Learning the Language of Faith

A Reflection on John 6:66-69

66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

I’ve always been fascinated with words, particularly with languages.

The idea that you can sequence different sounds together and put thoughts into the mind of another human being is absolutely intriguing. This fascination has led me, at different times of my life, to try to learn different languages. I took three years of Spanish in high school as well as a year of French and a year of Hebrew in college. At one point, I even tried learning Japanese on my own (that was a long summer). But none of these languages really seemed to stick. In fact, after all my schooling, the only two languages that I now have a mediocre command of are ecclesiastical Latin and New Testament Greek. Before you get too impressed, realize that those are dead languages! Nobody speaks them anymore!

You see, it took me a while to realize that, though I found languages absolutely fascinating, I lacked the discipline to practice those things that would allow me to become fluent in these languages. Ultimately, I liked the idea of learning languages, but not the actual work of learning them.

I tell you this because I believe we can think of the formation of faith in ourselves and in our young people as having a lot in common with learning a language. Remember here Peter’s words, “You have the words of eternal life.” In other words, Peter is saying, “Jesus you have the language of faith, the words that bring salvation, healing, and transformation.” This language of faith, just like any other language, takes time to learn. Peter and the Twelve have learned this difficult language by being immersed in the life of Jesus, and this has formed them in a very particular way.

The Twelve have not simply followed Jesus; they have been formed by Jesus. 

I worry that too many of us like the idea of faith far more than we like the idea of being formed in our faith. We are like those disciples who found Jesus’ teachings too difficult and decided to stop following him. We are fair-weather followers that will follow Jesus, so long as his teachings are not too difficult and his call is not too costly. We would much rather be liked by Jesus than to be like Jesus. We would much rather be saved from the penalty of our sin than we would to be saved from our slavery to sin. I wonder how many of us have spent our entire lives in church learning – and perhaps teaching – a dead language?

There is no short-cut to faith formation. If the best way to learn a language is to be completely immersed in it, then we must surround our students with people who speak this language fluently. We must provide them with opportunities to use the language of faith every day. This kind of disciplined practice is essential for students to be formed in the language of faith – the language of prayer, the language of songs and hymns, the language of scripture, and the language of the creeds.

As youth ministers, we must ask what type of faith we are passing on to our students.

Are we passing on a faith that merely likes the idea of holiness or are we passing on a faith that strives after it every single day? Are we passing on a faith that contains those words of eternal life or are we passing on a dead language? Are we passing on a faith that looks for shortcuts or are we passing on a faith that is committed to walking with Jesus even when times get tough?

My prayer is that when the weight of this world presses upon our young people, they may be formed in such a way that they too will respond like the Twelve: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life and we have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”





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