When Christians Play Ball

It was 11 p.m. and I was nearly asleep when a teammate on the University of Oklahoma baseball team, texted me for help with our economics homework. Having only been on the team for a couple of months and still looking for new and better ways to serve others in the gospel, I reluctantly got out of bed and sat down at my desk to FaceTime him. After working through the homework, he changed the topic: “Mike, I looked through your Instagram earlier. You’re a big Jesus guy, huh?” 

One question led to another as he asked about my views on a range of topics, from God to sex to alcohol. Eventually, I felt it was time for me to ask him questions, and those questions led to the gospel. Near the end, he asked: “Mike, can we have a team Bible study? Everyone on the team has to hear what you just said!” Without telling me, this teammate went to one of our coaches and asked if I could lead a weekly Bible study in the locker room.

After months of anticipation and prayer for gospel opportunities, here was one.

Expressive Individualism on the Field

In his book Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution (Crossway, 2022), Carl Trueman wrote about modern education’s transformation into a platform for performance and individual expression. And while sports have almost always been about individual performance and achievement, one need only compare games from 30 years ago to today to see a shift. In baseball, for example, extravagant bat flips and displays of on-field “swagger” are increasingly common.  

The gospel reshapes the way young adults interact with the world as athletes.

Meanwhile, the gospel of Jesus Christ reshapes the way young adults interact with the world as athletes—as it reshapes the way we interact with the world in any other capacity. But the particular locker-room emphasis on performance, achievement, and flashiness means a truly cruciform life (Gal. 2:20) is perhaps even more conspicuous than in other domains.

Like other idols in Western culture, sports can be dangerous precisely because they’re not inherently sinful. We can enjoy sports as a great gift from God—a gift that reflects his own creative nature. Sports can also be an outlet for furthering the Great Commission. Nonetheless, so many American believers struggle with sports idolatry, whether they’re recreational athletes, serious prospects, or fans glued to stats and games for hours per day as prayer and church involvement take a backseat. 

For the Love of the Game

The gospel changes the way we interact with the world as athletes because it provides a higher and more glorious passion.

Godly ambition to work hard, commended across the New Testament, drives the Christian athlete to high effort even when no one is watching. But more distinctly, the gospel creates a concern for spreading God’s truth that surpasses any concern for victories and trophies. If we’re not careful, we’ll enjoy the game like atheists, with the gift terminating on itself. Only the Holy Spirit can revolutionize our perspective to see that enjoying sports for God’s sake doesn’t only give him more glory—it also produces more joy for us.

If we’re not careful, we’ll enjoy the game like atheists.

Throughout my time with the team, I saw my friend Jaret grow deeply in his faith. I had the joy of watching him get baptized at the local church where we both served. Jaret continued the team Bible study and further demonstrated how someone heavily involved in a sport (he was much better than me) could love and serve the Lord Jesus.

Unfading Crown

As athletes united to Jesus Christ, we glorify him as we live not for wins on the field but for the triumph of the resurrection. Win or lose, we will appear with Christ in glory (Col. 3:4)—and that changes everything. A World Series ring might last a lifetime in our hearts, but Christian athletes demonstrate that God has placed eternity in our hearts (Eccles. 3:11).

May we take up the call to faithful gospel witness, exhibiting a passion for the King who reigns over every field and court.

Michael Betrus

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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