“Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:28–29 (NIV)
Jesus had developed quite a following subsequent to the feeding of the 5000. When the crowd realized that Jesus had left the area they crowded into boats in search of him. Upon finding him, Jesus told them that they were seeking after him not because of the signs that he had performed, but because he had fed them. It is not too much of a stretch to think that they were looking for another free lunch. However, Jesus told the crowd that they should not be expending their energy in search of food which will spoil, but instead they should seek after the nourishment which will last to eternal life that only he could provide for them.
At this point they asked him another question: “What must we do to do the works God requires?” These people knew what the law required of them, but the nature of their question indicated that they desired a roadmap or step-by-step instructions in order to do the things which would gain them approval from God. They knew that Moses had the law including the 10 Commandments and they probably expected that Jesus would have a checklist of things that they must do in order to gain eternal life.
It must have come as quite a shock to them when Jesus replied, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” What did this mean? They were so conditioned to think that approval was gained by following rules and regulations that this statement must have seemed very foreign to them. The evidence that this reply of Jesus hit them very hard is found in the next verse. They wanted to know what sign Jesus would perform for them so that they would then have a reason to believe.
To believe in Jesus implies a greater depth than we can possibly understand with the natural mind. To believe in Jesus means that we will be willing to do whatever he asked us to do, to follow him wherever he wants us to go and to put aside our own agenda and give ourselves wholeheartedly to him. Anything less is an indication that we are holding something in reserve and that we are not fully convinced about him.
It is not enough to simply believe things about Jesus. We can believe that Jesus was sent from God, born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, suffered and died, rose again and will someday return and still not believe in him. We can believe all of the correct doctrine and yet still hold something in reserve that we are unwilling to commit to him. To believe in him means that we have taken off any and all restrictions on our availability to him. It is a hard thing to do and sometimes we may shrink back, but he desires that we give ourselves to him without reservation. That is the essence of faith in Jesus. “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” Hebrews 11:6 (NLT)