More than 15 million UK adults play sport weekly – our churches and our communities must be full of people involved in regular sport, not to mention watching it on TV and social media. But is sport something we easily integrate with our Christian faith? How should we view our sport as Christians? What, as Christians, should we believe is the point of sport?
Genesis 1:26-27 (NIV): “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness. So God created man in His image, in the image of God He created them; male and female, He created them!”
These verses clearly show us that God is a creative God, and a relational God – “Let us make man in our image.” And we are made in the image of God, so we too are creative and relational – sport being just one outworking in human culture of our creative capacity to use our bodies to play, and an arena of different relational opportunities – the teammate, opposition, officials, fans for some. The Olympics is one such spectacle of sport that demonstrates these powerfully.
However, perhaps you’re thinking: “If sport is a gift from God, where we supposedly see the image of God in people outworked, then why is it often so bad, full of drugs, professional fouls, violence, cheating, corruption, injury, anger, greed, obsession, idolatry and disunity?” In some ways we are all probably not that surprised that for generations sport was looked on by Christians as ‘godless’ and pagan – to be avoided by the true Christian disciple.
However, as we look to what God says in the Bible, we see it’s not so much that sport is the problem, but we are; instead of respecting and imaging the One who made us, our sinful hearts are more naturally bent on using our creative talents and our relationships, for ourselves.
At its worst, sport can be seen as an arena of sin, of total and complete distortion and rejection of God and His purposes and ways. I have certainly seen this in my own sport and life and we only need to turn to the back pages at the moment to be inundated with doping scandals, cheating and corruption at the most elite level of sport.
But at its best sport is a powerful, beautiful vehicle by which God’s people can both worshipfully explore the abilities He has given them, and conduct themselves in relationships that radically image the nature of God and actually bless other people.
So, how? Through our Saviour Jesus Christ. God doesn’t want our world, or the world of sport, to remain tainted by sin, He desires for all good things He has created to be enjoyed in the best possible way, in relationship with Him the creator. In John 3, Jesus said that “the Son of man didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save the world”. If we are honest, He has every right to condemn the world of sport – and us the people who inhabit it, but God chooses to condemn His Son Jesus in our place – at the cross we see justice, forgiveness and love and through his triumphant resurrection, a fresh start and a new life is made possible for all who put their trust in him.
Paul writes in Romans 12 1-3 (NIV): “Therefore I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, this is your spiritual act of worship.”
Rejoice that because of what God has done for us, and with the help of His Holy Spirit, we can now do all things in worship to God… including our sport, in a way that pleases God, that is even ‘holy’ to God. It’s amazing!
And as we seek to worship God in and through our sport, we should expect to make an impact on the unbelieving world; for people to see something radically different in the Christian’s conduct on and off the pitch; for people to ask questions, and we should be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus Christ!
At Christians in Sport, our hope and prayer is that many thousands of sports people in clubs, teams and organisations across the UK would come into contact with a Christian in sport and through so doing, have an opportunity to see, hear and respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Will you join us?