John 6:25–34 (ESV)
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 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. 27 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.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
If you quickly read through this passage, you may think that you have got a grasp on what is happening and what point Jesus is trying to make. Jesus is talking about bread, right? I challenge you to pause for a moment, envision each character speaking, and try to take in the discourse.
You may be amazed at what is said.
In the verses leading up to this passage, there is a crowd gathered that is seeking out Jesus (Jn. 6:22-24). They finally spot him across the sea and they approached him with questions (Jn. 6:25).
The first question of many that the crowd asks Jesus is when it was that Jesus arrived where he was. What is Jesus’ answer to them? To paraphrase, Jesus dodges their question and says that they did not seek him out because of reasons of faith but because they were out of loaves to eat (not long before this passage, Jesus fed thousands of people with loaves of bread – see John 6:1-15). Then he follows with commanding his listeners to not work for food that perishes but food that lasts forever (v. 27).
Having shifted the topic from food to work and obedience, the crowd then naturally asks Jesus what it is that they must be doing to be fulfilling the works of God (v. 28)? If this Rabbi named Jesus is going to perform signs and wonders and teach them according to the revelation of God Himself, the people naturally want to know how to live for that everlasting food (Jn. 6:28). Wouldn’t that be the same question that you or I would ask Jesus next?
What is Jesus’ response when they ask what work God requires of them? “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29, underline added) In other words, Jesus points out that this is not the work that anyone can carry out but this is work that God Himself alone can do – and, listen carefully to the next eight words, the only required work is that of belief.
The crowd foolishly misunderstands two points that Jesus appears to be saying:
That (1.) they cannot do enough to account for their sins and (2.) “Eternal bread”, or salvation, is gifted to them and not something merited to them after they check off everything on their TO DO list.
The people that Jesus is speaking to, and we can put ourselves in their shoes, they “display no doubt about their intrinsic ability to meet any challenge God may set them; they envince no sensitivity to the fact that eternal life is first and foremost a gift within the purview of the Son of Man (v. 27).” Put simply, they think there is no command that cannot be completed and that they deserve eternal life with their complete obedience to a set of commands.
Whether we recognize it in our own lives, we would most likely be guilty of answering Jesus the same exact way. Put another way, those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ often choose religion over a relationship without realizing it. When life gets busy or difficult, we cowardly resort to our list of works – whether figuratively or literally, we check off daily boxes that say “pray,” “read Scripture,” and “tell others about Jesus.” In those moments where we put our hope of salvation in works, we should really listen to Jesus: “This is the deed God requires—to believe in the one whom he sent.” (NET)
To put this as bluntly and as applicable as possible:
- While a good thing, our reading of God’s Word alone will not earn our salvation;
- While a good thing, our consistent prayer for our neighbors will not earn our salvation;
- While a good thing, our service to the poor and the needy will not earn our salvation.
Such acts are the result of our faith and salvation, not the road to our faith and, most importantly, are not the means for our salvation. The only action that God requires of us in His salvation-gifting is to believe in the one whom He sent. If most of us were truly honest with themselves, we would admit that some days this is much more difficult a task than keeping a prayer journal or memorizing Scripture. The work that God requires of us is faith in Jesus Christ – can you rest in that fact? Are you able to stop doingand rest in the reality that no more sacrifices are necessary? Christ has done all of the work. All that is required of you and of myself is faith in the one who God has sent on our behalf. That is a beautiful truth and a truth that apparently went right over the heads of Christ’s audience nearly 2,000 year ago.
In a sequence that is almost too ironic to be true, following Christ’s proclamation of faith over works, those who were standing around Christ dared to ask him to perform a sign to prove his legitimacy (as if feeding thousands from five loaves and two fish in John 6:1-15 was not enough)! When will the people of God realize that the work has all but been accomplished already? Faith in Christ, in and of itself, can be the most difficult tasks. The only required deed any longer is that of faith in Christ Jesus, the Messiah who was born, who died, and who was resurrected
Are you at a place where you realize Christ is all and has accomplished all that needs done by His once-and-for-all sacrifice? Or are you still convinced that a life of Christian faith is deep-rooted in following strict guidelines and living a life of painful obedience to unwelcomed laws? If you have recognized Christ for who He is, are you able to look to the Scriptures and a life of prayer as the overflow of your faith opposed to the requirements of your faith?
“This is the deed God requires—to believe in the one whom he sent.” (Jn. 6:29)
 Carson, D.A., John: Pillar New Testament Commentary, John 6:28