We talk about wanting the Gospel to transform every aspect of our lives. However, as I consider my own life and observe the lives of others, I am forced to conclude that we have many spheres left untouched by the transforming work of the Gospel.
It is of critical importance to first establish preliminary assumptions regarding a believer’s orientation, identity and subsequent purpose:
- I am assuming that believers are living in light of the story of God, and not the story of the world. Included in that assumption is a rejection of syncretism, which means that a Christian is living according to a worldly system, but hiding it underneath a biblical veneer.
- Based upon #1, a life lived in submission to the story of God will result in an individual whose primary identity is in Christ, expressed uniquely through the local church.
- Based upon #1 and #2, the purpose of a believer’s life is to make God look good, in every circumstance, and endeavor to move the Kingdom of God forward in every possible circumstance.
Also, because believers are living lives in submission to God and his word, the following points are non-negotiable. Believers are called to:
- Consider others greater than themselves.
- Love one another, including their enemies.
- Serve one another.
- Encourage one another.
So how does all of this play out in the world of sports?
First, let’s ask what the purpose of athletic competition is. Most people would hastily assume that winning is the goal. To the contrary, I contend that winning is rarely the goal of athletics. If simply winning were the goal, we would do nothing more than schedule a game with horribly inferior opponents and let the onslaught ensue. But very few would find this appealing, because winning is rarely the ultimate goal.
Taking this a bit deeper, many would argue that the true goal of athletics is the opportunity to compete at the highest level possible (and there is an ingrained hope that this competition will result in victory). This can be evidenced by those who have competed well, have lost the event, but have still experienced a degree of fulfillment. Likewise, we see this played out amongst those who have been victorious against a clearly inferior team and left the competition unsatisfied.
But what about the Christ follower: is it enough to simply compete at a high level? Or maybe compete at the highest level possible and express some biblical platitudes? Or should our approach and involvement in an athletic endeavor be the same as the rest of our life, which would mean God known and advancing His Kingdom by living in submission to what God has called us to?
So what does it look like to live in submission to what God has called us to in the world of athletics?
How do you love your opponents? Certainly by playing hard and forcing them to compete at a high level. But is that all? What if you see an opponent doing something fundamentally wrong? Would it be more loving to offer correction so that they may compete at a higher level or continue to allow them to practice flawed behavior? What would it look like to consider your opponent greater than yourself?
What does submission to authority look like in the midst of competition? Is the official recognized as the authority that God has appointed for that moment?
- A close play at the plate, where the runner violently crushes the catcher.
- A safety absolutely crushing a receiver who is crossing the middle of the field.
- An open ice check in hockey where the offensive player is not looking.
While these plays may technically be legal, do they fit within our Christian responsibility to love and serve? In essence, do these plays make Jesus happy? If so how?
The Gospel should indeed transform every part of life, and this includes the athletic arena. We should never be satisfied with a bowed knee or a point heavenward before, after, or during a game. The Gospel should direct our conduct on and off the field.