Separating believers from unbelievers
© 2022 C. O. Bishop
John 6:60-66 (context; verses 52-59); John 5:24; John 10:27, 28
We have come to a “crisis,” in John chapter 6: Jesus had just taught that His flesh and blood were necessary for people to have eternal life. Earlier, we explored why this was such a hard thing for the Jews to accept. But there are different options in how we respond to hard teaching. Knowing that a teaching is either true, or partly true, or false, we have to decide how to respond. We can compare against God’s Word to see if it is true. That is what the Berean believers did in Acts 17:11. But, even after we know it is absolutely true, we have to decide how to respond.
Balking at Hard Teaching
60 Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? 61 When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? 62 What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. 64 But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. 65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. 66 From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
We already read the context for this passage: the verses immediately before: That was a hard passage to understand. But, for two reasons, this is also rather hard to grasp, even for believers today: The first reason is the sadness we feel, as we read that many of Jesus’s disciples abandoned their devotion to Him. They walked no more with Him! Yes, that is sad…and it still happens today! The other thing that makes it a hard passage, is that we tend to equate salvation with discipleship, and the two are not the same.
Salvation and discipleship are not the same
This is a hard concept, but let’s consider Judas: he was a disciple, but was not a believer! Jesus pointed this out in John 13:10, 11, when He said “ye are not all clean.” And after Judas left, in John 15:3, He said to the remaining eleven “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” All twelve had heard the same words…the difference was that Judas had not believed in Jesus as his Savior.
There are others in scripture who were believers, but who were not disciples. Lot was a saved man, but did not walk with God: he did not “follow Jesus” (that is what a disciple is…a follower.) And there were many others. Why might someone fall into that category?
Other Biblical Examples
Are there Biblical examples of real believers “balking at hard teaching?” Are there Biblical examples of real believers who “ran away from God?” Sure, there are!
- John the Baptist initially refused to baptize Jesus, saying that he himself needed to be baptized by Jesus. But he changed his mind, and he went ahead and obeyed.
- Peter initially refused to have Jesus wash his feet…but he changed his mind and obeyed.
- Jonah initially refused to go to Nineveh, but (with some convincing) eventually he changed his mind and went…(still in a bad frame of mind, but he went and he obeyed.)
Do you see a pattern there? These were genuine believers who stumbled over the command of God, but they repented. (That is what “repentance” is…changing your mind: turning around, going back, and doing what you should have done.)
Believers or Unbelievers?
So, as we read John 6:60-66, are we reading about believers or unbelievers? Notice that it says they were disciples. Remember that the word “disciples” only means “followers.” They were following Jesus, but their reasons for following varied wildly. He had just taught that his flesh and blood were necessary for their eternal life. That specific teaching was difficult enough that people still struggle with it, today. But they had a choice to make:
- They could accept it (and accept the fact that they couldn’t fully grasp His meaning),
- They could argue about it, trying to force it to “make sense” to human minds, or
- They could flatly reject it as unthinkable.
Some argued, and complained that it was a hard saying; difficult to grasp. But Jesus knew their hearts: He knew who believed and who did not. He also knew who would eventually betray him. If we sneak a peek at the verses ahead, we see that Judas was there, as one of the Twelve: He stayed with Jesus when others left! But he still was not a believer. So that is not necessarily the dividing line. So how did Jesus respond to their complaint that this was “a hard saying?”
Jesus had just told them that His flesh and blood (as pictured in the Passover Lamb) were absolutely necessary to their salvation, and that faith in Him was the only entrance into eternal life. They had a hard time with that statement. There are many, still today, who struggle with the concept that Jesus is the only way God offers for Salvation. They argue against it, saying “all the billions of people who do not believe in Him cannot all be wrong: they could not all be lost!”
Is there anything “wrong” with Jesus being the only way of salvation?
This is an emotionally attractive, but completely illogical reply: As far as we know there is only one “cure” for many deadly diseases. What shall we say of all the millions who have died from malaria, the plague, polio, or any other deadly disease? “Well, it just isn’t fair: there must be another way!” No, the hard truth is: they either get the medicine to save their life, or they die.
There is a new treatment available that can cure Hepatitis C: it is effective on a high percentage of people, but it is extremely expensive, so it simply will not be available to all those who suffer from that disease. (Lesser treatments can hold it at bay, but cannot cure it. But this cure is financially out of reach for most people…The Gospel is free, to all!)
Today, there is a single, “collective antivenin” which is effective for about 85 of the 140 different species of venomous creatures in Australia. The government has tried to make it as widely available as possible, so people who are bitten have a chance to get it and save their lives: but if they can’t get to where it is, or, if they refuse to accept it, they will surely die! There is no other way! That is just reality! Romans 5:12 may not sound “fair,” either, but it is a fact: “Sin came into the world through one man, and death by sin, thus death passed upon all, for all have sinned.”
The Blood of Jesus was shed, once for all, as God’s only solution for the lost state of the Human race. The Church has tried, over the years, to make that Salvation available worldwide. There are only two barriers: our reticence to share it with others, and their unwillingness to believe in it. And that’s the teaching they stumbled over, in John 6:31-51.
Jesus Tested the Character of their Faith
Jesus asked, “You think that was hard? What will you think when you see Me physically ascendback into Heaven where I came from?” Why is that a test? They already balked at the “hard teaching” that “faith in His blood is our only hope for salvation.” Now He pointed out why He was their only hope: He is God in the flesh! He was the Deity they claimed to worship.
You see, so long as we see Jesus as “strictly human,” no matter what else we may attribute to Him, we will struggle with His authority, we will question His unique, exalted position, and we will resent the fact that other people are actually worshipping the Person we see as a man. I once had a pastor tell me, “I don’t want people praying to Jesus!” (Why did he say that? Evidently he did not believe Jesus was the true God, in human form.)
Can a true believer deny the deity of Christ?
Is it possible to be a believer and not know that Jesus is God in the flesh? Yes, it is, and there are many who do struggle with that concept, but it requires that one be seriously ignorant of God’s Word, to miss that point.
On the other hand, some do see that truth in Scripture: but they struggle with it, and eventually rebel against it, denying His Deity. In their case, I question the reality of their faith in Him as the Savior, since they reject the fact of His Person; the fact that He is truly God in the Flesh. Is it possible that they are really believers, and just badly deceived? Yes…I believe it is possible. But I would be very concerned about how they arrived at that point.
The Jews, who heard Him, actually should not have had a struggle with that idea: They had the prophecy from Isaiah 9:6 saying that “the Son” who was promised to them, would be called “The everlasting Father!” Give that some thought! I cannot “explain” how the Son should be called the “Everlasting Father!” But there is no argument: It is simply stated as a fact, and it is to be simply accepted! (Or…you can reject it, and walk away. And that is what many of them did.)
The Question of the Deity of Christ
The fact that Jesus truly is God is a core teaching of the Bible. (John 1:1, 3, 14, 18)
- He was the Creator God who made all things material or immaterial. (John 1:3)
- He was the Speaking God who walked in the Garden in the cool of the day, and spoke with Adam and Eve. (John 1:18)
- He was the Promising God who ate Abraham’s food, and talked with him face to face.
- He was the Judging God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. (Genesis 18, 19)
- He was the Miracle-working God who judged Egypt and rescued the children of Israel.
- He was the Creator of all things, the Eternal Judge of all things, and the Promised Savior. (John 1:3; 1:14; 5:22; 5:24; 10:27, 28)
Either this is all true, or the Bible is not true. Either this is all true, or Jesus is not the Savior. That is a simple fact. There are no “degrees” of truth here.
Why reject this doctrine?
All of the cults speak highly of Jesus, calling Him a Mighty Spirit Being, a Great Teacher, a Prophet, even a “lesser god,” in some cases, but they can never admit that He is literally the Sovereign, Almighty God!
You see, if they admit that Jesus is truly God, then they also have to admit that they, themselves, are not the servants of God. And they have to face the facts: they, themselves, are under His Judgment. Jesus hinted at that, by stating that they were going to see Him ascend back into heaven. And they decided that was just too much! So, they quit!
How can I know I am saved?
I have known people who apparently were genuine believers, but who abandoned their faith. Their lives reflected that loss. They were sad wrecks of what once had been a glorious reflection of God’s Grace. Are they still saved? How can we know for sure, in our own life?
If there has ever been a time in your life when you placed your hope in Jesus’s blood as your only hope for salvation, trusting in Him alone for forgiveness of sins, and eternal life, then you are saved, and you cannot be lost. (John 5:24 says If you have believed in Him, then you have eternal life, and you shall not come unto condemnation, but have crossed over from death unto life”)
1st John 5:11-13 clearly teaches that God wants you to KNOW that you have eternal life.
What happens if I don’t follow Jesus?
Even if I truly am “one of His sheep,” if I do not walk with the Shepherd, I am in constant danger of attack by my enemies and I cannot avail myself of His protection. I am “enlisted in His army,” but I am refusing to wear the armor He commanded me to put on!
Jesus said, “My Sheep hear my voice, and they follow me, and I know them, and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”
“Following the Shepherd” is the normal walk for a believer. Failing to follow Him does not negate His promise of eternal life, but it does “void the warranty” on his guidance and protection.
There are consequences!
If I fail to follow Jesus, then the very least I can expect is unfruitfulness. The next thing I can expect is the absence of Joy and Peace. You see, even though I am a believer, if I am no longer walking with Jesus, then I am not benefitting from the relationship “in the here and now.”
That is what happened, here in John 6:60-66. Some of those disciples may have been true believers…but some were not. Jesus knew which were which. We do not. But we can examine our own hearts and see where we stand with God…and decide where we ought to be, and what we need to change, to get there.
Lord Jesus, open our eyes to our own condition as believers and encourage our hearts to change, to repent, to go back and follow you.