Keeping the Faith in College
This past Saturday, our church held a College Fair and Expo day. I was asked to conduct four to five 30-minute workshop sessions on “Keeping the Faith in College.” This post is based on the handout that I prepared for the students.
When you think about college – especially for those of you who are going off to school – what comes to mind? Almost every student would probably answer: Independence! Who doesn’t look to be out on their own in some measure, right? Parent(s) no longer looking over your shoulder (as much), keeping tabs on where you are going, or who you are talking to, texting, or Instagramming. Oh the joy!
But college is not just about spreading your wings and “flying out the coop.” It is also about intersections. Your life is about to cross paths with people from different backgrounds and cultures. Some with whom you will establish significant associations or friendships. Additionally, you will encounter a mixmaster of philosophical and/or religious ideas.
Some will be communicated to you through formal instruction in a lecture hall or classroom, or online. Others will be propagated to you in informal, casual conversations. It is at this particular intersection that some have lost their way, with a few even turning away from faith in Jesus, indicating that though they may have “grown up in the church” they never really had a relationship with him at all. They knew about Jesus but didn’t know him personally.
And so my hope for this post is the same as what Paul desired of the Christians in Colossae. He writes, “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:1-7; emphasis mine; English Standard Version)
Whether you realize it or not, there is a spiritual war going on. Satan and his demonic forces are at work seeking to divert us as Christians from obeying Jesus, distract us from being on mission for Jesus, and destroy our witness to the world about Jesus (Ephesians 6:12; 1 Peter 5:8). Simply put, he is always seeking opportunities to tempt us to desert Jesus. He is also seeking to keep the minds of non-Christians blind “from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (Colossians 4:4). And that’s just part of the battle. The other deals with the war that is waged against us by our own sinful flesh or desires (1 Peter 2:11).
But how does he, Satan, do all of this? He employs various tactics that work-in-hand with our sinful desires to achieve his ultimate goal: our rebellion against God. What does he concentrate his efforts on and direct his evil forces against? God’s word. The Scriptures. The Bible. This is the frontline of the battle. And, as we will see, it has been so since the beginning. So, in the following paragraphs, I want to take you, student (particularly incoming college freshmen), through an abbreviated 3-stage boot camp to prepare you for the battle that is ahead.
Stage 1: The Authenticity of the Bible
As Christians, we believe that the Bible (all 66 books; no more, no less) is the only genuinely inspired word of God. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” God is the author of the Bible, written by the hands of men. Dr. William Bell, one of my former professors at Dallas Baptist University, defined the inspiration of the Bible this way, “God so supernaturally directed the writers of scripture that without wavering their human intelligence, literary style or personal feeling, His complete and coherent message to man was recorded with perfect accuracy, the very words of the original scripture bearing the authority of divine authorship.”
What proof do we have of the Bible’s divine authorship? Here are four common pieces of evidence:
• Continuity: The Bible is comprised of 66 books written over a period of about 1500 years by 40 different people in 3 languages (Hebrew, Greek and some Aramaic). And yet it has one coherent story – a meta-narrative, one big story – God’s plan of salvation of humanity from sin through personal faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
• Fulfilled Prophecy: If we just look at Jesus, everything that was predicted about him in the Old Testament – hundreds of years prior to his birth – came to pass exactly as it was foretold: from his place of birth, flight into Egypt, ministry in Galilee to the false witnesses, and his redemptive work on the cross.
• Archeology: Up until the 1920’s it was believed that Abraham was mythical and Ur was not a real place. In 1922-34 C. Leonard, a British Archeologist, found the land of the Ur of Chaldees. This is just one example of many.
• True to life: What the Bible says about us is true. Consider these two realities spoken about in Scripture – 1. Humanity experiences death due to sin (Genesis 3:19; 5:3ff), and 2. Humanity is evil, sinful (Romans 3). And there is much more that the Bible is spot on when it comes to life and how we are as humans.
So if the Bible is inspired by God (and it is), then this means that it is also inerrant, containing no errors (2 Timothy 2:15 calls the Bible “the word of truth.”). The Bible is true because God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18 says, “it is impossible for God to lie”). The Scripture is fully true in all that it reports, teaches and declares, and affirms; and is, therefore, binding on us as Christians – the final authority under which we submit our faith and lives.
As seen in Genesis 3 with our first parents, Adam and Eve, Satan’s main goal related to this stage is to discredit the Bible in the minds of people. If people don’t believe the Bible to be God’s word, they will not recognize its authority and will disregard its proclamations, warnings, wisdom, commands, and prohibitions.
Stage 2: The Interpretation of the Bible
Without any doubt, the Scripture is God’s word. And his eternal word comes to us through human language and couched in the historical settings of the times in which it was written. The Bible is not monolithic. In terms of language, God employed various literary forms or genres, like historical narrative, proverbs, legal speech, poetry, parables, letters, homilies/sermons, figures of speech, etc. And then there are the historical elements of Scripture: geographical setting (the East: Asia, Africa, etc.), cultural background (Jews, Romans, Greeks, etc.) and customary practices (a holy kiss – 1 Thess. 5:16). So if we are to comprehend the Bible, we must do the work of interpretation with prayerful dependence on God the Holy Spirit to guide us into a correct understanding through personal study and research, and consulting trustworthy and faithful biblical scholars and pastors/preachers.
The good news is you do not have to be a deacon, pastor, preacher, or Bible scholar in order to understand Scripture. You can learn how to rightly interpret the Scripture. Here are two fundamental areas of biblical interpretation that you need to give attention to every time you read a passage of Scripture: 1. Context – historical: personal backgrounds of authors, occasion/purpose of the book, and customs; and literary: grammar, syntax, & words in context; and 2. Content – you can’t interpret what you don’t know is there, so learn how to read slowly and carefully. And here is a bonus: Purchase a version of the Bible that is faithful to the original languages but that also uses terminology that is understandable to our modern eyes and ears. I recommend the English Standard Version, New International Version, or New American Standard.
Often through the means of false teachers, Satan’s objective in this stage is to distort the meaning of the Bible (2 Peter 3:14-18). Be careful who you listen to and follow. Check the Bible for yourself. Get yourself into a faithful Bible teaching church.
Stage 3: The Message of the Bible
The central figure of the Bible is Jesus. All of Scripture bears witness and points to him (Luke 24:27; John 5:39). The central message of the Bible is the Gospel or Good News of Jesus. What is the Good News of Jesus? A great summation is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
Eternal life, the forgiveness of sin, and being made right with and becoming the children of God is only acquired through faith in the person and work of Jesus (John 1:12, 3:16; Romans 3:21-25a; Galatians 2:15-16). Christianity is not principally about do’s and don’ts, but rather what Jesus has DONE on our behalf. God looks favorably upon us because Jesus died sacrificially and rose victoriously for us. Jesus’ redemptive work achieves our righteous standing before God and enables our righteous living for God (according to the Bible and through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives).
Satan’s primary desire in this stage is for people to disbelieve the good news of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:3-4) and to decrease our devotion as Christians to Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:3-4).
The battle is on. And it will only intensify as you continue to grow in maturity and obedience to Jesus. Satan, our spiritual enemy, has deployed his agents to meet you and others on that college campus. Do not be fooled by his deceitful tactics and fall into his demented traps. There is no need to fear him because according to Colossians 2:15, “He [Jesus] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”
I pray, as you begin your college journey, that you take to heart this charge that the apostle Paul gave to his young protégé Timothy:
“Timothy, guard [or keep] what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith. Grace be with you all.” (1 Timothy 6:20-21; New International Version)