Home Menu

The Replacements

The world is set right again. The National Football League has settled a deal with the regular referees. Amazingly, this topic has taken a lot of the media’s attention recently. It has even crept into the everyday conversations of those who know nothing and care even less for football. If you don’t know about it, let me clue you in. The regular NFL football referees just started officiating though we are weeks into the new season. They have been on the sidelines…at the negotiating table with league representatives. In their place have been ‘replacement refs.’ The replacements have missed some pretty big calls and caused a lot of tension. Coaches, players, and fans alike have been hoping (and praying) that a deal would be reached.

Regular NFL referees have noted that the replacements are ill equipped to deal with the pace and complexity of the professional game, the nuances of the rules, and the speed of the players. This has led to overzealous penalty calls, wrong penalty calls, and sometimes no call at all. With ill-quipped referees, the game doesn’t go well for anyone.

I really enjoy watching football. The referee debacle has not affected my viewership. Rather than shouting at the replacement referees, I find myself having empathy for them. They often seem in over their heads. Deeper reflection about these replacement referees has stirred me theologically.

The referee’s purpose is to call procedural fouls, personal fouls, assess penalties, and keep the game fair and on time. Unfortunately, many Christians liken the role of the Holy Spirit to that of a referee. He is divine so he is not bothered by our complexity, speed, or the nuances of the rules. They consider him the best of the regular referees. The Holy Spirit calls fouls perfectly. He means to keep us in line so that we play the game fairly and in a timely manner. And He applies divine penalties. I believe this way of thinking reeks havoc on the everyday Christian life. It’s not true and it terrorizes the soul. God is always there… watching… waiting… looking for a foul, and ready to level a penalty.

Beyond making the Holy Spirit a ‘replacement’ referee in our lives, we do the same with ourselves, and others. We have a whole crew of ill-equipped replacement referees out to judge our performance and penalize us. Therefore, we often feel the stress of getting it perfect every day every play. If we’re not stressed it’s likely because we’ve simply given up. This approach does not permit a life characterized by love and freedom.

The reality is that the Holy Spirit is not a referee; replacement or otherwise. Likewise, we’re not meant to play referee in our life or the lives of others. The Holy Spirit convinces us of our righteousness (rightness), our worthiness and ability to play, based upon the finished work of Jesus. Jesus has given us his righteousness, and he desires that we live in and from it every moment. The Holy Spirit means to lead us into all truth. He compels us to live out who we truly are. This provision removes the need for a referee in the way that we typically think of one.

The Holy Spirit is more like an inner coach. He believes in us unconditionally. He knows us and knows the game. He leads and empowers us play by play despite any fouls we commit. This brand of coaching and guidance enables us to play freely without giving a thought to (regular or replacement) referees.

Listen closely for the coach, play hard, and enjoy the game.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. – Jesus, John 14:26

About the Author

Artie has been communicating God's grace in various contexts over the last fifteen years. His passion is similar to Bill and Anabel's in that he desires to communicate God's grace in a way that makes it easily applicable in everyday life.