As a student pastor, I often get a front-row seat to witness young people doing stupid things. They do things that make me scratch my head and ask, "What were you thinking?" (Like the time a student thought it would be a good idea to flush her teachers keys down the toilet because her teacher was "mean." The key chain had a $200+ key on it that the student's parents had to pay for…ouch!) I’ve also seen them make some really bad spiritual decisions. I've counseled students who were cutting, looking at pornography, sleeping with their boyfriend/girlfriend, smoking pot, or struggling with a host of other sins. My goal is always to identify the root sin problem and point them to the gospel as the solution.
One of the most frustrating aspects of counseling students is the response of many parents. As I try to dig down to the heart issues, many parents want to rush to "relocate" their kids. The parents often think the solution is relocation: a new school, a "ranch" for extended counseling, or an extended trip to stay with family. Underlying this "solution" is the assumption that the environment is the problem. The parents are essentially saying, “This sin is the result of their environment, and if I change their environment, I can change their behavior.”
This is not limited to student ministry. The same thing happens with adults. A spouse commits adultery with a co-worker, and the perceived solution is for the cheating spouse to find a new job so they will no longer be tempted. A man loses his temper attending football games so he decides to no longer attend games in person to solve his anger issues. A woman struggles with gossip so she stops attending certain social functions that provide her with opportunities to gossip. These people seem to think changing their environment will solve their sin problem.
While the decision to avoid certain situations and certain people may be a helpful and practical step, it will not ultimately solve the sin problem plaguing the student or adult. Why? Because the problem is not the environment…it is the human heart. Scripture is clear that sinful actions are not the result of a person's environment; they are the result of a wicked heart. Listen to Jesus' words from the gospel of Mark:
"And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person’" (Mark 7:20-23).
People sin because their hearts are wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). This is an important truth to grasp, because it means changing a person's location will not solve their problem. They will just take their sin with them!
In other words, when people relocate to fix their sin problem, all they are doing is moving sin. They take their sin (and sinful heart) from one location to another. The solution, therefore, is not to relocate and move sin; it is to recognize your sin has already been moved. Peter wrote, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24). Our sin was placed on Jesus Christ on the cross, where He paid the penalty for sin so that we could die to sin and live righteously. Not only that, but God has imputed Christ's righteousness to our account (2 Corinthians 5:21), meaning His righteousness has been credited to our account. Our sin was moved to the cross, and Christ’s righteousness was imputed to us. Bottom line: the solution is not relocation; it is substitution!
The next time a student or a child or a friend (or even you!) struggle with a sin, don't send them to a ranch to rope calves or to stay with their crazy aunt in another state…send them to the cross. At the cross, our sin was moved to Christ and His righteousness was imputed to us. At the cross, we receive grace and forgiveness. At the cross, we receive power and experience victory. So, stop moving sin and look to the cross!