I recall dark times when I have been tempted to think about what it would be like to give up Christianity and abandon Jesus altogether.
In those times of temptation, the siren song of sin greets me as it ascends from the bowels of hell. But this song doesn’t sound hellish. It rings sweetly and seductively in my ear. It offers me all the sparkly trinkets of this world, which is bursting at the seams with its vanity fair of lust-gratifying pleasures. It manifests before me that towering Mount of Past Idolatry, and bids me contemplate a fatal turn to the summit to sacrifice my soul on the altar of false worship. It motions a beckoning index finger and invites me to plunge headlong into a Jesus-rejecting life of self-absorbed abandonment to all-out sin.
What do I hear in those moments of temptation? In an alluring voice that betrays a serpent-like hiss, I hear things like this:
“This whole Christianity and Jesus thing is totally not worth it.”
“Why deny yourself the instant gratification of sin?”
“Did God really say?”
“Look at the prosperity of the wicked!”
“Remember the pleasures of your former life?”
“Fighting sin and pursuing holiness is way too hard.”
“In light of all these things, you should just give up already and abandon Jesus.”
Then I see him, sitting at the right hand of the majesty on high, the one who has the words of eternal life as the Holy One of God. And I read passages like John 6:60-71, which has been an immovable anchor for my soul in the torrential downpours of doubt, fear, loneliness, despair, and sustained temptation. And then I realize that Jesus is worth clinging to no matter what.
I don’t doubt that many of you have been or will be in this place of despair and temptation. Here are three soul-preserving truths from John 6:60-71 that I hope will encourage you to cling to Jesus with renewed resolve and passion.
1. False faith abandons Jesus when it gets hard.
If Jesus weren’t God, he’d be a psychopath. In John 6, Jesus says some really hard and really weird things that would be indicative of megalomaniacal insanity, if they were not, in fact, true. He says crazy-sounding things like “I am the living bread of life that came down from heaven (6:35, 41)” and “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him (6:44)” and “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you (6:53).” Undoubtedly, these are hard things to understand. How do many of his disciples respond to these hard things? They decisively abandon Jesus.
The initial manifestation of their abandonment is in their words: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it? (6:60-61).” The culmination of their abandonment is in their action: “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him (6:66).” And, ultimately, we know that the root of their abandonment is in their unbelieving hearts (6:64).
The point is this: When Jesus says hard things and demands hard things of professing disciples, false faith protests, “This is a hard saying. Who can listen to it?” When things get difficult in the Christian life, false disciples eventually show their true colors and decisively “turn back” to “no longer walk with him.”
In light of this passage, we could summarize the inner dialogue of false faith, when it collides with the hard demands of Jesus, as going something like this: “This is not what I expected when I affiliated myself with Jesus and his church. This is too hard. I have decided that it’s no longer worth it for me to follow this Jesus anymore. I’m out of here.”
2. True faith clings to Jesus when it gets hard.
Then it gets increasingly dramatic as tension builds. And this tension is catalyzed by Jesus. After the abandonment of the false disciples, Jesus turns to the Twelve and asks one, heart-wrenching, soul-searching question: “Do you want to go away as well? (6:67)” Peter’s response is gold. Here is the climactic, central verse of this passage. Peter responds, “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 (6:68-69).”
We could summarize the inner dialogue of true faith, when it collides with the hard demands of Jesus, as going something like this: “Many are leaving. But I am staying no matter what. I don’t fully understand everything. This is very hard. But I choose to cling to Jesus.”
3. Jesus is worth clinging to no matter what.
Peter and the other true disciples chose to cling desperately to a wandering, homeless Jewish carpenter over against every single attractive, glittery thing this world had to offer. Why? Pre-modern naivete? Even today, thousands of years after the birth of this Jesus, millions of post-Enlightenment people choose a life of abandoned devotion to Jesus over against absolutely everything in existence. Isn’t that ridiculous, superstitious, self-deluded, waste-of-a-life insanity? Well, it would be . . . if it weren’t for this one, eternal, unchanging, undeniable fact: Jesus is worth clinging to no matter what.
He’s worth it. Peter’s response encompasses the comprehensive identity of Jesus, what he possesses (“the words of life”) and who he is (“the Holy One of God”). An evaluation of the worthwhileness of a life of devotion Jesus should take into account every facet of Jesus’ person and work. And this evaluation informs our souls that a life of calculated, abandoned, trusting devotion to Jesus is worth it, no matter what.
So how does one apply these truths of the worth of Jesus to a feeble, struggling, doubtful heart? Here are some ideas. When that hellish siren song of sin conspires to seduce you into Jesus-abandoning apostasy, recall the overwhelming beauty and divinity and glory and love and grace and majesty and victory and person and work of Jesus. Look to him.
See him, Jesus of Nazareth, living the perfect life you never could, casting out demons with his divine prerogative, healing the masses with compassionate omnipotence, absorbing on the cross the full weight of God’s wrath that you should’ve crushed you, rising from the grave in defeat of death and sin, sitting in Gospel triumph at the right hand of the majesty on high, upholding the universe by the word of his power, interceding to God the Father on your behalf, preparing a place for you in paradise, awaiting the time when he returns as the conquering Davidic King, possessing the words of eternal life as the Holy One of God.
When tempted to abandon Jesus, remember him as the hidden treasure of infinite worth, which a man found and sold everything he had in order to obtain it. Remind yourself that he is the pearl of great price, the door, the true vine, the good shepherd, the living water, the light of the world, the way, the truth, the first and the last, the great I AM, and the resurrection and life!
What is Jesus’ net worth? Can you place a cash value on the resurrected and reigning God-Man? If you could, it would be the grand sum of all our cash, every jewel, every precious metal, every asset, every piece of personal property, every island, every continent, every heavenly body, every planet, every galaxy, even reaching into the undiscovered recesses of our mind-blowingly massive universe grasping for just something more that could contribute to such a sum. And all of that combined still would not measure up to the unsearchable riches and unplumbable depths of the worth of Jesus Christ. There is no one like this Man. He is the fountainhead of everlasting joy, indescribable glory, radiating beauty, resurrection life, and eternal satisfaction.
What good thing must I do to earn a relationship with such a worthy person? Here is the counterintuitive reality of divine grace: There is no earning here. Jesus freely offers himself to you through repentance of sin and trust in him. Come to him! Why pay the ultimate price to frolic in the dank sewers of sin and death when the abounding springs of light and life are offered freely through Jesus? For those already trusting in Jesus, to my beloved brothers and sisters, cling to him. In the depths of the dark night of the soul, when the lure of the world, the lies of Satan, and the desires of the flesh appear unbearably strong, remind yourself of the precious truth that Jesus is worth clinging to no matter what.
And at the end of your life, when you’re wrinkly and old and still clinging to Jesus, you’ll realize that it is not because you are so great, but because Jesus is so great. You’ll know that you persevered in faith because he preserved your faith. You’ll realize that you clung to Jesus because he clung to you–faithfully, mercifully, steadfastly–with the undying grasp of divine love, until the day he decides to bring you home to himself and to eternal glory.
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude 24-25
This song, which is based on this passage in John 6, has quickly become one of my favorites. It’s titled “Gladly Would I Leave Behind Me” by Sovereign Grace Music. Listen. Cling to Jesus. Worship.
*This post is loosely adapted from a sermon on John 6:60-71 I preached this past summer.*