In his massive Christian Theology, Millard Erickson notes that the first effect of sin on one’s relationships with other people is competition. Erickson is clearly referencing something bigger than competitive sports but his point seems appropriate, nonetheless.
With the American football season upon us, I wanted to briefly explore the legitimacy of competitive sports for Christians. Are competitive sports sinful?
1. Is competition sinful?
Yes and no.
Yes. It depends who you are competing against. Anytime you are doing something merely to prove your superiority, you are basing your identity on the need to win. You are, in essence, worshiping yourself when you are trying to prove your value and self-worth by validating your dominance.
No. Self-competition that promotes humble excellence can be positive. Some people are never satisfied with their abilities, appearance, or the like. Discontentment is as much a sin as arrogance. Pursuing excellence and pushing yourself to the limit can be a very healthy activity. Many people learn a lot about their inabilities and abilities by attempting difficult and challenging things.
2. Are competitive sports sinful?
Like most things, competitive sports can be used as an opportunity for sin and might even tend to promote sinful behavior when they overemphasize proving one’s superiority. However, competitive sports are not, by default, sinful. I think it is important to keep score in many games to maintain an objective grasp on reality. The better team should, all things being equal, win the game. Without a score a team is unable to fully evaluate their performance to ensure they are giving maximum effort.
Anytime winning, however, becomes attached to one’s value then sin has taken hold. Whether a team wins is of no consequence as long as everyone involve is giving maximum effort.