Faithlife Sermons

Doctrine, The Real Test of Discipleship

Gospel of John  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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jn 6362
John 6:60–65 ESV
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
As we look back on Jesus’ travels and ministry as we have studied it here in John Chapter 6 a disturbing pattern emerges.
He travels in Judea, performs miracles, gathers crowds of followers, then he starts teaching hard lessons of faith and doctrine and hostility erupts and followers abandon him.
He then traveled into Galilee and just think of the miracles he performed there:
Turning water into wine in Cana
Healing the nobleman’s son
Feeding the five thousand
And a crowd of five thousand followed him to hear his teaching
But when the hard lessons of faith and doctrine came, even those folks began dropping away.
Just as it was back then, so it is today, discipleship is easy when Jesus’ teachings satisfy our worldly desires; when they amaze and entertain us; when they satisfy our felt needs; when they don’t challenge us too much but when Jesus lays the harder truths before us and they become more important than our self-satisfaction, our interest in following him begins to shrink.
How we understand and respond to sound biblical doctrine is the true measure of our discipleship. (repeat)
And here at the end of chapter 6, John tells us what happened as most dropped away, and even the ‘disciples’ were tested.
Note here that this is the story about Christ’s professed followers, the general company of folks that witnessed his miracles and heard his teaching.
This is NOT the story of his vocal and professed enemies!
Before we go any further, lets define our terms.

Doctrine and Discipleship

What do we mean when we say ‘doctrine’?
Jude 3 ESV
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
That describes, in the broadest sense, what doctrine is. It is christian truth and teaching passed on from generation to generation.
More specifically doctrine refers to christian teaching about God, the gospel, and the body of beliefs held by the church (body of believers, followers of christ)
In the time John is writing about their source for understanding doctrine was the law and the prophets, the OT, and then the direct teaching of Jesus.
In our time, our source of doctrine is the bible, the inerrant and infallible Word of God.
2 ti
2 Timothy 3:16 ESV
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
“Profitable for teaching...” describes the key purpose of doctrine.
What do we mean when we say ‘disciple’?
Our english word ‘disciple’ has a latin root and means “learner” or “pupil”.

In the Greek world the word “disciple” normally referred to an adherent of a particular teacher or religious/philosophical school. It was the task of the disciple to learn, study, and pass along the sayings and teachings of the master. In rabbinic Judaism the term “disciple” referred to one who was committed to the interpretations of Scripture and religious tradition given him by the master or rabbi

So ‘discipleship’ here means being a student of the teacher (Jesus) and an adherent, believer, and follower of the teacher and his teaching.

Hard Sayings

Verses 60 and 61 give us the reason why those, who at first appeared to be followers, began to fall away.
John 6:60–61 ESV
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?
They don’t say who can understand this, they say who can listen to it.
And Jesus doesn’t respond what part don’t you understand, he responds are you offended by my teaching?
The word translated ‘hard’ here doesn’t mean complicated and difficult to understand, it means literally ‘hard to tolerate’.
The crowd stayed around as long as Jesus’ teaching was a mystery to them but once the lessons became clear, they left.
They left because what they heard was SO contrary to their own views that they would not accept it.
Fast forward to 2017 and we see the same thing happening. And what are the doctrines that are so hard to accept?
First, there is the doctrine of Christ’s incarnation and all that this implies about him.
Three times in this chapter (33, 38, 51) he has said that he is the true bread that came down from heaven.
That says that he existed before his earthly birth
That says that he had a special relationship with God
That says that as God’s son he has a divine nature and is God
That says that he came into the world to take human nature upon himself
God here? In the flesh? Blasphemy! and they would not accept it.
Many today will not accept Christ in part for those very same reasons.
Second, there is the doctrine of the cross.
Jesus taught that he had to go to the cross.
John 6:51 ESV
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Those who heard Christ might have argued that they could understand how a person should pay for his own sin, even die for it if the crime were great enough. They could understand how salvation might be earned. But to think that Jesus Christ had to earn salvation for them and that they would therefore have to receive it as a free gift from him or not receive it at all—this they found objectionable. This is the primary difficulty that most of our contemporaries have in accepting Christianity

Finally, Jesus had taught that the reason why most of those listening did not believe on him was that in themselves they could not believe and that they could come to believe eventually only if God had previously determined to give them to him.
These are the rudiments of that system of doctrine known as the Reformed faith -
man’s spiritual inability to please God
and the necessity of God’s electing grace in salvation.
Jesus had said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (v. 44).
He had said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (v. 37).
Nothing is more calculated to arouse the ire and rebellion of the human heart than this teaching.
But it is true. Christ did not hesitate to proclaim it.
Each of these teachings ran counter to the normal way of thinking of those living in Christ’s time, and they run counter to the normal way of thinking today.
The question is: Are we willing to change our opinions to conform to the teachings of Christ?
Or will we persevere in error?
Obviously, we need to have our discipleship corrected by Christ’s doctrine, and to learn not to evaluate spiritual matters by the measure of our own understanding

Christ’s Answer

John 6:61–62 ESV
But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?
jn 6.
At first it seems that Jesus is asking if it would be easier for them if he just did another miracle for them. “Would you find it easy to believe if I just zoomed up through the clouds, back into heaven? Maybe zoom up and down a few times?”
That is the interpretation of a number of commentators and teachers.
Others think it connects to the cross and the resurrection which are in the future when he is having this conversation.
Others think it speaks of the end times.
I think there is another possibility. I think Jesus is saying, in effect, “If you think this is hard to accept, think about how hard your lot would be if we just reversed this whole thing. Let’s run the film backward; no ministry here, no miracles, no hard teachings, no virgin birth, no execution of God’s plan of redemption for the world, what would you do? What could you do?”
If this is plan A and you reject it, ok, I’ll just go back to heaven. What then is your plan B?”
Obviously our situation would be hopeless and desperate.
But thankfully Jesus did not ‘ascend’ back into heaven. Instead he:
Went to the cross
Gave His life as a ransom for our sins
THEN He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father and watches as the HS draws men and women to him.
I do not think the meaning of this verse is self-evident, at least it has not been self-evident to commentators, for they take different positions in referring to it. Some think of it as a reference to the cross. Some view it as a prediction of Christ’s ascension. Let me tell you what I think it means.
You can’t look at those truths and not see your salvation written boldly in them.
Jesus did die
Jesus died for you and for me, therefore
Our salvation is eternally secure.
When you look at this verse, say a prayer of thanksgiving that Jesus didn’t shrug off the grumbling and say, “OK you find this hard to accept, then work it out for yourselves.”

Not Flesh, But Spirit

But then Jesus went on to say something else. His first answer had been to ask, “What if I were to reverse the whole plan of redemption?”
The conclusion is that it is far better to have Christ’s ministry, even though it has doctrines that are difficult to accept, rather than have no ministry at all.
He went on to say:
John 6:63 ESV
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
This sentence adds the truth that it is only through the ministry of the Holy Spirit that we can understand his doctrine.
lu 11.27
Luke 11:27–28 ESV
As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
It is not the external trappings of religion that bless the soul, but rather the Word of God as it is carried to our understanding by the supernatural intervention of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives.
This is true of any outward form of religion.
Baptism is a good thing; it is commanded by God. But baptism does not save an individual. In fact, it has even become a curse in some denominations where it has been practiced upon unbelievers, for it has given the impression that all is well with their souls when actually they are children of wrath and under condemnation.
Take communion as a second example. Communion can be a blessed event. But it is also true that it is observed regularly by thousands who have never truly committed their lives to Jesus Christ, and so it is totally ineffective.
The works of the flesh profit nothing if the Spirit does not give life.
Bible reading is another example.
So is prayer.
So is church membership.
These aspects of Christianity are of great value if the Holy Spirit is blessing them to us and if we are seeking his blessing.
But they can also be used in an unbelieving, formal way and so achieve nothing.
We grow in the doctrine of Jesus only when we allow the Spirit of Jesus to interpret his words and apply them to our hearts.

Words of Life

Hold up the bible
This book contains the WORDS OF LIFE, Jesus words, including the hard to accept, the hard to tolerate.
We have the words. The question is what will you do with them.
We are called to do something with them.
Once more we see that God provides but that we then have a responsibility to respond.
“The Spirit (of God) gives life.”
In that work God operates by himself.
But Jesus went on to say, “…the words I have spoken to YOU...”
The ball is in your court.
You have the words, the words of life…what are you going to do with them?
Like his followers in Galilee, we have the same choices; follow or reject.
And understand that ignoring is the same as rejection.
All the good works that the christian is called to (care for the sick, comforting the sorrowing, providing for widows and orphans and the like) are dependent first on how we respond to the word.
It is a formidable but necessary obligation.

You are to feed on Christ’s words, digest Christ’s words, live Christ’s words, exude Christ’s words. Many pressing concerns will attempt to dissuade you. People will try to discourage your commitment. Do not be discouraged. Proclaim Christ’s teachings to those who will receive them and to those who will not. Proclaim them to the rich and to the poor, the educated and the uneducated, the high and the low, the privileged and the disadvantaged. As you do, God will use them to draw men and women to the Savior.

Nowhere to Go But Forward

John 6:66–68 ESV
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,
What a sad commentary on the loyalty and integrity of crowds.
Gung ho in the morning, complaining and departing in the afternoon.
While the words are pretty neutral and unemotional, the actual scene must have been one of disappointment and sadness.
I see people living in the moment; making decisions with eternal consequences based on how hard it is to get your head around new ideas; and these are not just any old idea, these are the words of truth, the words of eternal life.
It all comes down to choosing who you are going to listen to.
Do you listen to truth or
To your own preconceived ideas, the wisdom of pride and self-sufficiency?
To a stranger’s words that tickle your ears or lull you into complacency?
Outright lies sold as snake oil?
Jesus asked the disciples if they would be leaving him too. He asks us the same question.
It is a fact that some who have heard the word of truth, have even professed to believe it, turn their backs on Christ and Christianity.
Jesus’ disappointment with them surely cuts just as deeply as when these folks left him in Galilee.
Peter understood the issue perfectly and answered correctly.
Where else can you go?
if you reject Jesus and the Gospel, is there anyone else who can or will save you from the just penalty for your sins?
Is there any other means by which you can be forgiven and enter the sin-free presence of God for eternity?
The answer is ‘there is nowhere else you can go.’
The second part Peter got right was that Jesus indeed did have the words of eternal life.

A Relevant Question

Is Jesus question relevant today? Think for a moment about why a follower would depart?
Some depart in order to betray Jesus.
Just look at the twelve, hand picked, chosen directly by Jesus himself.
One of those men was Judas.
He was a man who had never believed in Christ in a saving way apparently - for Jesus called him a devil - yet he was with the other disciples and concealed his true character from them.
Eventually he betrayed the savior.
Is it not possible that some will masquerade today as christians and betray their church and the faith on some future day?
Some depart by denying Jesus.
Remember Peter’s history?
Were else can we go?
Matthew 26:35 ESV
Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.
mt 26.35
Three denials before the rooster crowed in the morning
We would all like to boast that we would NEVER deny him.
What we should do is pray that we would always have a strong, standing, forthright and lasting testimony to the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
Some will fail.
Our goal as a church is to build each other up into a strong community of faith where the gospel is openly confessed and the standards of christianity are upheld.
Notice my emphasis is on our own faith and conduct rather than expressing judgmental views of what is wrong with the rest of the world.
We need to beware lest our vision is blurred by logs while we point out the motes in others eyes.
Our own relationship with Jesus is of first importance.

Spurgeon wrote, “There is a constant winnowing going on in all churches, and this drives away the light and chaffy ones. There is a fan at work upon this floor. … Be not as the chaff. … Better far that we die than that we deny the Lord.”

A Searching Answer

A Searching Answer

Would you go back to your former way of life?
It was a sense of emptiness and incompleteness that led me to Christ in the first place. Why would I want to go back to that.
When we look back at our former lives we often talk of our escape from something that gripped us.
Ego trips
Measuring achievement and value by faulty standards
Why would we ever want to go back to the thing we celebrated escaping from?
If nothing else should do it, your own self-interest should demand that your pathway be forward.
When Christian was face-to-face with the devil in Bunyan’s account of his travels to the celestial city in Pilgrim’s Progress, he thought how dearly he would love to go back and escape the conflict.
However, when he thought of his armor, he remembered that he had none for his back. He had a shield, a breastplate, a helmet, a sword, but nothing for his back.
So he realized that if he should turn around, it would be the work of only a moment for the devil to slay him with his spear.
He therefore resolved that however bad it might be to go forward, it would, nevertheless, be worse to go backward.
So he fought on and gained victory.
Think of that fact when you are discouraged or tempted. Press on!
Would you go back to some secular ideology?
There is the ideology of progress.
This word characterized the aspirations of the nineteenth century with all its advances in commerce, science, medicine, communications, and transportation.
Some thought that we were headed toward a golden age in which all would live in peace and all forms of sickness and ignorance would be wiped out.
But that has not happened.
Sin is still with us. Science has not conquered it.
Would you go back to some false religion or false religious leader?
We passed through the Age of Aquarius, fascination with eastern religions, and assorted cults but new ‘religions’ keep popping up.
We may be seeing a new cult blossoming in our world today…the cult of intolerance.
I don’t like your words, you must not use them.
I don’t like your flag, you must take it down.
I don’t like your intolerance of whatever, you must quit being intolerant…wait a minute, does that mean I have to give up being intolerant of you? Scratch that one.
I don’t like your history, you must re-write it.
Suddenly our system of values has gone crazy:
We have competing hate groups doing battle in the streets of our cities
We have religions of ‘peace and tolerance’ killing innocents because they hate them.
Lets not ever think about going back to whatever our life was before we met Jesus. There is nothing there for us anymore.
Like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, we must press on
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Even though we might think we could escape our prior experience with Jesus, King David says even that won’t work.
Psalm 139:7–10 ESV
Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.

Bound To The Master

The conclusion of this is that if you have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior—if you are truly united to him through the miracle of the new birth—then there is no way for you to go but forward.
The conclusion of this is that if you have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior—if you are truly united to him through the miracle of the new birth—then there is no way for you to go but forward. A threefold cord binds you to him. Peter speaks of it.
A three things binds you to him. Peter speaks of it.
First, there is nowhere else to go.
Peter acknowledged this in the tone of his question.
You have acknowledged it as I have reviewed the alternatives in this study. Who will have you after you have been with Jesus? Jesus was not wanted. He was killed. His followers down through the centuries have been killed. Who will take you in when the door has already been shut against your Master?
Second, you have learned that there is satisfaction in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ and that true satisfaction can be found in him only.
Peter said, “You have the words of eternal life.” It was said by the Greeks that that man would always be unsatisfied with human food who had once tasted the nectar of the gods.
That is a description of your case if you are a Christian.
Jesus said, “Drink of me, and I will satisfy your thirst; feed on me, and I will satisfy your hunger.”
You have done that. You have had heavenly food. Now anything else will seem flat by comparison.
Finally, as Peter says, “We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Thus, to go back now would be not only a crisis of faith; it would be intellectual suicide and dishonesty. It cannot be done.
We know too much to prove faithless.


In the year 1555, in Oxford, England, Hugh Latimer, that great English bishop of the Reformation period, was led to the stake to be executed. Ridley was with him. These men had come to prominence as spokesmen for the Reformation in England under Henry VIII and had carried the true gospel of salvation by grace into every hamlet in the nation. But a change had come. Bloody Mary was now upon the throne, and godly men everywhere were being executed. Like one who had run a good race and who had kept the faith, Latimer went to the fires calmly. At the last he called out, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as (I trust) shall never be put out.”
If the time should come when you or I should find ourselves in that position, I trust that we too shall be strong. We cannot turn back. There is no place to go but forwar
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