In recent years more and more Christian competitors, coaches, and sports chaplains have become uneasy about the degree to which they have become identified by their most recent performances. They find their emotions, relationships, and even their sense of personal worth to be tracking with their win/loss records, their most recent times, distances, heights, and other measurements of personal performance. While knowing this can’t be right, most have no other way to grasp their worth, their value, and their identity as a person.
The culture in general and the sports industry in particular are happy to give an identity to sportspeople. This is usually in an effort to market, to lionize, or to degrade a person for their own purposes. If that’s not enough, those in sports media are more than happy to reduce a sportsperson’s life to a cliché, a meme, or a sound bite on their evening broadcast, blog, or talk radio show.
We who work in Christian sports ministry will often tritely say, “Your identity should be in Christ,” and walk away as if that instantly solves the whole issue. I wish it were that easy. I’ve been wrestling for years with how to express a better way for the Christian sportsperson to understand and to embrace his or her identity in Christ Jesus. Please consider the following seven points and I pray the scriptures, each directly addressing identity, inform your heart, your mind, and penetrate to the depths of your soul.
1. I am not identified by slavery to my flesh. I do not need to obey its every urge or bow to its appetites. Galatians 2:20 speaks to this matter – “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me.” I am crucified with Christ, my flesh is as good as dead. I need not heed its screams of desire. I still live, by faith in Christ, but I am still alive. My life in Christ is energized by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. That’s power. That’s infinitely more powerful than any urge or appetite resident in my body. I am crucified with Christ and I now live by faith in Him.
2. I am not defined by my performance, good or bad, personal record or disqualification, league championship or relegation. Ephesians 2:10 holds a transforming truth for our lives in sport – “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” I am God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. Even more, He prepared works before my appearance that I may walk in them. My identity and my performance on the court, the track, the pitch, the ice, the field, in the pool, or the gym now spring from who I am, not what I do. I am God’s workmanship. He has done the work, now I just stroll in the works He has prepared for me.
3. I am defined by neither my brand nor my tribe, not by the logo on my gear or the club for which I compete, not by the club’s ownership nor even my nationality. My true identity is stated clearly in I Corinthians 4:1-2 – “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” Due to my relationship with Jesus, this text says that I am now Christ’s servant, thus He determines my value. I am His. Further it says I am a steward of the mysteries of God. This is a privileged position given through relationship, not merit. The Creator of the universe has called me to serve Him and to be a trustworthy caretaker of the mysteries of His kingdom. That’s who I am.
4. I am not an outcast, a loner, a free agent, out on waivers, or between teams. I have been chosen for an elite team. We read about our place on this team at I Corinthians 3:9 – “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” I am now God’s fellow worker, a part of God’s field, a part of God’s building. I do not stand alone or isolated. I am not disconnected or cast off, I am part of God’s team, His field, His building. I am in community with all those who love Christ Jesus. I am an integral part of what God is establishing in this world.
5. I am not an asset, a liability, a tool, an acquisition, or any other inanimate, dead thing. Romans 12:1 dispels these pernicious notions – “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is our spiritual service of worship.” I am not a dead sacrifice, lacking will and animation. Rather, I am a living sacrifice with full capacity to make choices, to love freely, and to worship God. I am free to present my body as a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice. This is my true and reasonable act of worship. I am one who worships the living God through the presentation of my body as a living sacrifice in sport.
6. I am not an isolated, forlorn, outcast from society. I Corinthians 12:27 reveals our present standing in the world – “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” I am a member of Christ’s body. I have a distinct role and a unique function. I am indispensable in value. I am absolutely integral to the function of Christ Jesus’ body in this world. I am a member of Christ Jesus’ body.
7. I am not defined by my past. Weak or strong, austere or privileged, rich or poor, wise or foolish, stellar or mundane, my identity is not in my past. Colossians 1:27 frees us from the past and its bondage – “to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The marvelous, mysterious truth is that Christ in me is the hope of glory. The powerful hope that makes life worth living, gives us significance, and marks our true identity is the daily presence of Christ Jesus’ Spirit in our mortal souls. Christ in me is the hope of glory. That is who I am.
I hope that these powerful statements of identity, directly from the Holy Scripture, are used by the Spirit to transform your life, to free you from performance based identity, and to liberate your athletic soul to compete freely. Rest in the assurance that you are complete in Christ, without regard to today’s performance, your team’s place in the standings, or any other temporal standard of measure.