Not Working

Notes on John 6:29

Jesus answered him,
“This is the work of God,
That you believe in Him whom He has sent.”
John 6:29

This wasn’t a new teaching, although I had that misconception for many years. Jesus didn’t nullify the Law of Moses or turn it upside down (Matt 5:17). From the beginning, the Law is rich with teaching on belief and faith. Abraham was accepted as righteous because of his belief. Moses was a man of faith who lost a treasured privilege the day he acted in anger and ‘did not believe the Lord’ (Num 20:12). Later, Moses rebuked the people for their unbelief, (Deut 1:32).

The people were given testimonies, not just commandments.

Psalms 78 and 106 list the impact unbelief had on the Israelites. Here are some examples:

…His anger rose against Israel,
Because they did not believe in God
And did not trust His saving power.
Psalm 78:21b-22

Then they despised the pleasant land,
Having no faith in His promise.
They murmured in their tents,
And did not obey the voice of the Lord.
Psalm 106:24-25

And the Lord said to Moses,
“How long will this people despise Me?
And how long will they not believe in Me,
In spite of all the signs that I have done
Among them?”
Numbers 14:11

In every case, unbelief led to disobedience. We shouldn’t be confused about this, which I was for years. I thought a person could be known by their words in spite of their deeds. But your actions reveal your heart.

What you believe WILL manifest itself. Faith DOES lead to obedience and unbelief DOES lead to disobedience.

Jesus was giving the people the answer they most needed to hear. Seek faith—not performance. Believe, and the work that honors God will follow.


Then they said to Him,
“What must we do,
To be doing the works of God?”
John 6:28

Often, when the topic of works and earning God’s approval and/or salvation come up, this verse and Jesus’ answer have been helpful to me. It’s not that our actions are meaningless by any means but that they spring from our hearts.

Here, the Jews and Galileans who ate the blessed bread and searched for Jesus are wanting more bread, and in response to Jesus’ advice about seeking eternal food, they reply, ‘OK, what do we have to do to earn this bread?’

TSK offers a couple excellent examples of when the Israelites said, ‘Tell us what to do and we’ll do it’. Jeremiah chapter 42 is particularly enlightening. They came to Jeremiah asking him to seek the Lord on their behalf and promised absolutely to do whatever He said. They specifically said they would follow what Jeremiah told them to do as God’s prophet. Then they immediately did the opposite.

I’ve been thinking about this. Why would someone ask the question, ‘What does God want?’ if they had no intention of honoring it?

  • Perhaps they intend to justify themselves and want to hear it so they can explain why it doesn’t apply
  • Maybe they are convinced the prophet is false and want to hear what he says to confirm their opinion
  • They could be curious
  • Or perhaps they want to hear the options before committing to any course of action
  • Maybe they want control: ‘Give me the guideline and I’ll handle it’
  • Or they could be filled with hatred and wanting ammunition to fuel the evil in their hearts, looking for a reason to take offense

What a contrast to the people who heard Peter’s first sermon on the day of Pentecost! They were horrified when they heard the truth about Jesus. They understood it, and Acts says:

When they heard this they were cut to the heart,
And said to Peter and the rest of the apostles,
“Brothers, what shall we do?”
Acts 2:37

There are many people and situations where it’s reasonable for me to ask what’s expected of me before choosing to act on it, if I am not under the authority of the one asking. But if the Lord is my God, shouldn’t His word be the standard I live by? Shouldn’t I be asking, “What should I do?” with a view to obey?

What a relief that:

His commandments are not burdensome.
1 John 5:3