How can we discern who really loves Jesus?

… and who is faking it?

So many people claim the name of Jesus.

But sometimes, what looked like love for Jesus turns out to be a mask that conceals a lust for money, power, fame, or sex. It is a stunning and painful experience to realize that someone would intentionally violate our deepest values to take advantage of us.

So what if we could find out what separates those who love Jesus from those who want to use Jesus? 

In all honesty, sometimes we can’t. Cunning operators are often successful in their deception and manipulation. They tell us what we want to hear, and it works.

Still, in John 6, we have one story that can help us. 

A little boy offers his five little barley loaves and his two little fish, and Jesus blesses the weakness of this humble offering. We see the beauty of bringing together human weakness and God’s power: a crowd of many thousands eats their fill.

And why did Jesus do this astounding miracle? He explains it the next day, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” If you depend on Jesus to feed you bread and fish, then do you trust Jesus to satisfy your deepest longings? 

Sidebar: What are your deepest longings? Does Jesus fulfill them for you?

But what does the crowd want from Jesus? They want what they want! John tells us they are on the precipice of forcibly demanding that Jesus be their king. His powers are fantastic; he can overthrow the Romans! 

So what does Jesus do? He withdraws to a mountain by himself. And when the crowd chases after him, he challenges them.

Notice the contrast? 

Jesus draws close to the weak ā€” and blesses them.

Jesus moves away from the power-hungry ā€” and confronts them.

The Bible is full of dramatic contrasts. Why is that? Perhaps it is because the church and the world are full of them too. 

Candidly, it has taken me far too long to notice and admire the witness of abuse survivors. They usually lack fancy production studios, savvy marketing departments, global brand managers, and leadership development coaches. My pride made it hard for me to see and believe them.

But these survivors see the great need for the consolation that Jesus can bring, so in faith, they step up and offer the little that they have. Their stories. Their pain. Their witness to the truth. And Jesus meets them, honors them, and turns their witness into a mighty blessing. Through their sheer courage, the survivor who confronts their abuser gives hope to others. They may prevent the abuser from targeting someone else. They might renew the broader church.

I don’t say this to burden anyone deeply wounded but to honor those who happened to have had the support and resources they needed to pursue justice. Survivors don’t owe us their advocacy, but we owe them our care, our support, and our advocacy. Jesus didn’t demand or steal the little boy’s bread! Iā€™m noting that he multiplied the little that was offered in faith.

By contrast, influential religious leaders hide behind their high-powered legal teams. They use big theological words to explain why they cannot do the right thing, and they invoke their spiritual credentials to insist upon getting their way. 

The survivors say, “We want the whole truth to be made known.”

The influential religious executives respond, “Truth? Yes, so do we, but the thing is, we need to act with wisdom…”

In this situation, who is God drawing close to? John 6 gives us a clue.

Perhaps you think it is too easy to discern the difference between self-protective religious executives and truth-seeking survivors. I’ve learned the hard way that it isn’t as easy as you’d hope. I yearn for the day when the difference is clear to everyone.

Even when face to face with Jesus, the same crowd that declared, ā€œThis is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!ā€ was the would-be mob.

More broadly, here’s the test:

Is someone talking about Jesus to get power for themselves?

Or are they sacrificially identifying with Jesus to empower others? 

We still need discernment because the con men have already learned, “Ok, I need to talk about empowering others in their walk with God.” “I need to look like I care.”

But notice that the boy gave away his only loaves and fish. I speculate that the boy felt some fear and anxiety when he gave all of his food to Jesus. Would he still eat dinner? Or would Jesus take it for himself? 

By contrast, the crowd gorges themselves, and now they want more. 

If we want to be more discerning, then we need to develop habits of discernment. In particular, we need to evaluate carefully the leaders we follow.

Can we see evidence of real sacrifice? Or do they merely pretend to be generous while enriching themselves more and more? 

And if a leader is beyond evaluation, it suggests there’s something far worse that they want to keep hidden.

You may not have much power, you may not have much social capital, and you may not be that rich. But John 6 teaches us that with Jesus, what you have is enough. 

Giving Credit:

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash