What an Announcement!

Yesterday, at the beginning of my sermon I made an announcement — and nobody who knows me believed it.  In fact, they were so disbelieving that the visitors present didn’t believe it, either!  (Is this any way to treat your pastor, I ask? 🙂 )

The announcement was very simple.  I told people I’m a fan of Arsenal Football Club.

Now, my son is a fan of Arsenal, and they’ve heard me teasing him when they lose.  So I guess I might be able to understand their disbelief.  But then, I proved it.

From behind the pulpit, I took out an Arsenal shirt, and pulled it on.  That should make it clear to everyone which team I’m supporting.  Do you know, they still didn’t believe me?  How far does a guy have to go?  But I wasn’t done — I pulled out a replica sign of Arsenal’s stadium, and an Arsenal key-chain.  Anyone who has that stuff must be a real fan, right?  Who would have that kind of thing except a fan?  I told them I’ve toured Arsenal’s stadium (do you know how much they charge for that?) and their team museum.

For some reason, they still didn’t believe me.  You see, they know me, so they know it wasn’t real.

The things I showed them are things an Arsenal fan would have, and going to Arsenal’s stadium for a tour is the kind of thing an Arsenal fan would do.

But doing those things does not make an Arsenal fan.
Those are things an Arsenal fan does because he is a fan.
And anyone can do them, even someone who is not an Arsenal fan.

So they didn’t believe me, which I guess was ok.  I took off the shirt, tossed it on the front row of seats, and said, “I’ll never do that again” — I’m not an Arsenal fan, saying so doesn’t change it, and neither does buying Arsenal stuff or going to an Arsenal place or watching Arsenal do what Arsenal does.  I could even talk like an Arsenal fan and complain about the referees and it still wouldn’t make me an Arsenal fan!

Yesterday, we had a baptismal service.  Baptism is something a Christian does, one of the most important things a new Christian does.  But it doesn’t make you a Christian.

You can make an announcement that you are a Christian.  You can buy “Christian” stuff, or put money in a “Christian” collection box, or say “Christian” kind of things.  You can go to a “Christian” place and do a lot of things Christians do.  None of that will make you a Christian, and really, anyone could do them, including someone who is not a Christian.

If I wanted to, I could keep up the facade for long enough to convince a lot of people, maybe even family and friends, that I cared about Arsenal Football Club, that I wanted them to win, that I had become a fan.  I could read up  on their players, and talk about them, and give every appearance of being an Arsenal fan, while secretly wanting Manchester United, or Chelsea, or even Tottenham (the greatest treachery? 🙂 ) to win.

If you want (and are reasonably intelligent) you can fake a decent version of Christianity.  You can live a moral life, and you’ll have failings, but you can do pretty well most of the time.  You can get baptised, read your Bible, even memorise large portions of it.  You can go to church every time the doors open, put money in the collection, sing loudly during the services, and learn to pray like an orator (if not like a true believer).  You might even convince people you are spiritual enough to preach or teach occasionally.  Maybe you’ll even become a pastor.

You’ve got the team colours on, you’re waving the team banner, you’re in the right place and doing the right things with your money to fit the scenario you’ve created.  Everyone is sure of who you are — except some wonder, because you’ll give the game away sometimes, or something will just be missing.  No one lives a life of fraud perfectly, but you might fool most people most of the time.

It would be just about as pointless as pretending to be an Arsenal fan, because you’ll never fool God.  If Christianity itself is fake, why pretend?  If it is real, there is nothing more ridiculous than pretending to be a Christian.

These things are good and right things for Christians to do, because we love God and want to please Him.  We know what He’s done for us, and He’s won our hearts — and when your heart is truly won, your behaviour follows.  Christians are supposed to act like Christians.

But God knows whether your heart is His, or whether you are just putting on the team strip to try to look like something you aren’t.  He knows.  That’s like a young guy buying a girl flowers and chocolates for Valentine’s Day when he’s already told her he isn’t interested.  She knows.  What is the point?

Baptism, and the Christian life, have all the point in the world for those who have truly believed in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation from their sin.  If you WERE an Arsenal fan, you’d be glad to wear your Arsenal strip, to let people know who you are.  That’s the way it is with Christians doing Christian things like baptism.  It fits.  It is real.

John 4:24

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

Ephesians 2:8-10

8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.


About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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11 Responses to What an Announcement!

  1. Ruth Gleason says:

    Marvelous truth; great illustration.

  2. Dear Pastor, did you seriously act in this manner in the pulpit i.e put on an Arsenal shirt etc? If so, I’m surprised (even shocked.) I believe that sports are idols in the lives of many people, and many sports “heroes” are morally bankrupt and lovers of money (and they receive enormous salaries.) The London Olympics was a paean to idolatry, worldliness and feminism (remember the female boxers?) The Paralympics were dangerous for many disabled, yet they were driven to harm themselves by an equality-mad society where differences (in ability and gender etc) must be downplayed or ignored. Surely you could have made your point without any reference to the modern-day idolatry that so characterises sports and sportsmen and sportswomen.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Dear friends, thank you for your concern. This is actually something to which I’ve given quite a bit of thought.

      First, I appreciate your sensitivity to the idolatry in the world around us. It is certainly important to be aware of the idols of the people around us and avoid being drawn into idolatry ourselves.

      Second, while I am persuaded that there is nothing wrong in what I did, if I were aware of anyone in our congregation who believed as you do, I would not have done it. A church fellowship is a precious thing, and we must not mar it by grieving the conscience of others without compelling reason. Having a good illustration does not, in and of itself, constitute a compelling reason.

      Third, as to the substance of the question at hand. We should remember that the idolatry of sportsmen is nothing new — it was practiced in ancient Greece (and to a lesser extent, in Rome). Yet, Paul used sporting illustrations repeatedly, including when writing to Greeks (I Corinthians 9).

      Paul also quoted from idolatrous poets to make his point on more than one occasion, including even from sections of their works which were specifically idolatrous. I wrote about this here: https://mindrenewers.com/2013/01/17/non-christian-literature-and-gods-truth/. He took idolatrous statements and reframed them to refer to the true God to illustrate divine truth — and he did so in Scripture itself, so we know his very words were chosen by God. Furthermore, he said that he was quoting the idolatrous poets, so we know that it is no “accident” of wording that his words matched theirs, nor did they copy him.

      I do not see that using a sports teams’ uniform to illustrate a point is any more idolatrous than quoting an idolatrous poet’s praise to Zeus and using it to illustrate spiritual truths of the one true God. As Paul says, an idol is nothing in this world.

      Furthermore, in our culture, where team colours are a strong identifying mark, the illustration of a coloured garment is particularly apt. The Greek word baptizo, from which we get our word baptism, was used to refer to dipping a garment in a dye to change its colour. Baptism is a visible identification with Christ and those who follow Him. The use of a coloured garment to illustrate identification with others seemed particularly apt. If I had thought of another garment that so well matched the Biblical truths, I would certainly have been willing to use it. In this case, it also demonstrated, quite well I thought, that the external simulation without the internal reality is merely dissimulation.

      Nevertheless, while I do not agree with the conclusion you’ve drawn, I thank you for the challenge on it. Many people who believe as you do would not have enough concern to say something when they see a brother taking what they believe to be an unwise course. I do appreciate it.

      • Jon,
        I think that was an outstanding analogy.

        As for sports idolatry – yes, our society in general treats sports as an idol. But that doesn’t make it an idol. Pagans treat all sorts of things as idols, but that doesn’t make the item itself an idol.

        Sports in general is recreation. I don’t care for sports, but have in the past played baseball, football, and even soccer – all for fun. To make the broad statement that sports is idolatry and represents idolatry based on the behavior of people who treat it as such, is nothing but legalistic nonsense.

        I think your response to the whites was very good.

      • Jon Gleason says:

        Thank you, Glenn. If I understand the Biblical teaching on meat sacrificed to idols (and I’m pretty sure I do :)), there are definitely times when the idolatry of the world may mean that we should avoid something which would otherwise be perfectly fine. That doesn’t mean the thing itself is wrong, but it has picked up “moral baggage” in the minds of those around us (and sometimes even in the thoughts and feelings of believers) which makes it just better avoided.

        And while I don’t agree with the Whites that this was one of those cases, I have a lot of appreciation for someone who is careful on the subject. I’d rather be too careful than too careless.

  3. Brian says:

    Thank you for the article. Great analogy to a precious truth. I’ve not presented it such a graphic way but have used similar illustrations to point to the fact that being a Christian isn’t based upon what we do, but who we are. The doing will come but the doing doesn’t make us Christian.

  4. Jon Gleason says:

    Thank you, both of you. 🙂

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