From that time many of his disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Are you also going to leave?” John 6: 66-67.
A couple of months ago the Christian world was stunned when a string of pastors and church leaders made public announcements regarding their intention of leaving their faith. Pastor and author Joshua Harris shocked the world when he posted this message to Instagram: “I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’ By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”
Three weeks after Joshua Harris’ announcement popular Hillsong Worship song writer Marty Sampson wrote on Instagram: “Time for some real talk,” the Australian writer wrote in a since-deleted post on Instagram. “I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me. Like, what bothers me now is nothing. I am so happy now, so at peace with the world. It’s crazy.”
Former pastor of Grace Family Fellowship in Missouri, Dave Gass, also announced that he was leaving the faith while also walking away from his wife and family. He states, “After 40 years of being a devout follower, 20 of those being an evangelical pastor, I am walking away from faith. Even though this has been a massive bomb drop in my life, it has been decades in the making, ”I was fully devoted to studying the scriptures. I think I missed maybe 12 Sundays in 40 years. I had completely memorized 18 books of the bible and was reading through the bible for the 24th time when I walked away.”
While these stories are troubling and difficult to hear, it should not surprise us. There have always been those who claim to be followers of Christ who come to a place where Jesus is just simply not enough. Why? How?
Why do some fall away? There are many reasons, but here are three that I believe are the most common reasons: 1. They never move from a religious experience to experiencing the joy of relationship. 2. They never grow from decision to devotion. 3. They are never discipled and equipped to move from belief to practice. Churches assume that new believers will simply fall into the ebb and flow of the Christian faith, but without an intentional disciple making plan, many of these making a “decision” will walk away.
People walking away from the Christian faith is not a new phenomenon, it goes all the way back to Jesus’ own ministry.
John chapter 6 marks a transition in the ministry of Jesus Christ. As the chapter opens John describes a frantic scene. “After these things Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberius. Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which he performed on those who were diseased…Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward him…” 6:1-3:5. John had previously told of the magnificent ministry that Jesus had accomplished in Galilee, “So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things he did in Jerusalem at the Feast; for they also had gone to the feast.” 4:45. His popularity and following was significant as a multitude of people followed him. He was the topic of Galilean conversation, in modern day terms he was trending. In John 6:15 the crowd so pressed him and pursued him that Jesus departed to a mountain knowing that they were about to come and take him by force to make him King! This was the climax of his Galilean ministry. The Jews immediately connected Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 to Moses providing manna in the wilderness. To them, he was the prophet from God they had been waiting on, which also meant a military politician, a nationalistic deliverer. There was palpable excitement for a political revolution, but not for a pardoning redemption. There was a desire for a Jewish War Hero, but not a humble servant. They followed him because they believed he could deliver them from Rome, not because he could deliver them from their sins.
In verses 22-27 the crowd once again pursued Jesus across the sea for another meal. But this time Jesus challenged their motive. Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” V. 26.
This multitude was motivated through selfish ambition. They came because of outward signs, not an inward longing. Out of frustration they would ask him, “What sign will you perform then, that we may see it and believe you? What work will you do?” Our fathers ate manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven.” V. 30-31. They believed he could provide bread, but did not believe that he was the “bread of heaven.”
There are a great number of people who have come to Christ for the bread he provides, but not because he is the “bread from heaven.” Only the bread of life will fulfill you for all eternity. Many are seeking only bread which provides temporary satisfaction, but not eternal joy. Many seek spiritual experiences, but not the Son of God.
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” V. 54. What Jesus is saying in this statement is extremely important. As Jesus began making these statements he did not back away as people grumbled, actually he increased his intensity. What does he mean? Our commitment to him must be so solid that we completely partake of him. Not a nibble, or “I will give Jesus a try”. We must consume HIM and be consumed by him. We must become wholly identified with him. We don’t try him on as if we are trying on a pair of shoes assessing the fit. Our reason for coming to Christ must rise beyond a physical, emotional or flesh driven compulsion. Don’t come to him merely because of what he can do for you, come to him because of who he is.
Is what brought you to Christ strong enough to keep you with Christ? If your motive for becoming a Christian was only to please your parents, that may not be enough to keep you with Christ for life. If your motive for becoming a Christian was because your friends told you to do it, that will not be enough. If your motive was because you enjoyed coming to church, or wanted to be baptized, that will not be enough. If your motive was to impress a boy or girl, or for social status, or because you thought it would make you a better person, it will not be enough. If your motive was to only escape the depths of hell, that fear alone will not keep you in a loving relationship with Jesus Christ. Don’t make a decision to be saved merely to escape the flames, but rather make a decision to embrace the warmth of a relationship that lights a fire in you.
In verse 64, Jesus, for the first time, distinguishes true believers from those who would eventually turn away. “But there are some of you who do not believe. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray him.” It is God alone that draws us to Himself and no other reason for coming to Him is adequate. “No one can come to me unless the father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” V. 44. The relationship is always initiated by the Father. He draws you through His Holy Spirit by convicting you of your sin and lostness. He will awaken your spirit to your need and call you to himself. It is the Father who draws you and it is the Father that keeps you.
MANY of his “DISCIPLES” went back and walked with him no more. V.66. Literally, “they deserted him” or “departed to the rear.” And then the sobering question from Jesus to his disciples, “Will you also go away? Are you also going to leave?”
The reason why we can’t leave, why we must stay the course, is found in Peter’s response to the question: V. 68-69, But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is a powerful statement by Peter because even as he is saying those words massive amounts of people are walking away, turning their backs on Jesus.
Peter gives reasons why you should never leave:
The way of Jesus gives life. “Lord, to who shall we go?” What other path or life can offer to us a greater fulfillment? Isn’t Christ enough? His way brings the greatest hope, peace, joy, direction, change and love. Not temporary fixes, but a deep abiding way of life. What else could you possibly be looking for? The world offers greater life and promises, but every road offered is a dead end road. Every path, every way of the world has at its end, only emptiness. What are your other options and why would they be better than Jesus?You will never find the answers you seek by walking away from the only answer. In Jesus we find the answer to life’s greatest concerns, questions, conundrums and conflicts.
The words of Jesus give life. “You have the words of eternal life.” V. 68. Peter recognized that through the words of Christ, we come to know the Power of the Living God. They had experienced the power of His words. In their ministry journey with Christ the disciples heard him speak life into corpses. They heard him call demons out of a demoniac and into a herd of swine. They heard him speak a storm into calm. They heard him speak a lame man to run. They heard him speak the name of Zacchaeus, Mary Magdalene, Levi, Nicodemus, and each of their names too resulting in amazing life change. To the condemned criminal on the cross his words brought eternal life. To the woman caught in adultery, he spoke forgiveness. Those red words resonate in our hearts, just as they did with the disciples. They are true and life changing. They are not empty promises or a collection of wise sayings, they are life! Jesus said in 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.”
The worthiness of Jesus offers a new and better life. He is the Living Son of God. Peter says, “we have come to believe and know..” The Greek is ginṓskō, which means to know through personal experience. Peter speaks not of the idea or concept of faith in Christ, but of experiential faith. In other words, this is not just what I know, this is what I have experienced.
Spurgeon writes, “When we are hard beset with this world we find it a most blessed thing to pillow our head upon the bosom of our Savior. This is the joy we have today that we are saved in him; and if this joy be satisfying, wherefore should we think of changing? Who barters gold for dross? We will not forswear the sun till we find a better light, nor leave our Lord until a brighter lover shall appear; and, since this can never be, we will hold him with a grasp immortal, and bind his name as a seal upon our arm.”
The sad fact is that I can name many people over the years who have walked away. My heart breaks for them because I know that there is coming a time when they will regret that decision. Whether they were truly saved is not for me to judge, but I do wonder and I do worry. And yes, more will leave. We will continue to hear of these stories and our hearts will break. How can the sweet taste of Jesus ever turn bitter? How can the love of the cross ever grow old? How can the free gift of grace become too costly when the price has already been paid? How can there be anything in this world so beautiful that one would turn their face away from the beautiful one? I know that I am not above the temptation, but on the day of faith testing it is my prayer that I will cling to the one who walked first to me and has proven himself over and over again. The world promises so much, but in the end all is vain, empty and void when compared to the way, the words and worthiness of Jesus Christ. Don’t walk away, keep holding him. After all, he will never walk away from you.