The Danger of Me Living For Christ as revealed in John 21:1-5
August 3, 2014, 2:27 am
Filed under: Searching for our Savior in His book

John 21 is a chapter in which some questions are answered. If God hadn’t inspired John to write this, we would have difficulty understanding how Peter played such an important role in the early church since the issue of his denial of Jesus during the events leading up to the crucifixion. We would also be left with the question of “why did the disciples wait fifty days for the Holy Spirit to come into them?” We also need to understand how the disciples learned to trust Christ for everything.
The first fourteen verses of John 21 helps us see the superiority of spiritual effort over self-effort. No matter where you are in your walk with God, we constantly face the inner urge to live the Christian life by our own efforts and according to our own ways. The “Eleven” were no different. They had left everything to follow Jesus and He had taken care of their every need. Now He was in His glorified body and they were uncertain of what was coming next. How would life change? How would they survive? Don’t we face those questions today? We find it much easier to believe that Jesus can save us for eternity, but often struggle with trusting Him for everything in our day by day lives. We know we should, so we pretend we do. But most of our effort goes to supplying for our needs and His will is far too often cast to the side.
In these fourteen verses, we see the answer to the question: since Jesus is now back doing the important things of controlling the universe, what about me? Does this great and awesome God have time to care about the small things of my life? Where will I get the ability and power to do His will and does He still want to use us? At the time of John 21, the disciples knew of the promise of the Holy Spirit, but they hadn’t receive Him. So they wondered if they now were on their own. Have you ever felt that way? Jesus answers this question with an living illustration.
A quick note! We can choose to live our lives on the conditions of “self effort” or we can select “spiritual enablement”. When I try to do the right things through my efforts, I am heading down the road to disobedience. Spiritual failure follows, and then I no longer experience intimate fellowship with God. I may be attempting to do the right things, but when I do it in my strength, I end up only having a form of godliness, but the power of the resurrected life is not found in my life. Neither is the fellowship of His sufferings. I continue going through the motions of the “Christian life” but instead of a powerful and intimate relationship with the living God, I settle for checking the list of things I have been told I should do to be a good Christian. A study of Pharisees will demonstrate that their list of rules came from their frustrated attempts to living religious lives apart from God’s power.
In contrast to self-effort is spiritual enablement, characterized by a life lived by God-effort, obedience, success, and a relationship with intimate fellowship. Truth is, as Christians we often go from one of these ways to the other before settling on the one that we want. The mature Christian settles on the spiritual enablement while the carnal Christian works hard to gain God’s approval, but frustrates grace. Each of us start the day off, deciding the path we will take, and many of us follow self-effort. Even our attempts at following Christ are done in our strength, not His enablement.
In verses 1 to 5, God shows us the disciples attempt at self-effort. Let’s examine the Scriptures. Notice verse 1. We read twice that Jesus showed himself to the disciples. From reading the accounts of the post-resurrected appearances of Christ, He looked different in His resurrected body and without “showing” or revealing Himself to them. Even today, we have to have the Holy Spirit revealing Christ to us. We read in Romans 3, that no one is seeking after God. That’s why people will often talk about Jesus in a way that is foreign to those of us who know Him. Even though they can read the same Bible we have, they don’t see the same Jesus. But when the Holy Spirit reveals Him, we are never the same.
When Jesus comes, what does He find? First, they were at the Sea of Galilee. This is the first step of self-effort. According to Matthew 28:16, Jesus told the disciples to go to a mountain in Galilee where He would meet them. But they have come down from the mountain to the sea. That is disobedience. Notice also that it is only 7 of the 11. Most likely, the majority of these 7 had been fishermen. We don’t know where the other 4 are so we need not to speculate. But some time has passed, so Peter decides that he was going back to his fishing business. That was all the others needed, and they decided to go with him. From the time of the Resurrection to the coming of the Holy Spirit was fifty days, so this was sometime during that time span. Imagine, having trusted Jesus for everything for 3 years, and now you’re waiting for Him and He doesn’t show it. Peter, who was impulsive, decides to take his life in his own hands. He will supply his needs by going back to what he is good at, fishing. The others agree. They have been successful at fishing, so they are certain their basic needs will be taken care of by returning to what they can do. If Jesus shows up, good; but if not, they will be okay. So they get on a boat. Actually, it the Greek New Testament we find it’s “the boat”. Most likely it was Peter’s boat. Also, they weren’t fishing just to relax or pass the time. They were going from the uncertain back to something they were sure they could do. I don’t know about you, but I have struggle at time with waiting on Jesus. I become impatient with His timing, so I jump ahead and do something. After all, some action is better than just waiting. Notice the impulsiveness of their decisions. Peter announced his decision, the others agree and they go on the boat and immediately went out fishing. No prayer, no seeking God’s will, no thoughtful discernment. Just a reaction to waiting that they determined to be a waste of time. They could only trust Jesus if He were in the midst of them. Maybe that’s way Thomas is included in this list. He is an example of someone who has to see to believe. This is the weakest faith, which is a fear based faith. They became to doubt Jesus could use them if He wasn’t with them. So, they turned from their call to become fishers of men, back to the only thing they knew, fishing.
So they go fishing. And they catch NOTHING! These skilled fishermen, with the knowledge of how to fish, can’t catch one fish. After fishing part of one day through the night, they caught NOTHING! When we live in our strength, we disobey God’s call. This leads to a life of failure and frustration in the things Jesus counts as important. So we attempt to fill our lives with things that we believe give our lives meaning, only to find discontentment and emptiness. We have been saved by grace through faith to become the workmanship of Christ, created for good works. We have purpose. We receive spiritual gifts or enablement so that we can fulfill that purpose. I am crucified with Him, and He lives in me, fulfilling His purpose through me. But His plan may have me be a insignificant part while another enjoys the spotlight. But each is important to the plan of Christ. He has built His church, adding the parts that have the church function as His body. We each are important but have to let Him use us in the position He wants. That’s why we are to be living sacrifices. But doing things our way will only lead to failure. Without Christ, we can do NOTHING!
So the disciples are now failures at the one thing they thought they could do. In verse 4, Jesus is going to remind the disciples of their failure. First, notice that He is only about 300 feet away but they didn’t know who He was. Even when He spoke, they didn’t recognize Him. The reason is that they had lost their intimate relationship with Him because of their self-effort. They still had the relationship, but it wasn’t a close relationship because of a lack of fellowship. Up on the mountain, they would be enjoying intimate fellowship, but on the sea, they were distance from Him. When Jesus speaks in verse 5, Jesus called out “children”. But the word used here was not a word indicating a closeness but a term of distance. Willie Mays was known as the “Say Hey Kid” because those he didn’t know would be addressed as “Say Hey”. If he knew you, he called you by your name, but if he didn’t have a close relationship, he just used the phrase “say, hey”. Jesus is saying, “Say, hey” to those who had once had the closeness of intimate fellowship with Christ in His presence but had distanced themselves from Him by self-effort, disobedience, and failure. Jesus comes after us to bring us back to that closeness.
Have you ever said, “I’m going fishing”. Not literally fishing, but doing things your way and in your strength. Nathan the prophet did. When David said he was going to build a temple, Nathan said, “that’s a great idea. Do it!” In the middle of the night, God said, “Nathan, why didn’t you ask Me. David isn’t going to build the temple, Solomon is.” Nathan thought temple building was a good thing, but He didn’t ask God. That’s self-effort. We may have a noble and good purpose for doing things our way, but we need to realize I need to walk in submissive to Him and only do what He wants. Doing it on our own, no matter how right it seems, becomes evil in His sight. It also leads to failure and distance from Him.
Next Jesus asks a great question, “Have you any food?” Obviously, the answer was no. All night long they fished and have nothing to show for it. All that effort and still they failed. Now Jesus was reminding them they had failed miserable. Jesus is showing them that because of the relationship they have with Him, everything is changed. I can’t go back to what I was successful at, because without Jesus, I can’t do it on my own. I can’t plan out my life, do things, and come out ahead. I desperately need Him. He is my Everything. I pray that He is yours.
Jesus shows them their emptiness, their weakness, their failure apart from Him. If you’re going in your own self-effort, you are walking in disobedience to God’s commands, failing at doing what He has designed you to do, and living at a distance from Jesus. Why does Jesus want us to see this? The road to following closely after Jesus starts with confession. When we admit our bankrupt condition, die to self, then we become a yielded living sacrifice, putting our lives completely and totally in His hands. I trust Him for everything and He becomes my everything. So let me ask you, “Is your walk with God based on self-effort?” If it is, then it is time to change. Come to Jesus, die to self and follow Him by abandoning everything but Him. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Make Him your all.