Lesson 8: Jesus and Identification Learning

Methods of Jesus.08

Lesson 8: Jesus and Identification Learning

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this learning module, the class facilitator should be equipped to:

  • Define identification learning, and explain how to use it.
  • Imitate Jesus’ way of using this method.
  • Identify aspects of present culture that can be used as Spirit-guided vehicles to convey Bible principles.
  • Apply identification learning methods to the Sabbath School lesson study.

Teen girls don’t often wear their grandmother’s clothes to school, nor does the present generation commonly understand cues or illustrations that were meaningful to their grandparents. For example, many class members today would not grasp the illustration of a “scratched or broken record.” This would be meaningful only to those who know that phonograph records can be scratched or broken and sometimes repeated the same phrase until the needle was moved to another grove. To these members a “broken record” refers to a theme or thought that is repeated excessively. On the other hand, members of the older generation may not understand the function of an I-pod or how to use a blog.

Dr. John Milton Gregory says, “It has often been found that one of the greatest obstacles to the general enlightenment of people lies in their lack of the knowledge through which they must be addressed” (The Seven Laws of Teaching, p. 65). In other words, the entire history of civilization, including the message of the Bible, can only be communicated to ongoing generations to the degree that people are able to comprehend the meaning of the words used. For this reason the facilitator must become a bridge builder between cultures and civilizations, between the ancient and the modern, between the unbelievers and Christians.

Identification Learning

Specialists in religious education address the need to communicate with a common language. This concept, called “identification learning,” describes attempts to meaningfully connect with the student’s life situation and use that information to teach new information. “This approach moves from the known to the unknown. It bridges, so to speak, from the student’s present understanding to new concepts” (Ronald Habermas and Klaus Issler, Teaching for Reconciliation, p. 112).

Jesus, the Bridge Builder

Jesus was a classic bridge builder. Inspiration says: He “found access to minds by the pathway of their most familiar associations. . . . He identified with their nature and interests” (Testimonies to Ministers, p. 190).

Jesus was faced with the monumental challenge of demonstrating the character of God to those who saw the Almighty in meaningless ceremonies as being whimsical, harsh, arbitrary, and exacting. How could Jesus break through the barriers of worldliness, indifference, and religiosity to communicate the joy of a satisfying love relationship with a God of love? Simply telling the people to pray would likely bring up visions of the long pretentious prayers of the Pharisees.

So first, He prayed for His hearers and relied on the power of the Holy Spirit. Then He modeled devotion to God and demonstrated the love of the Father. But He also used many cues that were meaningful to His hearers within the context of their culture. Everyone has heard the sound of wind and witnessed its power. He used this analogy with Nicodemus as a bridge to an understanding of the invisible yet tangible operation of the Holy Spirit to bring about a new birth.

Jesus met the people where they were. He used vehicles of thought that were familiar to them. In order to communicate the way that God related to the sinner, Jesus introduced life situations, like the parable of the prodigal son.

Jesus explained the need to understand new teachings within the framework of new context when He told the parable of the new wine in old wineskins. The new wine needed a new context. It would not fit into the understanding of a generation held in bondage by tradition. The picture of old wrinkled wineskins broken open with red juice draining out the cracks conveyed this message.

Jesus used the culture of His hearers beyond the comfort level of some when He gave the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. He made up a story based on a common belief. He did not condone this belief, but He used even their faulty understanding as a context to teach a lesson.

Jesus connected significant happenings with spiritual meaning. He connected the feeding of the multitude (Luke 9:12) with His discourse to the same crowd referring to Himself as the “bread of life.” The Jews had a common understanding that when the Messiah should come He would again provide manna for the people to eat. Jesus took advantage of this belief but applied the concept of bread to Himself.

The Practice

Facilitators should seek to discover the degree to which their disciples (class members) identify with biblical models as well as with other members of the class that may come from a different culture, economic background, or stage of life. What common experiences draw class members together? What cultural customs need to be explained? This can only be explored through association and dialogue.

Middle East. In some cultures, young people may be motivated by “shaming.” This would likely have little effect in American society. If you have a member from an Asian South Pacific or Middle Eastern culture who discusses this as a means of discipline for teens, it is important for other members to understand and to not laugh at the suggestion.

Language and meaning change with various age groups. No matter how much we resist it, class members are in part influenced by the environment in which they live.

World War II/G.I. Generation. People in this generation would not think of visiting a person in his home and then spending the time talking to someone else on a cell phone. This, however, may be quite acceptable for persons who grow up in the postmodern culture.

Young people today are faced with a completely different world from their parents and grandparents. Sometimes the older generation cannot understand why young people have so much difficulty deciding on the choice of a lifework and finding a marriage partner. They do not understand that society is changing so much today that it is not easy to focus on a traditional profession. Young people are much more informed today about the dynamics of married life but have not always witnessed noble models in this area. This may lead them to be more cautious in forming a union for life.

Understanding One Another

Facilitators must help class members understand one another. They should foster listening skills, so that members may communicate with common understanding.

The beautiful thing about the Bible is that it crosses cultural and time barriers. For example, the story of Hosea and Gomer speaks to most people of every ethnic background from ancient to modern times. Almost all cultures practice some sort of marriage, and prostitution is universal. It is not difficult to form a link of spiritual understanding about the experience of Hosea who married a harlot who returned to prostitution; but brought her back to be his bride.

It may be possible to reference a talk show experience or show a clip of a similar modern-day experience, then relate that to Hosea, and then link it to our relationship with God.

A Word of Caution

Shallowness. Even though it is essential to communicate to people within the context of their understanding, the facilitator must be careful not to limit the content of the Word of God to a shallow comprehension because of lack of worthy cues with which to identify. For one may compare prayer to a satellite phone that can access God from any place on the globe, but this does not tell the whole story about prayer.

Weak Illustrations. It is possible to water down the Gospel by using illustrations from sports, drama, or the media, just because they characterize today’s culture. Madonna’s adoption of an African child, for example, may partially illustrate our adoption into the family of God, but may add other dimensions that limit ideal understanding.

Jesus chose illustrations from life, from nature, from the Scriptures, and from the Holy Spirit through prayer and meditation. The task of the facilitator is to seek to understand the cultural identity of class members, but then to prayerfully seek supernatural guidance in forming links to spiritual understanding.


The Sabbath School lessons for this quarter focus on marriages. Seek to understand the mind-set of your class members by discussing differences in marriage customs that have come about during their lifetime. For example, research shows that the younger the generation, the greater the tendency to approve of living together without marriage and to approve of same-sex marriages.

Seek to understand class members’ understanding of biblical marriage customs. For example, what do members perceive concerning Ruth’s marriage proposal when she went to the threshing floor and crawled under the blanket near the feet of Boaz while he was sleeping? It would be well to ask a class member to do research concerning the customs of the times to share with the class.

The very wealthy Boaz jeopardized his family fortune when he exercised the right of redemption to purchase the land that came with marriage to Ruth. Some of his own land could go to Ruth and her relatives. Unless such things are explained the story may convey mixed meaning for today’s culture. What insight into the ministry of Jesus can be gleaned from the concept of Boaz as the ga’al or redeemer?

Jim Kilmer
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists