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For several years in a row, Pittsburgh Steelers NFL quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s offseason news stories were quite troubling. Negative reports included two accusations of sexual assault, a motorcycle wreck, and involvement in some controversial situations. Ben seemed to be reckless in his lifestyle, perplexing his fans who had perceived Big Ben to be a guy who “had it all” as is often said about the rich and famous professional athlete. But it wasn’t true in Ben’s life. He was lacking. 

Confession of Sin and His Humanity

After his injury last year, Ben was planning a comeback. He spoke about it and his faith at a Christian virtual conference in Pittsburgh saying: 

“People don’t realize all the time that us athletes, we’re human. We sin like everybody else. I am no different. We make mistakes. We get addicted to things. We sin. We’re human. I think sometimes we get put on this pedestal where we can’t make mistakes. I’ve fallen as short as anybody. I’ve been addicted to alcohol. I’ve been addicted to pornography, which makes me then not the best husband, not the best father, not the best Christian I can be.”

https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/29355047/steelers-ben-roethlisberger-says-faith-helped-deal-field-addiction-issues

Courageously proclaiming his human condition, Ben Roethlisberger told the world that he sins like everyone else. Christians who know the Word of God realized that Romans 3:23 (ESV) confirms Roethlisberger’s assertion: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Some people mistakenly assume that Christians have the attitude that they are perfect and better than everyone else. But Roethlisberger is saying the opposite of that: he is a Christian and he still struggles as the rest of us do. Christians are saved from the punishment due them because of their sins and yet the presence of indwelling sin is still in the flesh and must be put-off and crucified by every believer.

Ben Roethlisberger is not only stating that he is a Christian but also confessing his sin for the world to scrutinize. Putting your problems in the public eye is difficult to do; especially when the platform is as large as Roethlisberger’s. It seems counterproductive for him to confess his sins publicly, but I believe his words convey the genuineness of his repentance. His sins have been forgiven by the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. While the world may continue to watch to see if Ben falls again, the Christian world recognizes that even though he will be tempted to please his flesh’s heart desires again and again until he dies, he has the power of the Holy Spirit living inside of him to say “no” to sin and “yes” to obedience to His Father in heaven.

Addiction Issues Are Sinful–Not a Disease

The Pittsburgh quarterback calls his problems “sin” which is important to note. He owns up to his sin issues and doesn’t try to blame his actions on someone or something else outside of his control. He doesn’t state that addiction is a disease or a disorder, but instead he calls it sin. This message is compatible with the Bible’s view of drunkenness and idolatry as sinful issues of the heart. The absence of calling his issues a “disease” is a welcomed absence to my ears. Roethlisberger’s descriptions of his actions as choices, volitional mistakes, and sin shows me that he has not believed in the theory of addiction as a disease and encourages me that he has taken personal responsibility for his choices.

The message of the Gospel is that the grace of God helps you to battle and overcome your addiction by the power of the Holy Spirit working inside of you if you are a born again believer in Jesus Christ. Everyone, whether Christian or not, can struggle with addictive heart issues that tempt you to make selfish choices to pursue your drug or pleasure of choice. No one is immune to the temptation to sin and everyone needs a Savior for sins committed past, present, and even those committed in the future. Thankfully His grace is available to everyone who believes. Amazing grace indeed! 

If Ben had called his addiction issues a disease, then he would not have needed the forgiveness of Christ. Diseases don’t require the forgiveness of God. So the message that you hear from Ben Roethlisberger is that you don’t have to hide your sin but you can confess it and repent. This truth is found in Proverbs 28:13: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (ESV). Mercy is when what you deserve is withheld from you, so the promise from God to the confessing and repenting addict is that God will not give you the eternal punishment that you deserve when you trust in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. 

Trusting God Through Suffering as a Believer

At the ManUp Pittsburgh virtual event, Ben Roethlisberger talked about how his plans in the previous offseason were to get back on the football field, win a Super Bowl, prove everyone wrong, and give God the glory. His thoughts about the way he was going to glorify God were derailed by what God had planned — a season-ending injury in the second game of the season. Proverbs 19:21 (ESV) declares: Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. Ben realized that God had a different plan and that he needed to accept God’s will as better. Sometimes a Christ-follower’s plans to glorify God are really more self-glorifying than one might realize. I don’t know Ben’s heart, but it’s not uncommon for us believers to seek to do things that make us shine brighter than the Lord. Nevertheless, I was grateful to read Ben’s comments that he had accepted his injury as the Lord’s will and that it must be good. That proper perspective demonstrates a spiritually maturing believer in Christ.

Christians must learn to be thankful for the experiences of trials because God uses that suffering to bring about His glory and good character growth for the follower of Christ and countless other good results as we trust Him through the pain of living in a fallen world. Roethlisberger stated that he was thankful for his season-ending injury because he grew in his relationship with God during this trial. He was also thankful that this crisis didn’t happen earlier in his career because his faith wouldn’t have been as strong. 

Conclusion

I have never met Ben Roethlisberger and admittedly, I am limited to basing my commentary on what was quoted and reported in the articles I read about him. But from the quotes I read, I see Ben’s heart transforming from the young, immature star quarterback who began his professional career with offseason scandals and reckless reports to the older, wiser, and more mature quarterback nearing the end of a Hall of Fame career. It was encouraging to read that Ben is taking responsibility for his actions, recognizing his sin and need for a Savior, and growing in his love for his wife and children. I have been a fan of Big Ben the football player because he played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team that was made up of some of my favorite players of the 1970’s: Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Franco Harris, “Mean Joe” Greene, and Terry Bradshaw.  Now I can be a fan of Big Ben the Christian man because of the family into which he has now been adopted — the family of God.

Hear Dr. Mark Shaw talk more about this topic in Episode #53 of The Addiction Connection Podcast