Every year I try to offer a few words of advice for college-bound students—the kind of advice that I think could make a big difference in your spiritual survival. This is important for any student who takes Jesus seriously and is going into a hostile environment. If you are a genuine follower of Christ, you’re going to get pushback, and you need to be equipped for that.
Let me begin by making an observation about how people learn and believe that I think is important. There is a process called socialization where people are influenced, taught, and instructed by their community, often in very subtle ways. There are various layers of culture. If you’re a follower of Christ, you have your Christian culture, then you have your friends, and the school you might go to. There’s another layer—the general western American culture reflected in the media, movies, music, online, and other things like that.
There are a lot of layers of culture, but one of the hardest things, it turns out, is when churchgoers change groups and go to an environment where all of their theological and moral points of view are not supported by others around them. They are the odd person out, not only in their religious beliefs, but also in their moral behavior. When students have been raised in Christian homes, they may hold their Christian convictions for largely emotional reasons. I’m not putting that down, I’m just saying we are influenced subjectively by the opinions of others that we’re around. When we get into a new environment, the temptation is very, very strong to go with the new flow, and if someone doesn’t have very good reasons to stick with Jesus, they are going to hear what sound like very good reasons to switch allegiances. Plus, there is an immediate payoff in throwing off their moral restrictions. They can fit in socially. Let’s say, the other point of view starts looking very attractive.
Be aware of that dynamic because it’s powerful. If you are going off to college, or if you have children or grandchildren going off to college, be forewarned that social group wants to change your mind. They are evangelizing and discipling for their point of view, and really, against the Christian point of view. It is going to be very hard to resist the social pressure and the appeal if you are not fully convinced that Jesus is who He claimed to be and that the world is actually the way the Bible describes.
If all students have are Christian feelings because of the environment where they’ve grown up, they’re in for a rough ride. If you are going from a group that supported you to a group that does not support you, and worse than that, will directly oppose you and vilify you for the views that you have, call you names, and characterize you as intolerant and bigoted, then you’re vulnerable to walking away from Christianity. The rules are different than your youth group and family, and temptation can be overwhelming.
Here is what I want to suggest to you.
You’ve got our website—STR.org—and there are a whole lot of resources free for you—videos, blogs, articles, podcasts. Get recourses that will keep your Christian convictions in the midst of the onslaught. I’m not suggesting you have to be the number one evangelist wherever you happen to go. Right now, I’m just concerned with you surviving. I want you to make a difference for Christ. I want you to seize the opportunity when the opportunity presents itself. But mostly, I’m talking about surviving. You need to get the goods that will help you stand firm, and Stand to Reason is one of many places that provides that. I guarantee you that there are answers on our site or others to the questions your professors and classmates will challenge you with. You can call me any Tuesday during our live podcast and ask me what you don’t know how to answer.
Second, you have to be vigilant about prayer and Bible reading. I know it sounds so trite to say, “pray and read your Bible,” but that is what connects you to Jesus. You can’t survive without connecting with the bread and water of life regularly. Read thoughtfully. This is the book that tells you what reality is. You are going to be getting evangelists for another view of reality. They’re going to be pounding on you all day long, so you need to be constantly reminded what reality is. That is one of the vital things God’s Word does for us.
You’ve got to pray to keep a relationship with God. It is harder to sin against someone you are intimate with, so you must cultivate your spiritual life through prayer. Bible study and prayer attach your heart to the Lord and your mind to reality.
Third, you also need fellowship with accountability. You cannot stand alone against the social pressure. You may have to go out of your way to find other Christians of kindred spirit who love Jesus and want to stand for Him. You need to be part of that community. It might be a local church, a Christian organization like CRU, Ratio Christi, or Intervarsity, but you want to find people who understand the way the world is through Christ and can encourage you and hold you accountable.
To sum up, you need to know why you believe so that you can resist the challenges and enticements. You need to be intimately connected with God through prayer and Bible study so that your heart and mind are connected to Jesus. Your heart needs to be touched by God, and your mind must be informed by reality. Finally, you need to be connected with other Christians.
If you neglect these three things, it is going to be very hard for you to stay true to Christ in that environment. But follow this advice, and you can grow leaps and bounds in your relationship with Jesus and in your confidence in His reality.