I have read Oswald Chambers’ classic devotional, “My Utmost For His Highest,” for more years than I can count. I still have to read many of the entries two or three times to grasp the meaning. Chambers wrote the devotional for people in ministry and he sets the bar at a high level. I recently read the devotional written out of John 6:66. I’m certain I have read it in the past, but this year I studied the entry like I had never seen it before.
I think the numbering of this verse is what caught my eye, although chapter and verse numbering didn’t occur until the 13th through 16th centuries. John 6:66 says, “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” Oswald wrote, “If there is one standard in the New Testament revealed by the light of God and you do not come up to it, and do not feel inclined to come up to it, that is the beginning of backsliding, because it means your conscience does not answer to the truth.” That one sentence is worth reading and re-reading until the magnitude of it sinks into your understanding.
John, Chapter 6, is not an easy chapter. It cannot simply be read – it must be studied. Jesus was speaking with his disciples. Not just the twelve, but a large group, that had begun to follow him by this time. Jesus had miraculously fed the five thousand by turning just a few loaves and fishes into baskets and baskets of food. The disciples and the crowds were overwhelmed with what they had experienced. The danger that Jesus was aware of and spoke to was the tendency people would have to follow him for the wrong reasons. People then and now have wanted Jesus, not for what he came to give, but hoping he will give what they want.
Jesus withdrew from that self-centered thinking. He put his disciples in a boat and went to a solitary place to be alone. Later, that evening, he walked on the water, meeting his disciples in the middle of the Sea of Galilee and once again proving to them he was a man of miracles. Later that day, the crowds found Jesus again. Jesus told the crowds, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:27). John 6:66 is the conclusion of the teaching that follows verse 27.
Jesus teaches his disciples that he is the “bread from heaven” (v. 32). He tells them it is his body and blood that will give them eternal life (vv. 53-58). When the disciples had listened to his teaching they said, “This is hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (v. 60).
Those passages make sense to us because we know the Easter story. His disciples were listening to the truth, but the truth seemed unbelievable. In fact Jesus would tell them, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him” (v. 65). That is the point Oswald Chambers wanted to make in his devotional.
The reason you and I are believers is because the Holy Spirit of God has filled our lives and enabled our faith in Jesus. He has given us the ability to accept the teaching of God’s word. We believe that Jesus was a perfect sacrifice for every sin that is in the world. We believe that he died and rose again. His resurrection is the promise that we can have eternal life as well. It is hard teaching. Who can accept it? No one, except those whom the Father has enabled.
Who will you influence and introduce to God’s Holy Spirit? God so loved his creation that he sent his Son. “Whoever” believes in him will gain eternal life. (John 3:16) But, millions of people will die this year unsaved because of John 6:66. Many of Jesus’ disciples “walk with him no more.”
We don’t call ourselves “backsliders” anymore. It seems an old-fashioned or churchy word. Maybe it needs to become popular again. A back-slider is a disciple who doesn’t walk in the truth any longer. It can be someone who refuses to believe, or someone who acts like they don’t believe. Either way, back-sliders don’t walk under the leadership of God’s Holy Spirit and no one can accept the teaching of Jesus without his influence.
Oswald Chambers concluded his devotional with these words: “You can never be the same after the unveiling of a truth. That moment marks you for going on as a more true disciple of Jesus Christ or for going back as a deserter.” When we became Christians, we enlisted in God’s army. God’s standards are high and only achieved with the help of his Holy Spirit. Are we obeying the Holy Spirit’s “orders?” If so, we are giving our utmost for his highest.
“Many of his disciples went back, and walked with him no more.” But the ones that stayed – changed the world.