Controversy. It follows National Football League (NFL) players like a brand new puppy follows a new Alpha human. Some NFL characters seem to gravitate to controversy while others simply find themselves in situation after situation they cannot avoid.
Take New York Giants' wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (OBJ). Last year he was making headlines for his spat with the President. This year headlines are about his baptism. Jeannie Law, a reporter for the Christian Post, wrote that Beckham had been baptized in the Jordan River while on a tour of attractions in Israel.
Your first response is probably something akin to, "I'll believe it when I see it." Great point. Seeing is believing, but should we wait to see before we believe? In John, Jesus said, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (20:29, NIV). Believe me, I understand your lack of faith in the conversion of someone as controversial as OBJ. Seriously, as noted earlier, last year he was shown on live national television "urinating" like a dog in response to a comment made by President Trump. Now, he gets baptized in the Jordan, hashtags #ImForgiven, and captions pictures from Israel with "fresh start." To his Instagram followers, he said "I couldn't of asked for anything more!!!!. God I can't thank u enough for this one. My journey is just beginning...," [sic].
Despite the Giants' football player we all know, that sounds like something anyone of us has said upon accepting Christ as our savior.
This raises an excellent question. How do we, as Christians, know OBJ's conversion is for real, not just an attempt to take the heat off the many questionable things he has done in the past, including current charges of assault? Well, you are not going to like my answer.
It is none of our business.
God never ever gives you or me the authority, responsibility, or the permission to judge anyone else's heart. OBJ is not a preacher, a teacher, or a deacon. He is a football player. Sure, he is now professing to be a Christian and he is on the national stage, but he is not founding a church or even filling a leadership position within a congregation that would require his actions to be accountable to a pastor.
A better question is what should the actions of any Christian, OBJ included, look like?
To answer that, we turn to Galatians chapter five:
"The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other." (Gal 5:19-26, NIV)
Galatians separates the "acts" of the flesh from the "fruit" of the Spirit. Why? Because we are human and our flesh is corrupt. Until the day we are called home, we still have the ability to choose sin over righteousness.
"I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature." (Rom 7:15-18, NIV)
Ok, but getting past the fact that we have neither the right nor the ability to question OBJ's conversion, what should we expect to see of anyone professing to be a Christian?
As we learned in Galatians, we should first see love, joy and peace, followed by patience, kindness and goodness, and culminating in faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Any new Christian converted out of a life of sin will have to grow in the Sprit, which is why you see the progression of fruit. Although I will not say "God will never _____", rarely will a drug addicted biker transition straight to a faithful Christian with full self-control. Even Paul struggled with self-control, as we saw in Romans, and by any account Paul was a real Christian.
Now, let's take a moment to examine each of the fruits:
Love, Joy, Peace. With the true change of heart and inflowing of the Holy Spirit, a new Christian will show a love that may have been absent. He will start finding joy even in sorrow because he now realizes God is in control of everything. This will lead to a peace about his life and place in this world, and everything that happens around him. Sure, this new Christian will still commit acts of the flesh, but those acts will decrease as the fruit of the Spirit grows – along with new understanding and Godly desires.
Patience, Kindness, Goodness. It is no coincidence scripture lists the next three together, because to begin displaying patience, kindness, and goodness, a Christian must first carry love, joy, and peace in his or her heart. Think about it for a minute. How do you show kindness to someone who may be less than deserving, without drawing on the love of God? Of course, someone may be patient or kind by nature, but if she did not show such characteristics before being saved, we should see her display these more as she grows in Christ.
Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control. These last three are the toughest. Faithfulness to God's word and His precepts is not a common thread among sinners. Neither is gentleness toward someone normally undeserving. I already mentioned the difficulties of self-control, especially when tempted or tested by Satan. These last three characteristics, when accompanied by many of the other six, are some of the best indications someone has truly accepted Christ as savior.
It is likely the answer to what we should expect to see of anyone professing Christian faith is obvious by this point. Or, as James 3:1-12 says, actions speak louder than words.
As far as OBJ, please do not be like the original Nazarenes, about whom Jesus said, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home." (Mark 6:4, NIV)
So join me in welcoming OBJ to the Christian fold and praying he, like the seed that falls upon good soil, is protected, watered, and produces fruit one hundred fold (Matt 13:1-23).
– Mark Klages is an influential contributor, a former US Marine and a lifelong teacher who focuses on applying a Christian worldview to everyday events. Mark blogs at https://maklagesl3.wixsite.com/website under the title "God Provides where Hate Divides," with a heart to heal social, political, relational, and intellectual wounds through God's divine love and grace. Mark can also be found on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-klages-04b42511/.