Many of us Christians know of people who made a profession of faith in Christ and then walked away from gospel, walked away from the church, walked away from the interest of God’s word. There are many people whom I knew very well, some were in the ministry with us for many years, walked away from the truth of the gospel and go back to the old ‘false religion’. But it’s a reality, and the apostle John says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). They are defectors -having the revelation of God, understanding the revelation of God, and then turning their back and walking away from it.

The issue of spiritual defection is recorded throughout the scripture. In the Old Testament prophets crying out to unfaithful Israel, and unfaithful Judah, “”You have backslidden; you have forsaken the Lord your God, you have walked away.” God speaking through prophet Isaiah, “For My people have committed two evils, they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and dug out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”” We see the tears of God over spiritual defection through Isaiah, the weeping prophet. When we come to the New Testament, we see the tears of Jesus when He approached Jerusalem city saying, “If you only knew what you had rejected….” (Luke 19:41). The spiritual defection breaks the heart of God, and it breaks the heart of Jesus.

People would forsake Christ for many reasons. Some fear the persecution and walk away. There were people who follow for a little while but the love of money pull them away. There were people who abandon Christ because they wanted comfort and ease. There were others who walk away because they were not willing to give-up relationship with family and friends.

The spiritual defection

Regarding the subject of this spiritual defection, John gives us very specific reasons in his gospel, in chapter 6. At the end of the chapter John records, “From that moment many of his disciples turned back and no longer accompanied him” (v66). From what moment? “The words I have spoken to you….” (V63). The reason why people forsake Christ because of what He said. Specifically, these are the words Jesus spoke about the ‘Bread of life’ (v32 to v59). It’s not about riches or comfort or relationships or persecution, it is Christ’s teaching drove them out. They were driven away by the truth.

These are the people who do not believe in the sufficiency of Jesus’ death and His resurrection for the forgiveness of their sins (v64). These are the people who go after false religion and place their hope in the ‘work salvation’, and do not believe in the true gospel. These are the people who do not believe in one savior, but go after a co-redemptrix. The death of Christ on the cross is not enough for them, they want to do other things to satisfy God. They had been exposed to the true gospel and they understood it intellectually. But the true gospel offends them, and it’s a stumbling block to them, it is a foolishness to them. They retreat from the true gospel back into the satisfaction they found in the corrupt religion. These are the defectors -the prototypes of Judas.

We cannot assume that everyone who talks about Jesus is a true follower. It is possible to be a disciple who walk away from Jesus. The word ‘disciple’ means a student, a learner, and it could be false follower of Jesus too. John in his gospel in chapter 6 describes characteristics of False Discipleship. He shows the difference between a true and false follower of Christ. True disciple abides, stays, faithfully endures to the end, and demonstrate that he is a part of the church over which Christ alone rules.

The marks of defectors

  • False disciples are attracted by the crowd.
    A large crowd was following Him (v2). The miracles and healing of Jesus made Him popular in Galilee. Crowd attracts crowds. Many are there because the crowd is there. They are curious, they are drawn to the expectation of the crowd, they are drawn to the enthusiasm of the crowd. A layer after layer after layer is added to the crowd.
  • False disciples are attracted by supernatural.
    The large crowd followed Jesus because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick (v2). Throughout the New Testament we reads that people are drawn by signs and wonders. They followed Jesus because of the miracles He performed. This is a huge reality today too. The life is hard; broken relationships, messed-up families, and full of disappointments everywhere. Now, someone comes along advertising Jesus, offers health, wealth, prosperity, happiness.., what will happen? They even don’t have to perform any miracles, just hang those carrots out and they are going to attract crowd. Many people buy into the supernatural and that’s why the prosperity religion flourishes the way it does in this world.
  • False disciples are interested only in earthly benefits.
    When the people saw the sign Jesus had done, they said, “This really is the Prophet who was to come into the world!” (v14). They were able to connect Jesus with the Old Testament messianic prophecy. They wanted to make Him their king by force. Why? Just for earthly benefits. They wanted the political freedom from Rome, they wanted free food every day, and they wanted their diseases to be healed. Not that they wanted to hear the eternal, life-giving word, and repent of their sins. Not that they wanted to fell down at His feet and worship Him, but to create for themselves a perfect living condition on this earth. They just wanted Jesus to give them what they want -Jesus was their genie.
  • False disciples have no desire for worship.
    We see in v16-21 where Jesus walks on the water. Matthew provides more details of this event in his gospel in the ch.14. When Jesus got in to the boat, the disciples worshiped Him, and they acknowledged Him as the Son of God (v33, 34). This is what sets the true disciples apart from the false disciples. It was all about declaring Him to be the Son of God and worship Him. But the false disciples have no desire for worship and proclaiming Jesus. True disciples are true worshipers. But false disciples has no reverence to God, no real obedience to the Word of Truth, no longing for the glory and honor of God. They enjoy the music; they come for a show, come for an entertainment, and some temporal fulfillment.
  • False disciples seek personal prosperity.
    V22 says, that the crowd were still there the next day, the day Jesus fed multitude. They were still in the other side of the Lake (eastern side) of Galilee (Tiberius). And, Vs.23 says, more people came in the morning from the western side of Tiberius to the place where the miracle took place. The word has gone across the country about the free meal, and now more crowd is flowing to the east. After realizing that Jesus wasn’t there, they headed back to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?” (v25). Then, Jesus said to them, “you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (v26). They neither came there to worship Him nor to acknowledge Him as the Son of God. They were there for the free breakfast. They are the seekers of personal fulfillment, seekers of prosperity gospel.
  • False disciples make demands on God.
    They continue to make demands on Jesus, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat'” (v30-31). This crowd has already witnessed a miracle the previous day. They want Jesus to continue making food for them like Moses did. They were simply saying, “You gave us just one meal, but Moses fed millions for 40 years in the wilderness. If you want us to believe you then you have to give this bread all the time.” -Lord, always give us this bread (John 6:34).
    Jesus has been speaking to the crowds about being the “true bread from heaven.” Rather than going after the perishable food, the people ought to pursue eternal food (John 6:27). That food comes only in the form of belief, specifically believing in the Son of Man (John 6:27–29). If you remember, when Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1–26), she also misunderstood His spiritual teaching in a material way. When Jesus mentioned living water to her, she asked Him to give her that water to drink (John 4:15). Just as the Samaritan woman did, these people completely miss the point, and once again demanded for material benefit -“Lord, always give us this bread” (John 6:34).
    You see this culture in the prosperity gospel. You don’t say, “Your will be done”. Rather, the Word of Faith movement teaches, ‘it’s not about His will, it’s about my will. God will respond to my will if I don’t have any doubt. I make demand on God, and God will act upon my faith’. That is heretical teaching.
  • False disciples do not find their satisfaction in the person of Jesus Christ.
    Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (v35). The only way to receive this life giving bread is by faith, embracing His words and His works. That’s what true disciples seek. Christ is everything for the true believer. They are content with what they have. But, false disciples do not find their fulfillment in Christ. For them Christ is not enough.

A church can always collect defectors by meeting their earthly needs, by preaching a therapeutic gospel, by showing how to fulfill personal satisfaction, but as soon as you start preaching the hard truth of the gospel, they walk away. Those who are casual in their approach to the faith are prone to “drifting” away from the truth. There are sever warning to the defectors in the book of Hebrews, “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3). There will be no escape for anyone who neglects this great salvation. If with full revelation you fall away, it’s impossible to be renewed again to repentance (Hebrews 6:4).


Dr. John MacArthur (various teaching)