College is a crucial time in an individual’s formation of identity and purpose. As such, some students are driven to seek identity and purpose in the gospel and become actively involved in church or para-church ministries. For others, this period presents more confusion and chaos and perhaps drives them away from religion altogether.
The SOLA Conference, an annual conference for collegians hosted by a partnership of four local churches—Gospel Life Mission Church, Living Hope Community Church, Good News Chapel, and Christ Central of Southern California—was started in 2013 for the very purpose of creating a space in which college students can be reminded of what the gospel means in their daily lives as well as their long-term plans, and to show them that there is a community they can turn to in the midst of confusing times.
This year’s conference, which was attended by some 400 college students from 50 different churches, was themed, “Becoming What We Behold,” and placed a special emphasis on holiness, and a person’s transformation as he or she beholds God.
Pastor Paul Kim, the lead pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in San Diego, opened the conference during the first night saying that beholding God surprises and humbles an individual, speaking on Acts 9:1-9, the passage in which Saul meets God on the road to Damascus.
“Saul asks God, ‘Who are you Lord?’ when he encounters God,” Kim said. “He had a certain idea of who God is beforehand. And similarly, we live in a world that has certain ideas of who God is.”
"But God says, ‘I am who I am,’” Kim continued. “I’m not who you think I am. I am who I am.”
“So beholding God for who He is should grow in us a fear of God, and an awe, wonder, and astonishment at the greatness of who He is,” Kim said, explaining how beholding God would surprise an individual.
“When we behold God, there will also be humility and helplessness,” Kim continued. “1 John 1:5 says that God is light, and the problem with light is that it exposes how things really are. When we behold God, we realize that we are completely helpless.”
Kevin DeYoung, author of numerous books including The Hole in Our Holiness and lead pastor of University Reformed Church, spoke for the morning and night sessions during the second day of the conference and added onto the idea, explaining that beholding God leads to holiness.
“Jesus is the most practical and best example for true holiness – all virtues are perfectly bound in the person of Jesus Christ,” he said.
“God saves us to be holy and to restore His image in us, so that the world can see the image of God Himself. We become what we behold in Jesus Christ. Our pattern for piety is a person and we must become like him in all likeness.”
"Holiness means to be set apart. Does my life look like my life is set apart like our holy God for the sake of a holy calling? Worldliness is whenever sin looks normal and righteousness looks so strange,” he warned.
DeYoung went on to warn collegians of three lies that may deceive a Christian: the perfectionist lie, the lie of legalism, and the lie of anti-nomianism.
The perfectionist lie, DeYoung said, deceives the Christian into thinking, “I am not culpable, and there is nothing in me worthy of judgment.” This lie stems from a gnostic way of thought, which said, “My body is separate from who I really am,” and the lie is that a person can somehow be free from sin. Today, the lie takes form in the heart of the modern person when he or she starts to relativize his or her sin by comparison to others.
“You can always think of someone who is ‘worse’ than you,” DeYoung explained. “But you know that if you say, ‘I have no sin,’ you would be lying.”
The lie of legalism manifests in a Christian when he or she thinks, “I’m not forgivable.” The Christian who is deceived by this lie acknowledges that he or she is sinful, unlike the one who believes the perfectionist lie, but “the lie is in thinking that they can somehow make up for that sin,” DeYoung said.
"The legalist is right in thinking there are standards to be met, but wrong in thinking he can meet them,” he went on. “The legalist is always screaming out, ‘Somebody has to pay for this [sin]!’ You’re right – but you can’t. Only He can.”
Finally, the lie of anti-nomianism says, “I am not accountable,” and deceives the Christian into thinking, “I can have fellowship with God while walking in darkness.” Christians who believe and live out this lie focus only on the grace and forgiveness of God and take sin lightly, continuing in a cycle of a sinful lifestyle. DeYoung pointed to 1 John 1:6, which says, “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.”
"You cannot only have Jesus as your Savior but not have him as your Lord,” DeYoung pointed out.
This year's SOLA Conference took place at New Life Community Church from March 6 to 7. The conference also featured breakout sessions, which all focused on who God is and pursuing holiness, such as ones titled, “How can I be holy when people hurt me?”, “Knowing our Father’s heart,” and “Legalism, anti-nomianism, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.”
Joo Heon Lee contributed to this article.