The Living Waters of the Gospel by Joe Harper
13 Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:
14 But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:13-14)
In this passage of Scripture, we find in the words of our Lord a wonderful description of the good news of the gospel as living waters. Jesus makes the claim that anyone who drinks the water that he will give them will never thirst again. Here, our savior makes the comparison between water and the gospel. As water nourishes the body so too does the gospel nourish the soul. Water is an absolute necessity of human life and a source of refreshment for those who find themselves parched with thirst. When one finds their lips dried after exposure to heat, dry conditions, or hard physical labor then there is nothing that relieves the intensity of dehydration quite like cold fresh water. The taste of water on our dry lips when we are thirsty provides a feeling of comfort and sustenance to our fatigued bodies. This description of water gives us a good illustration for the effects of the gospel on the soul of a truly regenerated believer.
Before a sinner is given eyes to see and ears to hear, the testimony of the gospel provides no positive benefits upon the soul. The living water of the gospel will not quench the thirst of sinners until the work of the Holy Spirit allows them to take the water and drink unto the good of their souls. The joyous news that Jesus came to this world, lived a life free of sin, kept God’s law on our behalf, and died as a substitutionary sacrifice for his people only becomes blessed to us once the new birth has become a reality in the heart of the sinner. However, once God produces a change within the heart of a sinner, then the gospel is a source of intense joy, encouragement, peace, and hope. Just as the taste of water can bring life to our ailing bodies, so too for the Christian will the gospel bring life to our very souls. The true Christian can often be moved to tears simply by thinking on his beloved savior. For God’s children there is no thought more wonderful than the thought of seeing Jesus. Countless Christians throughout history can testify to the joy felt in their hearts at the time when they were finally able see Jesus as he really is. When the gospel entered their hearts, their troubles seemed to vanish away and they were given a foretaste of heaven simply by feeling the power of joy that comes by delighting in Christ. Oh, what a blessed thing to truly know the Prince of Peace!
Jesus’s description of the gospel as living waters, as incredible as it is, is much more than a mere illustration. Jesus goes further and claims that anyone who drinks these waters will never thirst again. Jesus is stating that drinking these waters will produce a permanent effect upon the soul. In contrast to literal water that must be drank every day to sustain the body, these waters once drunk will lead one to never thirst again. Jesus’s spiritual words initially confused the woman to whom they were spoke too. The context of these verses is Jesus’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John. This woman who had lived in sin for a long period of time had most likely approached the well to draw her water when she thought no one would be there. She was surprised to find Jesus there at the well when she arrived. As her conversation with the Lamb of God progressed, she found that he spoke on spiritual matters that were well beyond her ability to comprehend. Truly, no man spoke like this man! (John 7:46). When Jesus spoke of living waters that would lead one to never thirst again, the woman asked him to give her these waters mistakenly thinking that physical waters could bring about such a precious result. What the woman did not understand in the moment was that the living waters that Christ was referring to was the good news of himself. It was not physical water meant to merely quench the thirst of the body but the living waters meant to attend to the needs of the soul. This is not to say that no physical good comes from drinking these waters, for the eternal result of those who drink them will be living in the glorified state where we will never hunger or thirst again. We will then worship our Lord eternally and our supplications will turn to ceaseless praise. Our mighty king’s promise that we will never thirst again will be fulfilled and we will serve him day and night.
John 4 is not the only passage of Scripture where we find Christ speaking of these living waters. The long-awaited messiah made a similar statement to his fellow Jews in John 7. John 7:37-38 reads,
37 In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.
38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
Jesus spoke these words at the feast of the tabernacles. Jesus forthrightly declared that if any man was thirsty, he could come to him and drink. Jesus was not speaking of men’s literal thirst nor was he offering literal water. Instead, his words were spiritual in nature pointing to the thirst of men’s souls which could only be quenched by the waters of the gospel. Jesus’s words in this text give us great insight into the nature of the gospel. Now some men would read Christ’s words in John 7:37 and take them as a universal invitation for all men to believe the gospel if only they would choose to accept Christ’s invitation. However, upon a closer reading of this text, it is evident that Jesus said if any man thirst, let him come, unto me and drink. Our savior was stating that if any man had been brought to a state where he had come to see his true sinful state and his true need of salvation then let him believe on Christ. In other words, Jesus’s invitation was only for those who had been made sensible of their sinful state. Men cannot bring themselves into such a state by their own power. They have neither the ability or the desire to repent of their sins or believe in Jesus Christ (Rom. 9:16) apart from the sovereign grace of God. Only the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in the heart allows man to drink of the living waters of the gospel. Until he has come to see his thirst he cannot and will not come to drink the waters that will bless his soul.
Jesus did not offer these waters to the proud, the self-righteous, or the hypocrites. Instead, he only invited humble needy sinners, who had cast off all other vain hopes, to believe in his gospel. Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest (Matt. 11:28). Jesus’s earthly ministry was marked by his wise preaching where he presented the law of Moses to the proud and the gospel to the humble. Christ understood that the law of Moses was a killing letter that shows men their sin therefore also showing them their need of Christ. Until the God’s law has made man lowly in his heart, he cannot taste the refreshing waters of the gospel. Jesus did not cast his pearls before swine. Instead, he used the law of God to rebuke the sins of the self-righteous of his day. Jesus told the Pharisees that they were a generation of vipers that would not escape the damnation of hell (Matt. 23:33). He overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple (Matt 21:12). He told the rich young man to sell all he owned knowing full well it would turn this man away from following him (Matt 19:21). He did not plead with these men or offer them the gospel as an invitation but simply responded to them based upon what he saw in their hearts. The reason for Christ’s actions towards these men was not a lack of love or kindness but a proper response to the conditions of their proud, hard, hearts. A great lesson is put before us. We cannot understand the gospel until we have been humbled in our hearts before the God who has created us. Only then can we come to taste the sweetness that is found in the perfect righteousness of Christ covering our sins. When we have been brought low then God will raise us up due to the perfect work of another.
The living waters of the gospel are described in many other passages of Scripture. The Old Testament speaks of these waters in multiple other places (Isa. 41:17-18, Isa. 43:20, Isa. 44:3, Isa. 58:11, Isa. 66:12, Joel 2:28, Zech. 14:8-9). There is great encouragement to be found in all of these portions of God’s word but the final promise found in Zech. 14:8-9 is an especially precious one to God’s people. Zechariah 14:8-9 reads,
8 And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be.
9 And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one. (Zech. 14:8-9)
These verses are describing the living waters of the gospel going out from Jerusalem towards the west and the east. This is describing the future reality of the gospel being accepted by the nations of the world. The result of these living waters going out is seen in verse nine which says that the Lord will be King over all of the earth. This will be the latter-day glory of the Church which will take place during the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ (Rev. 20:1-3). When Jesus gave the great commission to his disciples, stating that it must be preached to all nations before the end comes, he fully intended for it to be successful. All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to Christ and that authority will be taken by the king’s ambassadors to the ends of the earth. The kingdom of God is described as a mustard seed which eventually grows to be a great tree. The gradual growth of the small seed to a mighty tree (Matt. 13:32) illustrates the growth of God’s kingdom from humble beginnings to its ultimate glory. This same reality is seen in the rock of Daniel 2 that strikes the statue of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. The stone becomes a mountain (Dan. 2:35) that fills the entire earth representing the growth of Christ’s dominions across the world. What glorious things await God’s people in the years to come!
The living waters of the gospel are a wonderful thing to meditate on. God has given his people water that gives life not just to our ailing bodies but to our very souls. We can only taste these waters after the Holy Spirit has brought about a change in our hearts and has showed us our sins and pointed us to Christ. It is after our souls feel that thirst caused by sin that the Lord deems fit to let us drink. He gives his waters only according to the pleasure of his sovereign will. God humbles those whom he gives his precious waters too but keeps them who are content to drink from their own outwardly beautiful cups. The good news is that the King has come! He has conquered sin and death. He has paid the price for his people which allows them to drink the living water. May we his people live in manner that honors the king who died for us and gave us eternal life. The life that is found in the living waters of the gospel.