There are so many great things about being immersed in a sports club, team or a gym. It is a brilliant place to develop friendships and enjoy the camaraderie of being in a club together.
But there can be tricky moments. Many Christian sports players will know the battles surrounding navigating the sports culture. How do I be different amidst the culture of drinking, of sex, the conversations in the changing room? How do I get involved with the sports club and yet be distinctive? How can I be fully committed and yet remain faithful to Christ?
The answer cannot simply be ‘try harder’, because we know how easy it is to fail. We need to remember who we are.
It’s who you are
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he reminds them the glorious truths of a Christian’s identity. No longer are we “sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5 v 6) and “living in darkness” (v 8), rather we are “dearly loved children” (v 1) who can “live as children of light” (v 8). Above all else, those who trust in Jesus are children of God. That is our identity above being a captain, coach, sportsperson, parent, child, husband or wife. It is an identity which is unshakeable, and which means we can know what it is to be truly loved and truly cared for.
Significantly, it means that we can be truly different. Knowing our true identity guards us against both legalism and lawlessness. Legalism tells me that my behaviour earns my identity. That is not true! Christ has earned it. On the other hand, lawlessness tells me that my identity doesn’t shape my behaviour. That is not true! When I become a child of God, I can live differently and I want to live differently.
Imagine being called up to play for your country. You don’t turn up in your old dirty kit anymore. No, you put on the brand new national kit that has been given to you. Who you now are affects what you put on and how you play.
It’s for our good
It can be tempting to compare our Christian lives with sportspeople around us and feel as though we are missing out. However, a comparison of the two descriptions in Ephesians 5 may cause us to think differently.
According to Paul, the life of somebody outside of Christ is characterised by:
● Sexual immorality
● Foolish talk
● Coarse joking
Compare that with the Christian life
● None of the above
● Pleasing the Lord
● Filled with the Spirit
When we see those lists, and remember the goodness of God, we can see that living God’s way is actually the best thing for us. There is no need to envy the lives of those around us. We can be glad to be different!
So what will it look like for you to live with integrity in the sports culture?
Here are three things to bear in mind:
- Be sensible and wise. Some areas of Christian living are black and white, some are grey. Use the principles and commands of God’s word to manage yourself as you live out the Christian life.
- You are forgiven utterly and completely. Ephesians 5 v 1-2 says you are dearly loved by God and Christ gave himself for you – so you are forgiven and secure regardless of what happens.
- Hold yourself and each other accountable. The life of a Christian in sport is best lived in community and this is reiterated with collective nouns throughout Ephesians – ‘us’ and ‘we’. Who will keep you accountable? Church, other Christians in the world of sport?
It’s for the good of other sportspeople
Living with integrity is not only the best thing for us, it can also have a huge impact on other sportspeople.
As we seek to witness to them, there are two dangers we can often fall into.
- You hide your light – there is no difference between you and others.
- You shine in the wrong place– you’re not even there for it to be seen, perhaps avoiding socials or only spending time with Christians.
We can have a huge impact on sportspeople by the way that we live our lives. What will it look like to live a life that begs a question?
And when the question comes, how will you answer it? So often we can give answers which avoid the subject of Jesus, or on the other hand we can give the impression that God is a killjoy. What would it look like to give an answer which speaks boldly of Christ, and yet speaks of grace rather than law?
It can be tricky to navigate the sports culture with integrity. This does not mean, however, that a Christian should withdraw and hide. Rather, because of who we are in Christ, we can step out boldly and live distinctively – confident that it is the best thing for us, and that God will use us to show Christ to a world of sport desperately in need of him.