DROPOUTS AND DISCIPLES
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
June 7, 2020
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.
— John 6:60-71, ESV
Last year the number of church members who do not attend church services or offer other signs of spiritual life reached 65% (according to Barna Research). Southern Baptists are among the worst, as on any given Sunday 75% of our members cannot be accounted for. During last century’s heyday of Billy Graham Crusades and local church revivals, 90% of persons making so-called professions of faith never followed up with baptism and membership in a local church.
But these numbers pale in comparison with the evangelistic ineffectiveness of Jesus as described in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. Here our Lord preached the gospel to approximately 20,000 people and wound up with only 11 real disciples of Christ. In the concluding verses of the chapter, that ugly cloud of unbelief is traced by a silver lining of genuine faith and real discipleship.
The word “disciples” in this context is used about as loosely as the term “Christian” in our age. Titles and testimonies too often do not tally up. Thousands of people were following Jesus during His next to last Passover pilgrimage, but it became clear that their faith was superficial for selfish reasons. Once Jesus laid out the gospel plain and clear, claiming absolute lordship and demanding real repentance and faith, the crowd began to drop out, for a variety of reasons.
Dropouts find the gospel is too “hard.” Not everyone is a United States Marine. The higher you try to climb on the educational ladder, the easier it is to quit before completion. And while there is no shame in not being a soldier or obtaining a Ph.D., it is a curse to put your hand to the gospel plow and then turn back.
When Jesus told the crowd they must consume His flesh and blood He meant they must be consumed with His person and work, the gospel, the kingdom of God, New Testament Christianity. You cannot get the benefits of Jesus’ life and death until you are willing to live for Christ and die to self. You should not count on going to Heaven if you have given lip service to the gospel but no life’s service to the kingdom of God and Christ’s church. Perfection is not required, but commitment is absolutely necessary, and keeping your commitment can be hard. Dropouts don’t do it.
Dropouts find the gospel is “offense[-ive].” The Greek word is “scandalon,” from whence we get our English word “scandal.” A scandal is an harmful, embarrassing, scandalous situation caused by someone’s sin.
The cross of Christ is the greatest scandal in the history of the world, perpetrated by all of the sinners in the world against the Savior of God’s people. Confessing to being a sinner and crying out to God for mercy is something the typical man finds untenable. Many may drop into the church for a season to release some tension or enjoy some social benefits, but the scandal of the cross will eventually offend them, or bore them, and give them a reason to walk away.
Dropouts discover that the gospel is impossible for the “flesh” to “believe.” This prompted Jesus to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted by the Father.” There can be no faith in man apart from the grace of God.
The lost man suffers from total depravity unadorned by irresistible grace. The flesh can fake it, but belief in the Gospel of John is always used as a verb, usually present tense. The lack of ongoing discipleship is proof that a profession of faith is false, and those who drop out simply evidence the obvious that they were never saved in the first place.
Dropouts now make up the quantitative majority of the modern church. Disciples, however, are the real quality of Christ’s church.
Jesus’ last words in the last part of John six is addressed to “the twelve,” “yet one of you is a devil.” That means at the end of this day, Jesus had eleven true disciples sitting at His feet. They were uncommon men who would change the world, yet there are some things about them that all disciples have in common.
Disciples call on the name of the “Lord,” and mean it. Though the Bible tells us in both Covenants, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (ref. Joel 2:32;Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13), many who have said it throughout history never really meant it. At the end of the day, and at the end of every person’s life, what you say means nothing if not backed up by what you do or what you’ve done with your life.
A disciple by definition is disciplined to take actions based on the doctrines of their mentor. In the case of Christianity, Christ has commanded many spiritual disciplines. He commands baptism, responsible church membership, holiness of life, generosity of spirit, witness of lips and life, and agape love. Disciples are never perfect in this life but always persistent, in keeping with the key doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.
Disciples hunger for “the word” of God, hear it and heed it. Those first eleven had a wonderful advantage, hearing the word of God from the Word of God face to face. They would stumble and fall but they would never fail to get back up and follow. They treasured God’s word above bread, above healing, above money, and just about any other thing.
Simon Peter, the leader, would to on to write that the ensuing generations of Christians would have an even better gift than hearing Jesus in person, that of the Holy Scriptures, which to us today are “the words of eternal life.” A body that refuses to eat is either sick or dead. So is a so-called disciple who has no desire for the Bible or biblical truth. Disciples crave it more than candy.
Disciples “believe” that Jesus Christ was, is, and always will be “the Holy One of God,” and live their lives accordingly. Jesus’ signs and the sayings send forth the message of the deity of Christ. The 99.99% just did not get it, but the .01 percenters did, transformed by grace and taking constant actions, revealing they are the true disciples.
If Jesus is God, and He is, He made you. If Jesus is Lord, and He should be, He saved you. If you believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, your life will show it, consistently and persistently. Disciples do not drop out. They drop everything else to be disciples. Find a church full of them and stick with them. Be a disciple, not a dropout.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org