Please join me in John chapter 3 if you are in a position to open your Bible in front of you. This is where our New Covenant study on the Holy Spirit’s leadership begins. Jesus taught us that we must be born again.
Listen to the text of John 3:3-7, “Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. "Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'” Many scholars have studied this text and have come up with many interpretations. We are not interested in the wisdom of men but only in what the word of God teaches. What does it mean to be born again, or as Jesus elaborated to Nicodemus, “born of water and the Spirit”? In order to understand this, we need to first consider the context. Next, we need to find out if there are any other places in the New Testament where water and the Spirit are connected in this same way. In the immediate context, Nicodemus makes the mistake of thinking that Jesus is talking about physical birth by asking if this birth would occur by entering into our mother’s womb a second time. He makes the mistake that many people do by making something that is spiritual into something physical. Jesus explains, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit.” This means that the first birth that we experience from our mother’s womb is one kind of birth, but the new birth that Jesus is addressing here is where our spirit is born again by the Holy Spirit. Another way to express this is by saying that we are, “born of God”. If you look back at John 1:12-13 we see, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, [even] to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” If we receive and believe in Christ we are given the right to become a child of God, that is born again, not in the flesh, but of the Spirit of God. This text still doesn’t completely answer all of our questions. Jesus said born of water and the Spirit. What does water have to do with our being born again? We will allow the word of God to speak for itself. Where in the word of God do we find water and the Spirit together in the process of being born again and starting a new life as a child of God? There is some that turn to I Peter 1:22-23 to find their answer. In this text, the apostle Peter said, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, [that is,] through the living and enduring word of God.” Some who are of the opinion that the Holy Spirit only works through the word would argue that this verse states that the new birth takes place by the word of God. What we want to recognize from this verse is that it is our obedience to the truth that purifies the soul and makes it new. The word of God revealed the will of God and we are born again when we obey its teachings as revealed by the Holy Spirit. The only problem with saying that the only work of the Holy Spirit is through the word and not separate and apart from the word of God is that the word is only responsible for the begetting process (conception by the seed) but the Holy Spirit, as we will see, if very much involved in the process of new birth or our being born again. In James 1:18, we learn, “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth so that we would be a kind of firstfruits among His creatures.” So we are brought forth (the seed is planted and we are conceived) by the word of truth, but the new birth follows our conception when we obey the truth. This is where we recognize the difference between the word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit, and the Spirit who is the inspiring agent and the convicting and comforting person behind the message of the word of God. This is a critical and notable distinction that must be made. Without it, we are subject to believe that the Spirit has no viable role in our lives outside of the word of God, which many have given in to this erroneous belief in their spiritual lives.
To better understand this reality of the Holy Spirit let us turn our attention to the gospel of John, chapter 4. Here in the context, Jesus is wearied from His travels and He stops at Jacob’s well to get some water in verse 6. There at the well, a Samaritan woman had come to draw water around midday. Jesus asked the woman for a drink of water. Since Jews typically have no dealings at all with Samaritans, she questions Jesus as to why He would ask her for water in verse 9. The response that Jesus gave would forever change her life, “Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water." Then in verse 11, we can see how she missed the spiritual nature of the message because she points out that Jesus forgot to bring a vessel that can draw water. She said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? "You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?" Yes, Jesus is much greater than Jacob. Then Jesus explains the spiritual depth of this gift of the living water. “Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water (referring to the water in Jacob’s well) will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst, but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life." The text continues with the reply of the Samaritan woman, “The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw." She was thirsty and tired of having to come to this hole in the ground for water. She needed Jesus and the gift that He was offering to her. There is certainly more to this story that we will have to save for another episode and under a different topic of study, but for now, this points out the fact that all of the Old Testament promises of refreshing water being available to those who are thirsty or spiritually dying is now available in Christ. Notice that the gift of God is equivalent to the living water that would become in us a well of water springing up to eternal life. But here we are not told who or what the living water represented. In the prophecies of old that we studied in our previous episodes, we identified the water being poured out on all mankind as the Holy Spirit. In this case, we need to research this further in the New Testament. In John 6:35, Jesus talks again about quenching our spiritual thirst, “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.’” We know Jesus as the bread of life and it would make sense that Jesus would say that if we come to Him we would never hunger because He is our spiritual sustenance. The issue is that bread never quenched thirst. Here Jesus adds that whoever believes in Him will never thirst. How? Is this another reference to the living water? Let us continue into John 7:37-39 and allow me to set the scene. William Barclay in his commentary explains, “On the “great” day of this feast in Jerusalem, the High Priest would take a silver pitcher to the pool of Siloam. The pitcher was filled and carried through the crowds and into the temple for an offering to God, in memory of the water He provided in the dry desert. The people would shout the words of Isaiah 12:3 which looked to the Messiah and the springs of salvation, saying “Therefore you will joyously draw water From the springs of salvation.” It was on this occasion that Jesus raises His voice to offer the living water to all who are present at the feast.” The question still before us is, who or what is the living water? Let’s read what Jesus said here, “Now on the last day, the great [day] of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "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.'" After Jesus said this, John adds by the direction of the Holy Spirit, “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.” We now have a clear answer on who the living water represents. Jesus is the bread of life and of Him, we become partakers when we come to Him. The reason that we will never thirst when we put our trusting faith in Him is that He gives the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, in our innermost being, and in doing so we have rushing rivers of living water that provide us with eternal life. John tells us that the Holy Spirit is the living water and even offers us a time stamp on when this water would become available. He adds that the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. This tells us that the outpouring of the Spirit would occur after Jesus had ascended on high and was seated at the right hand of His Father. We will study later that this is exactly what happened in the book of Acts chapters 1 and 2 “as the Scriptures said” and was seen throughout the remainder of the New Testament.
If the Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of the water that would be given to God’s people to restore them back to life, by dwelling in their innermost being, are there other passages in the New Testament that confirm this gift? Let us go to John chapter 14. In this passage, Jesus makes a promise that at first appears to only apply to the apostles that he appointed. Upon further examination, we learn that the gift of the Holy Spirit was made to all believers. Let’s look at the context where we find in John 14:16-24, “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. "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. "After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you [will] see Me; because I live, you will live also. "In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. "He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him." Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, "Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?" Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. "He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me.” What we learn here is that the Holy Spirit is a Helper that would be sent by the Lord to be with us forever. The world cannot receive the Spirit of truth, but those who believe can. Jesus said He will be with you and in you. This differentiation of “with” and “in” is important, because prior to the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit was often with, upon, around etc. but never “in you”. This concept of an inner man dwelling of the Spirit is a New Testament only reality. Oddly, Jesus says, that He would not leave us as orphans, but would come to us. But He wasn’t the Helper, but the Holy Spirit was coming to take on that role. This explains that if the Holy Spirit is in us, the Spirit of Christ is also in us. When we say that Christ lives in me, we are confirming that the Spirit is in us. Because Christ lives, we will live. This clarifies the often strange statements about Christ being in the Father and us in Christ and Christ in us. If it is by the Spirit that the Father was in Christ, then it is by the same Spirit that we are in Christ and Christ is in us. The Lord teaches here that when we keep His commandments we show our love for Him and in turn the Father will love us and they will come abide with us. Notice that the text includes “anyone” that would love the Lord is promised this abiding presence within them. While the apostles were certainly given a larger measure of the Holy Spirit in the initial outpouring, the promise to all mankind is that we can receive this abiding gift of the Holy Spirit within us forever. The meaning of “abode” is to take up residence or to make a home, a tabernacle within us. This is what God had been promising and desiring to do. It can now be a reality in Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.
Let’s recap all that we have discussed and see the true fulfillment of this gift of the Holy Spirit. We started the episode by proving that we must be born again, which allows us to have a new life in Christ. We showed how this birth takes when we are born of water and the Spirit. We are not born again in the flesh but by the Spirit of God. Then we visited Jacob’s well and saw where Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman and teaches her that she needs living water, which we learned was in reference to the Holy Spirit being the gift of God by seeing that John revealed the identity of the living water as the Spirit of God that would be given after Jesus was glorified. This Spirit is a gift to those that show their faith working through love to trust and obey the commandments of the Lord. The promise to those that obey the Lord is that the Holy Spirit would be sent to not only be with us but be in us forever.
Now take all of that information and join me in Acts chapter 1. This study would not be complete without seeing the fulfillment of all that we have discussed up to this point. John stated in his gospel that the Holy Spirit would not be given as the gift of God (the living water) until Jesus was glorified. When we start into the book of Acts, the event transpiring is the ascension of Jesus. He has died, been buried, risen from the dead, was seen by many and was ready to enter into heaven and take his exalted place as Lord of Lord and King of Kings. In Acts 1:9-11, we read the following, “And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven." While there are many details shared in this short section of this text, the point of interest that we are emphasizing is Jesus is glorified and the Spirit was about to be poured out as Jesus promised. In Mark’s gospel, we are told exactly where Jesus went when He ascended into heaven, “So then when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19). As Peter stands to preach in Acts 2, he concludes his message by confirming the glorification of Jesus. In Acts 2:36, we read, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ--this Jesus whom you crucified." They were convicted of their sins and in the next set of verses, they are given not only the remedy for their iniquities but also the gift of the Holy Spirit. The text continues, “Now when they heard [this,] they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" Peter [said] to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." And with many other words, he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!" So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.” Here we learn that in order to be saved we must repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Once our sins are forgiven we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. About three thousand souls were obedient to the gospel call and were added by the Lord to the church, becoming the temple of the Holy Spirit. This promise was to all who would come at the Lord’s call and the church began to multiply. In Acts 4:4, we read, “But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” In Acts 5:14 this growth continues, “ And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to [their number,]” The rest of the book of Acts tells about how thousands upon thousands of lost souls responded to the invitation of the Lord and came in trusting faith to the gospel. These were all given the gift of the Holy Spirit and were to be under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. I really appreciate you for tuning in today and I hope you have been encouraged by this message. In our next episode, we will be discussing the subject, “The Gift of the Holy Spirit”.