So you’ve graduated high school and you’re headed away from home for the first time. Whatever your destination — college, job, marriage, or anywhere far from the familiarity of family, church, and friends — you must read this. Your spiritual health will be tested many times, and how you handle those tests will determine the memories you will deal with thirty, forty, even seventy years from today.
I know what I’m talking about. In the forty-three years I have been walking with Jesus, I have seen it happen over and over to young men and women who left home after high school. For a short while, it even happened to me.
I wish I had known then what I know now about the danger. And I wish someone had given me strategies to help me avoid the moral failures I committed. So here are some time-tested suggestions to help you avoid the many hidden and not-so-hidden traps you will encounter.
- Don’t succumb to pride that whispers in your ear, It won’t happen to me. You are subject to the same lure of sin everyone else is subject to, regardless how long you have been a Christian. Solomon warned, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18, NIV). The apostle Paul picked up that same theme in his letter to the Corinthians: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12, NIV).
- Make up your mind ahead of time to avoid situations and places where you can be tempted to sin. Be doubly vigilant to avoid being alone in a house or dorm room with someone of the opposite sex, even if he or she is a Christian. Such a situation is a guaranteed recipe for bad decisions. Remember what the apostle Paul said to Timothy: “Shun youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22, NRSV). Memorize this maxim: Sin will take you farther than you want to go. It will keep you longer than you want to stay. And it will cost you more than you want to pay.
- Avoid hanging with people who display negative behaviors. Again, King Solomon advised, “Make no friends with those given to anger, and do not associate with hotheads, or you may learn their ways and entangle yourself in a snare” (Proverbs 22:24, 25, NRSV). One can easily substitute drunkard or an immoral person or liar or cheat, or any other ungodly characteristic into this text, and the principle remains constant. As Paul wrote, “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33, ESV).
- Pray each morning for God’s protection. Each evening, review your day and thank God for specific situations in which you made the right decisions. However, if you did fall into sin, be quick to confess, repent, and determine, with God’s help, to avoid doing the same thing again. The Holy Spirit’s promise through the apostle John has always proven a comfort for me when I sin: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8, 9, NRSV).
- Establish a habit of daily prayer and Scripture reading. Be consistent with this. It is no surprise the psalmist wrote, “How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to your word. . . . I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you” (Psalm 119:9, 11, NRSV). Do you remember Jesus’ experience in the wilderness during Satan’s threefold temptation? At each test, Jesus responded with Scripture (Matthew 4:1-11).
For decades I have practiced what I call the 2+2 = 1+3 Scripture Reading Method. If you read two chapters of the Old Testament every morning and two of the New Testament every evening (or vice versa), by the end of the year, you will have read the Old Testament once and the New Testament three times (2+2 = 1+3). On average it takes less than ten minutes to read two chapters of Scripture. In five years you will have read the Old Testament five times and the New Testament fifteen times. In ten years — well, you can do the math. With so much of God’s Word sown year after year in your heart, think how the Holy Spirit will mature you more quickly into the image of Christ.
- Establish a habit of weekly attendance at worship service. Corporate prayer, praise, and Scripture reading are powerful spiritual weapons that aid believers on their faith journey. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV). Fighting spiritual battles alone, without the support of fellow believers, is nothing less than a guarantee for failure.
- As you leave the relative intellectual safety of your family and church, be prepared to encounter secular ideas and worldviews that may oppose, and even subvert, your Christian faith. As Paul urged the believers in Rome, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2, ESV). Guard your thoughts and mind, and be ready to rise to the philosophical challenges you are presented with, engage them critically, and do not be ashamed to share the gospel as the true alternative.
These strategies have proven effective for me over the last several decades in my walk with Christ, and they will help you avoid many of the spiritual traps that lay ahead of you. Satan is a cruel and merciless liar, thief, and murderer. We must not be ignorant of his schemes (see John 8:44 and 2 Corinthians 2:11).
As you prepare to leave home for the first time, I hope you will apply these strategies to your life. You will not be sorry you did — even forty-three years from now.