Guest Post - Dr. Jim Denison
Deshaun Watson has been suspended for six games: The chasm between religion and relationship
NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson was baptized in the Jordan River in 2019; videos and photos of the event quickly went viral. He has been very open about his Christian faith over the years and stated in a 2015 tweet, “My loyalty is to Jesus Christ!”
None of that, however, is why he is in the headlines today.
Watson, now playing for the Cleveland Browns, was suspended yesterday for six games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The ruling followed a fifteen-month investigation into allegations that he had engaged in sexually coercive and lewd behavior toward more than two dozen women he hired for massages from the fall of 2019 through March 2021.
Sue L. Robinson, the retired federal judge appointed by the NFL and the players union to oversee the hearing, stated in her ruling yesterday that Watson’s conduct was “predatory” and “egregious” and said he had not expressed remorse. Watson has denied the claims and has settled with all but one of the twenty-four women who filed civil lawsuits against him. Grand juries in two Texas counties declined to charge him criminally.
However, what you and I think of Deshaun Watson is not my point today. Rather, it is to note that, due to the horrific epidemic of public moral failures among public Christians, all believers are now “guilty until proven innocent” in the eyes of our skeptical culture. The abuse scandals that have rocked the church have devastated our witness and crippled any moral authority we had left in our secularized society.
Before we can rebuild a crumbling cathedral, however, we must first understand what caused it to collapse.
“The mightiest force that man has at his command”
According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, all people need to find community, feel affirmed by others, gain mastery of their lives, and achieve self-esteem. Religion can meet each of these needs effectively.
When you join a church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious group, you immediately find community with like-minded people. The more active you are in your religion, the more other religious people will affirm you. Most religions operate with routines and utilize practices you can learn to master. The more religious you become, the more self-esteem you will likely experience as you feel yourself closer to “God” or whatever “higher power” you worship.
Advocating for religion in American life, President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower therefore stated in December 1952, “Our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.” He declared two years later, “Faith is the mightiest force that man has at his command. It impels human beings to greatness in thought and word and deed.”
“Found difficult and left untried”
To repeat, religion offers affirmation, community, mastery, and self-esteem. By contrast, an intimate, transformational relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ initially offers just the opposite.
Those who would follow Jesus must be “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20) and “deny himself and take up his cross daily” (Luke 9:23). They must be “born again” personally in an experience no community can offer (John 3:3). They must give up mastery of themselves to their Master as a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1) in total submission to his Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Rather than pursuing self-esteem, they must “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
G. K. Chesterton was right: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”
But here’s the point: an intimate, transformational relationship with Jesus Christ is our only hope for the kind of moral awakening our culture desperately needs. It is no surprise that religion cannot make us better people. We are not good people who do bad things—we are bad people who do good things. David’s story is ours: “I was brought forth in iniquity” (Psalm 51:5). Scripture states, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10), for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (v. 23).
Nothing humans can do—even religious rituals, traditions, and practices—can change human hearts. Our sins can be forgiven only by a sinless Savior (Hebrews 4:15–16). Our debt can be paid only by One who owes no debt of his own (cf. Colossians 2:14). When we confess our sin with repentant contrition, then and only then can we become the children of God (John 1:14), a “new creation” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
“The greatest romance”
Now, here’s the amazing irony and paradox of today’s conversation: when we become the children of God, we experience affirmation, community, mastery, and self-esteem we can find nowhere else. We are affirmed and loved unconditionally by the God of the universe. We are included in his eternal family. We are empowered to gain mastery over sin and self by the Spirit of God. We experience transforming self-esteem as people loved passionately by the One who “is love” (1 John 4:8).
This is why our Father longs for a truly intimate relationship with you and me today. He made us for himself and yearns for us to experience the life-changing, culture-transforming “fruit” of his Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23).
He grieves when our Sunday worship is less than an authentic experience in which we are truly awed by God (cf. Isaiah 6:1–7). He is saddened when we read his word but do not listen for his voice and thus are no different when we end our Bible study than when we began. He is calling us to settle for nothing less than daily intimacy with the Almighty that transforms our lives and catalyzes true spiritual awakening.
St. Augustine claimed, “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.”
Do you agree?
NOTE: For more on today’s theme, please see my latest website article, “Organized retail crime and the peril of self-reliance.”