Spirit, where we receive the Spirit and speak in tongues. But that is to misunderstand that Pentecost was a one-time historical event where the risen and ascended Lord Jesus sent His Spirit to dwell with His church. If anyone would seem to lack the Holy Spirit, it would be the immature Corinthians. But Paul told them (1 Cor. 12:13), “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (See, also, Gal. 3:3.)

So all believers in Jesus Christ in the church age are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote (Rom. 8:9), “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” The Holy Spirit is the seal of our redemption (Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30). He gives spiritual gifts to all believers (1 Cor. 12:7-11). The Spirit reveals to us the riches that God has prepared for us who love Him (1 Cor. 2:9-10), which include every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3) and all that we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3-4).

But maybe you’re wondering, “If the Holy Spirit is living in me, then why don’t I experience the rivers of living water inside of me and flowing from me? Why is my life more accurately described as a trickle of water, not rivers?” Other Scriptures teach that …

2. We must learn to walk in the Holy Spirit to experience His fullness.

He does not control us automatically. In Galatians 5:16, Paul writes, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” He goes on to list some of the deeds of the flesh and the contrasting fruit of the Spirit. Then he repeats (5:25), “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” That is, if the Holy Spirit gave us new life, then we need to rely on the Spirit step by step, day by day.

Walking is something we have to learn how to do as children. At first, we fall a lot. But after a while, we hardly think about it, unless we’re on a slippery surface. Walking is not spectacular. Paul doesn’t say, “Leap by the Spirit or fly by the Spirit.” It’s a slow, step by step process that will gradually get you where you’re going if you keep at it. To walk by the Spirit means that each day in every situation you yield yourself to Him, relying on Him to work in and through you. If during the day the flesh rears its ugly head with impure thoughts, selfishness, anger, or whatever, you immediately confess it to the Lord, turn from it, and ask the Holy Spirit to control your thoughts, words, and actions again. As you learn to walk this way consistently, slowly the fruit of the Spirit will grow in your life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).

But, why does the Lord give us the Holy Spirit, portrayed here as “rivers of living water” flowing from our innermost being?

3. Jesus Christ blesses all who believe in Him with rivers of living water so that we will be satisfied in Him and so that we become a source of blessing to others.

A. Christ blesses us with rivers of living water so that we will be satisfied in Him.

“Innermost being” is literally, “belly.” The belly is the inner part of us that is always craving something (Phil. 3:19; this insight from A. W. Pink, Exposition of John, on But here, rather than craving earthly things, the implication is that our inner cravings are abundantly satisfied through the indwelling Spirit.

There are many Old Testament Scriptures that link water to God’s abundant blessing on believers (e.g. Ps. 78:15-16; Prov. 4:23; Isa. 44:3; Ezek. 36:26-27; 47:1-9; Joel 3:18; Zech. 13:1; 14:8). But D. A. Carson (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], pp. 325-328) argues that when Jesus here says, “as the Scripture says,” He was referring primarily to Nehemiah 8 & 9. In Nehemiah 8, the returned remnant listens as Ezra expounded the Law and encouraged them that “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). Then they discovered the command about the Feast of Booths and they celebrated it with great joy (8:17). Then (chap. 9), Nehemiah prays and recounts Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and their time in the wilderness, mentioning God’s provision of manna and water (9:15). He repeats (9:20), “You gave them Your good Spirit to instruct them, Your manna You did not withhold from their mouth, and You gave them water for their thirst.”

The picture is that God sustained and satisfied the needs of His people through His Spirit, even when they were in a barren land. That’s the picture Jesus uses here: Jesus supplies us with the abundant, soul-satisfying rivers of living water of His Spirit, who reveals to us the riches of Christ for our every need. We should follow George Muller’s example and begin every day by seeking to be truly at rest and happy in God (A. T. Pierson, George Muller of Bristol [Revell], p. 257; see also, p. 315). But it doesn’t end there:

B. Christ blesses us with abundant rivers of living water so that we will be a source of blessing to others.

The rivers flow out of us to others who are thirsty. The world is a barren desert, and people are dying of thirst. You and I are to be the rivers of living water that these dying people need. As they see Christ in us (the fruit of the Spirit) and want what we have, we can tell them how they can come to Jesus and drink. Lost people desperately need what only we who have believed can give them.

But the rivers should also flow from us to other believers, especially to those who may be going through a dry spell. Even Paul and Titus were refreshed by other believers (1 Cor. 16:18; 2 Cor. 7:13). As you’re filled with the Spirit and satisfied in Christ, you can overflow to those around you, beginning in your home. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control should be flowing daily from husbands to wives and from wives to husbands, from parents to children and from children to parents. These qualities should be flowing between us in the church, even if you find a fellow believer difficult to be around.

If you only come to church to get something for yourself, you’ll be like the Dead Sea. It’s so salty that nothing can live in it because it has rivers flowing into it, but nothing flows out of it. When you come to church, come with the prayer, “Lord, fill me with your Spirit and flow out of me toward those who may be thirsty.” As you allow the rivers to flow out of you to others, you’ll discover that you’re actually more filled than before you gave out! That’s the key to preventing burnout: Be satisfied in Christ and let His fullness flow through you to others.


What should you do in response to Jesus’ promise here? First, honestly assess the degree to which “rivers of living water flowing from your innermost being” describes you. If it doesn’t describe you at all, then come to Jesus and drink! If you have to admit that it’s more like a trickle, then make it your priority to be satisfied daily with the riches of Christ. Walk in the Spirit and ask Him to fill you. Then get your focus off yourself and onto those you can bless. Pray that your normal experience would be that from your innermost being rivers of living water would flow to a thirsty world.

Application Questions

  1. Assess your normal experience: To what extent does “rivers of living water flowing from your innermost being” describe you?
  2. To the extent that it does not describe you, try to determine why not. Is your trust in Christ as Savior? Are there sins that keep you from this blessing? Do you feed on Him in the Word daily?
  3. Note that most of the fruit of the Spirit have a relational dimension. How can you see these qualities grow in your relationships?
  4. Walking in the Spirit seems harder and slower than a sudden, dramatic “baptism” in the Spirit. Why does the Bible command us to walk in the Spirit, but never to be baptized in the Spirit?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Life, Pneumatology (The Holy Spirit), Spiritual Life

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