By Edwin Crayton/Opinion
I am a sports fan. If you are too, then you know that stadiums are constructed of two main sections. The first is the field where the athletic contest takes place. The second section is referred to as the stands, which is where the spectators sit. Those who sit in the stands are not actually involved in the action. They are there to be entertained by what happens. In sharp contrast to the players on the field. They are safe to sit back and play the critic. They have the comforts of refreshments and friends. Should they become bored, they can simply leave at any point. This is not so for the players on the field. They are very invested in what happens. They have put their bodies on the line. They may get hurt and must assume at some point that they most likely will. Being on the field requires faith, courage and endurance. The athletes must train well. Being comfortable is not the point. Winning the goal is the point. Few enter the field of play without some faith and self-denial.
Is it any wonder then, that the selfless performance of great athletes can also remind us of fundamentals of the Christian faith? Christianity requires many of these qualities such as self-denial, faith, courage as well as discipline and training. Jesus himself famously said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23)”. Being on the field, like being a Christian, is about surrendering fully to Jesus and doing God’s will. You will notice, I did not say that sitting in the stands is like being a Christian. That is because it is not and in fact it is just the opposite of what the Christian walk is all about. It is possible to sit there without risking anything. In the stands, really, you are like the owner. In fact, even the owners of the team cater to the fans. You go to the field when you have faith in Jesus and when you are ready to sacrifice, and serve. You go to the stands when you want to either be entertained or when you are seeking comfort or relaxation. On the field of play, you give up control. You serve. In the stands you are in control. You are served.
Yet, today, many who claim to be Christians attempt to practice Christianity from the stands instead of making the commitment to serve on the field. Perhaps that is understandable. After all, In the stands, you get lots of perks: You get to usher commands in fact—to get others to obey your wishes: “Throw the ball!” “Punt!” But for believers, God expects the opposite. Jesus said, “Those who love me will keep my commands. He also said, the greatest among you will be your servant (Matthew 23:11). Christians are expected to follow instructions in the same way athletes are expected to obey good coaching. Unfortunately, humans do not always like to take instructions. The enemy of humankind knows this and lures us to life’s enticing “stands”. He promises us the opportunity to indulge in whatever pleasures attract us. In contrast to this, God asks us to forget ourselves. It’s not hard to see why Satan’s pitch appeals to more people. We humans are a selfish lot. Who really wants to forget themselves? Yet Christian lives are supposed to demonstrate unselfish love. Jesus said in fact that the two greatest commandments are that believers should love God and love others (Matthew 22:34-40). Let’s face it. It is not as much fun to get tackled as it is to eat a juicy burger as you watch some other person get tackled. And yet, it’s suffering and sacrifice that wins championships in sports and that has enabled Christians through the generations to be God’s instruments in changing the world for the better. Our lord showed us the way, like a great player-coach. He allowed himself to be nailed to a cross in order to pay the price for our sins, so that anyone who believes in him will be saved (John 3:16, John 10:9-10). Why would he allow that? Because he loved us all so much, he was willing to die for us. That is the kind of love he expects of us. That is why every believer is commanded to enter the field (Matthew 28:19-20). Only love will make you do that. Which is why there are no Christians in the stands. Those who enter the field are there because they believe that Jesus was right when he said “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me (John 14:6)”. He literally said, the only way to get to heaven is by believing that he is the Son of God who died to pay for humanity’s sins so that anyone who believes in him will not be damned to hell, but receive eternal life in heaven (John 3;16, Romans 10:9-10). The Bible says that many people are on wide road to hell because they reject Jesus and don’t believe Christ really is the only way to heaven (Matthew 7:13-14). In fact, statistically speaking, of the 6 Billion people or so on earth, 4 Billion are not believers. This alarms Christians. No Christian wants to see even a single soul go to hell. So, they sacrifice their comforts, discipline themselves like an athlete by studying God’s Word and then go out and spread the Gospel so all will have an opportunity to know how to avoid hell and get to heaven (Matthew 28:19-20). In the end, the difference between being in the stands spiritually and being on the field spiritually, is that everyone on the field has given their whole heart to Jesus.100%. Those in the stands have not.
No sports fan would think he or she is on the field when he or she is actually in the stands. But it is possible for people who claim to be Christians to fool themselves into believing they are on the field when in fact they are in the stands. How? Let me illustrate it this way. What if many of the players on your team refused to read the playbook? A Lifeway study revealed that only 37% of churchgoing Christians read the Bible daily. The Bible says “All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:15-17)”. A 2017 Gallup poll showed that (46%) only about half of the total Christian population believe the Bible is actually God- inspired. Gallup felt compelled to comment that this was a big drop from past years. Furthermore, the pollsters said, only 30% of Christians believe the Bible is the actual word of God. (Yes, they said Christians.) What if many of your teammates refused to attend practice so they can grow in their craft? Well, today, it is not unusual to attend a church with 1,000 members present on Sunday morning, and yet at the evening Bible study, you see just 50. This matters, because Bible study, like football practice, is where we believers grow. What does it mean when so few bother to attend classes? What if you gave your team a play and they did just the opposite? The Bible says fornication (or sex between two people not married to one another) is a sin and Apostle Paul, one of the chief writers of the New Testament told believers to flee sexual immorality (1 Corinthians chapter 6). A Pew Research poll revealed however that 57% of “Christians” disagree with Scripture itself and think pre-marital sex is acceptable in a “committed relationship” sometimes. What if your team suited up, but refused to go out on the field and actually play? Christians are commanded not just to read the Scriptures. We are commanded to go out and spread them so others can have an opportunity to learn about Jesus. Yet, in 2019, Barna Research released a report that revealed that many young people in the Christian Community now actually believe evangelism is wrong. The disturbing report said, “Almost half of Millennials (47%) agree at least somewhat that is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.” Apparently, the authors of the report point out, young people are feeling pressure not to share their faith from a politically correct society that frowns on sharing religious faith. Yet, evangelism is a key command of Jesus to all believers (Matthew 28:19-20). Is it any wonder that while many in the Christian Community are disobeying the Scriptural teachings of the bible and not even reading it, the world is at the same time also moving further and further away from Christian morality? If those of us given the task of sharing the word of God refuse to share it and don’t even live by it, then isn’t the moral decline we see in the secular world partially due to our negligence?
An Ethiopian Eunuch was interested in learning about Christianity and better understanding the Bible. He said to Philip, “How can I know unless some man shows me (Acts 8:31-40)? And what about Romans 10:14: ” How then shall they call upon him whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him in whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” The typical process God uses to draw a person to Christ usually occurs like this: 1) A person senses a need for God in their life usually because of a crisis, a feeling of emptiness or something else. 2) The person hears God’s word from a believer and feels a sense of hope in those words. 3) The person repents and accepts Jesus as savior and Lord. Without a Christian to share the Word with them or to at least give them a Bible, this process is hindered. Jesus cried when he thought about people not having a shepherd to teach them the right way to go. (Luke 19:41-42, Matthew 9:35-36) Shouldn’t we have that same compassion for those who don’t know they are headed for eternal separation from God? Are we too busy complaining about the increase of sin until we have become immune to the idea that it is our job to reach out and evangelize? Are some of us 21st Century Jonahs, so prejudiced against those who do not believe until we have forgotten that it is the calling of every single Christian to share whatever we know about our faith so that others will not be doomed? God sent Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh to repent from their sinful ways. But Jonah was prejudiced against them and did not want to warn them. He ran from his duties but God had his way and let Jonah suffer until he repented and did what he was supposed to do. Jonah finally warned the people of Nineveh and they did repent and turn from their sins. They were saved. Is this what we are unconsciously doing when we complain about the world, yet refuse to witness to it? What if you are Jonah? What if America is Nineveh? What if your witnessing or sharing your faith with others could be used by God to save the soul of America?
Well, you can’t do that from the stands.