“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it? ” John 6:60
The complaining disciples would feel very comfortable living today. In our culture, if anything is difficult, if anything is testing, if anything is hard, then there must be questions raised about it. If examinations are too hard, people complain, but isn’t that the point of examinations? If standards are high, people complain, but why have standards at all if they are not high?
Jesus asks much of his disciples, and, like people today, there are some who want an easy path to follow, who are looking for a part-time faith, a discipleship where one can pick and choose the bits one wants. The whole consumerist culture says that people can take what they want and leave what they don’t like, and when it comes to following Jesus, people, shaped by that culture, take the same attitude to their faith as to everything else.
Among those who followed Jesus, there were those who simply could not show the commitment needed, John Chapter 6 Verse 66 tells us, “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” It seems a very sad comment. The inclination today would be to tell people they could take a gentler path, that they could follow Jesus in their own way, except that Jesus doesn’t suggest such a path is possible—one is a disciple, or not a disciple. There are some things where people do things or they don’t do them, and doing them requires discipline.
Christians are people who claim to believe in the most important thing in the world, they are people who talk about eternal life. Christians claim to want to tell people about the greatest thing anyone could possibly possess. Yet there is a tendency to behave as if faith were a menu where one could select the things that looked nice avoid anything that is not to one’s taste.
Christians now behave as if discipleship were something that is easy. Being a member of the church is presented as something that would never make anyone say, “this teaching is difficult.” Integrity demands that the question must be asked as to what sort of Jesus it is in which people believe in if they think that following him can be just about choosing the easy bits.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor executed by the Nazis in World War II after his part in the plot to kill Adolf Hitler, wrote a book called The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer talks about “cheap grace.”
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.
Grace without Jesus Christ is obviously no grace at all, but isn’t that what those disciples wanted when they decided to stop following Jesus?
“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” it was a valid question; it had to be answered.
The answer given by many of the people then and by many people now is that they cannot accept a Jesus who makes demands of them. Bonhoeffer contrasts the “cheap grace,” which was offered by the church then (and is offered much more by the church now), with the costly grace offered by Jesus,
costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light’.
Discipleship is not easy, it asks much of those who call themselves Christian, but what is the alternative?
Jesus notices that people have drifted away, no longer able to accept the challenge and he turns to his friends in John Chapter 6 Verse 67-68, “So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’”
‘To whom may we go?’ It’s a question for Christians now as well as a question for the disciples.