Every four years the lead up to the Olympic Games is marred by complaints by athletes who have failed to win selection for their events. Most unsuccessful athletes accept their exclusion on the grounds that other athletes outperformed them in the heats. But some express bewilderment or allege injustice over the selection process.
The prelude to the recent London Olympics was fairly quiet in Australia in this regard. There were a few complaints, to be sure, but not many. However, on some occasions in the past Australia has not fared so well.
The 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, for example, were preceded by numerous complaints about the selection process. Week after week the media broke stories of athletes who were confused and incensed about the nature and/or the application of the selection criteria.
One Queensland boxer, for example, believed that he was excluded from the Olympic team in reprisal for some petty misbehaviour at the previous Games. “Five boys I have beaten are going,” he said. “I am going to ask myself, ‘Could I have won a medal at the Olympic Games?’ It is always going to be in me.”
One West Australian gymnast was not allowed to enter the trials for the Olympics because she failed a skin-fold test (ie, a test for excess fat). She was allegedly given one week to lose the fat, which she did. Even so, she was still not permitted to compete. The director of the WA Institute of Sport told a reporter that officials wrongly applied the criteria, thereby denying the gymnast a fair and equal chance at selection.
Another West Australian athlete, a cyclist, was excluded from the Olympic team in spite of his exceptional speed. According to his coach, he was promised a place on the team if he recorded a time of one minute and five seconds. He performed better than this time, and yet he was not included. “In my opinion,” his coach said, “he was never given a fair look-in to gain selection.”
One Victorian marathon runner claimed that he, too, fell victim to unfair selection procedures. He apparently was told by officials that if he ran a marathon in under two hours and 14 minutes he would be given a place in the Australian marathon team. After clocking two hours and 12 minutes in a major international race, he was told that the entrance requirement was two hours and 11 minutes. “To me, selectors are just messing things up,” the runner said. “They are trying to set standards or certain rules but they are just not following it equally right through.”
These four athletes were typical of many more who believed (mistakenly or not) that they were unjustly denied the opportunity to compete in the Barcelona Games. The basis of their grievance was always the selection process. Some athletes felt that the selectors were biased or incompetent, while others felt that the selection conditions were arbitrary or ambiguous.
Sharing the athletes’ concerns, one lawyer claimed that reforms were needed to establish clear criteria for selection. “The problem is that [these athletes] don’t know what they have got to do to get selected,” he said.1
This confusion over criteria for selection is not confined to athletes and to sporting events. All areas of life, including the spiritual, require would-be participants to meet certain conditions of entry. The difficulty is first to find out what they are and then to fulfil them.
Although only a few people face selection for the Olympics, all people face selection for “Olympia”. And yet, like the Australian athletes of 1992, only more tragically, many people do not know what they have got to do to get selected. They implicitly understand that Almighty God will judge them in the end and that his judgment will determine whether or not they enter heaven. But they do not clearly understand God’s selection criterion.
Thankfully, the entrance requirement to God’s kingdom is plainly stated in God’s Word, the Bible. It is the same for every person on earth and it never varies. It is administered by the Righteous Judge, who applies it rigorously and impartially to all. But before we note what it is, we should note what it is not.
We cannot gain eternal life by our own efforts. Being christened or confirmed or baptised are not what God requires. Taking Holy Communion or going to confession or attending church are not part of his selection criterion. Performing rituals or abstaining from pleasures or pursuing noble things is not part of his qualification. Donating money or sacrificing time or doing good deeds will not satisfy his entrance requirement. The Bible classes all of these things as works—works aimed at satisfying moral or ritual law—and states that “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law” (Romans 3:20).
What, then, does God require of us in order that we might qualify to enter his eternal kingdom? The answer is: belief, or faith, in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead for our salvation. Belief is the sole selection criterion, and it is plainly revealed in the Bible. Indeed, such is God’s desire that all people should understand his entrance requirement that he states it over and over again throughout the Bible. Here are just a few examples from the New Testament:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:36)
“For my Father’s will is that every-one who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40)
“[E]veryone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)
“‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’”. (Acts 16:30-31)
“[I]f you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
“[A] man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 2:16)
Christian belief involves repenting of our sins, trusting in Jesus as our Saviour, and submitting to him as our Lord. Such belief, such trusting and entrusting, is the sole entrance requirement for heaven and it is a requirement that all people can meet, if only they will. God urges all people everywhere: Don’t miss out. Believe and qualify today.
1. Quotes and details concerning the athletes come from Janine Cohen’s article, “Sue for Gold”, in The Bulletin, 28 July 1992, pp.32-34.