How to Stay Christian in College

This Is Real Life

It’s important to hear that the life of a student is not a retreat from real life; it is real life. Real faith, real holiness, real warmth and softness of heart, real relationships, real eternity lie in the balance. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “There is no such thing as a holiday in the spiritual realm.”

The secret to “staying Christian” as a student, whether at a secular college or a Christian seminary, is that there’s no real secret. It’s just ordinary, everyday, world-transforming Christianity. The key to staying Christian in any season of life, any place on the planet, any time in history is simply this: being a Christian today. Hearts don’t harden all at once, but a day at a time.

There’s a sense in which it can be even more dangerous for the Bible and seminary student than for the student at a secular university. If the gospel is the aroma of life to life, and death to death, then studying theology is either the fast-track to sanctification or to condemnation (2 Corinthians 2:15–16), to increasing faith or diminishing belief.

But what’s true in the incubator of Bible college is true as well on the secular campus. All things were created in, through and for Jesus (Colossians 1:16). Every course of study is about Jesus, if we only have the eyes to see. And “he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Biology, physics, business, chemistry, communications, literature, medicine, philosophy and political science will either draw you nearer to Jesus or pull you farther from him.

Your Most Important Homework

Heart-work, said Puritan great John Flavel, is the “one great business of a Christian’s life.” If you are a Christian, your most important homework (and classwork, for that matter) is heart-work. The life of the student is cognitively demanding, but we should relentlessly labor to make our mind-work serve our heart-work.

And we do so, not leaning on our own understanding and resources, but with the wind of the Holy Spirit in our sails. Staying Christian in college, seminary or any other season of life means expending energy to “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21). And that is the very thing he stands ready to do for and through us: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling” (Jude 24).  

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David Mathis
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.