I love to watch my grandchildren play basketball and I try very hard to seldom miss a game. My enjoyment does not come from them being superstars or because their team is always in first place. I enjoy the game because I love my grandchildren; I love seeing them participate in sports; and I enjoy watching them develop skills, which will serve them well throughout the remainder of their lives.
I admit there certainly is a great deal of enjoyment in watching a game where our team dominates; but, I believe I feel a deeper since of satisfaction when we play well regardless of winning or losing. There have been occasions when it was evident that the other team was definitely out playing our team, and the score reflected it. When this happens, and our players do not lose heart or sportsmanship, I am the most proud. A fourth quarter where the score is so lopsided you know you cannot win, and our teams continues to play just as hard as they would in a close game, is often the time when I can really feel team spirit flowing strong. Yes, it is true that all the players will not maintain a maximum effort, and a few will even let the score beat them into submission; but the players who never lose their aggressive edge are the real winners: the ones I love to watch. I love to see our team win; however, the sportsmanship and the spirit of the team means far more to me than the final score. I go to the game to encounter the spirit of the athelte; to watch players push themselves to levels their classmates could never reach; to watch young men and women excel in sportsmanship; and above all, I go to the game to watch a bunch of individuals transform into a single team.
THE CHRISTIAN GAME
If you are a Christian you are a new creation; your old attitude and way of doing things is passing away and you should now be learning to walk in the new ways of a Christian. In fact, when Christ freed us from our bondage to sin He placed us on the “basketball court of life.” Every single Christian stands on this court and they have the freedom to be in the starting string, spend most of their time sitting on the bench or they can walk off the court and join the spectators.
The basketball court of life may be in the spiritual realm but it not all that different from the physical basketball court in your school gym. No one steps on the court and is automatically a champion player. In the same way, you may be a new creation in Christ but that does not automatically make you a skilled player in the spiritual realm.
In the physical world, basketball is a complex game that requires considerable physical and mental training for a player to excel. For example, the process of correctly running and dribbling the ball is not a normal automatic reflexive action. To begin with, there is a moving object between your hand and the floor; and, your mind tells you to look at it so that the hand can make contact with it as it returns back from the floor. To properly handle the ball, however, a player must retrain their mind to not do what the mind is hardwired to do, which is to rely on visual imput to reposition the hand. The movement of the hand must be turned over to a subroutine in the mind while the brain uses visual imput to determine: what path am I runnning right now; where are my team members; where are the opposing team members; where do I want to go from here; who is open now; who might be open in the future; and, on top of all this, the player needs to keep their opponent from taking the ball away from them. To minimize the processing load, which the player’s mind is dealing with, a player must master various plays; at least the good good players will master them. Of course, this is assuming your team mates know the plays as well. All of this is just the tip of an iceberg when it comes to learning to play basketball. The point I am trying to make is that basketball is a complex game requiring considerable physical and mental training for a player to excel.
The physical game of basketball requires tremendous individual training but it also demands that the individuals transition into a team. The spiritual game of basketball is no different. If you are to become a good Christian athlete it will require the same sacrifice that any athlete must make: time, devotion, training, self-discipline, and most important, it will take obedience. In the same way, if a church is to become effective for Christ it requires the church to transform into a team. A church with individual Christians is no more effective than a basketball team full of “prima donnas.” An effective church is a team where the leaders are mature Christians who have a mission and carry out that mission as part of a team.
In the spiritual game of basketball, the basketball itself is a combination of living as a Christian and serving God. Our opponent is Satan. When we exhibit Christian love or serve Christ we score a point. When we sin, Satan scores a point. In this game, racking up points has nothing to do with our salvation. This game is being played for our rewards in heaven. Sitting on the bench does not fill your treasure room in heaven and allowing Satan to score points or letting him keep you from scoring is not good. In this game, life is the court we play on and how well we handle the basketball of love and service will influence our life here on earth and determine what our rewards will be in heaven.
SIN HINDERS OUR PERFORMANCE
Every day a Christian has the freedom to determine if they are going to sit on the bench or standup and get in the game. Everyday a church has the freedom to sit on the bench or to walk on the court as a team. Whether we are on the court as an individual or as a team we battle against sin: that which generates the breach between man and God; and is itself the cause for our eternal separation from God. Sin opposes the Christian player by constantly threatening our capability to manifest love and Christian service. We are not left alone on the court; however, because God has given us His grace to bridge the gap and He empowers us with the spirit to excel in playing the game of life. This does not mean that every Christian is a skilled player as soon as they enter the game. If you chose to walk out on the court of life as a Christian you must be patient, devoted, willing to work, diligent in your training and obedient.
Sin, our opponent, is the result of our ignorance when it comes to the will of God; or it can, in some cases, be our conscious rejection of God’s will. In any event, sin blocks and intercepts our handling of Christian love and service to God. We sin because we are too shiftless to learn how to play the game and too lazy to train our minds and bodies in handling the ball. It takes tremendous spirit-mind coordination if you are going to become skilled at handling the Christian basketball of love and service. Christians who sit on the bench are a lazy, rebellious and ignorant lot. Way too many Christians are poor players because they have no self discipline; they are poor players because they won’t obey the coach’s instructions; and they are poor players because they have a weak spirit. The poor player, because of his or her own slothfulness, is not equipped to face sin on the court of life: they let down their team and endanger their soul.
As a Christian player, we need to remember that freedom to be a Christian brings with it the responsibility for knowing and understanding God’s will. This means that, just as God is dead to sin, we too must be dead to sin. There is no Law that condemns us … it is our own yielding to sin that condemns us. Yes, Satan can cause us to turn over the ball but that does not eternally condemn us to failure. Through the sacrifice of Christ, we have access to the grace of God and with a repentant heart we are free to continue in the game. Paul told the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 9:24): Don’t you realize that in a game everyone competes, but only one team gets the prize? So play to win! You cannot play to win if you do not know the plays and are not properly conditioned.
Because of God’s grace, our soul is constantly being refreshed by streams of living water, which flow from the Holy Spirit into our soul. We are not alone on the court of life. The Holy Spirit lives in each believer and the believer is empowered to live a life of Christian love and of service to Christ. Stop and think about it! Even in a high school basketball team there is a spirit of sorts. You can see it when the team walks out on the court; and it is very evident in the 3rd quarter. You can see this spirit stand tall or you can see it wilt like a little frozen flower. The team that wins the championship has gotten in contact with their spirit and they know how to keep it strong under all circumstances. Such a team can be beaten: but never by a poorer quality team. The same is true on the spiritual court of life. We may have put forth effort to learn and understand God’s will but we also must have the spirit of Christ with us if we are to consistently win.
If a basketball team loses to a lesser opponent it is because they have let something erode their training or weaken their spirit. It is no different in the game of life. If we sin it is because we have not put forth the effort to train and condition ourselves to seek out and remove sin from our lives; or, we have failed to battle sin in the power and Spirit of God. When we let something erode our training or weaken our spirit we are in danger of quitting as soon as the game gets tough. Paul told the Philippians (Philippians 3:14)
that nothing could get him to slow down his effort. Paul said he was determined to press on to the very last second of the game and to win! It is a foolish team that lays down in the first half: thinking they can win the game in the fourth quarter. It is as foolish as the person who thinks they can sin all of their life and then have a heart capable of honestly turning to God on their deathbed.
No one forces a player to become lazy or to fail to have his or her head in the game or to mope around with a whining beaten spirit. In the same way, sin cannot be forced upon you! James tells us that God is not involved in our sinning. We sin because we are drawn away and seduced by our own lusts. When we follow after our lusts we will be led to sin and when we let sinning become a habit it leads to spiritual death. Remember, we do not actually commit sin until we first have sin in our heart. If we have sin in our heart there is a real danger that it might have been there a long time. We allow sin to live in our hearts because we have a tendency to deny that it is a sin. The fact that we have denied the existence of sin in our lives will callous our hearts. Once a person’s heart becomes calloused it becomes very hard for us open up to the Spirit of God and seek His support in rooting out sin. Hidden sin is hard to define, hard to confront, and Satan will do everything in his power to keep us from even acknowledging that this sin exists. If we fail to train and condition ourselves to be on life’s court we will end up a poor player or on the bench … or perhaps even walking away from the team.
A church can also become over populated with immature Christians, especially when it is lacking in shepherds to provide spiritual guidance in combating sin. The church will eventually become little more than a bunch of Christians floundering around on the basketball court of life. They may excel in social work and in prosperity gospel programs; but when it comes to proclaiming the manifold wisdom of God the fellowship fails. Sin attacks the performance of individual Christians and it also destroys the team play of a congregation. When a church is not actively combating sin they have no game plan and without a game plan they are of no use to God.
A high school basketball game is not chaos unleashed; even if it looks like it. Well, it shouldn’t be! There is a game plan; there is team strategy; there are offensive and defensive plays; and the coach is constantly making adjustments during a game. For example: if you are on defense, there is a play for each position of the ball: whether the ball is in the left wing, or center, or right corner. Perhaps if the ball is in the right corner two players will work trap, one will slide down to the basket, one will protect the high post area and the remaining player will look for a steal. It really does not matter what terminology you use or what specific actions make up the play; the key to success is every player knowing what is expected of him or her for every situation. A basketball player who hears the coach call out a play and then stands there with glazed eyes, like a deer caught in the headlights of a car, should not be on the court. When a team falls apart and the game becomes chaos for them they are destined to lose the game. It is no different for a church. There has to be a game plan for defeating sin in the congregation.
When a church is over populated with immature Christians its game play degrades to spastic chaos, as Satan jerks them around like puppets on a string. It is kind of like the other team having a play you just cannot figure out. They have the ball, they bring it down the court and then the ball disappears right in front of your eyes: that is until it goes through the hoop. To make matters worst, they successfully use the same play over and over again. That is exactly what Satan does with Christians who are highly vulnerable to sin and with churches that fail to combat sin in the congregation. We do not set out to sin and we have not given up on being good: Satan is simply out playing us.
For a congregation to field a team, that can beat Satan on the basketball court of life, they need: good mature Christian players; biblically qualified and God called shepherds (elders); and they need a good game plan. Even when we are properly prepared and well led, however, we can fail if our head is not in the game. Paul told the Colossians (Colossians 3:1-11) that they must keep their minds set on the game. When a champion high school team walks out on the court you can bet that their mind is on the game. Before becoming a basketball player the individuals on the team were just like the other kids in their class. But, now they have the power to set aside personal problems; they swallow the pain of injuries; and they can totally focus on playing the game. In the same way, a Christian needs to listen to Paul who told the Colossians that they needed to put to death any desire for sin and unclean living because they were a new creation. Paul would tell them: “now you are a player on Christ’s team so put on the new person and play like the Christian you are.” This is true for the individual Christian and it is true for the Christian congregation.
To succeed in the game of life we must have our head in the game and remain vigilant to all forms of sin. It is not difficult to see the common sins of: anger, hatred, violence, steeling, cheating, meanness, foul language and the like. It is far more difficult, however, to see the hidden sins that keep us from having our head in the game. When we allow things such as: lust, uncontrolled habits, hurt feelings, jealousy, non-commitment, doubt, and fear to live in our mind we are in grave danger of hidden sin. No one else may see these sins but they will eventually keep us from playing up to our full potential.
As we mature as Christians we should gradually subdue, by the operation of grace, our submission to sin both expressed and hidden. As we gain control over sin in our life, we will also experience an improvement in our performance on the court of life. Paul told Timothy (1 Timothy 4:8) that physical training is good for the body, but if you are to win on the court of life, and in the life to come, you also need to concentrate on training for godliness. Take time to read about … pray about … think about … and praise God: for the opportunity to be a Christian player on the basketball court of life. The more you walk with God the more you will defeat sin and the more you conquer sin the better player you will become.
When Christ freed us from our bondage to sin He placed us on the basketball court of life. Therefore, if you are a Christian you are a player! If you are a mature Christian you are the starting string. Everyone else in life is a slothful spectator: destined to eternal failure. Every Christian can rejoice in the knowledge that we are all free from the condemnation of sin: because Christ took our punishment for us. We now fight a battle against sin; and, without faith it is impossible to become a starting player. The writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:6) said: For everyone who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He will reward those who diligently seek Him. Sin does not have to rule in our minds and bodies because we now have the Spirit of God to empower us in this new life as a Christian player on the basketball court of life.