When Britney Spears’s picture shows up on the cover of gossip magazines you can almost hear the collective groan from check-out lines across the county. We think to ourselves — Drugs? Alcohol? Sex? Babies? What is this girl thinking?
But apart from her life being splashed across numerous headlines, how different is she from the average college student? The truth is, not much. But instead of judging, as we so easily do, it would be good for us to rely on God’s grace for our own sinfulness and offer that same grace to others who are in such desperate need.
Perhaps it is easier to offer grace when we understand the temptations that college students often face. At many schools there are a plethora of party options on the weekends, where sex is sometimes as casual as a handshake.
But perhaps even more telling are decisions that come from colleges that themselves are blurring the lines of morality. Some schools are currently offering students co-ed dorm rooms. Men and women now have the option to be with each other at every intimate moment of the day.
Unfortunately, Christian college students face the same pressures as everyone else. A young woman graduating from the UW-Madison this December said that during her first year on campus she and a group of girls joined a dorm Bible study. Many of the girls had come to college with strong values, but within a few months of arriving on campus about half of them had lost touch with those ideals.
Apart from attending Bible study every week, they made the same choices as their friends, abusing sex, alcohol, and placing Jesus on the side. The temptations come from all around, and it takes incredible fortitude to resist.
Paul says in Romans 7:19, 24-25, “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing…What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Paul grasps, more than most of us do, his own wretchedness and the sweet offer of grace that Jesus gives us.
As we stand in the check-out line and shake our heads at Britney Spears, or walk into a college bar on a Friday night and turn away in disgust at what we see, it would do well for us to remember what it means that Jesus came for sinners.
Scott Hall, a staff worker in Los Angeles, spoke at the University of Southern California InterVarsity’s fall retreat. A number of the students he spoke to struggle with alcohol abuse, promiscuity, STDs, pornography, and drugs.
At the end of the weekend between sixty and seventy students committed their lives to following Jesus’ leadership. They were confessing their struggles, and offering each other accountability in following Jesus. Scott said, “When students get in touch with their character failures, it’s not the end of the story. Actually, it’s usually the beginning.”
In his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning talks extensively about grace and the love of God. He says that “there is a myth flourishing in the church today that has caused incalculable harm … Once I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, an irreversible, sinless future beckons. Discipleship will be an untarnished success story; life will be an unbroken upward spiral toward holiness.”
Our lives rarely go ever upward – more often than not, we take a few steps up, trip, and fall back to the landing below. And it is the same in college. Even Paul, a giant of our faith, struggled with sin, but his trust was placed in the fierce love of a God who saves.
God wants to see us lead holy lives; he grieves when he sees us making poor choices. But it is not our job to cast judgment; it is our job to follow God by loving others and pointing to Christ.
With God’s help we can keep from becoming like the Pharisee in Luke 18 who looked down on everybody else, but rather we can be like the tax collector who beat his breast saying, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And the Good News for people who struggle with sin – be it Britney Spears, college students, and us – is that, as Brennan Manning explained, “Jesus comes not for the super-spiritual but for the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together, and are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace.”