I do not want you to experience what too many church kids have experienced.
Many adults will have their deepest regrets in regard to the choices they make from age 18 to 26. These years are the crossroads of life. You decide many things during these years – will I continue to worship God outside my parents’ influence? Will I still gather with God’s people in worship on the Lord’s day? Am I going to work hard to earn a living? Am I going to be generous with what I
have? With whom will I choose to spend my life?
Sadly, many have walked away from the faith during these critical years, never to return. My desire and prayer is that this will not be your story.
Whether you go to school in the bubble of a Christian college or a secular university; whether you are headed into the workplace or taking a gap year – the danger remains the same.
I want to give you three words that will help you handle your newfound freedom and maximize it for your spiritual growth.
Purpose is word number one. Too many students transitioning from high school to college lack purpose. They don’t know the why behind what they’re doing. They don’t even know why they’re going to school except that it’s expected. Most don’t know why they’re here on the planet.
If you waste your days, you waste your life
It is sad to see these college years lived with such a lack of purpose. If you don’t understand your purpose in these pivotal years, you will waste an extraordinary portion of your life that could have been maximized for your future self and for the glory of God.
If you wrote yourself a letter 20 years from now, I’m confident that you would tell yourself to live these years with purpose, to be mindful of the tremendous opportunities and freedoms at your fingertips, and to use these in a way that would bring God the most glory and your soul the deepest growth.
Paul, in Ephesians 5:15-16, writes,
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.
This verse first tells you to be mindful of how you walk. This is one of the most abundant metaphors in the New Testament – walking. It’s just one foot in front of the other. The Christian life is about getting up each day in order to be obedient to Jesus.
The Christian life is not ordinarily filled with the exhilarating sweeps and swoops of a rollercoaster, nor daily do we experience the majestic peaks and dark valleys of the Himalayas. Instead, the majority of the Christian life is spent walking – one foot in front of the other. It requires consistency, balance, and care as you find your footing.
Then the author defines the Christian walk as it relates to time.
In these transitional years, you have the opportunity to harness the time to benefit your soul. Time is ticking; the clock is turning. Another day has passed, and with it, a myriad of opportunities that, when judgment day comes, you will wish you would have seized.
The author tells you to redeem the time. But you likely do not think of an hour as something to redeem. The word redeem comes from slavery. Slavery was far different in the ancient world than the evils with which we relate the term. Slavery was a condition that people could be bought out of – or redeemed from.
Redemption is an intriguing word to use in reference to time. It’s as if to say you could buy back time. The word for time used is one that refers to periods of time – epochs, ages, stages, or moments. It refers to longer sections of time; not so much measurable units as periods of life.
However, do not make too much of the distinction between stages of time and minutes of time, because stages are made of minutes. Seconds become minutes and minutes become hours and hours become weeks and weeks months and months years and years decades and decades lifetimes. If you waste your days, you waste your life.
This does not mean that you must nail down every detail of your future life. The Bible warns against this kind of thinking. But a wise man plans. In Proverbs, the wise man plans how he will sow seed and harvest it to yield a profit. Planning is deeply biblical.
This can be done in simple ways – like not changing your major 700 times; like finishing the classes you start; like learning to be responsible with the small amounts of money you have. All these habits you train yourself in today will later pay dividends.
None of this is flashy. But before you can be the next Hudson Taylor, you must understand that Hudson Taylor had his act together. And that’s what I’m pleading with you to do.
I’m telling you the truth. I’m telling you what I believe you would tell yourself decades from now: to use these years better than you would have.
Too many young Christians don’t make enough of the word progress.
The Apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé, Timothy:
Be diligent [or take pains] in these matters. Give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and your doctrine closely. Persevere in them because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
1 Timothy 4:15-16
This is advice given to a young man in ministry. But this principle isn’t limited to pastors. We all need to be diligent – to take pains – in matters of life and godliness. After all, what else matters, but life and godliness? This stage of life is the time to make observable progress in these areas.
As children, our parents lined us up and penciled our height onto kitchen walls. They were measuring growth. The same way they marked growth, charted progress, and kept track of development, a wise believer is to be mindful of his growth as a Christian.
The ways that you grow as a Christian are manifold. They are all graces of God – things like prayer, Bible study, serving in the church, worshiping God with the people of God. All of these are means of spiritual growth, and you should be seeing progress in these areas. There should be observable progress in your sanctification, in your desire to be more like Jesus, and in your pursuit of holiness.
Notice what I’m not saying. I am not telling you that you will gain victory over all your sin by age 25. It’s not going to happen. God never promises it. He promises victory over sin when He glorifies you and removes you from this body of flesh and redeems you fully and finally in heaven. That is when victory comes. You hear Christians claiming victory over sin and the devil. They are not totally wrong, but they are awfully premature.
It is not victory we are after; it’s obedience.
One of the most impactful chapters I have read was in a book by Jerry Bridges called Pursuit of Holiness. A chapter entitled Obedience—Not Victory transformed the way I thought about my struggle against sin. No longer was I fighting never to sin again. Instead, I was trying to put one foot in front of the other – to obey Jesus in the moment, day, and week to come. This is an entirely different battle than attempting to never sin again. It’s a battle in which you will be able to measure tangible progress. Pursue obedience, not victory.
The more effort you put towards your spiritual growth, towards getting rid of your bad habits, towards gaining more discipline over your appetites, over your desires, over bringing sanctification into each aspect of your life, you will see progress. Progress should be measurable, not only by you, but as Paul said, “So that everyone may see your progress.”
You know your weaknesses. Make measurable progress in them. Make so much progress that it’s not just you who sees it, but those around you. It will be an encouragement to the church, to your family, and to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Maturity is measurable.
Polity is a Christian word that means doctrine of the church.
You will likely be married someday, or you may not be. You may have your dream job, or you may not. But, if you are a follower of Jesus, you will always be part of a local church.
God’s people, since Jesus rose from the grave, have always been committed to gathering together on the Lord’s day and worshiping Jesus. This is your Christian priority.
This is especially pertinent to those of you who are attending school away from home. Your priority is to find a faithful church. It may not look, feel, and smell exactly like your church back home. You need to get over yourself and your preferences and go to church.
In Acts 5, there is a story of Ananias and Sapphira. It’s the story of when God killed people at church. God takes church involvement seriously. So much so, that He killed those who claimed to be part of the church but lied to the Holy Spirit and to the church leadership; He did this to demonstrate how seriously He takes commitment to the church.
Following this incident, many dared not associate with the church for fear of the Lord (Acts 5:13). But there were also many joining their numbers (Acts 5:14).
This is an interesting contrast. Two people died because they were not worshiping God as He required. Outsiders understood how weighty a commitment the church was. But others were drawn to the church. They understood the consequences, and they wanted in. They counted the cost. They took it seriously. Membership in a local church requires commitment to Jesus and to His people, and we should be drawn to it.
The teaching of the New Testament (especially the book of Acts) assumes formal church membership as does the practice of 2,000 years of church history. We need accountability, we need to be cared for, watched over, and led. Sheep need a shepherd.
It is good that the pastor wants to have your name and your phone number and to put you on the list. He has a responsibility of watching over your soul. When you leave your church and join another, write a letter saying, “I’m moving to this church. They’re going to watch over me.” That is how Christians have operated for the entirety of church history.
Today, Christians go to church like they’re going to Cinnabon. They come as customers; they get in line and expect to be pampered. If not, they head somewhere else. That’s not what the church is for. The church is an imperfect body of believers that loves Jesus, one another, and gathers to worship Christ each Sunday.
The road ahead is filled with choices. During these years, many who were raised in the church have wandered, stumbled, and willfully walked away. Few intend to do so, but the mortality rate remains staggering. This was the message of the author of Hebrews to Christians on the brink of turning away, may it never apply to you:
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called 'Today,' so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.
Every year at Camp Regen I give a talk to the high school seniors about apostasy. This message is an excerpt from what I say to them. I hope you find it helpful for those you know moving from high school to college.