I have seen simple students and foolish students begin to mend their ways. I have seen students headed for destruction turn back and live. I have also seen reasonable students lose their reason. I have seen prudent students tire of prudence and begin living exciting, unstable lives. In observing changes towards foolishness and away from foolishness, I have reached a rather simple conclusion about change: bad influence rubs off, good influence does not. When an obedient student and a disobedient student become friends, the obedient student becomes like the disobedient, and not the other way around.
Virtue is hard to come by, and vice is quite easy to obtain. We are not surprised when people are evil, but we are shocked when they are good. Nonetheless, we want to believe that it is very easy to be good. We want to believe that people who are stupid can accidentally become intelligent. We want to believe that fools can pick up wisdom like a rookie Kindergarten teacher picks up colds. We like fad diets. We like quick, easy, simple, painless solutions to old, entrenched, complex problems. After all, isn’t the Cross a simple solution to the problem of sin? We like the idea of the 16 year old messiah hero, for even teenagers are commanded to be salt and light in the world, and so we assume that our very well-behaved and innocent sophomore sons are doing the Lord’s work when they hang out with their public school friends. Those kids in public school have to hear the Gospel somehow, don’t they?
Goodness is more powerful than evil, of course, for evil is not really a power, but an absence of power and a nothingness. Evil is a thing, but a no-thing. And yet, when we say that goodness is more powerful than evil, we do not mean goodness is a catchier tune than evil. Wickedness is a thing we slouch into, it is what we get when we do not try. Virtue and strength and health only come by way of great effort. Being fat comes naturally, being fit comes supernaturally. The fit man has tamed his nature, the fat man has been tamed by his passions. I have seen fools become wise, but only by Herculean effort. I have seen fools turn back, but the moment of turning back is painful, embarrassing, and very terrible. The Prodigal Son ultimately turns back, but only after a profound and embarassing confrontation with his own failure. The goodness of his father does not rub off on him, but painfully breaks open within him.
Bad influence rubs off, but the righteousness of Christ did not rub off on the world. Rather, His righteousness came to us through His crucifixion, and if we would accept His righteousness, we must take up our own crosses, not just once, but every day.