Athlete, Grace Begs Discipline


Athlete, Grace Begs Discipline

Jason Cooper

Luke 22:41 (NIV)

He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed.

Pretend like you never practiced your sport. You never got your clubs, shoes, or ball out. You never worked out. You never learned how to play your position or worked on your skills. But you expected to be good.

I wonder if we think that about following Jesus.

In some strains of Christendom, perhaps for the sake of emphasizing grace and proclaiming “faith alone,” we may dismiss practices Jesus thought were crucial to undivided devotion to the Lord. 

Consider Jesus. He was a temple-going, Torah-observant Jew. He kept a religious calendar. 

He worshiped in synagogues. He was a rabbi who integrated physical elements into His worship. 

He knelt to pray. He fasted. He attended religious festivals. He was baptized. He instituted communion – bread and wine to eat and drink in remembrance of Him.  

He studied the Scriptures. He practiced simplicity by not having more stuff than he needed. He practiced humility, solitude, service, and community.

If Jesus wasn’t Jesus, I wonder if we’d consider Him legalistic. 

If Jesus wasn’t Jesus, we might tell Him, “You don’t have to do any of those things to earn God’s favor. God wants your heart, not your rituals. Don’t focus on physical things, but spiritual things. Since you can’t merit your salvation, focus on your personal relationship with God, not good works or outward deeds.” 

Maybe, we look down on structured spiritual disciplines, good deeds, and physical rituals, because we think they’re inherently legalistic. But, ironically, that can be a form of legalism, which can lead us to mock the good works we were created for (Ephesians 2:10). 

It’s true, the New Testament treats works-based righteousness as a threat to the New Covenant and grace. But the practices we may push back against are gifts from God as a means for direct experience with God. 

In the name of following Jesus, we may resist the behaviors that help develop our relationship with God, others, and ourselves. 

In the name of not following rules we may refuse the tools God gave us to conform us into the image of His Son. 

For the sake of being “spiritual,” we neglect the physical elements of worship. 

Student athlete, you are familiar with the physical gear, the field or court, strategies, training, seasonal rhythm, rules, nuances, and heartbeat of your sport. 

That’s part of being an athlete, and part of being Christian is doing the things that are part of Christianity.

Rituals and practices don’t mean you aren’t banking on grace and faith. Just like your sport, grace and faith beg devotion, which come in the form of certain actions.


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