A Letter to Someone Preparing for Secular College


My senioritis set in the first day of my senior year of high school. I couldn’t wait to be done. When graduation finally rolled around, I was anxious to move on with my life. Perhaps you have breathed the same sigh of relief.

Even if your emotions are mixed, any lingering sadness will soon fade into a twinge of nostalgia. Soon, you’ll be writing a new chapter of your life. Before you know it, your time in high school will fade into a distant memory, and college will begin setting the stage for your whole life.

If you’ve already applied and been accepted to a secular college — or even a Christian liberal arts college — I trust that you’ve made the decision carefully and prayerfully. Most people benefit from a year at Bible college, but there is no eleventh commandment requiring you to do so. Just make sure you are prepared for what awaits you. Amidst the busyness of scheduling classes, setting up your dorm room, meeting your roommate, and buying books, it’s easy to forget what life is all about.

The truth is you are just one of several million people who will start college this year. If you forget your life’s purpose, you may be surprised how quickly you are swept up with the crowd. If you forget why you were created, you may be surprised how soon you begin compromising your values or throw away your Christian faith altogether.

You were created to be happy in God and to enjoy Him fully forever in heaven. Hope, happiness, and security are only available in Jesus Christ, but you are entering into a world where people are seeking these things in everything but God. They are living for the here and now. They are caught up in being cool, being pretty, and being liked. They are eager to meet an attractive person, have sex, and party on the weekends. The more serious ones are determined to make money, secure a promotion, and buy a nice car. If your eyes shift from Jesus to any of these things, you will not only find that true happiness escapes you, but you will lose your soul.

If you forget why you were created, you may be surprised how soon you begin compromising your values or throw away your Christian faith altogether.

Many people are in hell today because they believed the lies that college sold to them. I’m pleading with you: Don’t buy the lies. You are precious to God, and He has a much bigger and better plan for you than sexual adventures on Spring Break or a comfortable existence. If you want to flourish in college and be able to look back without any regrets, it will require more than simply being a “good person” or focusing on your studies. You must prepare your heart.

Prepare to be misunderstood and mistreated. Unbelievers cannot understand why you do not attend parties with alcohol or why you do not agree to premarital sexual activity. The Bible says that unbelievers live “in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.” (1 Peter 4:3-5, emphasis added).

They are surprised! Unbelievers do not love God. They do not treasure the glory of God. So, they are incredulous when you say “no” and, like Moses, “choose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:25). It shouldn’t surprise you if they scoff or speak about you in a spiteful and critical way. When they laugh at you, or exclude you from their group, or insist “What’s the big deal?” remember what the Bible says about sensual, drunken, partying, idolatrous unbelievers: “they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” If you want to save your soul at college, you must take Christ’s example of suffering shame: “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking’ (1 Peter 4:1).

Prepare to be marginalized. Some people will do anything to be liked. If you live a truly God-fearing life at college, and people still like you, that is a blessing indeed. But it should not be your expectation. If you want to save your soul at college, you must be prepared to be disliked, sidelined, and isolated. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” (Mark 8:34-36).

If your eyes shift from Jesus, you will not only find that true happiness escapes you, but you will lose your soul.

For Jesus to bear his cross, he had to become the official enemy of the state and face the abandonment of all of his friends. When he asks us to bear our cross, we should expect nothing less. We should be prepared to embrace bullying and a social stigma for the sake of Christ and the gospel, knowing that our reward will be great in heaven. Nobody wants to be marginalized; that’s why Jesus calls us to “deny ourselves.”

Prepare to be courageous. There will be opportunities every day to either shrink back and blend in or step up and courageously stand for what is right. What will you do? If you want to save your soul at college, you must be a fearless follower of the Son of God. Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man [Jesus] also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels [to judge the world]” (Mark 8:38).

When your roommate has sex with his or her girlfriend or boyfriend, will you have the courage to warn him or her about the consequences of sin, and point him or her to Jesus? When your friends take the name of the Lord in vain, will you have the courage to confront them or will you stand by and listen as if it’s “no big deal”? Will you seek opportunities to share the gospel, or will you spend four years of your life without ever winning a single person to Jesus — or even trying — simply because you have the jitters? We should not be afraid of a wicked and perverse generation. We represent the true and living God who reigns over heaven and earth and has given us the authority to go into all of the world and proclaim the good news that Jesus saves from sin.

Prepare your inner life. Being courageous takes courage. (Go figure.) But courage does not rise up without a reason. It rises up from strong character. If you neglect your inner life, you will not survive secular college. The Bible warns, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). If you think you’re strong enough to handle the pressure, you probably aren’t. You’ll need God’s grace every class, every weekend, and every encounter with your friends and professors. As the old hymn says, “I need Thee, oh, I need Thee; Every hour I need Thee.” If you want more of God’s grace in your life, here are four things to keep in mind:

If you neglect your inner life, you will not survive secular college.

You must be humble. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6); therefore, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (James 4:10). Humility is the secret to receiving more grace in your life. We must admit that without God we can do nothing. We must recognize that we are always one choice away from wrecking our lives, and only God can truly protect us. We must trust in Jesus, who died for our sins, as our only hope for salvation. And we must look to the Holy Spirit as our only source of power for resisting temptation and living a godly life.

You must flee to Christ when you are tempted. The Bible reassures us, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). In other words, “Every temptation which you face is common to college kids. But God is patient, understanding, and ready to help.” If you are saved, God has given you His Holy Spirit. You have new desires — desires to please God and love God. But those spiritual desires are at war with your selfish desires. (And hormones don’t make the fight any easier.) The Holy Spirit can help you to win the war. He’ll make a way of escape, even if it means running out of a room or breaking off a relationship, like Joseph ran away from a married woman who shamelessly asked him to go to bed with her (Genesis 39:11-12).

Every temptation which you face is common to college kids. But God is patient, understanding, and ready to help.

You must read your Bible. Bible reading and prayer are sometimes called “means of grace” because they are channels through which God’s grace flows to us. Do you want to stay on the path of purity? The Bible tells you how. “How can a young man [or woman] keep his [or her] way pure? By guarding it according to your word” (Psalm 119:9). You must spend time in God’s Word — and obey what it says — if you expect to live the Christian life at college. If you’re not reading your Bible already, start now. Download a Bible app on your phone, such as YouVersion or Bible Gateway, and begin reading in the New Testament. Read one of the gospels (such as Mark or John), then read some of the letters (such as 1 Peter, Ephesians, or 1 John). Try to read at least one chapter each morning and evening. When you’re discouraged during the day or have some downtime, pick up your Bible.

You must pray. When we do not pray, we say to God, “I can make it through my day without you.” It’s no wonder if we fall. Don’t be afraid to kneel beside the bed in your dorm room and ask God to give you courage to obey Him and love others. Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts [sins], as we also have forgiven our debtors [those who have sinned against us]. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Before you pray this prayer, be ready to put it into practice by staying out of the way of temptation and doing the will of God in every situation.

It’s dangerous to face college alone. Reach out to a mature Christian.

You must go to church. You don’t have to face college alone. It’s dangerous to do so. The Bible warns us about “neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some” (Hebrews 10:25). We need others to encourage us in our Christian life. If you cannot go home for the weekend, call a parent, pastor, or Christian friend and tell them what you’re struggling with. Find a mature Christian to correspond with through email or text message. “Confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16). If there are no opportunities to attend church while on campus, find a creative way to honor the Lord’s Day. Set aside an hour on Sunday morning to pray, read the Bible, and listen to Christian music. Ask your pastor for sermons to listen to, or find sermons online from reputable preachers.

College is hard. It’s even harder when you are a Christian. But God has the grace to help you make it. Prepare to be misunderstood, mistreated, and marginalized, but prepare for God to honor you in amazing ways. God has promised, “for those who honor Me I will honor” (1 Samuel 2:30). God is on the side of righteous college students.

Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold is a husband, father, and aspiring pastor-theologian, as well as the founder and president of holyjoys.org. You can connect with him on Twitter @jsarnold7.