Streams of Living Water...

A Biblical Doctrine Which is Broader and Wider Than the Way it is Sometimes Taught

n John 7:37-38 Jesus makes a fascinating comment about water. He speaks of "living water" and then immediately explains what his comments mean:

'On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive...' (John 7:37-39a, NIV).

Jesus was here quoting Isaiah 58:11 which states,

'The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.'

In John 7, Jesus makes it plain that much of the beautiful poetry of Isaiah 58 is really talking about the work of the Holy Spirit, that is, its refreshing, clarifying, invigorating and enlightening properties (obviously unwise, therefore, to look for strict literalism in that chapter).

The picture which Jesus paints is a picture of streams of rushing, glistening, cleansing and supremely invigorating water pouring out on believers, and then - in turn - pouring on out from them to affect others in their vicinity.
We should note at once that this is not a picture of believers sitting on the 'talents' granted to them by God, but rather, it is a picture of true believers - through God's direct involvement with them - being dynamic in their preparedness to reach out to others. Of course, others may still spurn and reject the dynamic ability to love and to serve and teach (wherever a door opens) which should emanate from Spirit-led believers, yet such spiritual dynamism should still be evident (but carefully note: this should not be confused with the pushy, dogmatic and persuasive enthusiasm which false teachers often seem to have in abundance; this false version will only point to the self-glorified false teacher who seeks a personal following, and personal financial support, whereas the true Spirit-empowered article is usually witnessed in rather quiet and humble people who refuse to attract attention to their own "works" - but point only to Christ).

But what else does the Bible teach us about the dynamism of clean and invigorating water?

Throughout the Holy Bible, but especially in the Old Testament, water is always spoken of as a great blessing.
The Lord was careful, for instance, that the Garden of Eden should be well-watered. The river which flowed through the garden divided into four rivers, of which the Euphrates and the Tigris were certainly two (Genesis 2:10-14). It also appears that very early in the history of the earth there was no rain, but the entire earth was watered by a regularly returning mist (Genesis 2:5-6). During the Mosaic Old Covenant era, the priests serving at the Mosaic tabernacle were commanded to regularly wash, and the animal sacrifices had to be carefully washed (Leviticus 1:9,13; 8:6). The righteous are compared to trees planted by streams of water (Psalm 1:3; Jeremiah 17:8), and the longing of the soul for a relationship with God is compared to the thirst for water in a dry place (Psalm 63:1).
In the New Testament, water becomes more of a spiritual commodity. Jesus declares 'If any one thirst, let him come to Me and drink' (John 7:37), and John 4:14 states,

'But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.' (NIV throughout).

In Ephesians the Lord speaks of the cleansing of the church by 'the washing of water with the Word.' (Eph. 5:26), and in Titus people are described as saved '...through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.' (Titus 3:5b). This washing of renewal is symbolized by baptism with water, and Peter actually parallels baptism with the Great Flood of Noah's day in which eight people alone are saved through cleansing waters (1 Peter 3:21).
But it is Jesus who specifically opens the way to these healing Spiritual Waters (John 7:37) before the specific connection is made between this 'Living Water' and the Holy Spirit: John 7:39.
Finally, at the very end of the Bible, we receive a description of an eventual abundance of these waters (that is, of the Holy Spirit). See Revelation 21:6 and Revelation 22:1-2, 17. We can only perceive some of these things at present through, as it were, a thick mist (if you'll pardon the 'pun'), but a day is unquestionably going to dawn - in the far future - probably beyond this specific age of the Church - when the Holy Spirit will be made widely available,

'The Spirit and the bride say "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.' (Revelation 22:17).

Though we cannot easily see forward from where we presently stand, and the Book of Revelation is very heavy in symbolism, the indications seem strong that this will be the period of the Great Judgment where many may eventually discover the divine mercy and all-encompassing love which they never really found during their earthly lives. There is quite a strong vein of biblical teaching that many who have led short and miserable lives of deprivation and suffering, perhaps many who were raised 'outside of the tracks' will eventually inherit Eternal Life. See Psalm 12: 5; Psalm 34: 6; Psalm 35: 10; Psalm 37: 14-17; Psalm 72: 4, 12-14; Psalm 126:6; Proverbs 17: 5; Proverbs 19: 1, 17; Proverbs 21: 13; Proverbs 22: 16; Proverbs 28: 6, 11; Matthew 5: 3-12; Luke 6: 24-25 and Luke 16: 19-31. Of course, these people will be saved (and can only be saved) through Christ who is the only gate into Eternal Life. See John 10: 7-16.

For many that day when all of the human race will be assembled before the Great White Throne will be a dreadful day, but for others an abundant mercy will lead them into a most joyous dawn and an entrance into eternity. See Revelation 20:11-15. Strange indeed, then, that this positive aspect of Judgment is so often ignored by established Christian theology, especially that branch which can be traced to Augustine, bishop of Hippo, and to his Augustinianism.

So the Living Water of John 7:37-38 which is indicative of the transforming and saving work of the Holy Spirit is but part of a revelation about streams of living water which runs from Genesis to Revelation. Whilst it concerns the Church, it ultimately looks beyond the age of the preaching of the gospel to signify God's intention to wash His human creation, for 'streams of living water' are not easily containable or capable of being 'bottled up' or of being confined to one community. The Scripture seems clear that - in a future age - the dynamic waters which first appeared in Eden will become freely available for all (Revelation 22:17).
Robin A. Brace, 2007.