NFL football is this country’s most popular sport. If you happen to be one of the minority that does not appreciate 300lb men colliding at 30 MPH, don’t worry, this post is not really about football; though I will use a football analogy to make my point. The Chicago Bears recently acquired receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall has well documented off the field issues and has had a hard time getting along with his coaches at times. However, Marshall seems to really appreciate the approach of his new head coach Lovie Smith.
Marshal had this to say about the leader of his new team, “I’ve been in situations in the past where we were treated like kids, like a high school football team, and guys would rebel …Guys police themselves here. So when it comes to curfew, things like that, you don’t see guys sneaking out their rooms during camp. Everyone understands their position, everyone understands that, ‘Hey, he’s treating us like men and we need to be professionals.’ I appreciate that part of it — it makes you wanna work that much harder.”
As I promised this post is not about football, it’s about the human heart. Marshall points out a fact of life. Our heart is rebellious, or as the prophet Jeremiah described it “…deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jer. 17:9)? The sickness that drives us toward sin and rebellion cannot be tamed by human means. Rules and authoritarian leadership do not bring the heart in line. Actually, they have the opposite effect. The apostle Paul masterfully depicted this in his letter to the Roman church. Speaking of his own struggle Paul wrote, “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me” (Rom 7:9-10). The very thing that was supposed to bring relief brought a curse instead. The Law brought death, because even the law of God, can become a substitute for God Himself – an idol; and when that happens, it will crush you.
Like Marshall pointed out, the coaches that treated him and his teammates like high school kids, not only failed to prevent rebellion, they caused it. What a picture of the law in the life of the believer. The rules are the rules and are meant to be followed on the football field and in the Christian life. However, the motivation to follow does not come through oppression and guilt. The gospel is the good news that forgiveness and blessing are poured out to the undeserving sinner based only on God’s unilateral love and lavish grace. When we hear that, it frightens us and we begin to put stipulations and requirements on getting that grace or on keeping it. However, once those requirements roll in, so does the rebellion and pride; rebellion against the requirements and pride if we think we’re doing pretty good upholding them.
But like Lovie Smith’s players who “wanna work that much harder,” for the coach who shows them gracious acceptance, so does the Christian who recognizes that all they are and ever will be is an act of grace. So contrary to conventional wisdom, knowing that I am loved and accepted based purely on God’s grace and Christ’s perfect sacrifice in my place leads to a greater desire to obey not less. Grace motivates hearts on the gridiron and in the chapel.