All throughout my high school and college days, I heard coaches and teachers tell me to play my sport to honor and glorify God. They would impress on me that what I was doing on the court was in some way important to my overall relationship with Christ, but whenever pressed on what that really meant their answers seemed oddly vague and general.
What Glorifying God in Athletics Isn’t
Despite how well-meaning the following list is, they do not define glorifying God in sports:
- Being a good teammate
- Thanking God for success
- Respecting Authority
- Having a Christian attitude in competition
- Tebowing (just kidding)
The problem with the above list isn’t that these are bad things, but that they are only external manifestations of Christianity.
If there is one thing that Christ warns against in the Gospels, it’s trusting in the external actions to define your standing with God.
In other words: legalism and works-based righteousness. In actuality, it seems that most Christian athletes and coaches define glorifying God in athletics the same way many Christians define their religion: “I do Christian things, therefore God is pleased with me.” (That’s a whole ‘nother blog post for a whole ‘nother blog.)
Glorifying God in athletics come from a deeper place.
What Glorifying God Truly Is
In Genesis 1:26-28, God gives Adam and eve some simples commands that Bible scholars refer to as the Creation Mandate. The creation mandate is God giving authority to man over His physical creation by replenishing, subduing, and taking dominion over the earth. The most obvious application today is that work is good in the eyes of God and was there even before the fall of man (Genesis 3). As I was preparing for this lesson, I was also doing a personal study on God’s glory.
When you couple this mandate with the simple fact that God is Awesome (understatement of all time). Then everything He does is to glorify Himself. Creation, providence, redemption: it’s all for his glory. God created us in His image. He then gave us authority over a realm of His creation. Obedience to God is glorifying His Person.
David Platt puts it simply in his book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream
, that mankind was created for two reasons: “enjoying God’s grace and extending God’s glory.”
The externals are not what truly please God in athletics, but the internals are what please Him most.
With that defined, verses like 1 Corinthians 10:31 and Colossians 3:23 make much more sense. By working towards mastery of the physical elements of this earth, God’s creation are ultimately bringing glory to Him through obedience to His earliest command to mankind. Just as God has mastery over the universe (His realm of authority), man is to strive for mastery over the earth (His God-given realm of authority). This includes the pursuit of excellence in God-given skills and talents. Therefor any expression of excellence is glorifying to God.
Glorifying God Through Athletics
Keeping your actions in check and saying the right things isn’t what truly brings glory to God. Those are just byproducts of a deeper understanding of how and why you should play. If, as an athlete or a coach you approach every aspect of your sport (practice planning, execution, communication, conditioning) with the creation mandate and God’s glory in mind, then you will begin to see that God is easily honored through your efforts toward excellence.
Work, art, athletics, and invention are all gifts from God that come with being created in His image. Performing those tasks withHis glory at the center of your efforts pleases Him.
It’s not trying to please God with our efforts, but letting His Glory serve as our motivation and guiding force. Our internal love should lead to external actions and results.
The problem that coaches and athletic directors face is that not everyone on your team and in your athletic department will understand this principle. Even Christians struggle to approach this concept.
Even the most well-meaning players and coaches can get caught up in playing for their own pride or validation.
The key is to highlight the glory of God in the Christian life. As you do this, you will see small changes in your athletic programs. Focus on the internal motivation, not the external actions and results.
Many coaches try to sell the athletes on the carry-over of external actions in sports with being a good leader, spouse, parent, or employee. Theses carry-overs are real, but they can’t be the focus of participation.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t address the externals. However, using the proper focus will help players internalize the concept of playing for His glory.
What are your thoughts on the idea of playing sports for God’s glory?