U.S. gold medalist Simone Biles shocked the world last week when she withdrew from the women’s gymnastics competition at the Tokyo Olympics citing overwhelming mental stress from a watching world’s expectations of perfection.
Whatever you make of Biles’ decision—the most highly decorated female gymnast ever— to abdicate her throne as the greatest in the history of the sport, the more compelling observation seems to be how self-doubt can paralyze even the most dominant and accomplished athletes of all time.
Can you imagine training relentlessly nearly your entire life—sacrificing everything to hone your craft— while garnering top shelf accolades and awards at every level on the ladder en route to the pinnacle of your profession, only to discover that your moment to shine on the biggest stage was too big for you?
If the Olympics seems unrelated to your faith journey, think again. In many ways, the Tokyo scenario is, too often, analogous to the Christian life.
Consider this: when someone goes all in with God and surrenders his or her life to Jesus through repentance and faith, He provides everything they need to thrive and succeed in the life He created and purposed them for. You might even call this a Christian’s gold medal moment. Before you dismiss my proposition as outlandish or hyperbolic, ponder God’s promise in 2 Peter 1:3-8:
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence4by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue and virtue with knowledge, 6and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I will attempt to stick the landing of this Biblical passage for our lives. God’s perfect score is that when He rescues you from “the corruption that is in the world because of your sinful desire,” He sets you free from the bondage of sin. Instead of being a slave to your sinful desires, you become “partakers of the divine nature” because He “has granted to us His precious and very great promises.”
Consequently, when God adopts you into His family, you don’t have to wait until you arrive at your Heavenly home to experience His supernatural power and promise of eternal life. According to this passage, God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence.” This means that when God transforms you from the inside out, He also enables and empowers you to live for His glory this side of Heaven.
2 Peter 1 promises further that God endows His children with the following faith-enhancing attributes: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love.
These supernatural qualities are birthed out of the Holy Spirit’s presence in a Christian’s life. If you have been adopted into the family of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, then the Holy Spirit has taken residence in your heart, soul, mind and body. So, instead of wondering how much of the Holy Spirit does a Christian possess, the more profound question is how much of your life are you yielding to the authority and power of the Holy Spirit? Do you as God’s Word commands: “make every effort to supplement your faith” with God’s faith-building attributes.
A good way to evaluate how you are appropriating the power of the Holy Spirit in your life is by measuring your level of peace and contentment even in the face of difficulties. In Philippians 4:11-13, the Apostle Paul sets the gold standard for an attitude of gratitude and confidence in Christ:
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
How can Paul make this claim? Because he has had a lot practice enduring trials and tribulations. In 2 Corinthians 11, he references five different occasions when he was whipped with 39 lashes. He was beaten three times with rods and stoned once. Paul was shipwrecked three times and adrift at sea for more than 24 hours. And in every painful and perilous situation, he says that his relationship with Christ alone was enough for him to endure and overcome his challenges.
Paul’s declaration that he can do anything through Christ’s empowerment is often quoted by Christians today to support their own aspirational goals or dreams. But when this Scripture is applied in context, it means something different. For example, Paul makes this statement while imprisoned for preaching the Gospel thus showing that a Christ-follower’s resolve is less about achieving their own goals and more about persevering faithfully with Christ whatever the situation may be.
As our culture becomes increasingly hostile toward those who love God and strive to obey His Word, remember that Jesus warned His followers not to be surprised when the world hated them because they had hated Him first.
“These things I command you, so that you will love one another.18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:17-19)
So, when life seems too difficult or unfair, don’t despair. Instead, embrace your moment to shine as a world-class Christian and showcase God’s wonder-working power in your life. When people see how you live for Christ, and not just for yourself, the Ultimate Judge will be glorified by your obedience and faithfulness to His Word.