“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you…” – 1 Corinthians 15:1
How do you help college students fight their sin?
As a Christian campus minister, this is a question I have often asked as I’ve seen the deep struggles that students have shared with me. Many feel helpless and discouraged as they fail often with porn, food, cutting, drinking, depression, drugs, anger, and workaholism. Students are frustrated and broken over their repeated failures after months or even years of trying to grow, and they are looking for help and hope. Some become cynical and jaded, wondering if God really knows or cares. Some feel isolated, as if they are the only ones struggling in this way. Others sense that God is so displeased with them that they can never recover His favor, and think that they should just throw in the towel.
When a student comes to you confessing a struggle, what is your first response? What about when they come to you the second time? What about the 30th time in a semester? How do we usually respond to a struggle with a besetting sin?
I’m ashamed to say that often I respond with frustration. It usually comes out by emphasizing the law of God “Let’s look together at Proverbs 7…” and giving them a proverbial slap on the wrist. Most of the time I respond with recommendations of tactics and better discipline, like sharing with them a new strategy that I just read in a book. Or I challenge them to get accountable with a close brother or sister. Maybe they should pray more, or commit to a regular Bible study. Ya know what, maybe they should just harder! What do you usually do?
Brothers and sisters, we have something better to offer our struggling students! The Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps this sounds trite? Maybe some roll their eyes, and think this is elementary, even regressive. Shouldn’t Christian students already know this? Yes they should, but they need to be reminded. They need YOU to remind them of the gospel! Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:1, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you…” We need to be reminded of the gospel, even if we already know it.
Remind them of their forgiveness, that in Christ ALL their sins have been paid at the Cross (Colossians 2:13). Remind them that God doesn’t love them on the basis of their work (Romans 4:5), but on Christ’s work, so they can rest secure in grace no matter their performance. Remind them that they are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) and this sin no longer defines who they are. Remind them that they are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6:6) but have been set free in Christ. Remind them that they no longer have shame from the sins done by them or against them, because Christ has cleansed their shame (1 John 1:7). Remind them of the gospel!
What does this practically look like? Consider three applications:
- Remind them of the gospel before they sin: Make it a constant practice to remind students of Jesus, of what He has done, their new identity in Christ, and the resources that God has given to them in the gospel. Shoot them a text of 2 Corinthians 5:17 sometime during the day, reminding them that they are a new creation in Christ! Or consider teaching through a series in your large group meetings about the blessings of the gospel. Start up an in-depth Bible study through the book of Romans. Point them to Jesus as the answer, not themselves. What would this look like in your ministry context.
Remind them of the gospel after they sin: Make it your first response, when a student shares of a recent failure, to remind them of the gospel. Over coffee, over text, over the phone… may the FIRST thing out of your mouth be a word of GRACE, not condemnation or shaming or moral tid-bits. Keep encouraging them in the gospel until you SEE that they are encouraged. When someone is happy in Christ, they WILL fight their sin, out of love and gratitude for their Savior. Practically, memorize a few good gospel passages that you can share with students, like Galatians 2:17-21, or Titus 3:4-7, or the simple but powerful promise in Romans 8:1. What would it look like to incorporate this into your conversations this week?
- Remind YOURSELF of the gospel: Brothers and sisters, you will fail. You’ll forget the gospel and revert to moralism, slapping them on the wrist, and leaving them even MORE discouraged after coffee with you. That’s hard. But remember the gospel. YOU are not their Savior, and YOU are not the Holy Spirit. Remember that the work of the kingdom is accomplished by God through flawed vessels. It’s not all riding on you! God will redeem your failures, and HE will use you to advance His kingdom DESPITE your failures and weaknesses. So remember the gospel! And then work hard in the freedom that you have in Christ. Practically, is there a recent ministry failure that has you feeling down? Cheer up, Christian! How can you remind yourself of the gospel?
May God grow in us a deeper and richer love for the Cross of Jesus, and may we hold it out as our hope and salvation to struggling college students – not just for the first time they repent, but for every step of repentance along the way, until we reach glory.