Note: This is Ed Giese writing. I am guest blogging for my son Andrew this week, who is on vacation. He’ll be back with another great post next week.
Most professional sports leagues have some variation of two ways to acquire athletes for their teams: a draft or free agency. I recently read a decent article comparing the two systems in the NFL, and why the draft is still so valuable. Many casual fans are more excited by free agency, since high-publicity players usually change teams this way. The article reminds us that football truly is a team sport, and for various reasons, the draft is often a great way to build a successful team.
Are we as Christians more like drafted players, or more like free agents? An argument exists for both answers. The Bible tells us that before we were brought to faith, we were “dead in our trespasses.” Just as the draft is the only way that many young players could possibly join a team, grace is the only way we were going to be saved. Our situation is even more hopeless. Imagine a dead body on a gurney. A person has found a magic elixir, one drop of which will bring the person back to life. Imagine that drop hanging on from a dropper, jiggling, about to fall. How close to falling must it get before the dead body can reach up and grab it? The answer, obviously, is that unless the drop falls, the body stays dead. Just as drafting teams hold all the initiative in the draft process, and the potential players hold none, we are not able to draft ourselves onto God’s team. Honestly, until God acts, we don’t even want it. That’s what “dead in our trespasses” really means.
Drafted players must accept the terms offered to them and generally cannot be released until the team decides they are ready to. Free agents, however, have many more options. Christians are free. We are free from the guilt of our past sins; we are even free from fixed laws. Unlike the Old Testament, with its many laws spelled out by the very words of God, Christians live by principles like love and hope, and we are free to interpret these in different ways — perhaps even, at times, to break things that might be laws for others. Jesus says in Matthew 5, “whoever relaxes one of these commandments and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” [Emphasis mine]. In the Old Testament, law breaking often comes with the punishment of being “cut off from the people.” But the Christian, while certainly still being evaluated, is in the family for good, and might be called the least, but will never be thrown out. This is way more like a free agent than a draftee.
The article I listed above mentions several advantages for the draft. For one thing, players can often become far more than what their draft rank would predict. People can surprise you. I love this truth, because it is true also of Christians, and people in general. Stay open to being surprised, in a happy way, by people.
Another advantage to the draft is that it gives coaches time to mold the value systems of young players into the culture and mindset of the team. There are far more differences between the teams than just the color of their jerseys. Each team has some unique aspects to its culture, and having players live a long time in that culture creates a continuity that cannot be molded in any other way. The Jews, who are the living remnant of the “Israel draft” in Exodus 20, illustrate that very well. Their traditions and culture are unique in the world and have made them both successful and a continuing witness to the faithfulness of God.
By contrast, a free agent can be a troublemaker. There is even the worry that, once he has his money, a free agent will not give 100% to the team. There have been well documented instances of this happening in the NFL. This leads to the problem I’m bringing up in this post: How to motivate a free agent? In the Christian case, many worry about how, without strict laws, Christians will not simply live in sin and expect “grace” to pick up the tab. The Bible even spends some time on this.
Looking, though, at the first principle of problem solving, we cannot forget that God’s preferred way of dealing with people is grace, and not punishment. Punishment there is, and remains, for the entire world, because of sin. Even Christians suffer the traumas of a fallen world. I watched in horror recently as a freak Texas ice storm took the lives of many beautiful trees in my yard, some of which felt like old friends. This, despite my Christian faith, and that my trees have not sinned. Yet still, for all of this, the first principle of problem solving (as Andrew likes to explain it) comforts me with the certainty that God’s love is stronger than His punishment. So how, then, does this motivate us?
The short answer is that there is no iron-clad guarantee that free agents (like me) will always be motivated. Sometimes, I guess I am called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But you know what? That will be the exception. Why? Because God’s love has an echo.
Andrew has told some stories about himself in this blog, but this one I think he would be reluctant to mention, so I will. In his senior year of high school, Andrew was one of the captains of the varsity football team. He won the “Mr. Billie Football” award that year, which is the highest award the FHS athletic department gives. Yet, Fredericksburg was 1 and 9 his senior year. After some of those games, I remember him in tears on our couch. Sharing in his devastation are some of my most painful memories.
Yet, always, though he wasn’t being paid, Andrew got himself built back up by Saturday morning to go watch the films, do his best to learn from Friday night, and start preparing for the next week. Why? He loved the game. “There’s no feeling in the world like being in a football game,” he told me. Yes, they lost — a lot — but there were still highs, victories, and hopes. Some of those losses were heartbreakingly close. But that love was what kept him going. Similarly, at the pro level, men who play football for a living love it. Talk to some of them or listen to their interviews. It isn’t just PR. You can hear it in their voices: they love the game. So, while there may be the odd free agent who for some reason or other gives up, most of them will give their all.
As a Christian, don’t look fearfully at God’s laws. Look with love at the man who laid down his life so that the magic elixir would drop off the dropper onto your tongue, bring you to life, and make you a citizen in the kingdom of God. Will you have days when you are the least person there? Probably. But motivation is never a problem if you just return to that first love.