Student Series: Rubbing Elbows with Grace and Nonbelievers in College
As a Christian, what do you do when your friend group, pledge class, or professors are diametrically opposed to everything your Sunday school teachers and parents ever taught you? What do you do when your roommate tells you that he is a Christian, yet denies the resurrection and divinity of Jesus? How do you step into friendships with people who do not share your Christian “world and life view”?
The fall of my freshman year in college, I met and befriended large numbers of people who observed different religions, or identified as Christians yet outwardly rejected the authority of Scripture, or believed in “ways to God” other than Jesus. This was probably how the faithful Jews felt during their exile in Babylon.
Thankfully, I’ve also gotten involved with a local church, campus ministry, and Christian friends and mentors in college. This article is simply an exposition of wisdom I have gained from these sources, which should reinforce the importance of finding (or creating) Christian community in college.
1. God has an enemy named Satan. Unfortunately, Satan has blinded some people from seeing the Light of the World – who is Jesus Christ. When (not if) we meet a non-Christian in college, we must first and foremost remember: that individual is not the enemy. Rather, that person is a captive of the enemy. Look at what the Apostle Paul tells us in the Bible. In this world, we daily face spiritual battlegrounds in which we battle neither flesh, nor blood, nor professors, nor liberal student organizations; instead, we fight “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12b).
We must know our enemy. We are battling Satan, not non-Christians.
However, God wants people on his team! In the Old Testament, God went to great lengths to adopt wayfaring strangers into the tribe of Israel. He brought curious pagans into the nation of Israel (see the exciting story of Ruth!). And in due time, God would go so far as to become a human being and eventually die on a cross, only to rise form the dead shortly there afterwards so that ALL people, not just the Israelites, could have the chance to become members of the family of God.
So, when we talk with a non-Christian, let us remember just how much Jesus loves that person.
2. If we are totally honest with ourselves, we Christians still have unbelieving, unconverted parts of our own hearts. We are not the giants of faith that we think we are. Even we Christians need help in our unbelief! Since sin is intertwined in our DNA – our fallen condition – those of us who believe in Jesus still have dark, doubting recesses of our hearts. Imagine that! We are actually much worse than we think we are.
Even Christians who were adopted into God’s family at age seven during VBS still have a deep, spiritual need to daily reach out to God and say, “Heal me!” So, before we cry out, “God, heal them,” it is advisable (and perhaps proper) that we first kneel, confess our sins to Almighty God, and receive a dose of His forgiveness for ourselves. The first step in evangelism to non-believers is not actually a “step;” rather, it is a descent to the knees.
As we understand our need to experience God’s grace daily, we begin to love Jesus even more because we more fully appreciate how He took the penalty for our sin. Effective ministers of the Gospel must first be transformed by God’s grace. Without first experiencing God’s grace for us sinners, what do we have to share with non-believers?
When we rub elbows with grace, encountering it in a deeply personal way, we change.
Oftentimes, an encounter with the Living God leaves us behaving, talking, and listening differently than before. Perhaps when we rest in and rely on the God who would both dwell with and die for us sinners, others will say to us, “Hey, I have noticed that you seem to have lots of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control…and you’re really slow to speak and quick to listen to those with whom you disagree…. why is that?!” At which point, we may exclaim, “Let me tell you about King Jesus who died for us sinners!”