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Lesson 38: The Antidote to Spiritual Defection, Part 2 (John 6:60-71)

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December 8, 2013

It’s always distressing for pastors when people leave the church. It’s one thing if they get involved in another church where God’s Word is taught, but it’s grievous if they move to a liberal church or drop out of church completely.

While I realize that we always have room to improve and that we should try to learn from the reasons why people leave the church, at the same time I take comfort in the fact that Jesus lost people who at first professed to be His disciples. At the start of John 6, Jesus has 20,000 people singing His praises after He fed them the loaves and fish. By the end of John 6, He has twelve, and one of them is a traitor! Maybe Jesus needed to read some books on how to grow your ministry! Things weren’t looking good!

Probably the twelve were deflated. Earlier, it seemed like Jesus was on the brink of widespread success. The wave of popular support was building. The people wanted to make Jesus king (6:15). Wasn’t that God’s plan, for His Messiah to reign over Israel? But then Jesus’ shocking comments about eating His flesh and drinking His blood drove away almost everyone. And then He asks the twelve (6:67), “You do not want to go away also, do you?”

So we’re looking at the problem of spiritual defection and how to avoid it. The overall message is:

Persevering faith in God’s Word and in God’s Son is the antidote to spiritual defection.

Last week we saw:

1. Persevering faith in God’s Word is the antidote to spiritual defection.

A. There are hard truths in God’s Word that must be submitted to, even if you don’t understand them.

B To submit to hard truths, we must be born of the Spirit.

C. To submit to hard truths, we often must go against our cultural and religious backgrounds by confronting preconceived ideas.

D. To submit to hard truths, we must accept that God is sovereign, even over evil and unbelief.

E. When we submit in faith to the hard truths of God’s Word, we gain the foundation for knowledge.

This week our focus will be on how persevering faith in God’s Son is the antidote to spiritual defection. But, first, note:

1. There are many things other than God’s Son in which to put your faith, but they all will fail.

Peter asks the haunting question (6:68), “Lord, to whom shall we go?” I’ve often thought about that question when I’ve encountered difficult issues. Before you turn away from Jesus because of hard truths or difficult circumstances or disappointed expectations, stop and ask yourself, “Lord, to whom shall I go?” There just aren’t a lot of other viable options.

Comfortable religion will ultimately fail if you turn to it. These fair-weather disciples who couldn’t handle Jesus’ statements about eating His flesh and drinking His blood as the requirement for eternal life went back to their Jewish heritage and religion. They thought that being the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and following the Jewish religious rules and ceremonies was good enough. They had hoped at first that Jesus would be the Messiah who would deliver them from Roman rule and usher in an age of peace and prosperity. But, when they heard His shocking teaching about giving His flesh for the life of the world and the need to eat His flesh and drink His blood, they just turned back to the religion that they always had known.

That was a comfortable option for them, but it was spiritually ignorant and stupid because it ignored the serious reality of their sin and guilt before the holy God and their desperate need for a Savior. When the Holy Spirit convicts you of your sin and guilt, you realize that no amount of religion or good deeds on your part can atone for your many sins. You realize that your best deeds are worthless as a defense against your true guilt before God (Isa. 64:6). John Owen (Apostasy from the Gospel [Banner of Truth], p. 90) comments on those who turn away from Christ:

If they had had a true conviction of their need of Christ and had experienced his power in meeting that need, why do they now forsake him? A person who has been truly convinced of his need of Christ for forgiveness and salvation and has, as a result, received him by faith will never forsake Christ. To be truly convinced of our need of Christ, we must first be convinced of the nature, guilt, pollution, power and punishment of sin, for he came to save us from our sins.

Money and power will ultimately fail if you turn to them. John twice mentions Judas (6:64, 70-71) in the context of these disciples who turned away from Jesus. Later (12:6) John explains that Judas was in charge of the disciples’ money box and that he used to steal from it. Arguably, Judas had accepted the invitation to become an apostle because he saw it as a good career move. If Jesus was the promised Messiah who would conquer Israel’s enemies and reign on David’s throne, then being in the inner circle meant financial security and powerful influence.

But when Judas heard Jesus talking about giving His flesh for the life of the world and how the Jewish leaders would put Him to death and how those who followed Him must take up their cross and die, he started backpedaling. That wasn’t what he had signed up for! So he betrayed Jesus for the measly sum of 30 pieces of silver. When he realized that he had betrayed innocent blood, he threw the silver down in the temple and went and hanged himself (Matt. 27:3-5). Money and power never bring us into right standing with God. They fail all who trust in them for satisfaction.

Education, saving the environment, the arts, sexual pleasure, drugs, and alcohol will ultimately fail if you turn to them. These are some of the things that King Solomon tried (Eccl. 2:1-16) to alleviate the vanity of life (he didn’t know about drugs, but he did try alcohol, and he probably would have smoked some marijuana if he had known about it!). But his conclusion was (Eccl 2:17), “So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.” Some of the things he did are legitimate enterprises in the proper sphere and in balance, but none of them provide eternal life.

So it’s not wrong to do well in your career and to provide adequately for your family. It’s not wrong to run for public office and use your power to better society. It’s not wrong to help save the environment as a good steward of God’s creation. It’s not wrong to study and learn all that you can. But the point is, if you put your faith and effort in anything other than Jesus Christ, it will evaporate the second you stand before God for judgment. Even legitimate things will be vanity if your faith is not in Christ to save you from your sins.

But that leads to a question: If all else fails us at death and death is 100 percent certain, why do people turn away from Christ to these vain things?

2. Many wrong reasons can lead you to put your faith in things that never can save.

(C. H. Spurgeon develops some of these in his sermon, “A Mournful Defection,” Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 50:602-609.) More could be added, but here are nine:

1) You don’t like some teaching or commandment in the Bible.

These “disciples” turned away from Jesus because they found His teaching about eating His flesh and drinking His blood to be difficult (6:60). Also, they stumbled over His teaching that He had come down from heaven (6:41-42), which implies His divine preexistence. They knew Him as the son of Joseph and Mary. They had watched Him grow up. So His implicit claim to deity grated on them.

They also didn’t like Jesus’ repeated statements (6:37, 44, 65) that they were unable to come to Him unless the Father drew them. After all, they were good Jews, not Gentile dogs. They followed Moses and the Law. So they didn’t like Jesus’ assertion that they were spiritually unable to come to Him. It implied that they were helpless sinners! How dare Him say such a thing!

There are many today who profess to be disciples of Jesus but they don’t like certain doctrines or commands in the Bible. They don’t like the doctrine that God predestines some, but not all, for salvation. They don’t like the doctrine that He will punish the unrepentant in hell for all eternity. Some don’t like the doctrine of the Trinity. Others don’t like the biblical teaching on the role of women or homosexuality or sexual purity. So they turn aside from the only Savior to things that they like. But those things can never save.

2) You stupidly forget the certainty of death so that you live for immediate pleasure in these few, uncertain years, rather than for lasting pleasure in light of eternity.

These people wanted a lifetime supply of bread, but they were not laboring for the food that endures to eternal life (6:27). They wanted Jesus to be their king if He would usher in an age of peace and prosperity, but not if He had to die to atone for their sins. But if we start thinking that more stuff and a better house and career success and a comfy investment portfolio will bring ultimate satisfaction, our priorities are wrong. We fall into the trap of Solomon, Judas, and Demas, who deserted Paul because he loved this present world (2 Tim. 4:10).

3) You are frightened by the prospect of rejection or persecution.

The recipients of the Letter to the Hebrews were tempted to return to their former Judaism because they were suffering for their faith as Christians. Perhaps one reason for Judas’ defection was that he wanted to be on the good side of the Jewish religious leaders. But when he saw that Jesus was always clashing with them and that to be Jesus’ follower would mean alienation from the Jewish leaders, he decided to ingratiate himself with them by betraying Jesus.

4) You think that following Jesus will rob you of “the good life.”

Many young people fall into this trap. They think that if they follow Jesus, they’ll have to give up everything enjoyable and fun and start doing all sorts of things that sound perfectly dreadful. I used to worry as a teenager that if I yielded my life to the Lord, He would send me to some jungle to live as a missionary. But it finally dawned on me that if He is a loving and all-wise Father, He would only ask me to do what would be for my ultimate good.

5) You allow trials and difficulties to grow into disappointment with Christ.

Like Judas, you think that “signing up” with Jesus means financial prosperity and the abundant life. But then you realize that the “abundant life” may include persecution and martyrdom, so you turn away to other things.

6) You get busy with other things that crowd out the most important thing.

Seeking after the Lord and walking with Him require time and effort. But we’re all prone to drift into other things that fill our time: TV, computer games, sports, social networks, and many other things can easily crowd out seeking first God and His kingdom.

7) You are too lazy and undisciplined to keep Christ first in your priorities.

Paul tells us to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). By definition, discipline means denying yourself some immediate gratification for a more worthwhile long-range goal. It implies that the long-range goal won’t happen by default if you kick back and cruise through life doing what feels good. If you don’t want to drift away from Christ, you have to confront your laziness and discipline yourself for godliness.

8) You sin, which causes your thinking about Christ to become muddled.

Following Christ is a rational decision based on the evidence about who He is and what He did for us on the cross. But the problem is, sin is always irrational and it causes us to become mixed up in our thinking. Sin skews our judgment and causes us to make other wrong choices to cover up or justify our sin.

9) You don’t grasp the supremacy and excellence of Christ.

You don’t see what Peter saw, that Jesus is the only one worth following. Where else or to whom else can you go that even begins to compare with Jesus? That leads us to the main point:

3. Persevering faith in God’s Son is the antidote to spiritual defection.

Peter sums it up (6:68-69): “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” We could be here all day and then some if we were to catalog the many wonderful qualities of Jesus Christ, but here are four:

A. Jesus Christ alone has words of eternal life.

Life is extremely short and uncertain, but eternity is forever. Jesus is the only one who came from heaven to earth to tell us how to go to heaven when we die and to provide the atonement for sin that we need in order to stand in God’s holy presence. Jesus put it in perspective (Matt. 16:26), “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Think about the shortness of life, the certainty of death, and the reality of eternity and you will not defect from Jesus Christ.

B. Jesus Christ alone is the Holy One of God.

(The King James Version’s, “You are the Christ, the Son of God,” is based on inferior manuscript support. The copyist was trying to harmonize John 6:69 with Matt. 16:16.) “The Holy One of God” is an unusual designation for Jesus. It only occurs one other time in the New Testament, when a demon-possessed man in the synagogue in Capernaum addressed Jesus with this title (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34). In the Old Testament, it is used of Aaron (Ps. 106:16). “Your Holy One” is used of Messiah (Ps. 16:10). But Isaiah often refers to the Lord as “the Holy One of Israel” (Isa. 1:4; 5:19, 24; 10:20; etc.). Leon Morris comments (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 390),

There can be not the slightest doubt that the title is meant to assign to Jesus the highest possible place. It stresses His consecration and His purity. It sets Him with God and not man.

Your faith is only as good as its object. You can have all the faith in the world in a faulty airplane, but your faith won’t make it fly. On the other hand, all you need is enough faith to get on board a mechanically sound plane, and it will get you where you’re going. If Jesus is not who the Bible shows Him to be, then faith in Him will not get you to heaven. But if He is the Holy One of God, then you should trust in Him and persevere even when He says hard things or takes you through hard times.

C. Jesus Christ alone is the omniscient, sovereign God.

John repeatedly emphasizes this truth in our text. Jesus knew when the fair-weather disciples were grumbling among themselves (6:61). He knew those who did not believe (6:64). He knew from the beginning who would betray Him (6:64). He knew that He would give His life on the cross, be raised again, and ascend to the Father (6:51, 62). He chose Judas as an apostle although He knew that he was a devil (6:70). And, of course, He knows all whom the Father has given to Him and He knows that He will not lose any of them (6:37, 39; 17:9, 12). He is omniscient and sovereign.

But, you may wonder, why did Jesus choose Judas when He knew that he would betray Him? A. W. Pink (Exposition of John, on monergism.com) suggests seven reasons: (1) It furnished an opportunity for Christ to display His perfections. Christ came to do the Father’s will and to accomplish the work on the cross that the Father gave Him (John 4:34). That required choosing the disciple who would betray Him. (2) It provided an impartial witness to the moral excellency of Christ. Judas later testified (Matt. 27:4), “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” (3) It gave occasion to uncover the awfulness of sin. Judas shows us the heinous nature of the sin from which we have been saved. Apart from His grace, we all would be traitors against Christ. (4) It supplies sinners with a solemn warning. Judas shows us “how near a man may come to Christ and yet be lost.” (5) It tells us we may expect to find hypocrites among the followers of Christ. (6) It shows us that a devil is to be expected among the servants of God. (7) It affords one more illustration of how radically different are God’s thoughts and ways from ours.

D. Jesus Christ is far above all others by way of comparison.

“Lord, to whom shall we go?” I’ve thought about that question many times when I’ve faced hard things. “Lord, to whom shall I go?” Jesus Christ is far and away supreme over all other options. He alone has words of eternal life. He alone is the Holy One of God. He alone is the omniscient, all-wise sovereign of the universe. “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

To the extent that we are tempted by the world, the flesh, and the devil, we do not realize or have forgotten the supreme beauty and glory of Christ. John Owen wrote (ibid., p. 93), “The whole foundation of all gospel faith rests in the glory of Christ’s person and offices…. It is this knowledge of him alone that will make us despise all other things in comparison with him.” Jesus is the pearl of great price. He is the treasure in the field. Sell everything and buy that pearl! Buy that field!

I like the way Juan Carlos Ortiz tells the story of the pearl of great price (adapted from The Disciple [Creation House], pp. 34-35). A man sees this pearl and says to the merchant, “I want this pearl. How much is it?”

The seller says, “It’s very expensive.” “How much?” “A lot!” “Well, do you think I could buy it?” the man asks.

“Oh, yes,” says the merchant, “everyone can buy it.”

“But I thought you said it was very expensive.” “I did.” “Well, how much?” “Everything you have,” says the seller.

“All right, I’ll buy it.” “Okay, what do you have?”

“Well, I have $10,000 in the bank.” “Good, $10,000. What else?” “That’s all I have.” “Nothing more?” “Well, I have a few dollars more in my pocket.” “How much?” “Let’s see … $100.” “That’s mine, too,” says the seller.

“What else do you have?” “That’s all, nothing else.” “Where do you live?” the seller asks. “In my house. Yes, I own a home.” The seller writes down, “house.” “It’s mine.”

“Where do you expect me to sleep—in my camper?” “Oh, you have a camper, do you? That, too. What else” “Am I supposed to sleep in my car?” “Oh, you have a car?” “Yes, I own two of them.” “They’re mine now.”

“Look, you’ve taken my money, my house, my camper, and my cars. Where is my family going to live?” “So, you have a family?” “Yes, I have a wife and three kids.” “They’re mine now.”

Suddenly the seller exclaims, “Oh, I almost forgot! You yourself, too! Everything becomes mine—wife, children, house, money, cars, and you, too.” Then he goes on, “Now, listen, I will allow you to use all these things for the time being. But don’t forget that they’re all mine, just as you are. And whenever I need any of them, you must give them up, because I am now the owner.”

Conclusion

Everything in the Christian life depends on Jesus Christ and whether He is who He claimed to be. If He’s not, then go follow someone or something else. Maybe there is someone better to follow or something better to live for. But if Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the one with words of eternal life, the Holy One of God, the omniscient, sovereign God, then where else can you go? Even when He says hard things or takes you through hard times, you’ve got to follow Him. There just aren’t any other options that even come close!

Application Questions

  1. What thing(s) other than Christ are you most tempted to put your faith in? How can you guard against their lure?
  2. Which of the nine wrong reasons to turn from Christ to things that cannot save do you most easily succumb to?
  3. Why didn’t Jesus go after these disciples who turned away? Is the church growth approach that focuses on getting more people into the church valid in light of Jesus’ ministry?
  4. How can we as Christians get an ever-increasing vision of the glory and supremacy of Jesus Christ?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word), Christian Life, Christology, Discipleship, Faith