DOES JOHN 6:29 SUPPORT CALVINISM?
by Shawn Brasseaux
God’s Holy Word says in John 6:29: “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” Calvinists take this to bolster their idea of “faith is a gift of God” (at the heart of their “total depravity” point). What is the “work of God” in John 6:29? Is it faith, belief on Christ? Or, is it something else? Are Calvinists using this verse properly? “For what saith the Scriptures?”
In the Books of Matthew through John, we read about the Lord Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry. He came to bring in Israel’s long-promised kingdom, fulfill the covenants given to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, et cetera (Romans 15:8, for example). As their Redeemer-King-Messiah, He would not only save them from their sins but also from their enemies. There would be spiritual, national, and physical deliverance. An integral part of that special ministry to convert Israel was the abundance of miracles.
First Corinthians 1:22 says, “For the Jews require a sign….” Miraculous demonstrations are Israel’s national birthright. Therefore, the Psalmist calls them “our [that is, Israel’s] signs” (Psalm 74:9). Even when the LORD God sent Moses to lead the nation Israel from Egyptian bondage, He sent him to Israel with the ability to perform miracles (see Exodus 4:1-9). Notice: “ And Aaron spake all the words which the LORD had spoken unto Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people.  And the people believed….”
Since Israel is a “sign nation,” special supernatural events indicated that Israel’s God was in her midst during Christ’s earthly ministry. Isaiah 35:3-6 predicts 700 B.C.: “ Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees.  Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you.  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.  Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert” (cf. Matthew 11:2-6).
John the Baptist preached in Matthew 3:2: “And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Then, Jesus Christ entered His public ministry. Now, Matthew 4:17: “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Finally, Matthew 9:35: “And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.” Notice the connection of the Gospel of the Kingdom with miracles.
Luke 8:1 adds: “And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him,….” The “preaching,” of course, was the words proclaimed, and the “shewing” was the visible working of miracles. Now, notice the final verses of Mark, chapter 16, especially verse 20: “ And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.  He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.  And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;  They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.  So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.  And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.”
Those signs, or special miracles, were designed to show Israel that God’s earthly kingdom was near. They validated, or proved, the Gospel of the Kingdom that they were preaching. Jesus Christ is King, and He is preaching and doing what the Old Testament said Messiah would do when He came. Israel had no excuse for ignorance. They should have known who Jesus was—He was truly Christ, and He was doing what Christ would do when He visited Israel.
John’s Gospel Record is designed to show Israel eight specific miracles from Jesus’ earthly ministry. He was no doubt Christ/Messiah who could do for her what she could not do for herself. John chapter 20 says to that point: “ And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:  But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” One of these “signs” involved John 6:29.
In the opening 14 verses of John chapter 6, Jesus Christ fed a great multitude using five barley loaves and two small fishes. The Bible says approximately 5,000 men and women were fed (verse 10). The problem, however, was that Israel would often focus more on the miracles themselves rather than the doctrine the miracles communicated. Even today, people are distracted by seeing so-called “miraculous demonstrations” when they should be listening to and believing sound Bible doctrine. According to John 6:15, Jesus’ audience wanted to make Him their king simply because He had fed them with a free lunch! There was no hunger for spiritual things, no sincere heart faith, just eyes focused on fleshly, temporary issues (just like many today).
They chased Jesus Christ down so they could make Him king and so He could keep feeding them with free meals. Verse 24 says: “When the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, neither his disciples, they also took shipping, and came to Capernaum, seeking for Jesus.” Now, verses 26-27: “ Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.  Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.” They should have paid more attention to His capacity to meet their spiritual needs than their physical needs. Eternal forgiveness of and salvation from their sins, of course, was far more important than having a full stomach!
Moving on to verse 28: “Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” They want to do God’s works—the classic religious response (“do, do, do”). Where is their faith, belief in God’s words? There is none! Jesus Christ rebukes them in verse 29: “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” Now we see the context of this verse.
The Lord Jesus Christ and the Jews had a very lengthy conversation during the next 35 verses (which time and space do not permit us to discuss here). Overall though, we learn that the bread represents Jesus Christ. We hit the highpoints of the passage: “ Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.  Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.  And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.…  The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven.…  Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.  I am that bread of life.…  This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.  I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Returning to John 6:29: “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” As noted earlier, Calvinists read the verse so that the work of God is someone believing. They say that faith is a work, and since works do not save us, God must give us faith. In other words, they say that faith is God’s gift to man. What they do not understand is Romans 4:5, that faith is not a work! “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
It is important to note that John 6:29 does not say, “It is the work of God when you believe on him whom he hath sent.” No, the work of God is not the faith/“believe” part. In the context, the work of God is the miracle of the Lord Jesus feeding the 5,000. Again, those miracles were designed to bring Israel to faith in Jesus Christ. The miracles were only effectual if coupled with faith (which Israel often lacked). God’s miraculous demonstrations were not merely meant to get the Jewish people out of difficult circumstances, but rather lead them to accept and trust His Son as their Messiah-King-Redeemer.
Contrary to Calvinists’ assertions, John 6:29 does not claim that God works in us to generate faith. It rather affirms that Father God was working through His Son—particularly, the miraculous feeding of the 5,000—to bring the Jewish people to faith in Jesus Christ. God worked that miracle, to the intent that Israel would believe on Jesus Christ whom Father God had sent to them.
We close by citing John 6:29 interpreted and amplified in light of what we have discussed: “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God [I have miraculously fed the 5,000], that [purpose or intent of the miracle] ye believe on him whom he hath sent [by faith, rely on Me, He whom Father God has sent to you].”