What did Jesus mean when he spoke about God’s word abiding, or living, in a person? Who was Jesus talking to on this occasion? John 5 is about the increasing confrontation of Jesus with many of his hearers (verse 18). The challenge for them had begun with the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus says of him, “He was a burning and a shining lamp and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light” (verse 35). They listened and there was a time of interest and rejoicing, but then it became too hard to accept the message, especially when Jesus endorsed John’s criticism challenging their vested interests.

What a lesson there is for us. The words of God that Jesus conveyed have to be accepted into the minds of those who hear and made part of the principles by which they live. If it is not accepted it cannot live in them. When it lives in them, it becomes an integral part of their thinking. It is the “living water” that Jesus spoke to the woman of Samaria about (4:10) noting how Jesus went on to explain, “The water that I will give him will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (verse 14).

Water is a cleansing agent and the “living water” that Jesus provides is his cleansing word. But for it to do its work it has to abide in us. The Jews who rejoiced for a while at hearing John the Baptist failed to let his words abide in them. The same, very sadly, has been true of every generation since and is true of our generation. Human nature is such that all too often we only hear what we want to hear. On another occasion Jesus said, “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care then how you hear …” (Luke 8:17,18). There is no point in listening to Jesus and his message if we do not let his words live in us and change our thinking, and let the priorities in our lives become redirected.

Jesus also said, “whoever hears my word and believes on him who sent me has eternal life” (verse 24). Surely this means that their names are now in “the book of life” (Philippians 4:3). Let us be fully willing to live so that we “rejoice” day-by-day, week-by-week and year-by-year, so that our names remain “in the book of life” (see Revelation 3:5).