“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the Water…”
A year or so ago I read the biography of George Whitfield (1714-1770) and just loved the progression of his coming to Christ. When he was a young clergy student at Oxford, George believed one needed to earn God’s favor and salvation through works. He did anything to buy God’s acceptance: fasting, endless praying in the cold with little clothing, abandoning friends and family for the Church or swearing off the “frivolity of laughter.”
One day, young George was asked to say prayers over a prisoner about to be executed. The man was walking to the gallows astride of his wife as Whitfield read to him from John 3. Instantly, the condemned husband and his wife declared, “We believe! We believe!” and from the look of things, their countenances changed from hopeless sorrow to heavenly hope and they were instantly saved!
George was astonished. “He had labored for years and yet these two notorious sinners seemed to have been forgiven in a second.” (John Pollock). Soon after, the young cleric remembered how Jesus said from the Cross, “I thirst!” and earler in the Gospel: “If any man thirst, let him come to Me…” The words were quickened in his heart and he broke. “I thirst! I thirst!” he cried to the Heavens. He discovered in that day that favor isn’t worked for or earned but it is free to anyone who thirsts. And he learned this from a hopelessly condemned man.
In his first “post-conversion” sermon, twenty-two year old Whitfield preached these words to the shocked listeners at St. Peter in Chains Chapel in the Tower of London:
“To think that God the Father should yearn in His bowels towards us His fallen, His apostate creatures! And because nothing but an infinite ransom could satisfy an infinitely offended Justice, should send His only and dear Son Jesus Christ to die a cursed, painful, ignominious death for us and for our salvation!
“Look on His Hands, bored with pins of iron. Look on His side, pierced with a cruel spear, on purpose, to loose the sluices of His blood and open a fountain for sin and uncleanness!” Of course, Whitfield’s days of speaking inside England’s chapels were over. Labeled a heretic, he took the message of salvation to the outdoors where thousands of thirsty souls flocked to hear the words of Life.
When that criminal and that preacher-boy opened their hearts to Christ, the astounding truth of Ezekiel 36:26-27 came alive in them and for all who turn in faith to the all-encompassing grace of the Savior:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
In simple terms, here is what gloriously occurs at the moment of conversion:
- The spirit, once dead and unresponsive to God’s Life, is now REGENERATED. The newly redeemed soul can now commune with God, relate to Him and enjoy His Life
- The ABIDING Presence of Christ in the Person of the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within. The Spirit indwells to show the converted soul the Father and the Son. While the Cross performs the NEGATIVE work of destroying all that comes from Adam, the indwelling Holy Spirit does the POSITIVE work of building within all that comes from Christ!
This truth is illustrated by the Temple in Solomon’s day. In 2 Chronicles 5:1 we read about the ribbon-cutting ceremony that punctuated his seven-year building project: “…all the work…was finished.” This is what REGENERATION does. It takes a condemned building and remakes it into a building fit for God’s habitation! The old is gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
But that is not the end of the work. At the baseline of Second Chronicles 5, God moves in.
“…the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.”
Solomon’s Temple was not built for relics or statues or monuments but for the living God to abide within. What other nation had such? The best they could offer were graven images to represent their god who would only relate to them through intimidation, oppression and fear. But not the God of the Scriptures! He comes Himself to abide in the believer.
Templed within the spirit of every redeemed person is the Presence of the Almighty. There is a glory-cloud much like the cloud that filled Solomon’s Temple where no flesh could abide. A holy place—no, a MOST Holy Place! The word Paul uses for the inner sanctum of the believer in 1 Corinthians 3:16 is the same word ‘naos’ that is found in the LXX (Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament) for the Most Holy Place in Solomon’s Temple. The pagans of Paul’s day set up and displayed their prized deities in the ‘naos’ of their heathen temples.
The work of the Cross has been fulfilled by Jesus and is available to every thirsty heart who desires forgiveness and entrance into the way of Life in Christ Jesus. And while it is left to the Holy Spirit to apply this finished work to our hearts, our part is not to sit idly by when all of this happens. No, we must agree with all the Spirit is doing in us and yield to Him so that the Life of Jesus can flow in and out of us to others. In short, the Spirit indwells the believer to make us holy. It is God’s desire to perfect us completely in our souls and bodies (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
At conversion, the believer is saved from sin and mercifully reconciled to a holy God. But is that the end? How, in the name of all that is holy, are we saved from our self? While there is life for those who are thirsty, there is power, fulfillment and victory for those who will die. But that’s next…