(John 3:34 ESV) 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.
This is a classic proof text, going back at least to H. Leo Boles’ famous book on the Holy Spirit, in which he argues that Christians receive the Spirit in different “measures,” with Jesus’ receipt of the Spirit uniquely being “without measure.”
(Eph 4:7-11 NRS) 7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. … 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
Eph 4 teaches that Christians receive differing “measures” of the Spirit; and it seems to be a fair reading that Christians don’t possess the Spirit to the same level as Jesus.
(John 4:10-14 ESV) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”
13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
What is this “living water”? We begin with the literal meaning. In the language of the day, “living water” was running water. Ray Vander Laan writes,
The Jews carried the concept of “living water” into their worship. Outside their temple and synagogues, they built mikvehs — ritual baths where they symbolically cleansed their hearts before worship. Recognizing their need for God?s cleansing, they used only living water — flowing from nearby springs or rain run-off — which was not touched by human hands.
A mikveh was a pre-Christian baptistery of sorts, a pool — often indoors — in which a worshiper was immersed to assure ritual cleanliness before worship.
The Jews and Samaritans were a desert people, and water was precious. Stagnant water could be poisonous, but living water was good for drinking. And living water was good for being ritually clean — indeed, the closest thing to baptism existing in the day was immersion in the mikveh.
Now, Jesus says that this “living water” will allow the drinker to never be thirsty again! Unlike regular well water, where we must return day after day — and it was hard work in those days — this living water is once for all — and need never be repeated.
Jesus also says that this “living water” wells up to eternal life. Plainly, it is not itself eternal life, but that which produces eternal life.
John doesn’t leave us to speculate about this “living water,” however. Not much later he reports,
(John 7:37-39 ESV) 37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Plainly, John intends us to understand “living water” as the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit is to be “in” us. Indeed, the Spirit is to flow out of our hearts. Therefore, this Living Water is to be within the believer and to remain permanently there. The Spirit doesn’t flit in and flit out. The Spirit doesn’t have to be regained over and over.
Jesus is evidently paraphrasing Isa 58:11 (there are no quotation marks in the original, and so the translators aren’t required to treat this as a direct quote) —
(Isa 58:9-11 ESV) 9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, 10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. 11 And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
You can’t miss the ethical connection — if Isaiah is speaking of the Spirit, then the Spirit will drive us to pour ourselves out for those in need. The Spirit is poured out on us so we can pour ourselves out for others.
The condition to the receipt of Living Water is faith in Jesus. “Whoever believes in me …” is who receives Living Water.
Worship in Spirit and in truth
(John 4:19-24 ESV) 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
The Samaritans were, of course, half-breeds, being the descendants of Jews who’d intermarried with non-Jews. They continued to honor God, but they were banned from the Temple because of their lineage. Therefore, they’d kept the Torah, but treat Mt. Gerizim, in Samaria, as the place of the true temple.
When the Jews overthrew Seleucid rule and gained a brief period of independence under the Hasmonean dynasty, they destroyed the Samaritan temple — making relationships between the temples all the more hostile.
Thus, the Samaritan woman initiated a discussion about the proper place to worship — a question that would have been of intense interest to most Jewish rabbis. God may only be worshipped in Jerusalem!
Jesus declares that the times are a-changin’. In the new age, it will no longer be about worshipping in a particular place. Worship won’t be a matter of geography. Rather, the true test of worship will be whether it’s “in spirit and truth.”
Now, somewhat surprisingly, Jesus introduces this declaration by declaring that “God is spirit,” surely referring to the “stuff” of which God is made. God is not a physical being, and therefore his worship isn’t constrained by physical limits. Rather, God is a being of spirit, and therefore true worship must be “in spirit.”
Now, one traditional reading of this is that the Jews had the truth — the right rules, but the wrong spirit — the wrong hearts. The Samaritans had the wrong rules but the right hearts. Jesus was calling for a combination of right hearts and right rules. And this is plainly mistaken.
First, God had demanded a right heart going back to the Torah —
(Deu 10:12 ESV) 12 “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul …’
(Deu 10:16 ESV) 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
And it’s really hard to argue that the Samaritans were a pure-hearted people. They were known to attack and kills Jews traveling through their land. No, Jesus has to be read in his own context, not the context of the internal battles of the 20th Century Churches of Christ.
Plainly, “spirit” is speaking of the stuff God is made of and is much the same thought as “spirit” in which we must worship. Worship in the dawning age would have to be “in” the stuff God is made of. But, of course, Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit that would be within believers — giving them some the stuff of God. True worship must be in the Holy Spirit, because we can only approach God — a spirit — by first becoming spiritual beings. And that’s the work of the Spirit.
“Truth” means the truth about Jesus. I’ve covered this at length elsewhere. Jesus is the truth. The truth is the truth about Jesus. To understand the sense of the term, we need to look at several examples.
(John 1:14) The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Jesus is filled with truth.
(John 1:17) For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
And this is the truth that came through Jesus — that he taught and that he revealed in himself.
(John 3:20-21) Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
The truth allows us to come into the light to show God’s work in us.
(John 5:33) “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth.
John the Baptist testified to the truth.
(John 8:40) As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things.
The truth is taught by Jesus but from God.
(John 14:16-17) And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
(John 15:26-27) “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
The Holy Spirit is “of truth” because he is to testify about Jesus.
(John 17:17) Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.
God’s “word” is truth, but, of course, we learned in John 1 that Jesus is God’s word. Jesus is not presently speaking of the New Testament — not a word of it had yet been written. Rather, Jesus is speaking of himself and what God communicates to us through the giving of Jesus for us.
(John 18:37-38) “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.”
Pilate’s cynical question is, of course, the theme sentence of John’s Gospel. Pilate was speaking to the Truth, seeing it with his own eyes, and yet refusing to see it.
In short, in John, “truth” is the truth about Jesus, who he is and why he came to earth. It’s the truth represented by his decision to come to earth, take the form of a man, show us God in the flesh, and die for our sins. It’s not unreasonable to say that “truth” is the gospel, that is, the good news about Jesus. The danger in my saying that is that we in the Churches of Christ tend to see “gospel” in legal/transactional terms, whereas “truth” is intended to be personal. Truth is a person. If you want to understand truth, study Jesus — not just his words but his actions.
Therefore, to worship “in spirit and truth” is to worship consistently with and prompted by the Spirit and the gospel: the good news about Jesus — that he is the Messiah and Lord, revealed and confirmed by the Spirit.
This makes no sense to those who are looking for rules on how to worship, but Jesus is specifically pointing us away from a law-based worship and toward a Spirit-prompted worship, a kind of worship that’s more about whether the worshipper is being transformed by the Spirit and gospel than whether the worshipper attends church three times a week.
That’s not to dismiss the assembly as unimportant, but rather to discover that the assembly is not about keeping rules invented from silences and the early church fathers. Rather, we gather because the Spirit burns more brightly when we are together, and we can therefore encourage and strengthen each other as we pursue transformation into the image of Christ.
It’s not about punching a clock and buying a 7-day insurance policy against damnation. It’s about building each other up into the image of Christ, so that the congregation truly becomes a temple of the Spirit — a place inhabited by the God who is worshiped there.