“When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:25-29)
John 6:22-24 revealed that the people who witnessed Jesus’ healings and his feeding of the multitude were still at the original site of these miracles (east of the Sea of Galilee) and, out of their heightened curiosity, purposed to find Jesus once again. Other boats loaded with people from Tiberias (on the northwest shore of the lake) also heard of the miracles and they too searched for Him.
They eventually found Him in the synagogue at Capernaum (John 6:59). They inquired, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” (John 6:25). Jesus’ response to their question frames and fills the rest of John 6.
In understanding the historical context, Dr. R. C. Sproul explains, “Today’s passage tells us that they soon found Jesus in Capernaum and entered into dialogue with Him. This dialogue, which consists of extended monologues on the part of Jesus and responses from the people, took place in Capernaum’s synagogue, as John 6:59 tells us. This kind of interaction between teacher and hearers was a common Jewish way of teaching in the synagogue during the first century.”
Jesus responds to their question by saying, ““Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Rather than cater to their superficial interest in Him, Jesus exposed the crowd’s latent self-interest and ignorance of who He was and what He displayed before them the previous day. He indicated to them they were only interested in receiving a “free lunch” or a Messiah who would meet their physical needs rather than acknowledge that He was God. In other words, they were looking to be entertained and to have their physical wants and needs satisfied. They were not looking to be saved from their sin.
One commentator writes, “This phrase (because you ate) emphasizes Jesus’ point that the crowds that followed him were motivated by superficial desire for food rather than any understanding of the true spiritual significance of Jesus’ person and mission (John 8:14–21; Mark 6:52).”
Jesus then said, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”
Let us be clear that Jesus was not teaching a works based salvation on the part of sinners. Rather, He was rebuking the people for their purely materialistic ideas of the Messianic Kingdom and they should labor for the nourishment that is eternal, which Jesus would give them. What is this labor of which Jesus speaks?
Again, Dr. R. C. Sproul provides valuable insight when he states, “We must instead labor for the food that leads to eternal life (v. 27). And when Jesus was asked what the God-ordained labor is that leads to eternal life, He said that such labor consists in believing in Him (vv. 28–29). Jesus called this a work inasmuch as belief is something that we do, but of course He did not mean that belief earns life eternal or that it is something we can work up on our own. It is a gift of grace, not a meritorious deed (Eph. 2:8–10).”
This is an issue which always confused me. I always heard that sinners can do nothing to earn their salvation. However, at the same I heard that the one thing they must do is believe. Believing is an active work or effort on the sinner’s part. How then can faith and belief in Christ not be a human work in which the sinner can therefore glorify himself? The corresponding conclusion is then if I am ultimately the one who is responsible to believe independent of God, can I then un-believe and therefore lose my salvation?
The answer found in Scripture is that faith and belief is a God-given ability (Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29; Acts 13:48; 2 Peter 1:1-2) which the Holy Spirit alone gives to those who He sovereignly regenerates, or who are born again (John 3:1-8). To believe unto justification is to trust, commit, depend and worship Jesus Christ alone as Savior and Lord.
Therefore, even though the sinner exercises faith in the truth of the person and work of Jesus Christ, the ability to believe is in itself a gift of God by grace alone. The doctrine of faith alone, in Christ alone is undergirded by the truth of God’s sovereign grace alone to give the gift of saving faith to those who He has sovereignly chosen to justify and redeem: the elect (Ephesians 1:3-14). Therefore, those who have received the gift of faith are also kept by God (Philippians 1:6).
Finally, notice Jesus’ last statement in John 6:29: ““This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Believing in Jesus Christ for salvation is solely a work of God, as indicated by the grammatical phrase, “this is the work of God.” Faith in Christ is a work or effort which originates solely from God the Father. He alone choses to give saving faith to those He has chosen to save.
This biblical doctrine offends people today. It offended people in Jesus’ day. In fact, it makes some people down right angry. Not only are they angry at this biblical doctrine, but they also express their anger towards any pastor or Bible teacher who would dare preach and believe this doctrine. I have encountered such people and such anger. However, I am to preach, teach and to believe what the Bible says is true and not preach, teach and believe what I want the Bible to say is true. Do you see the difference?
Many of the people who Jesus spoke with did not like what He was preaching and teaching. More to come from John 6.
Thank God today for not only saving you, but choosing to give you the faith in Jesus Christ in order to be justified by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
Soli deo Gloria!