Christians Can Learn a Valuable Lesson from a Gay Man Trying to Enter the NFL
The major identifier of any Christian should be our identity in Christ. It’s not about our “conversion story,” or where we are in our “walk of faith.” Creating an identity out of something with no inherent worth or value will always lead to frustration when others don’t place as high a value on that thing as we do.
Take for example the story of Michael Sam, the former NFL draft pick that was also the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team.
Before the combine, before the draft, Michael Sam was a decent football player barely hitting the radar of NFL scouts. Most scouting reports had him listed as a little too small and a bit too slow for his defensive position. But he was nonetheless headed for the NFL combine and would try to make an NFL roster. Then, the relatively unknown player from the mid-west decided to have a press conference to announce that he was gay.
In the world of sports this was only news because there was no openly gay players and Sam would be the first if he could make a roster. For the most part though, NFL scouts, coaches, and owners sort of…yawned. They weren’t looking for a poster-child for social causes or to break new sporting ground. They were looking for talented football players that would help them win championships. Because, at the end of the day, wins is all that matters.
The media of course took the story and ran, making all the news, all the coverage of Michael Sam about his “brave” and “courageous” announcement. Many (including me) called it a desperate publicity stunt by a guy whose NFL hopes were fading. And, in the end, it worked. Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams. But media circus soon faded as Sam was let go by the Rams, picked up and released by the Cowboys. And while honest sportscasters focused on Sam on-field performance and his lack of size and speed, other media outlets focused on Sam’s sexuality.
The lesson here, one that I think Christians can learn from, is that focusing on anything that has no inherent value is dangerous. In fact, it can be what brings us down.
The media focused on Sam’s sexuality in an effort to get him drafted. After all, surely no one would deny the first openly gay NFL draftee a spot on their team. Sam even got caught up in his few minutes of fame by announcing an impending deal with Oprah to do a reality show all about him and his football journey. All that seems to have faded now that he is not on a team.
The same trap awaits Christians that want to focus on their “conversion story” or their “faith journey” in a way that points directly and entirely at themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I love hearing a “Paul on the road to Damascus” conversion story. To hear how God miraculously saves someone through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit and the grace of Jesus is a blessing. But it can quickly turn dangerous if the story doesn’t place Christ and His cross at the center.
When we as Christians try to live by an identity that it outside of Christ and his grace, love, and mercy, we are setting ourselves up for failure. What needs to become our theme, our motto, is that there is nothing inherently worthy in us to warrant salvation. If we ever get to the point where we believe we have been saved due to some value or worth in ourselves, we are in danger of preaching a false Gospel.
Disappointment will come to those who try and identify with something having no inherent value or worth. When things don’t go the way we think they should, or when circumstances change and things get tough, we will place blame. Michael Sam quickly learned that his sexuality would not earn him a spot on an NFL team. Now, rather than admitting that perhaps he wasn’t good enough or that he placed too high an emphasis on his sexuality, he is simply blaming his decision to announce his sexuality. Sam recently told a sportscaster, “It probably would have been better for me if I didn’t come out … I would be on a roster.”
Former Olympian Bruce Jenner found himself the object of much scorn and ridicule when it was announced that Glamour Magazine would name him “Woman of the Year.” From left to right, liberal to conservative, the decision was blasted as a mockery to women. It seems other people don’t place a high value on Jenner’s sexual decisions or believe they are a cause for praise.
In each of these cases it was a person’s sexuality that brought fame and applause. But in the end it could not sustain it. There is no inherent value or worth in a person’s sexuality. Drafting a man because he is gay will not help win a championship. Giving an award because a man dresses like a woman holds no meaning.
The same caution should be exercised by Christians. Placing value or any inherent worth in ourselves for our salvation brings us to the point of preaching a false Gospel. Consider what the Bible says:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 5:6-11
Look carefully, there is nothing in these verses about how good we are, how worthy we are, or how deserving we are of salvation. In fact, the Bible reminds us that Christ died for us while we were “weak, “ungodly,” and “sinners.” The reality is that as believers we owe our life and being to God, and the grace given to us by Jesus Christ. If we attempt to identify our salvation – no matter how dramatic or incredible – with anything other than God’s sovereign choice and the grace and mercy of Jesus, we are preaching a false Gospel.
Michael Sam and Bruce Jenner are learning that sexual choices cannot sustain careers or bring lasting fame. They can bring short-lived fame and worthless awards, but not the peace and contentment we desire. Christians would do well to remember the worth and value in their salvation, that being the blood and grace of Jesus. When we point to the value and worth in our salvation we share a Gospel message that has the power to bring others to the same cross we came to.
We should never tire of speaking or singing of the cross of Christ as it is the power of God for salvation. For the believer, this should always be our theme:
Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain
Free to all, a healing stream
Flows from Calvary’s mountain.
In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.