At this point, many of his disciples turned away and deserted him – John 6:66
The writer GK Chesterton once wrote, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found too difficult and not tried”. When you read John chapter 6, you understand why.
Me and my wife recently met up with an urban missionary in Sydney city on a Saturday afternoon. Afterwards we went for a walk around Millers Point, which is right under the bridge next to The Rocks. We walked into a pub, as some music was playing and while I was at the bar, a man came and hit on my wife. It was quite amusing. He was disappointed when he realised he was 25 years too late to the scene, but he wouldn’t go a away and insisted on getting to know us better. Using Jesus Christ every second sentence, he tried to convince us he was happily married with 3 kids. What were we doing on a Saturday afternoon in Millers Point? In frustration, eventually my wife turned on him and said ‘we’re here to tell people about the person you’ve been swearing about for the last 10 minutes, Jesus Christ!”, which at last quietened him down.
Over the next half-hour we were able to go right through the Gospel with him and his mate, explaining that God has two sides to his character – holiness and love, and that both are of equal importance, both inseparable. Our audience was genuinely transfixed; they had never heard that Christianity was like this before. The Holiness of God is a rarely-preached thing these days, and it is confronting to all who hear it.
At the end, I told them that a decision now awaited them. God is waiting for a response from each of us, we have to decide what we will do with Jesus Christ in our lives. There was a flicker of seriousness, as for maybe the first time in their lives they faced the gravity of what it might be like having to deal with God. We were intrigued, watching as they carefully weighed up what it could cost to follow Jesus. In the end, they declined the invitation to respond, not because it didn’t make perfect sense, neither because it wasn’t crystal clear, no they declined because it would mean having to change a lifestyle. The woman-chasing (in spite of talk about being happily married) and pub crawls would have to end, perhaps even that night.
I’ve never watched someone so deliberately decide to reject the Gospel because of a lifestyle choice before.
There’s another side to Jesus’ comments here though, and that is what is the cost to believers, how hard is the Gospel for us? It says, many of his disciples left him. I have grave concerns for the current ‘church’ in the West as I believe many who think they are comfortably saved, may not be so. Too many think that salvation is determined by the utterance of a few lines in response to a prayer, and then regular church attendance with the odd meeting here and there. The rest of our lives we are free to do as we please. It seems for many, they are allowed to live an unnatural life, one day a week. How much can God really demand of us?
Well, Jesus tells us that he demands everything of us, if we are to truly follow him. It is at this point that I realise the Gospel is in fact very hard. The Cross of Calvary meant that for the first and only time, sinners had a genuine second chance at getting right with God, not because of what we could do, but because of what Christ could do for us. It was and remains the most extraordinary gift for mankind. But, somehow this became translated as the easy Gospel, the no-work Gospel and it is a deadly assumption. To presume the priceless grace of God is cheap and easy, and allows us to live how we see fit is the greatest heresy imaginable. It must be a stench to Him.
Just recently we heard about the Tabernacle of the Old Testament, and how essential it was for the priests ministering within it, to follow protocol. This was no ordinary king they were dealing with, this was the God of Gods. His Holiness demanded it be done right. It made me examine my own approach to God on a daily basis, how do I come into his presence even though I have been saved by his Grace in Christ Jesus. On a day to day basis, how much do I listen to what he says, and do his will, how much am I his? I feel that in some ways I walk a careful tightrope, and yet I think that is a good thing.
In 1 Corinthians, we are told ‘you are not your own, you were bought with a price.’ Can it be any clearer for me, for you?
I fear that one day, it is going to cost us everything to preach such a message in the West even in our so-called ‘churches’, but we need to nonetheless. There is a toughness about the Gospel message that our soft over-sensitive society cannot stomach.
We need to tell others of this side of the Gospel, even if it means that many would leave him because of it. We must follow Christ in all that we do, including what is hard and even unpopular.
As John Knox said when preaching relentlessly to Mary Queen of Scots, I fear him more than I fear you.