In the New Testament, the apostle Paul uses athletic imagery to describe the Christian life and what it means to have faith. He exhorts Christians to finish their races well, to run with perseverance and to strive for the prize of salvation. This athletic imagery can be especially meaningful for athletes who train every day to push their bodies to the absolute limit.
“(Endurance sports) involve commitment,” said Dr. Jeff Cate, professor of Christian studies and long-distance runner. “Often the best things in life are the things you have to work the hardest for. Endurance and commitment were crucial for the early Christians. They faced a lot of opposition and oppression, so it was crucial for them to have perseverance (in their faith).”
Some sports involve short, intense periods of exertion that require athletes to train for quick bursts of activity. Others, like distance swimming or long-distance running, require athletes to acclimate to long periods of intense stress and fatigue while still maintaining a high speed.
These athletes must spend hours upon hours training in their respective disciplines to hone their bodies to perform at the highest level possible. The work is grueling, tiresome and sometimes debilitating. It is very similar to the life that Christians live every day.
“Being an athlete of any kind takes a physical, emotional and physical strength, which are not unlike the tools you need to be a strong Christian,” said Robby Moseley, first-year graduate student in engineering and member of the California Baptist University men’s swim and dive team. “To be a strong Christian you need physical perseverance, mental strength and emotional and spiritual clarity. So, as an athlete, as someone dedicated to something, I think practicing dedication in another form helps my faith because it strengthens me and allows me to understand what it’s like to apply myself and what that looks like for me.”
While we are still on this earth, Christians have to persevere and struggle through the trials and tribulations of everyday life. While we are justified by Christ’s sacrifice and our sins are forgiven, we still must learn how to have faith through difficult circumstances.
For Christian endurance athletes, the athletic metaphors used in the New Testament have special meaning. They help them draw parallels between their work in athletics and how that helps their Christian faith.
“I think the metaphors show how everyone goes through struggles in their faith, so they just have to keep pushing through,” said John Sullivan, freshman chemical engineering major and member of the CBU men’s swim and dive team.