[Life 201 is a weekly advice column headed by pastor, counselor and RELEVANT Podcast member Eddie Kaufholz. Eddie answers questions and gives advice on issues you want to hear about. Email your questions here.]
I’m a sophomore in college, and in the fall, I’ll be living in a house with two girls. I made this decision because they are some of my truest friends, they know how to help take care of a house and there is absolutely zero sexual tension. When I consulted my pastor for advice, he said I must make new arrangements immediately because this living situation would be hostile to my faith. My parents, however, reassured me that if they thought it was detrimental to the fate of my eternal salvation, they wouldn’t have let me. So who’s right?
Oh boy Matt, this is a tough one. Because in truth, your pastor and your parents are both right.
Let’s start with your parents.
Sweet old mom and dad, always looking out for your eternal salvation. You gotta love ‘em. And they’re right, you’re not going to hell because you’re in a co-ed living situation. Even if you were romantically involved, this would not be some insurmountable sin.
However (and now I’m addressing your pastor’s advice), the fear of losing eternal salvation has never been the lone motivator for how we live our life. Our lives are meant for so much more. Hence, Jesus spending a disproportionately high amount of time not just teaching on the afterlife, but inspiring us to live a life that bears fruit, helps people and spreads the truth of His grace and love.
So Matt, the conversation here isn’t just about some rule. Because in truth, the Bible doesn’t warn against cohabitation and you’re not going to hell for it. However, what your pastor is concerned with (and to be honest, what I’m concerned with as well) is two-fold:
1. If the temptation of living with women will lead to any measure of sexual immorality (which is clearly and repeatedly warned against in Scripture). Now, I know you said it wouldn’t be a thing and that there’s no sexual tension because you’re such good friends. However, I’m going to just go out on a gigantic ledge here and say that there’s no way that you’re totally right about that. I’m sure you believe it, and I trust that they’re like sisters to you. But over time, as you grow in your friendship, something may develop—and then you’re in a pickle. Or, maybe it’s less gradual and more accidental. Like maybe one night you’re up late watching Star Wars: Episode IV and, yada yada yada, you’re in a pickle. This kind of stuff happens all the time, Matt, and I’d rather you error on the side of caution and not play the odds.
2. Even if everything I said in point No. 1 doesn’t happen and I’m just being insanely conservative and narrow-minded, there’s still another issue with cohabitation, and that is what the people around you will perceive is going on.
In your life, you’re called to be a reflection of Christ to your sphere of influence. If people see that you’re living with two women, what will they assume? Well, some may assume the truth, that you’re roommates and there’s nothing going on. However, some may assume the complete opposite. And for those who assume the opposite—and know that you’re a believer—will you get an opportunity to chat with each of those people individually so that they have clarity? Of course you won’t. And that’s the problem. You’re a good man, and I believe that you love Jesus. But people who are on the outside looking in may perceive your actions very differently than they are in reality, which is not good for anyone.
So Matt, the ball is in your court. Your parents, your pastor and a random advice-column guy have all weighed in, and now it’s up to you. Whatever you decide, I hope you have a good sophomore year and enjoy all the trappings of college life.
I have several good friends who are atheists, and whenever our conversations turn to religion, I never know what to do. I really want to have a productive conversation about God without sounding like a Bible-thumper, but I just don’t know how. How can I discuss God’s love and truth to my friends whose beliefs differ from mine?
Nobody (well, I shouldn’t say nobody, but basically nobody) gets bullied into belief. People enter into a relationship with Christ because they see a deep and lasting truth modeled by someone they trust—like you.
Alan, you’ve been entrusted with some friends whose beliefs differ from yours—which is an incredible opportunity. And your “Bible-thumper” point is correct, if your atheist friends don’t believe the Word of God, then opening a Bible and force-feeding them chapters and verses may do more harm than good. However, using the Bible as a litmus test for truth is extremely important. So, I’d like to propose you do three things:
First, you need to make sure that you’re praying and ingesting Scripture. As with any venture that you undertake in life, your personal pursuit of holiness is paramount to the task at hand. And in your case Alan, the task at hand is making sure that your relationships, thinking and conversations are orthodox. That is, in line with the truth found in God’s Word. In short, a good tree produces good fruit. Your friends need the fruit, so you need to be a healthy tree.
Second, even though you are wise in not wanting to beat up your friends with the Bible, I still wouldn’t shy away from sharing truth. Now, you may not be quoting chapter and verse, but you can expose them to what real, rooted and lasting.
For example, if you happen to be in a conversation about why Christians are so caught up on do’s and don’ts, it may be helpful to share that actually, that’s been an observation not just for people looking in on Christianity from the outside, but even for those deep inside of it (Matthew 5:17).
Or maybe, if the conversation leans towards social justice and how important it is that we actually do something in this word for those who are in need. You can wholeheartedly agree (Luke 14:13).
In any event, I would encourage you to be a truth teller. The Bible is filled with wisdom that people need to hear, and you can be an incredibly intermediary for your friends until they realize that for themselves.
Third and finally, be bold. Alan, you’ve been given an opportunity here, and at times I’m sure that it would just be easier to just save the saving for someone else. But in reality, God has placed you in this group of people for a reason. And that reason is to be a friend, a real friend without some hidden agenda or ulterior motives. A friend who’s transparent with his life, and a friend who’s willing to be a sounding board for all matters of faith and God.
If your friends are going to be saved, it’s not you who’s going to do the saving (it’s Jesus, in case you’re wondering). But it’ll be you who puts a name and a story and a truth to what I’m guessing your friends already sense is real. Be bold, Alan. What you’re doing matters.
And with that, I bid you adieu. Thank you for reading and asking incredibly thoughtful and helpful questions!
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Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.