What is a True Believer?
There is a stunning turn of events in John 6:61-66. Many of the so called “disciples” that followed Jesus left Him and never followed Him again:
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
Notice how they were called “disciples” in verse 61, but then we find that they didn’t really believe. When it came time to really pick up their cross and follow Him, they instead “turned back and no longer followed Him.” They were offended at some things Jesus said about Himself. They couldn’t understand the spiritual meaning. The real problem though, was that they were not true believers. Jesus previously spoke of this in the Parable of the Sower.
Some just didn’t understand the Word from the beginning:
“When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.” (Matthew 13:19)
Some receive it with joy but they only follow Jesus for a short time:
“The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” (Matthew 13:20-21)
Some hear the Word but their lives never change:
“The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22)
Some hear the Word and understand it, they follow Jesus to the end:
“But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:33)
Paul was concerned that some of the “believers” in the Corinthian church were not true believers. He reiterated the gospel message to them and challenged them to examine themselves to see if they were in the faith.
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. (1 Cor. 15:1-2)
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Cor. 13:5)
Paul also tells us that there are those that profess to be true believers but their actions say something totally different. Neither are they true believers.
They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good. (Titus 1:16)
…having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Tim. 3:5)
John reminded us that if someone is not a true believer they will not stay with Christ. They will leave Him and not come back to Him. This shows that they never really were a true believer.
They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (1 John 2:19)
And Peter tells us that someone who is not a true believer will return to the world and turn from following Jesus as their Lord and Master and never come back to Him.
If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. 22 Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.” (2 Peter 2:20-22)
Jesus Himself taught us that being a true believer involves a great cost. The reason many stopped following Jesus (such as in the John 6) was that they didn’t count the cost of being a true believer.
“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Luke 14:27-30)
What then is a true believer and the signs of a true believer?
We can see in our main passage in John 6 a sharp differentiation between those that were false believers and those that were true believers. The false believers were offended by Jesus’ teaching and couldn’t accept it. They stopped following Him and never returned. They could not accept or understand His words. On the other hand, the true believers were compelled to stay and to continue following Him because they knew in their hearts that He was the only way to God and eternal life as we see in verses 67 and 68:
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
They came to “believe and know.” This was a permanent change in their hearts and there was no going back. They had found the pearl of great price and treasure hidden in the field (Matt. 13:44-46). Where could they go? What could be better? That is the experience of a true believer. There is nothing that would or could persuade them otherwise. They were sold out to the idea. Their hearts were won over by His love. Yes, Peter would turn away from Jesus later on and deny he knew Him (John 18:15-27). But this was only because he was afraid of the people that arrested Jesus, not because he couldn’t believe or accept the Lord’s words. In it he learned how very dependant he really was on Jesus. He wept in remorse over his denial of the Lord. His faith did not fail him in the end because it was a true faith (Luke 22:32). If he wasn’t a true believer, he would have not have had a godly sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:10), it would have only been a worldly sorrow it would have only led to death. When the Lord confronted Him he returned and showed that he was a true believer. He then went on to do even greater things for the Lord. We do stumble at times as true believers because of our lack of faith and frailty, but because we have a true faith in Him, we get up, learn from our mistakes and sins, and go on to maturity. We have a godly sorrow that leads to repentance. I mean, where can we go, He has the words of eternal life? What else could be better? We’ve found the priceless pearl and the field of infinite treasure. So is it thought, believed, and acted upon in the heart and life of the true believer.