How free can we be in college?
Young W. Yi | AUGUST 26, 2019 | 4 MIN READ
On my first night out with friends during my freshman year in college, I came back to my dorm at 3 a.m. I remember thinking, “Wait a second, my parents aren’t here to yell at me about coming home so late! If this is what the next four years will look like, then this is going to be great.” A rush of what felt like true freedom from my parents got me even more excited about being in college.
Many college students get a taste of this kind of freedom, especially if they are living away from home. They can attempt new hobbies, join new friend groups, and try out other, let’s say, recreational activities.
But is that all that freedom is? Not being under any authority and getting to do whatever we want? Does it mean that we have a complete license for our actions without fear of penalty?
The answer is no. This kind of individual autonomy isn’t true freedom. I know this because that 3 a.m.-thought was the genesis of my hypocritical Christian life, in which I was able to justify all my behaviors under the banner of “freedom” while neglecting to grow my relationship with God and my own character. My understanding of freedom was twisted and set me on a trajectory that was harmful to my walk with the Lord.
So then how should college students view their freedom?
For Freedom, Christ Set us Free
In Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul breaks down how to live in the freedom that is birthed from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In verses 13-14 (CSB), he writes, “For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Paul is very clear that our freedom is not used as an opportunity for the flesh, meaning that our freedom in Christ does not exist to serve ourselves and our own selfish desires. Another way to say this is that our freedom in Christ changes the trajectory of our preferences from our own interests to the interests of others. While current culture tells you to look out for yourself, the Gospel tells you to look out for others.
How then do we get to that point in our lives where we use our freedom in Christ for the benefit of others rather than ourselves? Just two verses later, Paul writes, "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16)
So what does Paul mean when he says we need to “walk by the Spirit”?
The best way to explain this is to see what it looks like when we are not walking by the Spirit. Before we became Christians, we were living in the freedom of the world and thus, gratifying and walking in the desires of our flesh. We were walking in sin, hurting others and ourselves because of our selfish behaviors. We were stuck on this road toward destruction, with no way out.
But because we have been redeemed by Christ, Paul exhorts us to go in the opposite direction: the path of the Spirit. If Christ has set us free, then the Holy Spirit helps guide us in how to live in this freedom that Christ has imparted to us and avoid the temptations of the world. We are now free and able to do good and love others the way we were meant to before the Fall.
In that way, we are not able to just “do whatever we want.” Paul shows us that there are boundaries and guidelines to our freedom in Christ, as we must “walk by the Spirit” and not in any other desire or temptation. So our freedom in Christ — the fact that Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection cover our past, present, and future sins — is not a free license to sin!
Paul also writes about this Romans 6:1: “What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Through Jesus Christ, the power and yoke of sin over our lives no longer exists. We no longer only have the path of the flesh to walk in, but now have another path to follow — the way of the Spirit.
Christian apologist and author Abdu Murray helped illustrate this idea of Biblical freedom versus secular freedom with the analogy of his kids and their backyard fence. He explained how his yard is adjacent to a busy road, and when his kids would play, there would be a looming fear that his kids would chase after a ball into the street. But thankfully there was a fence that surrounded the yard and prevented them from running out. So although they were limited, they could play as freely as they wished without fear of being hit on the road.
In the same way, when we look at our understanding of freedom, we need to ask ourselves if we have the proper fences of “walking by the Spirit” or if we are more inclined to break down these fences and experience a freedom that is defined by the desires of the flesh.
So as you transition into college, ask yourself these three questions:
What is my understanding of the freedom I have in Christ?
What are some ways I know I am inclined to take advantage of this freedom I have in Christ?
How can I set myself up to successfully walk by the Spirit and not the flesh?
There will be many times that we fail at living faithfully in the freedom that Christ has given to us — especially in our college years. However, the beauty of all of this is that the very Gospel that gives us the truest definition of freedom is the same Gospel that covers the multitudes of times we will fail at living in that freedom. It gives us another chance at depending on the Lord all the more to fight the desires of our flesh and to continue walking by the Spirit.
As you enter into college (or if you’re already in it), whether it be at a large public university, community college, or a small private college, cling to Jesus and walk in the freedom that comes with his Gospel message. Because ultimately he will be the one who will walk with you in the way of the Spirit.
Young W. Yi currently lives in East Lansing, MI with his wife, Hannah. He is the Venue Director and leads at Riverview Church - MSU Venue. Young enjoys trying new foods with his wife, playing volleyball, soccer, and is a breakdance instructor at All of The Above Hip-Hop Academy in Lansing, MI.