You can download a PDF of Bible Study: Youth Faith – Biblical Text Messages about Young Souls. If you use it, let us know in the comments!
Topic: Biblical Case Studies, Faith
Perhaps more than we have noticed, the Bible includes several accounts of the faith of young people. Though the narratives often do not spell out the exact age of its subjects, we can read a bit about the early faith life of Biblical figures in the stories of Jacob, Joseph, and David. Other stories give us only a fleeting glimpse of the young person. One is the Israelite slave girl who encouraged Naaman in II Kings 5:1ff. Another is Eutychus, the kid who fell out of the window in Acts 20:7ff, and whose name is easy to remember because you’d a-cussed, too, if you’d fallen from that third story perch. Yet, all Scripture is profitable for training in righteousness (II Tim 3:16), so we are not surprised that we find some instructive content about the faith life of young souls.
This four part series profiles four Biblical case studies in adolescent spirituality including Daniel, Mary, the sons of Eli (Hophni and Phinehas), and the rich young ruler. Each of these stories is brief enough to cover in one session, yet has enough content to provoke discussion for more sessions if desired. Each is suitable for junior high or senior high youth. The study can also be used with youth workers. The four profiles together cover a wide range of spiritual conditions from profound trust in God to out-and-out apostasy. They provide much content for reflection about our faith relationship with God and with each other. Most important, they give participants an opportunity to consider the Gospel and their personal faith in Jesus.
This is a “high end” Bible study rather than “Bible study lite.” The series assumes the leader is reasonably well informed with Scripture, doctrine, and the stories used here. The discussion content is notched up rather than down. It does not merely rehash the surface features of the readings with closed-ended questions. But both senior high and junior high youth can delve deeply into issues of faith if the leader does good preparation, anticipates those issues, and facilitate the discussion.
The goal of these Bible studies is that students will better recognize their simultaneous freedom in the Gospel and motivation in the Gospel, and further appreciate that they as young people are capable of great faith.
Apart from the Gospel, our relationship with God is only one of Law–which demands, accuses, and condemns us for our fallen and failed relationship with him. Apart from the Gospel, our relationships with others are also characterized by the Law, though it is often disguised in human and temporal forms. Our human relationships are defi ned by expectations, loyalties, desires, and other forms of law which we sinners impose on others. We then violate each others’ rules and expectations–valid or not–and damage and destroy our relationships. Young people are increasingly sensitive to these direct and indirect demands of Law and are increasingly perplexed and frustrated by them as they gain experience in this fallen world.
The Gospel truly delivers us from these expectations and curses of the Law, and so Luther is entirely serious when he says, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.” This insight about the Gospel astonished and offended Luther’s critics during the Reformation. No wonder they considered him a dangerous man and condemned him. He threatened to undermine the obligatory fabric of society.
But apart from the Gospel, our relationship with God is also one in which we condemned sinners seek to appease God and others through our own self-rustication efforts. Because our relationships are already flawed and frustrated by our sinful condition, we attempt to create our own ways to make things right, trying anything from Hallmark cards to being the good child, student, or church worker in order to sustain the relationships we need and crave. Young people come to recognize these inauthentic motives in others and themselves. We frequently hear their concerns about trust as they experience real and imagined betrayals.
The Gospel replaces our flawed motives with a genuine appreciation for God’s love in Christ, and so Luther is also correct when he says, “A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” Under the Gospel, our self-justification projects by which we try to make ourselves right with God and others are transformed into sincere service to others. This transformation of motive happens first and fully as a gift by the promise of the Holy Spirit and then, slowly, this service becomes part of our character rather than a response to the Laws accusations, false promises, and threats. Luther’s critics also had trouble understanding this power of the Gospel, though Scripture testifies to it in such texts as II Cor 5:21 and II Cor 3:18.
As you lead students through these four spiritual profiles of young people, remain alert to or even create instances to highlight this both/and nature of the Gospel. Connect these texts and the discussion back to the accounts of Jesus’ ministry in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Consider other faith encounters such as the stories of Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, Nicodemus, the woman taken in adultery, and the calling of Matthew. Then look for ways to link their own relationships to this power of the Gospel–this power to release us from broken, law-dominated relationships and to re-connect us to each other through the persisting and prevailing forgiveness of Christ.
Themes to Consider
-The faith that justifies (sola fide) is a saving faith that is all-sufficient. That is, we can’t have a faith that almost saves. Yet the Bible also talks about faith that grows. Consider how we see these two senses of faith expressed in the four profiles of youth faith. Note how justification and sanctification are expressed.
-Daniel and the sons of Eli are OT figures. Mary is an inter-testamental figure. The rich young ruler encounters the Christ and is a NT figure. Consider how these figures relate to God’s promises in Jesus.
-Catalogue the conditions that promote faith and that threaten or erode faith.
-Look for how the Law functions in each of the episodes.
-Faith and spiritual formation are the work and gift of the Holy Spirit. Yet we face barriers to faith as Jesus describes in many of His parables. Keep track of the barriers and obstacles to faith development for the young people in these profiles.
2. Pre-read the Biblical texts and the lesson in this study a few days before presenting the content. Try putting yourself in the place of the young person in this study (Daniel, Mary, the sons of Eli, and the rich young ruler).
3. Read through any footnotes and textual notes for these chapters and verses.
4. Do some background reading on the historical context of this event using your Bible’s introduction to that book, a Bible handbook, and any commentaries available to you.
5. Each profile has a few ideas for student participation. You may be able to think of better ones for your kids.