By Nicole Kelp, Resonate Pullman staff
“If you are at college for any other reason than to be a missionary for Jesus Christ, you are there for selfish, sinful reasons.” - Walt Henrichson, author of Disciples are Made not Born
This quote seems shocking, abrasive even. But when you look at some of the statements of Jesus, it seems to fit a theme:
“Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25)
“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘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 will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?’” (Matthew 16:24-26)
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)
Clearly, Jesus is saying the reasons that many people are at college - to get a degree in order to get money, personal success, and a positive public reputation - are ultimately a waste of a life because they are not in submission to God.
What does that mean for us in America, where going to college and pursuing the white-picket-fence-and-retirement-account American Dream is all but expected? How can we handle the social pressures if God tells us not to pursue an education? But is pursuing an education bad? Is there a way to honor God with our education?
These are questions I’ve asked myself a lot. Not only did I go to college, but while at college I got two B.S. degrees and two minors. I then got a Ph.D. I entered that path because of social expectations in my family and in my field of study. But I exited that path not caring about social pressures and instead trying to submit to God’s plan. Now I teach at a university and also work for a church, and I’m trying to have a healthy relationship with education along the way.
I think the clearest answer to my questions lay in the examples of two of Jesus’ apostles - Peter and Paul. Peter was an uneducated fisherman (Acts 4:13). Paul was educated by a reputable teacher (Acts 22:3). Both of them were mightily used by God to extend His kingdom. But that was despite their education levels and because they had surrendered to Jesus as Lord.
I think part of my conundrum was due to the cultural assumption that some things are sacred and some are secular - that we make disciples at church but not at college or in a job. But that is a lie from the enemy. God clearly says, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31) and “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as unto the Lord, and unto men” (Colossians 3:23). Unlike us, God clearly makes no divide between the sacred and the secular. All things are to be surrendered to His Lordship. All things are sacred. And through that, we can experience the joy of surrendering to God regardless of what our schooling or vocation looks like!
So, what does it look like for you to surrender to Jesus as Lord in your education?
For some of us, this may look like abandoning the plans we had made for ourselves. Is God calling you to give up a particular college or degree, or even a university education entirely, for the sake of moving somewhere else for the sake of being on mission and extending God’s kingdom?
For others, this may look like staying where we are and being a light to a dark place. Is God calling you to be intentional with your classmates and professors, sharing the Gospel as you pursue your education? Is God calling you to help contribute to the development of knowledge in your field with a gospel worldview? Is God calling you to graduate, get a job, and become a missionary to your workplace? God could even be calling you to earn the credentials that enable you to enter a closed country where no missionary would be allowed.
For all of us, this means remembering our identity. I am a Christian who happens to be a professor. I am not a professor who happens to be a Christian. This guides my actions in academia, reminding me to share the hope of Christ as much as I can. Apply this to yourself: do you think of yourself primarily as a college student who happens to be a Christian, or primarily as a Christian who happens to be a college student? How you answer that question will have radical implications. If you are not thinking of yourself as a Christian first, then you are not surrendered to Jesus as Lord.
In his essay “Learning in War-Time,” C.S. Lewis reflects on being a Christian in academia in the midst of WWII. His thoughts are apt regardless of the presence of a physical war, because we are in a spiritual war. All around us, people are existing on the brink of hell, dying without a knowledge of Christ. Are you pursuing an education for the frivolities of a comfortable and reputable life, all the while ignoring those who are going to hell without knowledge of Christ? Or are you willing to surrender your education to the Lordship of Christ so that God can use it for good?
C.S. Lewis finishes his essay with this paragraph: “If we had foolish un-Christian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on Earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon. But if we thought that for some souls, and at some times, the life of learning, humbly offered to God, was, in its own small way, one of the appointed approaches to the Divine reality and the Divine beauty which we hope to enjoy hereafter, we can think so still.”
Examine your heart. Are you pursuing an education in order to build your own kingdom and attempt to satisfy your soul with temporary, physical things? Or are you humbly offering your education to God, allowing Him to use it to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth?
There is no in between. As Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”