Tonight marks the first National Championship Game in major college football’s new “playoff” system. The matchup features two national powers, the University of Oregon and Ohio State University. This may come as a mild shock to you, but I will not be playing in the game tonight. Instead, I’ll likely be at my home, sitting on my couch, eating chips and salsa and cheering for no one in particular.
Let’s imagine, though, for a moment, that the situation were a bit different. Let’s imagine that instead of sitting on my couch tonight, I was sitting in the stands at AT&T Stadium, where the game is being played. Let’s imagine that one of the teams’ starting quarterbacks goes down with a devastating injury early in the game, and for whatever reason, no backups are available on the bench. Let’s imagine that said team’s coach looks to the stands in desperation and eyes me. He points, calls me over, and says, “Alright, Todd, you’re my guy now. You’ve got to win this thing for us. Go!”
Setting aside the total absurdity of this scenario for a moment, let’s think together about how this would likely play out. I’ll give you a hint- Not well. Aside from the fact that I’m pretty sure my college eligibility expired almost a decade ago, I would be a complete and total failure in this role. It would honestly be impressive if I were able to complete even one pass. Even if I tried really, really hard, and wanted to succeed really, really bad, the fact remains that I don’t have what it takes within myself- not the talent, nor the experience, nor the preparation- to be a major college quarterback. All of the wishing, wanting, and hoping in the world can’t and won’t change that reality.
Now consider with me how this ridiculous little scenario connects to our ideas about following Jesus today. Often, we approach this relationship in one of two distinct ways. Some of us genuinely believe that if we simply try really hard and “want it enough,” we can perform well enough to please God and experience real transformation. Others of us, at the opposite extreme, are completely overwhelmed by the expectations of a holy God and consider such transformation to be utterly out of reach- and thus not worth our effort.
The former group has “hope,” but it is set in a woefully underqualified object; they think they can win on their own, but will soon find out how wrong they are. The latter group, on the other hand, has given up on hope altogether; they have accepted “losing” spiritually as a foregone conclusion, and live their lives accordingly. Neither of these approaches, though, aligns with the reality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This “too good to be true” news shouts to us that hope is real, and it is wholly, personally available to us. But at the same time, such hope cannot and will not ever be found in us “taking the field” and giving life our very best shot.
Instead, all of our hope- for right standing with God, for the practical transformation that such a standing brings, and for the full receiving of the reward of heaven one day– lies in the perfect performance of Jesus Christ on our behalf. That’s the clear, compelling, undeniably hopeful message of Romans 8:1- “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s goes on in 8:3-4 to tell us why and how this is so- “By sending (God’s) Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us…”
Here’s what God is teaching us so powerfully through Paul- In the “game” of life, you and I are completely out of our league…but we are not without hope. On our own, by our own performance, we have no hope; only the just condemnation of a holy God. But God, knowing this but loving us, has purposed that we don’t have to be on our own, setting our hope in our ability to perform. Instead, He has given us an eternal anchor of hope in His Son, Jesus Christ, who came “in the flesh” and lived perfectly and sinlessly, then died sacrificially in our place that we might “win” eternally.
In this way, Christian hope is far more than just wishful thinking; it is founded on actual, eternal substance. You can be right with God. You can begin to change today. You can look forward with expectation to a day when you’ll meet God face to face forever. All of that is true because Jesus “took the field” on their behalf and has now afforded His championship caliber righteousness to all who put their trust in Him.
Now it’s true that you and I do “take the field” each and every day and follow Jesus in the ins and outs of daily life. We do have an opportunity to participate practically in His work of transformation in and through us. But we do this in humble, grateful, obedient response to the work Jesus has already accomplished for us. In Him, we have something far better than “trying hard” and “wanting it bad”; we have hope for eternity that we can begin to taste this very day. That’s true victory, and I pray it’s yours- in Him- today.