(Photo by Kimberly Loidolt)
Why Faith comes first
College students experience newfound freedom when they leave home, and sometimes this freedom comes with a cost. Without anyone telling them to go to church on Sunday, read their Bible, find a group study, or practice important spiritual disciplines, students from both Christian and secular schools can drift away from their faith.
According to research data from a study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, 36 percent of students rated their spirituality lower after three years of college. Another study by the Barna Group indicates that about 50 percent of people who grow up in Christian churches walk away from their faith for at least some time. Many youth deviate from their faith during college, but it’s not surprising when college students receive freedom from parental guidelines. It’s difficult for students to maintain their faith at secular schools, where their friends may tease them for their beliefs and liberal-minded professors or friends convince them that other ideas, such as evolution, are more logical than Christianity.
I’m one of the small percentage of students who chose a Christian school (Biola University) over a secular school. It’s easier for me to stand up for my faith in an environment where everyone is a Christian of some denomination. Professors pray before class, students complete a Bible minor and attend chapels, and with a student contract that focuses on upholding moral conduct.
However, I know it’s much harder for students to defend their faith at secular colleges, where many people hold atheistic or agnostic views, several students party, Greek life traditions get out of hand, little or no Bible classes, and no designated spiritual activities. Even if other students don’t question or attack an individual’s belief in God, the person’s moral principles could suffer. Standing up for faith includes standing up for all your beliefs, whether they’re theological truths or moral principles found in Scripture.
It’s easier to fit in when you pretend like God doesn’t exist, that it’s okay to swear, that it’s okay to sleep with someone before marriage because everyone else is doing it, that it’s okay to drink when you’re not 21 because you didn’t buy the alcohol at that party. But what’s more important––convincing others that you’re cool, or maintaining your integrity? It’s not surprising that many non-Christians call Christians hypocrites. We say we believe one thing, then we abandon that belief because we fear ostracization.
How do you bridge the gap between wanting to defend your faith and fear of rejection? First, remember that people who truly respect and value your friendship will honor your beliefs. Don’t fear sharing your faith with others––the worst that can happen is that you lose a friendship. It’s more important to remember the message in Matthew 10:33–– “but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” It’s better to remain loyal to God than even your closest friend. Friends also influence each other, either positively or negatively, and eventually nonbelievers might become curious about your faith because they notice a particular quality about you, such as a generous heart or overwhelming compassion.
Second, remember that love should underlie evangelism. Don’t simply tell someone that they’ll burn in hell if they don’t accept Jesus Christ as their savior. Explain to them how God made a covenant with humanity and redeemed everyone because He loves them so much, then answer any questions they may have. If they still don’t believe in God after that, then it’s not your fault––you told them about God and they must change their heart first.
Third, remember that one little flame can light a blazing fire. One person standing up for their faith can create a movement. Yes, the protest in God’s Not Dead 2 is a little unrealistic, but others may join you if you say something when someone attacks your beliefs or the Christian faith. Speaking out alone is daunting, but voicing your thoughts in a group setting is easier because others can back you up.
Fourth, you can join a club like CRU and join with other students in ministry, or host a small group study. You don’t exactly have to preach to people, but telling them about the activities you’re involved in may pique their interest just a little bit in Christianity. Invite others to a missions trip or a church service. Offer a question and answer sessions over coffee or lunch to answer any questions they have.
Fifth, remember that, as John 15:18 states, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” The majority of people will attack your beliefs, but not you personally. People even criticized Jesus in biblical times. It’s impossible to follow Christ without encountering some religious opposition.
Lastly, you don’t necessarily have to publicly defend Christianity––you can choose to ignore any taunts or attacks from others and continue practicing important spiritual disciplines––prayer, fasting, reading Scripture, etc. These habits greatly strengthen faith, so it’s important to practice in college instead of putting them on the back burner due to homework or other things. Actions also speak louder than words, so simple things like forgiving others, helping someone on crutches get across campus, earning great grades, or choosing to remain sober at a party with alcohol create a ripple effect. These small choices may inspire others to act similarly.
You never know what may happen if you defend your faith. Even if only one more person accepts Christ, that’s one more soul in heaven. Make a difference in the world around you and lower the statistic of people who walk away from Christianity in college. Don’t gain the whole world and lose your soul (Matthew 16:26).