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June-July 2013


June-July 2013

God's Hands


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American Idol? The Christian and Sports, Part 3


Part three in a three-part series...

American Idol? The Christian and Sports

by Greg Ketteman


Read Part One | Read Part Two


Blame It on Darwin?

Sports in popular culture may actually do more to promote practical expressions of Darwinism than much-maligned college professors. Sport is often an extremely effective promoter of survival of the fittest. Athletes with “killer instinct” or the desire to “finish off” opponents are often glorified while the “nice guy” or “good sport” is ridiculed since nice guys do not always win.

American Christians happily join secular counterparts in “putting on a game face” and celebrating hard-nosed, show-no-mercy aggression. Can these prevailing attitudes about sports be reconciled with biblical, Christian virtues?

Today’s athletes often earn a pass on morality, excused for celebrating hedonism and moral indulgence outside the athletic arena. Evangelical Christians overlook a multitude of sins because an athlete mentions his “Lord and Savior” during a nationally televised interview. Never mind the reality of his lifestyle.

This is not to say there are no positive role models in sports, nor does it imply there are no true Christians in sports. However, as with everything in our lives, being the best at anything requires single-minded dedication to that pursuit. The pursuit of excellence in sport is inspiring, but what should the Christian pursue in this manner?


Worth the Cost?

While we may admire those who dedicate themselves to being the best in any chosen field, we must ask, “What price is exacted for this achievement?” The Bible clearly warns, “What good is it if a man gains the whole world, but loses his eternal soul.” How many of us aspire to reach that same level of excellence in Bible knowledge, Christian disciplines, or in serving hurting and needy people? How many of us encourage our children to aspire to this rather than sport achievements?

In our culture, answering questions about the Christian’s involvement in sports requires wisdom and courage—refusing to engage mindlessly in what the dominant culture dictates, and instead thoughtfully pursuing single-minded obedience to God’s claim on our lives. When we perceive that bowing to cultural expectations is wrong, we must be prepared to take a courageous (and unpopular) stand.

Honest answers to questions about Christians in sports will, no doubt, create discomfort, guilt, and uncertainty. This is because genuine and purposeful engagement of Christians with culture is always spiritual warfare. Still, the questions and related Scripture passages that follow are intended as food for thoughtful Christians regarding their involvement in sports.


American Idol? The Christian and Sports, Part 3


They are intended to be literal and straightforward to allow for honest consideration. As the reader will see in these questions, moving “toward a Christian view of sport” is not easy, but those who apply Christian principles to their involvement in sports will be rewarded in kind.

  • Does physical exercise acknowledge and properly value the body as “the temple of the Holy Ghost?” Is sports competition a way to “glorify God in your body?” “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost . . . ” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

  • Does sports participation qualify as, “doing whatever we do to the glory of God?” Can we really participate in sports “heartily as unto the Lord,” “in His name,” and not “as unto men?”

    “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

    “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus . . . ” (Colossians 3:17, 23).

  • Can one truly “love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, and might” and be totally abandoned to the pursuit of anything other than that? If so, does that include sports?”

    “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38).

    Is the exhortation to do with might whatever our hand findeth to do speaking of sports? If so, how do we express this in sports? “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might . . . ” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

  • Is the command to “let the mind of Jesus be in us” compatible with a winning sports ethos?
    “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. . . . ” (Philippians 2:3-8).

  • Can we “let our moderation be known to all men” in our commitment to sports?
    “Let your moderation be know unto all men. The Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:5).

  • Who are we serving when we devote ourselves to sports? Are we “seeking first His kingdom”?

    “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).

    “But seek ye first the kingdom of God . . . ” (Matthew 6:33).

  • What does our involvement with sports prove about our affections? Is our spending for sports proof of our allegiance to God and to His kingdom?

    “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).

  • Is our involvement in sports part of “walking circumspectly?” Are we “redeeming the time” in evil days as we devote time, energy, and resources to sports?

    “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time . . . ” (Ephesians 5:15-19).

  • Does our participation in sports sow to the flesh or to the Spirit?

    “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap . . . ” (Galatians 6:7-8).

  • Can inordinate involvement in sports be classified as “youthful lusts?”

    “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).

  • In our devotion to sports, are we “minding earthly things” or is our “conversation in heaven” as we “look for our Savior?”

    “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things. . . . ” (Philippians 3:18-21).

  • In sports, do we “bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ?” If so, how? If not, how would this look for the Christian?

    “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

  • In sports, are we “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God?” Do sports lead us to a “form of godliness, denying the power thereof?”

    “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves . . . ” (2 Timothy 3:1-7).

  • Do we participate in sports because we are not content with godliness? How do sports promote “following after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness?”

    “But godliness with contentment is great gain . . . ” (1 Timothy 6:6-12).

  • As we participate in sports, are we focusing our minds on “things that are true, honest, just, pure, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy?”

    “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

Former Indianapolis Colts’ Head Coach Tony Dungy wrote in the epilogue of his book, Quiet Strength, about his faith and sports in his own life:

I love coaching football, and winning a Super Bowl was a goal I’ve had for a long time. But it has never been my purpose in life. My purpose in life is simply to glorify God. We have to be careful that we don’t let the pursuit of our life’s goals, no matter how important they seem, cause us to lose sight of our purpose.

Obviously, some serious problems with the place sport occupies in our culture with the apparent tacit approval of the Church. Christian leaders must acknowledge that sports has become the new opiate of the people and the new American civil religion, and we must set about to bring the principles of Scripture to bear on this problem. We must urge believers to live wise and courageous lives, guided by biblical truth and consciously taking captive every thought to the obedience of Jesus Christ.

While it is clear the Bible does not explicitly condemn sports or involvement in sports, the biblical principles posed are helpful as individuals consider how to submit to an obedient and loving relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord.


About the Writer: Greg Ketteman is provost at Welch College in Nashville, Tennessee. To read his work on sports in its entirety, order Integrity: A Theological Journal, published by the Commission for Theological Integrity: 877-763-9222 or


©2013 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists