Christian Athletes Are Not Role Models
Signs of grace
This gives us a clue about what we should be looking for in our Christian athletes—nothing more, nor less, than we look for in ourselves: signs of God's grace.
The Christian athlete, like any athlete in top condition and training, is a picture of athletic grace, to be sure. We can glorify our Creator for giving some men and women such extraordinary abilities for us to behold. But beyond that, we're looking at typically weak, selfish, prideful people, subject to the same temptations that we succumb to. They carry about with them a body, however glorious for the moment, that is subject to decay, with a heart desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9). Scoundrels is another word to describe us. Sinners is the biblical word.
And yet. These scoundrels—like us—are the very objects of God's mercy. It is for such that Christ died. As he put it, he didn't come for the role models, but for those who have failed to be role models (Luke 5:32). The most wondrous things we're seeing on the field are not glorious athletes but graced sinners.
Any athlete who begins to imagine that he is, in fact, a role model, would be wise to remember Jesus' parable of the Role Model and the Scoundrel in Luke 18:
Two men went up into the megachurch to pray, one a Role Model, and the other a Scoundrel. The Role Model, standing by himself and yet in clear view of the ESPN cameras, prayed thus: "God, I thank you that I am not like other athletes—self-centered, adulterers, and drug addicts, or even like that Scoundrel. I work out twice a day, I give my all, on and off the field, to be an example to others." But the Scoundrel, standing far off away from the microphones, would not even lift up his eyes, but wept, saying, "God, be merciful to me, a scoundrel!"
Jesus seemed to think the latter was the real role model.
Might I suggest a line for our favorite Christian athletes to use when people want to make them into something they are not?
"Hey, I ain't no role model; I'm just a scoundrel. …"
Mark Galli is editor of Christianity Today.
In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
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