True or False?


True or False?

John 6:66-71

Main Idea: Not all who call themselves disciples really are, for there are key differences between true and false disciples of Jesus Christ.

  1. True Disciples Make a Commitment to Follow Jesus.
  2. True Disciples Make a Confession of Faith in Jesus.
    1. You have to know who Jesus is.
    2. You have to trust Jesus completely.

Iread the story of a man named Charles who went from relative anonymity to great notoriety in a short time. His name was unfamiliar to those living in Boston in 1920, but like a shooting star this millionaire burst on the local scene. Charles made his millions by encouraging others to invest their money with him. He began a company called the “Securities Exchange Company” that promised 50 percent interest on investments in forty-five days or a full 100 percent in ninety days. In just a few months forty thousand people handed him nearly fifteen million dollars. Some even mortgaged their homes and emptied their life savings to invest their money with Charles. In August of that year, Charles Ponzi was arrested and charged with multiple counts of fraud and larceny. Since that time the name Ponzi has become synonymous with fraudulent investment.

Sometimes the difference between true and false is almost imperceptible. As humans we’re masters at pawning the false off as true, but we’re not always that great at spotting the difference. Sometimes it doesn’t matter. It makes no difference whether you can tell leather from pleather or if you can distinguish ham from Spam. But there are certain areas where being able to discern the difference between real and fake matters.

In John 6 we discover the difference between real and fake. The issue in question has consequences that extend beyond investment accounts and life savings. The issue at stake is eternal life and salvation from the wrath of God. This passage focuses on a large group of men who’ve taken the title of disciple, and it reveals some key differences between true and false disciples of Jesus Christ. What is a disciple of Jesus? We discover in the book of John that a disciple is someone who believes on Jesus and continues to follow him. We find some who are called disciples for a time eventually stop following Christ, and the lesson we’re supposed to learn is that some who call themselves Christians are not. Some who appear to follow Jesus for a while eventually reveal themselves to be false disciples when they turn from following him.

True Disciples Make a Commitment to Follow Jesus

The saddest verse in the Gospel of John may be 6:66: “From that moment many of his disciples turned back and no longer accompanied him.” A true disciple of Jesus Christ does not turn from following him. These professing disciples revealed their discipleship was fraudulent when they stopped following Jesus. It is impossible to be a genuine disciple merely for a time. You either turn from your sin, place your faith in Jesus Christ, and follow him until you get to heaven, or you don’t. There is no middle ground!

Many professing believers see a distinction between being a Christian and being a disciple, as if one can be saved but not follow Jesus. The notion of salvation apart from following Jesus is foreign to the New Testament. Francis Chan writes,

Some people claim that we can be Christians without necessarily becoming disciples. I wonder, then, why the last thing Jesus told us was to go into the world, making disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all that He commanded? You’ll notice that He didn’t add, “But hey, if that’s too much to ask, tell them to just become Christians—you know, the people who get to go to heaven without having to commit to anything.” (Crazy Love, 87; emphasis original)

In verse 66 we find a group of men and women who’ve been boasting that they’re disciples of the Messiah. When some of their friends called him a phony, they defended him. They’ve wandered around following Jesus from place to place. They’ve cheered with the rest of the crowd when he healed the lame man and made the blind man see. Their minds had raced wildly when they tasted the bread he had created from a small boy’s lunch—all of their problems appeared to be solved. They had pushed forward with the surging crowd, desiring to make him their king. But now they turn from him, and with shoulders slumped and heads bowed low, they slink away, their sandals kicking up small clouds of dust. They looked like real disciples, they acted like genuine believers, but they stopped following him, and in that moment it became clear that they were fakes.

False disciples come to Jesus for reasons other than Jesus. In this passage men came to Jesus for miracles (v. 2), to have their bellies filled (vv. 13-14, 34), for political freedom and power (v. 15). This fraudulent gospel is preached from the pulpits of churches around the world: “Come to Jesus to get wealthy and well. Come to Jesus to succeed and prosper. Come to Jesus for everything but him.”

Time magazine ran a cover story with this headline: “Does God Want You to Be Rich?” In this story they discovered that

of the four biggest megachurches in the country, three are Prosperity or Prosperity Lite pulpits. While they don’t exclusively teach that God’s riches want to be in believers’ wallets, it is a key part of their doctrine. (Biema and Chu, “Does God Want You to Be Rich?”)

They quoted television preacher and author Joyce Meyer:

Who would want to get in on something where you’re miserable, poor, broke and ugly and you just have to muddle through until you get to heaven? I believe God wants to give us nice things. (Ibid.)

Nice things? Like miracles, food, political freedom, and power? False disciples come to Jesus to get something they want from him. Genuine disciples are drawn to Jesus by God. Their eyes are opened, and they see the light of the good news of the glory of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:4-6).

Genuine disciples come to Jesus because he is the bread. This is why God must do a work in us. Without that work, we would only come to Jesus to get stuff. We’d come to get money, a house, or a better job, but God has shown us the glories of Jesus and drawn us to his Son. Our coming to Jesus is no testimony to our discernment but to his grace.

Here’s a great question to determine whether you’ve come to Jesus for Jesus. If the Father has drawn you to the Son, you will love Jesus, not just his gifts. You will desire him, not just his works. John Piper writes,

The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there? (God Is the Gospel, 15)

False disciples look at Jesus and see a genie in a bottle. He’s there simply to grant their requests. True disciples come to Jesus because he is the prize, not because he dispenses prizes.

On the afternoon described in our text, thousands of false disciples walked away from Jesus. Why did they stop following? They left because it got too difficult (John 6:66). This wasn’t what they signed on for. They signed on for miracles, popularity, and freedom, but not for this. What they heard was too difficult to accept. What part was too difficult, we’re not sure. Maybe they realized Jesus was really claiming to be God, and they said, “Whoa, that’s too much. That’s crazy. I can’t go for that!” Maybe it was because he talked about dying. “Wait, we want you to be king. If you die, how are we going to be fed and taken care of?”

Jesus knew they were grumbling and complaining about what he said: “Does [what I’ve just been saying] offend you?” he asked (v. 61). The word translated “offend” means to “give up believing” or to “fall away.” Eventually, all false disciples will find some reason to fall away, to stop believing. It’s almost as if Jesus were offering them the excuse they were looking for: “I know you guys are looking for a reason to leave; is this it?” Being a disciple is more than saying the right words or being part of a group. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is making a commitment to follow him with all your life for the rest of your life. Later the apostle John will offer this insight to the local church:

They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us.(1 John 2:19)

They left. They stopped. They quit. They went out. They fell away. They turned back and no longer walked with Jesus. “Many” of his disciples stopped following him.

True Disciples Make a Confession of Faith in Jesus

After watching these false disciples turn away, Jesus turns to the Twelve and asks them if they want to leave as well. Jesus didn’t ask this question for his sake. He wasn’t alarmed that so many had left. Jesus knew which disciples were his, and he was actively preserving them. This question wasn’t intended to assure Jesus of their commitment to him. It was an opportunity for the disciples to make a confession of faith, which they did (John 6:67-69). Every genuine confession of faith has two parts.

You Have to Know Who Jesus Is

Unless you’ve come to know that Jesus is God, you cannot be his disciple. Simon Peter makes a clear affirmation of Christ’s deity: “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (v. 69). The title the Holy One of God comes from Isaiah, who wrote extensively about the holiness of God. In Isaiah 6 the prophet was transported through a vision into the throne room of God. He’s struck with the awesomeness of God and cries out, “Woe is me for I am ruined!” (v. 5). Circling the throne of God are angels, covering their feet and faces with wings and crying out with voices so loud they shake the foundations of the room. What do they cry? “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Armies” (v. 3). The impact on Isaiah was so profound that the truth of God’s holiness flowed from his pen. Sixty-two times Isaiah writes about God’s holiness. He can’t get over it. To him the characteristic that defines God is his holiness. He is unlike anyone or anything else. He has an unmatched weightiness and worthiness.

Throughout the book that bears his name, Isaiah refers to God as the “Holy One of Israel.” He does it twenty-five times! So when Peter opens his mouth to confess his faith, he unmistakably declares that Jesus is God: “The Holy One”—a title that could only be used for God. True discipleship can only begin when you know who Jesus is; he is God!

You Have to Trust Jesus Completely

Genuine disciples believe Jesus. They come to him for salvation from their sin and for eternal life. They reject any other way and any other path. Peter’s question in John 6:68, “Lord, to whom will we go?” is stated in such a way that the implied answer is “No one.” We reject anyone else as Savior, Lord, and Master, including ourselves, and we turn to Jesus alone.

Before getting married, many couples draw up a prenuptial agreement. It’s a legal document that details what will happen to the couple’s assets in the case of divorce. Some “experts” in this field suggest videotaping the signing and including in the agreement what will happen to any children in the case of a divorce. After completing this agreement, this couple will at some point in the future stand before a minister or government official and promise, “With this ring I thee wed, and all my worldly goods I thee endow. In sickness and in health, in poverty or in wealth, ’til death do us part.” Shouldn’t they rephrase it this way: “All my worldly goods I thee endow, except for the ones listed in the prenup. ’Til death do us part, or sooner on amicable terms as spelled out in the opening lines of our agreement”? Wouldn’t that be more accurate? Probably not as romantic but definitely more authentic.

We excel at adding the little phrase “but just in case” onto the end of many of our major decisions. The prenuptial agreement is the ultimate “but just in case.” A person stands in front of another person, pledging everything, but with certain things already withheld, just in case. A genuine disciple of Jesus Christ rejects the phrase “but just in case.” A genuine disciple of Jesus Christ depends completely, totally, solely on Jesus for his or her salvation. Like Peter, with clear eyes and resolute will, we proclaim to Jesus, “To whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Reflect and Discuss

  1. Who is a disciple of Jesus? Is it possible to be a Christian without being a disciple?
  2. Why did the people in this text walk away?
  3. What lesson should we learn from those “disciples” who follow Jesus for a time and then leave?
  4. What marks of genuine discipleship are shown in this passage?
  5. Why might false disciples follow Jesus for a time? How is this different from true disciples?
  6. What marks true disciples’ commitment to follow Jesus?
  7. Could you be satisfied with heaven if Christ was not there?
  8. Why does Jesus ask the disciples if they, too, want to leave?
  9. What are the two parts of every genuine confession of faith?
  10. Describe the connection between Isaiah’s and Peter’s confessions.