The Olympics can be an incredible time of intense pressure for athletes as they compete at the highest levels of their respective sports. For many of the Olympic athletes, they have trained for the better part of their entire lives to only participate in one or two events at the Olympics. With that kind of training it can be easy to see how the Olympics can be a stressful time for the athletes involved. Take swimming for instance. Sometimes less than a couple hundredths of a second separates the gold medal winner from the the athlete who doesn’t medal at all.
The Olympics truly show the joy of victory and the agony of defeat. An Olympic gold medal can be a defining moment in an athlete’s life. In fact, there is so much pressure to perform well that many of the athletes can fall into the trap of being defined by their performance whether good or bad. That’s why I was so impressed with the response of American divers David Boudia and Steele Johnson after they won the silver medal in synchronized diving. Both Bouida and Johnson acknowledged the pressure of the event but mentioned that their identities were rooted in Christ.
“The fact that I was going into this event knowing that my identity is rooted in Christ and not what the result of this competition is just gave me peace,” said Steele Johnson.
What does that mean for our identities to be rooted in Christ? And why is this so important? First of all, it means that as followers of Christ we are not defined by how well we perform on the athletic field. God has called us as athletes and coaches to train hard and perform at our best, but at the end of the day our chief aim is to glorify Him. This is an important lesson especially for young athletes. Going beyond the Olympics, our culture puts an incredible premium on athletic performance. We idolize professional athletes and we spend an incredible amount of money making sure our children get the best athletic training.
As Christians we have to understand that our identity has nothing to do with how good we are. It has everything to do with who God is. That’s pretty great news because every athlete on the planet will eventually come to the point where his or her athletic skills will fade away. However, who God is and our identity in Him will never fade away. Take a look at what the Bible says about our identity.
John 1:12 – “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
1 Peter 2:9 – “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you might declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
1 John 3:1 – “See what great love the father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
Colossians 3:1-3 – “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your heart on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”
Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
Why is our identity in Christ so important? Because we live in a culture that tells us just the opposite. In the world of sports, there is so much pressure on winning that it can be easy to be defined by our wins and losses.
Take a look at the above verses again. As followers of Christ, we are God’s masterpiece. We are a holy nation. More than that we are children of God! Not because of anything we have done but entirely because of what Jesus has accomplished for us on the cross. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves – it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” This verse means there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation. As athletes, we can’t earn our way into heaven by how great we are or how many championships we win.
In light of God’s amazing grace, we need to continually remind ourselves that we are not defined by what happens to us on the athletic field. Rather we are defined by who God is. There is an incredible peace and freedom in knowing that our identity is secure in Christ. It’s the exact same type of peace that Steele Johnson described as he was preparing for the Olympics. Let that sink in for a second. You are not defined by what other people say about you. You are not defined by your past mistakes or failures. Rather you are defined by who God says you are.
So the next time you lose the big game or miss out on the big promotion, know that your identity has nothing to do with what titles or positions you hold. Your identity has everything to do with a God who would care about you enough to send his one and only son to die on the cross for your sins.
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