The Super Bowl of the Soul
Dr. Jim Denison
Last year’s Super Bowl was watched by 127.5 million people, and the game the year before by 130,754,000. The ten most watched programs of all time are nine Super Bowls and the women’s skating final of the 1994 Winter Olympics, oddly enough. Companies will pay $2.3 million per ad for this weekend’s game.
Now, answer quickly: who won last year’s Super Bowl? Who lost? By how much?
Can you name the last ten Super Bowl Most Valuable Players? Did you know that Ottis Anderson, Mark Rypien, Larry Brown, and Desmond Howard are on the list?
Which do you remember more, the players or the commercials? If I never hear “Whassup?” again it will be too soon.
Super Bowl fame is fleeting, indeed. Our worth is not our work, no matter how visible and famous it is.
We’re exploring personal issues in light of God’s great commandments and great commission, his priorities and purpose for our lives. We began by discussing self-esteem problems and praying Jabez’s prayer of audacious blessing. Let’s continue by tackling the whole issue of worth vs. work, of finding our identity in our performance, our vocations, our work.
Today God wants to convince you that you are not what you do. Let’s see why, and why that fact matters so much to our lives.
In every great movement, there comes a crisis point—a fork in the road, a crisis which determines what the future will be, a “Super Bowl” which decides everything. In the recent presidential election, it was Florida. In Texas history, it was the Alamo and San Jacinto. In World War II, it was Normandy.
Always, there is this crisis point which determines the future.
The Christian “Super Bowl” came early in our faith history, but the game is still being played today.
The problem is known to scholars as the Judaizers. In brief, the question was, how are we to reconcile Christianity and Judaism?
So long as only Jews were becoming Christians, there was no problem. But when Paul began preaching the gospel to the hated Gentiles, they came to Christ without first becoming Jews. And this was a big problem. This seemed a denial of the very heritage of the Jewish faith, and of all that is holy and right.
So the “Judaizers” proposed this simple solution: Gentiles can become Christians, if they will first become Jews.
A Gentile would become a Jewish proselyte and be circumcised as proof of his conversion. Then he would receive Christian baptism. In this way he would keep the Jewish law as a precondition to receiving Christian salvation.
As a result, they argued, Gentiles around the world would affirm the historic achievements and heritage of Judaism and build a bridge to its followers. What could be wrong with this?
It was this very idea which had now taken hold in the churches of Galatia. Paul founded churches in modern-day mainland Turkey, on his first missionary journey. There were now Gentile converts in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and other towns all over this part of the world.
And the Judaizers followed Paul into these churches and said, “It’s wonderful that you have become Christians. But you’ve left out the necessary first step. You must become Jews, then you can become Christians. You must be circumcised and keep the law, then you can come to Jesus by grace.”
What if they had won the day?
Christianity would have become just another branch of Judaism, like Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox today. We would be keeping Jewish rituals today, not practicing Christian worship.
And even more important, the whole idea of salvation by grace through faith would be lost. The gospel is clear: “whosoever believes in Jesus shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16); “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
If we must do the works of Judaism to be saved, we lose our free salvation in Jesus. If we must do religious works, we no longer have a religion of grace. We are saved by what we do, not by what Jesus has done. We become what we do. And as Paul says, then “Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21).
But the Galatian Christians had fallen for this heresy. Nothing less than the future of the Christian idea and movement was at stake. This was the “Super Bowl” of ancient Christianity. Thus our vivid, tempestuous letter to the churches of Galatia—probably the first New Testament letter ever to be written. And with it came God’s solution to work-based worth, a solution which still works today.
Could I suggest to you that we need that solution still? That we are plagued by an identity of works, of self-sufficiency and self-justification, a way of life which says that we are what we do, our worth is our work?
Let’s see if this is so for us today.
The Minirth-Meier clinic calls drivenness to perform “the most prominent emotional illness of the 1990s.” Their book, We Are Driven, defines the problem this way: “Drivenness is an insatiable drive to do more and be more. It’s a drive that may be masked by charitable and positive motives, but in reality originates in deep, perhaps even unconscious, feelings of inadequacy and shame” (p. 6). Their picture for such drivenness is telling: riding a bike without a chain.
Do any of these words describe you: uptight, stressed, anxious, achieving, driven, perfectionistic, performance-centered? They’ve all described me in the past. I know the feeling.
Dr. David Seamands, a Methodist missionary and counselor, has spent his life ministering to performance-driven people. He has identified typical symptoms. See if any of this sounds familiar: a continuous sense of guilt, condemnation, and the judgment and disapproval of God; a sense of worthlessness, with feelings of low self-esteem and recurring inward assaults of self-belittling and even self-despising; a sense of phoniness and unreality, a feeling of being an empty fake; negative emotions, especially anxiety and anger, which result in irrational fears, smoldering resentments, outbursts of rage, excessive mood swings and depression; and difficulties with interpersonal relationships, especially where intimacy is involved (Freedom from the Performance Trap, 16-9).