|VP AWARDS AND World Series rings aren't just given away. Linebackers don't just stand by and let tailbacks zoom past.|
Race car drivers don't slow up at the finish line and let someone else win.
Everything a person accomplishes in sports must be earned through hard work, dedication, desire, and all those other words coaches love to use. It's true, and those attributes transfer quite nicely to real life. To get ahead, you've got to earn it.
That's why grace is such a foreign concept to us humans. Charity rankles our pride; some of us even find it insulting. We're raised to believe that we reap what we sow. Those of us who love sports have that concept driven even more deeply into our psyche than do others, I think. Mercy doesn't belong on the playing fields.
Individualism has always been an American ideal. Now it's an American obsession. It's not enough anymore to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, as they say; now, you must pull up those bootstraps and use the boots to step on whomever necessary as you scale the ladder of success. In sports, that can mean taking performance-enhancing drugs so you can break records and achieve athletic immortality, never mind the integrity of the game or its records.
This mindset is present in every facet of our lives. That's why it's not surprising that we have so much trouble accepting the thought that God offers us grace, free of charge, no return favors required.
Salvation is a sincere prayer away, but therein lies the problem -- man doesn't believe he needs saving. Man believes he can earn God's favor through works, not realizing that his good deeds could never overcome the amount of sin in his life.
If a man does accept grace, he often does so because he thinks he deserves it. Though grace, by definition, cannot be earned, many believe that God helps those who help themselves. (Forgive all these clichés, but they are the axioms to which the world pitifully clings.) There are a lot of people who don't believe in hell, for example, who believe that God is too loving to allow such a place to exist. Without hell, of course, grace would be totally unnecessary, as would have been Christ's death and resurrection.
Part of our problem is our cynicism, which I believe is at an all-time high in human history. We live life looking back over our shoulders, like a quarterback anticipating the weakside blitz. We trust no one but ourselves, and anyone offering something for free is trying to run a scam. We treat God's grace like so much spam e-mail.
This comes down to us not believing that another being is capable of loving us purely for who we are. But we are God's creation, and just like we can't earn His favor, we can't extricate ourselves from His grace once we're tangled up in it. His grace has made me acutely aware of my daily sin, as well as my desperate need for His forgiveness and guidance.
I can't even write this column without His grace. That is, I couldn't write it to please Him or advance His kingdom. And believe me, you won't get a thing out of reading this without His gracious hand opening your heart to whatever truth lies within it.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a sports journalist in Tupelo, Mississippi.
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