Question: To what extent can a serious Christian be involved in leisure sports and activities?
In order to answer this question, I think we need to define what a “serious Christian” is. A “serious Christian” is someone who has obeyed Jesus’ call in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.”
To be honest, I’m not sure that there is such thing as a “non-serious Christian.” There is, however, a range of maturity that exists between spiritual babyhood and spiritual adulthood. A spiritually immature Christian is one who knows little of God and little of how loving God and loving others impacts all of their life. A mature Christian is one whose love for God and others shapes all of his or her life.
A second consideration is the fact that there are Christians of multiple ages. I became a Christian in first grade at the age of six. My commitment to Christ has never wavered since that point in my life. I obeyed Paul’s call to present myself a living sacrifice to God at the age of 12. Again I have never backed down from that commitment.
Between the ages of six and 18 physical education, sports, and leisure activities played important roles in my character formation, physical maturation, and interpersonal skills development. To say that a serious Christian should not be involved in leisure sports and activities would be to seriously stunt these areas of development in children and developing adults.
After entering college and graduate school, I learned that physical exercise was an essential component of stewarding the body God had given me. When I failed to exercise regularly and to take time to divert my mind from the intense work of study, I found that my level of mental acuity decreased noticeably, and my ability to perform the responsibilities God had given me also diminished accordingly.
In the midst of Jesus’s heaven-sent mission, he said to his disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). As the One whose meat and drink was to do the will of the Father (John 4:34), who only did what He saw the Father do (John 5:19), and who always did those things that pleased the Father (John 8:29), it must be the case that it was the Father’s will for Jesus to take time away from ministry.
It must be the case that Jesus saw the Father resting (e.g., Gen. 2:3; Heb. 4:10). It must be the case that it pleased the Father for Jesus to take time to rest and rejuvenate.
As I have matured both as a person and as a Christian I have learned that Spirit-led balance is the key to a God-pleasing life. My primary responsibilities must be met: my relationship with God with my wife, with my children, and then my work-related responsibilities. In order to meet those responsibilities, I find that I must take time to exercise as well is time to pray.
There need be no disharmony between bodily exercise and spiritual exercise. The mature Christian recognizes the appropriate balance between these two (1 Tim. 4:8).
So, the issue is not whether Jesus or John Wesley would have played golf. The issue is whether this the way Spirit wants me to use His life in me, His time, and His money? When the answer is yes, we like Jesus will be doing the thing that pleases God. And, I think, we can expect the Spirit’s direction to change in this area as the seasons of life change.
Originally published in the Ministry Library of God’s Bible School & College.