Last night, the college football season came to a close by matching up the Clemson Tigers from the ACC with the LSU Tigers from the SEC. The LSU Tigers won the game, 42-25. Millions of Americans tuned in to the broadcast at some point even though many of them had no interest in either team. Our society has become obsessed with sporting championships. The NFL will hold its championship within a matter of weeks. Two months after that will be the college basketball championship. There will be several other championships decided this summer. This year, we will also be treated to the summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Many Christians will naturally be caught up in the spectacle of these competitions. It is amazing to see these athletes compete at such a high level. As we are caught up in all this championship madness, it may be helpful for us to reflect on some of the differences between sporting championships and the Christian life.
1. Intrinsic Value
One of the unfortunate side effects of a sporting championship is that it robs much of the intrinsic value from the preparation of the participants. The two teams who competed last tonight had spent countless hours on the practice fields and in the gym preparing for that game. Over the course of the season, the quarterbacks had thrown thousands of passes. The running backs had performed thousands of drills. The defensive players had spent hours perfecting their tackling form. At the conclusion of the game, one team recognized the value of all this by winning the championship. For the team that suffered defeat, the value placed on all this practice fell short of what the players and coaches wanted. That is the nature of athletic competitions. Part of the value placed on the practice and preparation depends on meeting the goal of winning a championship. Hopefully, the players and coaches found some enjoyment in the preparation itself, but even if this was the case, part of the value placed upon their preparation was dependent on winning the game last night. For the losing team, the value of their work was not realized.
This is not the case for the Christian life. Since our time spent in prayer, in Bible study, and in proclaiming the gospel will glorify God without fail, these actions can be said to have acquired an intrinsic value. Their value is not dependent on something else succeeding or failing. Regardless of whether our prayers are answered in the way we hoped or whether we successfully lead a person to Christ, God is glorified by the things that we do in pursuit of his glory. Our acts of devotion have intrinsic value. They are worth something in and of themselves.
Another unfortunate side effect of a sporting championship is that the measure of success depends upon a single game. To arrive at the championship game last night, both teams had to have essentially flawless seasons. They met every challenge and exceeded expectations. Yet, a successful season depended on winning last night’s game. Despite the success of both teams during the season, only one champion was recognized after last night’s game. The Clemson Tigers should still be proud of what they accomplished this season, but the nature of championship competition is that only one team ultimately succeeds.
Again, we can be thankful that this is not the case for the Christian life. The successful Christian life is marked by faithfulness throughout life. Even though every Christian at times falters, one failure does not negate a lifetime of faithfulness. God’s grace, shown to us in his Son, Jesus Christ, makes all the difference. The gospel is good news to imperfect sinners.
3. No Sliding Scale
Although the LSU Tigers won the game last night, they did not play a perfect game. They didn’t need to because their success did not depend on their perfect play. Their success was measured against how they performed against the Clemson Tigers, who also did not play a perfect game. LSU’s success was determined on a sliding scale.
Such is not the case for our standing before God. Our salvation is not dependent upon how we compare with other fallen creatures but upon how we compare with God’s holiness. Since God’s holiness is the standard, we will always fall short because God’s holiness does not falter. Unlike the teams that played last night, we will never be judged by an imperfect standard. That is why we need the gospel. Apart from the grace God is willing to show us in Christ Jesus, we have no hope of salvation. There is no sliding scale.
Every occasion provides Christians an opportunity to reflect upon the goodness shown to them in Christ Jesus, even a national championship game. No matter what significance you placed upon the game last night, remember that it was of relatively minor importance in God’s plan for his creation. Even minor things, however, can help us reflect on the goodness of God shown to us in the gospel of his Son.