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.”
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, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
John 6:60-69 (ESV)
It’s admirable the twelve disciples chose to stay with Jesus when so many others decided to abandon Him. This passage illustrates something important: the people who turned away were disciples. These were not individuals who simply wanted to hear Jesus speak or be healed of some ailment. They were not just curious about Jesus, they knew who Jesus was and they had previously made a commitment to follow Him and His teachings.
Being a follower of Christ is hard1 (in some places more so than others). But it should never be predicated on having a complete and comprehensive understanding of every facet of the faith. In fact not only is it not possible to know everything, it also runs contrary to what the Bible teaches:
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12 (ESV)
The twelve disciples had it right. Persisting through the confusion and doubt they refused to abandon their faith because of their inability to comprehend what Jesus was saying.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
John 6:68-69 (ESV)
For Peter and the other eleven disciples, what mattered was not that they understood what was being said but rather who was saying it. Their alternative was to return to the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees, which evidently was not great2.
I remember a time when I was sitting with a few friends having lunch. With the hour almost spent most of those sitting at the table got up and left. I remained with a friend who had struggled being a follower of Christ. He would be interested one moment but the next would go out and live a life contrary to what he knew God would want. It was December and as he spoke to me he said, “I’m planning January 1 as the comeback date.”
“Oh?” I said inquisitively.
“Yeah, I’m going to re-commit my life and start living for God then.”
“No, you’re not,” I casually added.
“You’re not going to accept Christ in the new year. If you were genuinely sincere about accepting Christ, you would do so now and start now. You wouldn’t say, ‘I’m going to do this in a few weeks,’ and continue living without Christ until then.”
We continued talking about a few other things before we both had to leave. Suffice it to say, I didn’t observe him reaffirm his commitment to Christ in the new year, or at any point in time for the length in which we knew each other. I ran into him several years later and we exchanged pleasantries. I can’t help but think that there was some sense of regret in him during that brief encounter.
People seek God for a lot of different reasons.
We can look at the twelve disciples and admire their commitment as those whose fidelity kept them at Jesus’ side when others went away. I have often looked at John 6:60-69 as the difference between those who left everything to follow Jesus versus those who kept a few options open in case things didn’t work out.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Luke 9:57-62 (ESV)
A commitment to Christ isn’t a subscription. It’s not a contract with a phone or cable TV provider. It’s an abandonment of a previous life3 trajectory and an acceptance to yield future trajectories to God through Christ. It’s a decision to accept these changes regardless of the perfectness of knowledge or understanding.
We don’t have to know everything about Jesus. We don’t have to have a perfect understanding of the Bible. We do have to have a commitment to the One who enables us to have a relationship with God through Himself—Jesus. The rest comes in time.