Why Do We Look Up to Christian Athletes?

Those we look up to are not just Christian athletes. Being a Christian is who they are; sports is what they do. They do it all for the glory of God, who they elevate as the ultimate example.

Contributing Writer
Published Jun 02, 2022
Why Do We Look Up to Christian Athletes?

Great athletes have always astonished us with their refined talents and God-given abilities. They have run faster, jumped higher, and trained their bodies to do things most, if not all of us could never achieve even if we tried.

They have also dedicated their lives to becoming the best at what they do, and in their pursuit, they often inspire us to dream bigger and work harder to reach our own goals in life.

Many Christians have been encouraged by the stories and accomplishments of professional athletes for generations. Some Christians have even been gifted with athletic abilities, which they have in turn used for the glory of God.

But what is it about Christian athletes we admire so much and what can we learn from their faith and example?

1. Athletes Are Committed to Excellence

There are obvious reasons why the talent and athletic ability of individuals like Lebron James, Usain Bolt, and Serena Williams catch our attention and foster our admiration.

Since it was God who gave these individuals, Christian or not, the strength, the speed, and the agility to compete at the highest levels, we too can appreciate their gifts and see the hand of the Creator at work in their lives, whether they recognize and glorify Him or not.

Excellence in any profession is admirable, and the success of those who’ve labored to become the best at what they do reminds us of the words of King Solomon who wrote, “Do you see a person skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure people” (Proverbs 22:29).

Those we view as great rose to that level because of their talent but also because of their training, perseverance, and an insatiable desire to win. They worked harder and sacrificed in areas of life others did not.

Christian athletes obviously possess a similar drive and commitment. However, beyond any earthly achievement, accolade, or success, these athletes understand what true victory looks like in the long term — spiritually and eternally.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with working to achieve an impossible goal like playing in the NFL or winning a gold medal in the Olympics. Many of the dreams we have are God-given and worth cultivating.

However, some of the most talented, successful, and prosperous athletes have won and achieved everything yet ended up unsatisfied and unfulfilled. As Jesus said, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)

Christian athletes, while driven to succeed, recognize that knowing and being known by Christ is more valuable than any trophy, medal, or championship. Christ is their ultimate treasure, goal, and source of strength, for He alone is eternal (Mathew 6:21).

Knowing this gives the Christian athlete purpose. As Paul again writes,

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control,  lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

2. Christian Athletes Honor God with Their Talents

When it comes to sports, excellence is never just the product of pure talent. Talent must be cultivated.

Of course, one of the big differences between Christian athletes and other athletes is not just about what they do but who they do it for (Colossians 3:23-24).

In training to win, Christian athletes seek to honor God with their gifts and talents.

Where other athletes tout their accomplishments, Christian athletes recognize and celebrate the goodness and grace of God, the author of life, of all gifts, and opportunities.

Those we look up to are not just Christian athletes. Being a Christian is who they are; sports is what they do. They do it all for the glory of God, who they elevate as the ultimate example.

In a field where pride and human ego are often on full display, Christian athletes learn to balance confidence with humility. They can be confident in the gifts God has given them while never seeking glory themselves through what they do on the court or field (Colossians 3:17).

In this way, we look up to Christian athletes for reminding us to seek God’s pleasure, never the praise of others.

3. Discipline and Endurance Inspires Godly Perseverance

The Apostle Paul understood the value of sports as a metaphor for Christian living. Not only did he liken the goal of winning a race to the believer yearning for eternity, but he also referenced the discipline and perseverance of a competitive athlete as inspiration for the Christian to “press on” and persevere through the many trials and temptations of life.

As Paul wrote to his young protégé Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Few victories in sports are easily achieved. However, the harder the fight, the more we admire and celebrate the achievements of those we look up to.

In this sense, perseverance becomes more admirable and even more inspirational than perfection.

When others quit, athletes endure. When their backs are up against the wall, they dig deeper and push harder. Why? Because it’s what they’ve trained themselves to do. They yearn for victory and have learned to push through discomfort, adversity, and sometimes pain to reach their goal.

Therein lies an important metaphor and takeaway for the believer. Perseverance and endurance are keys to the Christian faith.

It is why Paul encouraged Christians to “discipline themselves for the purpose of godliness. for bodily training is just slightly beneficial, but godliness is beneficial for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

Likewise, as the author of Hebrews wrote, to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking only at Jesus, the originator and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

4. Christian Athletes Stand for What They Believe In

Though most athletes are praised for their talents and achievements, Christian athletes are often ridiculed, scorned, and ostracized for their faith, perhaps even more than the rest of us.

Jesus promised that persecution would come for His followers (Matthew 5:10). In fact, in the Gospel of John, Jesus warned that many Christians would be hated because of their faith in Him (John 15:18). At the very least, most Christian athletes have faced criticism and scorn for saying no to the things of the world.

Of course, persecution cannot be a fallback or excuse for poor performance.

Many Christians have falsely cried persecution when they were rightly criticized for their bad habits, bad attitudes, bad behavior, laziness, or sloppy performance. Even Christians can and probably should be fired when they do bad work. Christian athletes are no exception.

That being said, Christian athletes, like the ones mentioned, have not been afraid to stand up for what they believe in, praise God, and speak the truth, even when it isn’t popular or safe.

They aren’t ashamed of the gospel or afraid to honor their lord and savior in front of the cameras either.

Christian athletes are an inspiration and example to believers of all ages. They are committed to using their gifts for God’s glory, seeking God’s pleasure over the praise of others, and persevering through trial and adversity.

Christians should never live vicariously through those they admire. However, if professional athletes are unashamed and unafraid to risk their careers for the sake of the gospel, standing for what they believe in on the biggest stages of life, Christians should also be willing to stand for Christ in their own lives, no matter their talent or the stage they’ve been called to stand upon.

For further reading:

5 Christian Celebrities Who Live Out Their Faith in Hollywood

Is ‘With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility’ True for Christians?

Why Do We Need to Put God First in Our Lives?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/digitalskillet

Joel Ryan is an author, writing professor, and contributing writer for Salem Web Network and Lifeway. When he’s not writing stories and defending biblical truth, Joel is committed to helping young men find purpose in Christ and become fearless disciples and bold leaders in their homes, in the church, and in the world.


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