What I Would do Differently in College
“Senior year”, “Old Fart Status”, “16th grade”, “one year away from the real world”—whatever you want to call it –I’m there. And it seems like people are coming out of the woodwork to ask me some really uncomfy questions. Aside from asking me how I’ll be spending my time and energy next year, people have been asking me for words of wisdom, about things I wish I would have known freshman year, or about things I’ve learned here at the University of Illinois.
Guys, I have to let you in on a very humbling secret: I’m not that wise. If I am honest and strip myself away from the comforts of my pride and self righteousness, I see that it has been Jesus and His teachings that have allowed any change to take place in my hard heart over these past four years. I’m more than willing to revisit this path with you if it means prying the eyes open of my beloved brothers and sisters, reviving truth and life into your hearts as the season of finals soon approach. It’s about time to talk about what I would have done differently in college because of knowing Jesus.
The Big Questions
Jesus, Son of God and Redeemer of man, is powerful. Powerful enough to transform hearts that were dead beyond any form of resuscitation that any one of us could provide. We see that hope in Romans 6:9-11: “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
I may have done some things differently if I had known I can always consider myself alive in Jesus and that the deathly power of sin has no dominion over me. I wouldn’t have wasted time dating non-believers my freshman year, thrown away an embarrassing amount of hours of my weekends at parties and the bars, or even at the library until my eyes couldn’t stay open and my energy couldn’t be replenished with even a Trenta Americano. I wouldn’t have prioritized these things over going to church, Bible study or spending time in the Word if I had known the implications of how/where I spent my time would affect the condition of my heart. I wouldn’t have been stuck in these ruts of life-sucking things if I truly believed –in the depths of my heart—that non-eternal things that my heart can twist into sinful heart idols could be overcome; that I should consider myself dead to sin, and instead run towards the One who makes me alive in Him: Jesus.
Now I’m not saying that being social is sinful, or that school is not important. We are students, and that should be respected. We can glorify God through the fruit of self-discipline and wisdom; among so many other wonderful things this university provides and grows us in. Same thing with social activities, they are another opportunity to glorify God as long as we resist to believe ourselves as being under the power of sin, and make choices that reflect that lie. No matter what I’m doing, Romans 14:23 states, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
Therefore, I’ve learned to ask myself (and I would encourage all of us to ask ourselves): what are we doing out of insecurity, self-validation, or any other heart sickness that is drawing us away from believing we are not dead to sin, and that we must perform in order to feel alive? What non-eternal elements are cluttering our lives, causing us to feel obligated to miss out on spending uninhibited time with the Lord, His Word, and His people? Because as God-honoring as hard work in school or quality time with friends is, the second they become what you are chasing in order to find life, that is the second you start choosing death. I’ve learned that anything I’m not doing in order to be like Jesus, I’m choosing to instead be like the enemy, and school and friends are not off limits to those tainted waters if they are not surrendered for the LORD’s glory.
We take on a lot of roles on our lives: Christians, students, sons, daughters, boyfriends, girlfriends, employees, colleagues, etc. But when we don’t see how much more enriching and impactful the first role is opposed to the others, that is when we aren’t believing the rich and powerful truth that, in Christ, sin holds no dominion over us. Jesus beat it, He already beat it.
From my heart to yours, I wish I would have known the power in the statement that I am alive in Christ, and that in Christ alone I find my joy. If we are to be His vessels, than we must not fill our time with anything else besides what leads to life. It’s like an artery, or the vessels that pump blood away from our heart to the rest of the body. A clogged artery, or buildup of plaque, results from extra nutrients the blood cells don’t need that end up getting stuck to the membrane wall. The more that builds up, the harder it is to push the blood through. The blood of the cross and the grace that it shed cannot be fully delivered through a plaque tainted vessel.
What I’ve learned is plaque never originally entered the body to harm it. Again, it forms when the nourishment we consume circulates in excess; plaque forms when it tries to be something more than the necessary nutrients it was intended to be. When it holds a greater weight in the vessels, it sticks to the walls, disabling anything else good to flow through. How I would’ve made my daily schedule, to-do lists, and established my priorities would have been way different. I would have walked confidently knowing my time is always in His sovereign hands and an hour with Him the night before an exam, presentation, interview, etc. would be more life-giving than any effort I could put in by preparing for those things.
Alive in Christ
But, folks, it’s not a question of where we spend our time, but where our hearts are at any given time. We cannot simply label an activity as good or bad, no matter how easy it seems, without first examining our hearts. Because without Christ any activity, no matter how seemingly godly/ungodly, is useless on it’s own. But with Christ, many have the potential of being life-giving and honoring to Him. And although it’s very difficult to reverse the damage done on a human heart by a clogged artery, the power of Christ is able to, at any time, take up that gunk when we run to Him with open arms, declaring we don’t want to be slaves to our schedules in a way that shoves His perfect love aside.
What I would have done differently was to have made Psalm 51:10 my prayer way earlier, shouting up to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” We have hope in the One who shed His blood for us, that with His strength, He would be able to pump our own for Him, and Him alone. Jesus cleanses us, forgives us, renews us, and knowing that I would have drawn near to Him with every fiber of my being and with every decision in my day. I would have ceased to live squeezing what I considered “life” through a pen-sized hole, and started sooner to completely surrender and let God make me His abundantly flowing vessel.
It’s about time we all analyze our hearts. There’s no question whether there’ll be a buildup that’s able to block truth from flowing in and out, we all share in that way, but it’s the question: what is it we’re believing that allows us to think this gunk has any dominion or real power against our Creator and Savior? Let me revisit in Romans 6:9 one last time, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” With that I exhort us all, with what I would have done differently knowing this, so that we all can proclaim with confidence that we are alive in Christ. Even through trials, finals, whatever season, not one can stop us from shouting we are alive in Christ.
Allie McCarthy, University of Illinois Cru Senior