Text: John 7:37-39
Would you open your Bibles tonight to the gospel of John, chapter 7, verses 37 – 39?
Several weeks ago on a Wednesday night, I took this passage of Scripture and gave you a little bit of this passage. I warned you at that time at a later date on some Sunday morning or Sunday night I wanted to do a complete message on this passage of scripture. That night is upon us.
This is one of the tremendous statements of Jesus in the New Testament concerning the fullness of the Spirit.
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. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
From time to time visitors in our services and new members come to me and say what really is the answer to some of the things you talk about, and you preach about. You preach so much, and people in my class talk so much about life in the Spirit and about the abundant life. Constantly, I hear people referring to something that happened sometime ago, a new revelation of Jesus, a new experience with him. What really are you referring to? You speak about this abundant life and living a victorious life and being filled with the Spirit. How do you come to that?
I think sometimes that we forget that people come into our church every Sunday and sometimes we just assume that everyone knows exactly what we have been talking about. We assume that everyone knows exactly what it means to be filled with the Spirit. We assume that everyone knows how to appropriate for themselves that filling of the Holy Spirit. We need to remind ourselves, just like preaching from time to time on how to be saved, we need from time to time to go back to basics on how to enter into the fullness of life which is in Jesus Christ. As far as I’m concerned, it is just as important for a Christian to know how to enter into abundant life as it is for him to know how to enter into eternal life in the first place.
In this message I want us to go back to some basics. I want to speak to you about the steps to fullness. Of all the Scriptures in the New Testament that talk about being filled with the Spirit and the fullness of the Spirit in a person’s life, these three verses come closer than any others in giving us a step-by-step way by which we enter into the Spirit-filled life.
Let me preface this message by saying that there are two stages in the Christian life. These two stages are best illustrated by the experience of Israel as it came out of Egypt in salvation and then wandered in the wilderness for some 40 years and then crossed over into Canaan. I’m being very Scriptural when I use that because Paul did it. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul speaks about the wanderings in the desert of the people of Israel, and he said everything that happened to them happened as examples to us. So the Scriptures say we can go back and look at the experience of Israel as it was led out of Egypt into the wilderness, through the wilderness and into the promised land. That is a picture of our own Christian experience.
In their experience there were two definite stages. There was first of all the crossing of the Red Sea. That was deliverance from Egypt. Egypt in the Bible always is a picture of lostness of the world, of the bondage in which Satan has men held tonight. When the people of Israel were led out of Egypt, they crossed through the Red Sea. That night God said the death angel would pass over Egypt and every home in which they did not find blood applied to that door, the death angel would take the life of the firstborn. That night the believing Jews put the blood over the doorpost of their home. When the death angel flew over and saw the blood, he passed over them. From that experience we get that hymn we used to sing: When I see the blood, I will pass over you. So they were led out of Egypt through the Red Sea, a miraculous deliverance of God for his people. When the nation of Israel would look back to their time of salvation, their time of deliverance, they would always look back to the Red Sea.
By the way, they had what was called proselyte baptism. If a Gentile wanted to embrace the Hebrew faith, they had to be baptized. The reason is that baptism was a picture of the Israelites passing through the Red Sea. Every person in order to embrace that faith had to pass through the Red Sea. If you were a Gentile, and you did not pass through that Red Sea, none of your ancestors passed through that Red Sea, you passed through that Red Sea symbolically through baptism. For them the passage of the Red Sea was their redemption, their salvation. That was the first stage in their Christian life.
The second stage is symbolized by crossing over Jordan, the River Jordan. Contrary to what our hymns say, Jordan is not dying physically, and Canaan is not heaven. On Jordan’s storm banks I stand, and cast a wishful eye, to Canaan’s fair and happy land where my possessions lie. That’s right. Most of us sing that talking about heaven. Canaan in the Bible never typifies heaven; it typifies the promised land, the life of fullness, the life of victory.
There were giants in Canaan; there are no giants in heaven. There were battles to be fought in Canaan; there are no battles to be fought in heaven. The people of God even experienced defeat. There was sin in Canaan; there is no sin or defeat in heaven. So Canaan symbolizes that passing into the fullness of life where my possessions lie. It is entering into the fullness of blessing, everything that is mine by virtue of redemption. Red Sea: salvation experience, crossing over into life.
The Jordan River: crossing over into abundant life.
In between: desert, wilderness, murmurings, griping, complaining
—sustained but not satisfied.
It seems to me that every Christian passes through the wilderness before he gets to that second stage. There are two stages in the Christian life. There is that stage of entering into life, and then that stage of entering into abundant life. There is that life of fullness that lies beyond salvation and is a part of salvation. I think one thing that scares some Baptists away from talking like this is “second blessing” talk and “second work of grace” talk.
I think Jack Taylor has said it best. He said it’s not a second blessing; it’s just the second half of the first blessing. It is simply moving into everything that I received when I was originally saved. Just as Israel, God said, I brought out that I might bring you in. Why did God bring them out of Egypt? Simply to save them from Egypt? No! I wasn’t just interested in saving you out of Egypt. I brought you out that I might bring you in. I brought you out of Egypt that I might bring you into Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey. The reason God has saved you, Christian friend, is not that you escaped hell. That was not God’s intention; it was to save you that he might fill you so that you might experience not the sweet by and by, but the sweet here and now. In this life, right now, to know Jesus real and to know the fullness of life right now. Then when we step over into heaven, it won’t be such a shock to our systems. Already he is preparing us for that time. There are two stages in the Christian life. In between those two stages is a wilderness period. They are saved, sustained, but they are not satisfied. There is no power. They are up and down, on and off, a roller coaster experience. There is no consistency, no victory, no life of abundance.
The reason this Scripture that we have read tonight is so important is that the Feast of the Tabernacles was a celebration of the desert wanderings. I wonder tonight how many of you are in the desert. You know you are saved, but there is no peace, victory, abiding joy. You have occasions of victory, but you cannot really say you are living an abundant life, a life overflowing, more than enough of God’s blessings. You are in the wilderness. You know that you are saved. If you were to die tonight, thank God, you would go to heaven. But this life right now is a life of defeat, nagging habits, of not really experiencing Jesus Christ real and as Lord in your life.
Over and over again in Romans 5, Paul says there is much more to it than simply being saved. Being saved is chapter 1. Being saved is walking inside the door, but inside that door there are treasures our God has for us. The abundant life is walking inside that door, and beginning to live off all the treasures that God has provided for us by grace through faith. The way that you come into that abundant life is through the filling and the fullness of the Holy Spirit of God. John 16 says the reason Jesus has given the Holy Spirit to us is so that the Holy Spirit may take what is Jesus and give it to us. Jesus is everything, and Jesus has everything. Everything I need is in Jesus, and Jesus is everything. How can I appropriate, come into contact, that which is Jesus? The Holy Spirit indwells me tonight, and Jesus says the Holy Spirit will take of mine and give it unto you. So the Holy Spirit is the channel between the first stage and the second stage. The Holy Spirit is the channel through which all that Jesus is and all that Jesus has floods into my very being, helping me to experience the life more abundant here and now. It is my relationship to the Holy Spirit that determines the life of fullness.
How do you come into this life of fullness? How is a person filled with the Holy Spirit? In this passage I think Jesus comes closer than anywhere else in the Bible in giving us a formula, a method, a plan, steps by which we come into the fullness of the Spirit.
Let’s read these verses again. Jesus says,
If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water. (But this he spake of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
Let me make five suggestions that Jesus Christ reveals to us here as to the steps to the Spirit’s fullness.
I. There must be an appetite.
Notice that Jesus says if any man thirst let him come to me. That is the first condition. God always meets his people at the level of their expectation, but it is also true that God meets his people at the level of their desire. Jesus is saying that right here in this verse. If any man thirst, let him come to me. The first step is an appetite, a thirst to know the fullness of Jesus in our lives. God can not do anything with a man who does not have this hunger and thirst.
Let me say two things about this.
1. If you are miserable, if you are longing, if there is a tearing within you that yearns and longs to know more, to know the fullness, and to have a Christian life that really means something, I have great news for you. The Spirit of God is already doing a work in your life. You rejoice and praise the Lord when you get sick and tired of your Christian life because before God can move in with his fullness, he first of all must give us a holy dissatisfaction for what we are and what we have. There must be a thirst.
Someone asked me today when I came to know experientially Jesus as Lord and the fullness of the Spirit if I had been expecting it, if I had been looking for it. I replied I think most Christians are always looking for something more than they have experienced in the Christian life. I really believe that if most Christians in our churches would be honest, they would stand up and say the most disillusioning thing in my life has been my Christian experience.
When I first came to Jesus Christ, everything was light and roses, everything was exuberant joy, an ecstatic joy as though I could never be defeated. Since that time, my Christian experience has ebbed lower and lower and lower. One of the greatest disappointments in my life has been my Christian experience.
One of the first things God does when he wants to come to us with abundance is to give to us a holy dissatisfaction. He makes us thirsty, hungry. There must be an appetite. Yes, I had an appetite. I can’t tell you how many times I would kneel in my office, bury my face in the chair and say Lord, I don’t know what it is, but I need something. There’s got to be more to it than this. I read what you say the Christian life really is in the Bible. I measure it by my own life, and there is something wrong. I meet other Christians who seem to have something else that I do not know about. There seems to be something wrong somewhere. Yes, I had a thirst, an appetite, but I didn’t know what I had an appetite for. Notice that Jesus doesn’t identify the thirst. I thank God for that. He doesn’t say if you are thirsty for this or that; he says if any man thirst. I don’t care what your thirst is; the Spirit’s fullness can satisfy it.
You may be thirsty for a lot of things. I know some men who have been thirsty for money. The got filled with the Spirit, and that thirst was quenched. Isn’t that amazing? I’ve known young people who were thirsty for impure living. They got filled with the Spirit, and their thirst was quenched. Isn’t that amazing? I’ve known people who were thirsty for material things. They measured their lives by the abundance of their possessions. They were thirsty for the things of this world. The Spirit of God filled them, and it quenched their thirst. I don’t care what your thirst is. That’s just an indication that Jesus hasn’t done all he wants to do for you—if any man thirst.
Are you a candidate for the fullness of Christ? Let me ask you a question. Is there a holy dissatisfaction about you? Are you thirsty to know more than you know? Are you thirsty to know more victory than you know? Is Jesus Christ somebody you still pray at, instead of to? Is Jesus Christ no more real to you than Santa Claus? Do you have a thirst? That’s the first thing. If you are thirsty, if there is this nagging disappointment about your Christian life, thank God for it because the Holy Spirit is the only one who can make you thirst. That is how he prepares your heart.
2. If you do not have a thirst, if you are not hungry, you need to go home and pray O, God, make me hungry, make me thirsty.
I have stood beside the bed of a great many people who have died. One of the last indications that death is close is when that person loses all appetite. He no longer eats, no longer has an appetite, no longer wants to eat. I am convinced that when a Christian has no appetite to know Jesus more and more every day, when his soul is not crying out of thirst for the fountains of living water to flow through him, that Christian is at the point of death spiritually. If you are saved and satisfied and cannot say with the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3 I count everything but loss that I may know him even better, you need to go home and say O, God, whatever it takes I want you to make me hungry and make me thirsty.
II. There must be an approach.
Jesus said, if any man thirst, let him come to me. I have underlined that little word me. Let him come to me. That is an invitation from Jesus. The significant thing is that Jesus is speaking about the fullness of the Spirit. He doesn’t say if you are thirsty, go to the Spirit, does he? He says if you are thirsty, you come to me. I’m afraid that some people who are thirsty and have an appetite are going to the wrong places. He doesn’t say if any man is thirsty, let him seek an experience. He doesn’t say that. Let him seek a gift. He doesn’t say that. Let him come to the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t say that. He says if any man thirst, let him come to ME.
The Holy Spirit is Christocentric. That is a theological term that means the only thing the Holy Spirit cares about is Jesus. The Holy Spirit is Christ-centered. Your relationship to the Holy Spirit revolves around your relationship to Jesus. If you want to be filled with the Spirit, he doesn’t tell you to come to the altar and tarry and beg and plead and cry and seek the Holy Spirit. Jesus simply says, if you are thirsty, you come to ME.
I know there are a great many people today who are scared to death with this idea of being filled with the Spirit. They don’t want you to talk about it because there are so many extreme positions and so much misunderstanding. I will agree with you that you are in danger if you go to seed on the Holy Spirit. You are in danger if you go to seed on any manifestation of the Spirit. You are in danger if you go to seed on any particular gift. There is only one thing that it is safe to go to seed on, and that’s Jesus! I can talk about Jesus, and ride that hobby horse, have that one message and go to seed on Jesus, and I will always be straight and narrow as far as the Word of God is concerned. The Spirit of God is always pointing men to Jesus. Anything that points you away from Jesus is not of God. Jesus stands at the center. He says there must be an approach. You have to come to Jesus.
First of all, an appetite, then the approach. You realize that it is your relationship to Jesus that determines the fullness of the Holy Spirit. If you have an appetite, you are going to have to come to Jesus and get rightly related to him. If there is sin between you and Jesus, that is going to have to be confessed. If reconciliation needs to be made, that will have to be done. You may have to make restitution. Jesus is going to have to be Lord. I repeat: your relationship to Jesus determines your relationship to the Holy Spirit. Nobody can be filled with the Spirit who is wrongly related to Jesus. There must be an approach. Third, there must be an appropriation.
III. There must be an appropriation.
I love the simple way Jesus puts it. I apologize for all us preachers who have made the filling of the Holy Spirit such a complicated matter. It is not. Notice what Jesus says. If any man is thirsty, let him come to me, and do what? Drink! Let him come to me and drink. Isn’t that simple? Drinking is one of the simplest acts of human life. It is easy to drink. It doesn’t take any special gifts. It doesn’t take any special training. I know exactly what Jesus means. When you take a drink, you just appropriate what is there. Jesus says if you are thirsty, come to me and take what you need.
I wish I had learned this a long time ago. I think I began praying to be filled with the Spirit when I was in college. I would pray, beg, plead, read books, anything. And right here, all along, it says Jesus simply says if any man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.
Let me illustrate it like this. Let’s suppose you are thirsty. There is a water fountain out here in the foyer of the building. You go out there and say to yourself: I am thirsty; I need to go to that water fountain and quench my thirst. I go out there after while and see you standing by that water fountain saying oh, water fountain, please give me a drink of water. Oh, water fountain, please give me a drink of water. I beg you; I plead with you; I’m not going to move until you give me a drink of water. Oh, water fountain, please give me a drink of water.
Excuse me for interrupting your praying, but if you want a drink of water, why don’t you just take it. You can stand there all day and beg and plead and talk to that water fountain for a drink of water. Why don’t you just take a drink, friend? It’s that simple. I wrote down a little poem.
I simply take him at his Word,
I praise him that my prayer is heard,
And claim my answer from the Lord.
I take, and he undertakes.
I take, and he undertakes. It’s that simple.
You say what about the disciples? They had to tarry for ten days. No. They prayed for ten days, not to bring the Holy Spirit to them; they prayed for ten days just waiting until the promise was fulfilled. The minute the Holy Spirit arrived on the scene, that quick they were filled. If they had to pray ten days after Pentecost, then you would have an argument for tarrying. They were praying for ten days because the Holy Spirit had not been given. But the moment the Spirit of God was sent from the throne of heaven to earth to indwell the church, they were filled that very moment.
The Spirit of God has been given, and has never taken away. He indwells me. I do not have to beg, and plead, and tarry. I simply by faith take what is mine by birthright. By faith I take the filling of the Holy Spirit. It is that simple. I wish I had known that so long ago. If you have been begging, and pleading, and tarrying, and trying to pray through to be filled with the Spirit, the Bible nowhere indicates that is the way to be filled with the Spirit. If any man thirsts, let him come to me and drink. You just take what he offers. That’s all. Fourth, there must be an abiding.
IV. There must be an abiding.
Notice in verse 38: He that believeth on me, as the scripture has said, out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water. There are two Greek participles in that verse. The first one, believeth, is found in verse 38. That means he that continually believes. He that continually has faith on me, as the scripture has said, out of his innermost being shall continually flow rivers of living water.
I would not give a dime a carload for once-for-all experiences that never last. I am not preaching or teaching an experience that you have, reach a high for awhile, and then go back to the same old life, same old emptiness, and same old defeat. The Bible indicates clearly that God wants us to live a consistently full life.
It is not a matter of my having been filled with the Spirit twenty years ago. That was sure great, and I’ve got fond memories of it, but there have been a lot of doubts and defeats in between. That is not the scriptural pattern. The scriptural pattern is for me to be filled every day with the Holy Spirit, a continual filling, every day a fresh filling of the Spirit.
I believe there is an initial filling of the Spirit, and then there are subsequent fillings. Every day, a hundred times a day as is needed, the Spirit of God fills me as long as I what?—as long as I abide in him. Jesus said he that continually believes in me, out of him shall continually flow rivers of living water. I have learned to begin the day by saying, Father, I take by faith right now the filling of the Spirit. That’s all. I begin the day like that every day of my life. Father, by faith now, I take the filling of the Spirit. I thank you that the Holy Spirit is filling me. Do you feel anything? I don’t most of the time. It’s not a matter of feeling. It doesn’t say he that goes on feeling good will have the Holy Spirit. It says he that continually believes in me. It is taking it by faith.
It is the greatest liberation of my life to know what it means to believe, to take it by faith, to not worry and fret about it. It is just to say Father, I know it’s mine. It is your appropriation for my life, what Jesus paid for on the cross. I thank you that the blessed Holy Spirit now indwells me, and I take by faith your filling of the Spirit. Then go out and live the day in light of that—abiding.
V. There must be an availability.
There is one more thing. There must be an availability. That word keeps cropping up, doesn’t it? You just can’t get away from it. There must be an availability. Jesus says whoever continues to believe in me, out of him shall continue to flow what? —rivers of living water. I want you to get this. This is beautiful to me. Jesus says the fullness of the Spirit is when rivers of living water are flowing out of you.
There is one prerequisite for a river. You’ve got to have a riverbed; you can’t have a river flowing without a riverbed. Do you know what Jesus is saying? You provide the riverbed; I’ll provide the river. Jesus is saying if you want the fullness of the Spirit, here is what it means. It means that rivers of living water are going to be flowing out of you. That indicates service, overflowing your life, blessing others. The Christian is not a reservoir in which he holds his deeper life. But he is a riverbed through which, over which, the Spirit of God flows through him to meet the needs of others.
I’ll tell you why some people are seeking the fullness and never coming into it; it is because they want to be simply a reservoir. They simply want to have their own thirst quenched. They simply want the thrill of the fill, the ecstatic experience, the ecstatic joy, but Jesus is saying the fullness of the Spirit simply means that out of your innermost being are going to be continually flowing, flowing, flowing rivers of living waters reaching out to others. If you are not willing for my Spirit to flow out of you, to make yourself available for service, then forget about it.
You notice that the fellow starts out thirsty, and he ends up a fountain. He starts out needing his thirst quenched, and he ends up able to quench the thirst of others. The amazing thing about it is that Jesus never says another word about his thirst. You and I have all the emphasis upon having our little personal thirst quenched. Oh, preacher, I’m thirsty, depleted, defeated, have this problem. I want the Holy Spirit to fill me because then I know I’ll be happy, and have love, and joy, and peace. My problems will be gone. Jesus never says another word about that man’s thirst, does he? That’s not the point. Jesus says the purpose of the filling of the Holy Spirit is not to quench your thirst, not to give you love, joy and peace. That happens, but the purpose of the Spirit’s fullness is so that out of you can flow rivers of living water. If all you want is your own thirst quenched, your little problems solved, the love, joy and peace for yourself, and you are not interested at all in becoming a riverbed through which the Spirit of God can flow through your life and touch the lives of others, you cannot know the Spirit’s fullness in your life. There must be an availability.
The motive for being filled with the Spirit is not my own personal enjoyment, but divine employment so that God can use my life through which to bless others. If I am thirsty, I recognize my thirst. I come to Jesus knowing he can meet my need. I must be rightly related to him. I confess my sin, make wrongs right. Then by faith, I say thank you, Father, as I yield myself to the Lordship of Jesus, I ask you to fill me with the Spirit. I thank you for it. I believe that right now I am filled with the Spirit. I make myself available to you. You use my life, my talents, my possessions anyway you want to. You use me as a riverbed and let the Spirit of God flow through me. I think that is the simple way that Jesus intended us to come into the fullness of the Spirit.
There are two stages to the Christian life. Every Christian is in one of two places. You are either in the wilderness or in Canaan. I want to ask you: what are you doing in the wilderness? God never intended you to stay there. You are out of place. Your possession is over across the River Jordan, over there. Everything that God wanted you to be when he saved you, and everything that God has promised you as one of his saved ones, lies across the river. If you are willing as a child of God, in your heart right where you sit, to say Lord, I come to Jesus, sins confessed, restitution made, reconciliation effected, I come to you. I take, I yield, I make myself available. Fill me with your Spirit. I believe Jesus will keep his Word. And out of your innermost being will flow rivers of living water.
Let’s bow our heads . . .
© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2006