Lesson 9: Jesus and Faith Development

Methods of Jesus.09

Lesson 9: Jesus and Faith Development

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this module facilitators should be equipped to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the difference between the faith of children and of adults.
  • Lead adult class members into a development of mature faith.
  • Talk about the methods used by Jesus to develop faith in His disciples.
  • Apply methods of faith development to the current Sabbath School lesson.

Most theorists in religious education see faith development as a goal for the instructor. Opinions vary, however, concerning definitions of “faith” and the means whereby it is developed. I offer the following developmental generalizations of contemporary evangelical religious educators:

  • Basic trust in people and environment is positively impacted by nurture in early childhood.
  • Because young children lack mature reasoning ability they will believe almost anything that an adult or older sibling tells them, e.g., “There is a pink baboon behind the door.”
  • As children develop cognitively, they sort out what is worthy of belief and what is not and are open to guidance by a trusted adult.
  • Young adults begin to test their beliefs in the real world and develop their own faith rather than imitate that of nurturing parents and teachers.
  • Genuine faith is profoundly impacted by conversion, nurture, example, attitudes, and information about a loving, trustworthy God.
  • A mature faith calls on life’s experiences, increased biblical knowledge, tested belief, and a growing love relationship with God.

Class facilitators should assist young adults in developing their beliefs. Mature believers need to process their faith experiences with that of other believers and those recorded in the Bible. They need to exercise faith within the context of increasing complexities and their own growing limitations.

Biblical faith not only includes trust but dependence, love, commitment, assurance, and obedience in relationship to God, according to Gerhard Fredrich (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 6).

According to the Greek text, Hebrews 11:1 could be paraphrased: Faith is seeing and experiencing the things guaranteed by God as though they already exist.

Dr. Jack Blanco puts it this way in The Clear Word paraphrase: “To have faith means to be sure of the things we hope for and to be certain of the things we can’t see.”

One question little considered by religious educators is how can mature faith be childlike? Jesus used a little child to illustrate, in part at least, that simple faith and trust are essential to the Christian life. Childlike faith is wonderful, but this does not mean that God wants adults to believe everything they hear or see.

Facilitator Tasks

How should class facilitators address the task of faith development? Facilitators promote and model a simple childlike faith in all that is true about God and His sure promises. The task is to help adults sort out what is not true or trustworthy from what is revealed about God. Facilitators must do so in an environment that is loving, fosters inquiry, respects experience, welcomes participation, and validates information. Some may think that it is too late for faith to develop in maturity. However, Jesus spent most of his time helping to develop the faith of mature adults. Consider the following ways that He facilitated faith development.

Inquiry Learning

A classic learning moment surfaced when the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith (Luke 17:5). Jesus had presented an exceedingly high standard of spirituality, repeatedly asking the disciples to forgive others. He motivated His disciples to experience more faith (Luke 17:6). Then Jesus went on to demonstrate that genuine faith is not for the purpose of personal gain. He gave the illustration of the unprofitable servant or slave who works simply because they are slaves, without hope of gaining something for service (verses 7-10). We are His slaves because He purchased us with His own blood.

Some biblical stories illustrate this principle. For example, Abraham’s servant exercised faith that God would help him find a wife for Isaac. His focus was upon service for his master rather than personal gain. The class facilitator might ask what the experience of Abraham’s servant teaches about the nature of faith, then lead to the parable of the unprofitable servant in Luke 17.

Demonstrated Faith

Picture Jesus confronting the screaming demoniac, walking on water, calling Lazarus forth from the tomb, or working other miracles. He cursed the fig tree, then when His disciples pointed out that it had withered, He urged them again to exercise more faith (Matt. 21:19-21). Facilitators need to demonstrate and talk about their faith experiences. They should encourage class members to talk about how their faith and that of Bible characters has been rewarded.

Modeled Faith

Roman Centurion. Jesus called attention to genuine faith when he found it in people, such as the Roman centurion who knew that Jesus needed only to say the word and his son would be healed. Facilitators might ask the class to ponder the nature of his faith. It is clear that when Jesus healed the centurion’s servant at a distance from him that it was more than positive thinking that promoted healing (Matt. 8:5-13).

Woman of Canaan. The essence of faith is also revealed in the story of the woman of Canaan (Matt. 15:21-28). Jesus demonstrated to the disciples the way to break through classic barriers of faith:

  1. When the woman cried out for mercy, Jesus responded to her request in a shocking manner—He pretended to ignore her.
  2. The disciples erected a barrier by asking Jesus to send the woman away.
  3. Jesus said that He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But notice how faith responds: She worshiped Him. Doubt looks within and finds reasons why God cannot hear us. Faith looks up to Him and finds reasons to trust in His mercy.
  4. Jesus said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”

For many, a powerful prayer life is blasted by the thought of not feeling right, that we are by nature rotten to the core. Many find inclinations to return to sin like a dog returns to its own vomit. However, know it is the prayer of a “righteous” man that avails much. The woman’s response demonstrated that she believed Jesus would help her regardless of any barrier placed in her way.

Negative Modeling

Jesus often referred to His disciples as having little faith. By this He was encouraging them to greater belief. He underscored experiences where faith was lacking. For example, He used this expression when Peter began to sink while walking on the water (Matt. 14:31).

When the disciples could not cast out a demon, Jesus expressed bewilderment at their lack of faith (Mark 9:19). He asked for an expression of faith from the father of the demon-possessed boy. The father’s classic plea “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) continues to assist faith development today.

Jesus Rewarded Faith

The Bible says that when people brought the paralytic to Jesus for healing, He saw their faith and healed him (Matt. 9:2). He called attention to the faith of the woman who touched the hem of His garment (Matt. 9:22). Without embarrassing class members, affirm stories and expressions of faith by reinforcing these with Bible stories or inspired insights into the nature of faith.

Active learning

Jesus challenged His disciples to exercise faith (Matt. 17:20). He sent them out without supplies and asked them if they lacked anything. He told them to cast the net on the right side of the ship after they had fished all night, then prepared fish for them on the beach after they had found their own efforts fruitless (John 21).

Facilitators should ask class members to identify an area where they need to exercise faith, then ask them to experiment by stepping out in faith. Members could then bring a report back to class.

Intercession

Jesus told Peter that He had prayed for him so that his faith would not fail (Luke 22:32). Prayer for class members may do more than anything else to facilitate faith development.

Exercise

Ask class members to reflect on the lives of the various marriage partners in the current Sabbath School lesson and to explain how the exercise of faith would have made a difference in their marriage, their children, and the world.

Example: Eve doubted God when Satan convinced her that forbidden fruit would make her like God. This led to her husband’s downfall and he then began to blame her. If she had exercised faith, she would not have seen her son kill his brother. We would all be living in paradise still. The quality of faith that she should have exercised would have enabled her to resist temptations to doubt God and sin.


Jim Kilmer
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists