Read John 4:19-26
Apparently, the woman at the well did not understand the “living water” that Jesus was talking was not actual water, rather a metaphor to speak of the sort of life that comes from salvation. Water is a common metaphor used in scripture because of its life-giving properties (Psalm 1:1-6, Psalm 36:8-9, Isaiah 12:1-3, Isaiah 44:3, Revelation 7:17, Revelation 22:1-2, Revelation 22:17). Jesus calls himself the source of this living water and the one who drinks it will have a spring within him welling up to eternal life. The difference between a well and a spring would have been obvious – rather than having to do the laborious work of drawing water out of a well, the water is brought to the surface by a spring. Jesus also uses the same metaphor in John 7:37-39. The promise here is that all who believe in him will have rivers of living water. John notes that this is the Spirit of God living in the life of believers, but the Spirit had not been given because Jesus had not been glorified.
It would seem that Jesus is trying to change the subject in John 4:16, but this is probably not the case. Jesus was trying to reach her. He knew she had no husband, but she had had five previously – a clear demonstration of Jesus’ omniscience. When the woman realized that Jesus knew so much about her, she calls him a prophet and drops a theological question pertaining to the temple’s location. The Samaritans had built a temple similar to the one in Jerusalem on Mount Gerizim that was probably within eye sight of where they were at the well. The woman claimed that “our fathers”, that is the common ancestors of the Jews and Samaritans, worshiped on that mountain. This was perhaps a true statement sense Abraham passed through there in Genesis 12:6 and Jacob bought the plot of land on which the well sat in Genesis 33:18-19. The Jews said that worship was to be Jerusalem at the temple per the command in Deuteronomy 12:1-15 to seek the place God will choose a site for sacrifice, and this was fulfilled in 2 Chronicles 7:10-12.
Jesus’ answer is probably no clearer to her than his previous answer, but it does answer the question. The Samaritans worship what they do not know, but the Jews worship what they do know. The schism between the Samaritans and the Jews had apparently caused the Samaritans to go astray in that they were worshiping something other than God, something other than the truth. But the Jews had the clearer revelation because salvation came from the Jews (Romans 3:2, Romans 9:5) – that is they had the truth. Jesus says a day is coming and it is then and now when no one will worship in Jerusalem or on the Mount Gerizim. They will worship in “spirit and in truth”, and God is seeking such worshipers because. Because God is spirit, true worshipers must worship in spirit and truth. Worshiping in the truth would be the worship of the saved, which is all who believe in Jesus. Worshiping in spirit would be worshiping in the same manner of who God is. The contrast here is similar to the contrast between the well and the spring. The worship at the mentioned temples was ritualistic and laborious like drawing water from a well. But worship in spirit and truth is like the spring – it’s driven by the Spirit of God.
The woman at the well did get one thing right: she knew that when the Messiah came he would tell “all things”. Perhaps she was counting on the Messiah to set the record straight on who had the right place for the temple or maybe she realized that what Jesus had told her about her past was something only a prophet, or perhaps the Messiah, could do. Whatever her expectations were for the Messiah, Jesus was able to speak the truth about her past and about all things about true spiritual worship. Jesus then declares that he is the one of whom she spoke.
Believers in Christ are the true worshipers that God is seeking. The spring of living water that comes from the Holy Spirit abiding in one’s heart is what compels the believer to worship. It is often the desire of Christians to want to do something for God by going to church, tithing, or doing good things. While these things are not bad, what God wants more than deeds is a broken spirit and a contrite heart (Psalm 51:10-17). In addition to humility, God wants justice and mercy too (Micah 6:6-8). God can work with people who come to him in humility and accept is grace and forgiveness. He can fill them with the Holy Spirit and give them a well spring of living water!
Lord, I want your living water! Take my heart and renew it! Fill me with your Spirit so I can have the well spring of water in my life!