“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” — Romans 3:22-24
Referees, umpires and other officials are an essential part of sports. Athletes, columnists, commentators and fans all have their opinions about how these men and women do their job. It’s not an easy one, as there are countless decisions to make, whether the official is working a team or individual competition. The changes in instant replay and video reviews have compounded the effect an official’s decision can have on the outcome of a contest.
However, though they are human and don’t always get it right, sports are more fun and make more sense with someone in authority to keep things in check. Without officials, boundaries are blurred and one competitor can unfairly take advantage of another.
A major part of an official’s role is assigning penalties. They come in the form of yellow flags, an ejection from the dugout, a red card or even a penalty box. Like sitting in timeout as a child, or losing one’s cell phone privileges as a teen, athletes must adhere to the consequences for breaking the basic rules of the game. Though an official may be the shortest in stature on the playing field, his or her decisions about penalties weigh the most in the midst of a struggle between massive linemen or towering power forwards. These important calls can create both jubilation and agitation on the sidelines and in the stands. One thing is certain: Someone has to pay the penalty.
As Christians, the ultimate authority we obey is Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect life on earth, fully God and fully man. When He ascended to Heaven, He promised the Holy Spirit would come to live in our hearts when we trust Him as the only way to salvation. The early Church experienced the fulfillment of this promise in Acts 2:4: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” When we submit to Christ’s lordship, this same power is available to us. Like an official in a game, the Spirit reminds us of who we are as believers and what we should do to represent our Lord. He speaks to us when we are tempted to cross the boundaries God has set up to protect us from sin. He guides us to live by the Bible and not seek after fleeting worldly wisdom.
As with any competitive athlete who makes the wrong move or loses their temper, believers fall short of what God desires for us. Often, it can feel like the penalty yards are mounting and we cannot overcome them. This internal struggle against sin is the same one Paul wrote about in Romans 7. Our flesh fights our spiritual nature for control. This battle is tougher and means more than anything found in sports.
Thankfully, we have One who has taken the penalty for sin upon Himself. The same Lord who is with us in our daily walk sees us differently now than we when walked in rebellion against Him. When we trust in His death on the cross and His resurrection, we experience forgiveness. “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit” (Psalm 32:2).
— Allen Kent
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