Ethics & Christian living, Sport

The power of personal conviction

This Easter I read For the Glory, a biography of Eric Liddell by the brilliant sports writer, Duncan Hamilton.

Eric Liddell was the Scottish sprinter who famously refused to run in the 100m in the 1924 Olympics because the heats were on a Sunday.

Liddell was subject to severe ridicule for his stance from some of the most powerful people in the country. But he never wavered.  

Gold medal

He transferred to the 400m and despite little experience at this distance, won the Gold medal.  I was familiar with his story because of the Oscar-winning film, Chariots of Fire, but I knew little else about his life.

After his success, Liddell was feted by many of those who had criticized him. And he was offered a huge array of opportunities: endorsements, promotional tours and a comfortable job at Cambridge University. Especially in the US, his ‘brand value’ was huge. Fame and wealth was all served up to him on a plate.


But Liddell refused them all. Instead, he followed what he believed was God’s call: to go to China as a missionary.

To many, this decision was incomprehensible.  At that time China was politically volatile and highly risky, especially for the British whose imperial legacy was bitterly resented. Missionaries were regularly abducted and murdered.

Internment camp

In the 1930s, when the war between China and Japan intensified, Liddell’s wife and children went to Canada for safety. But Liddell remained and went to serve in some of the most dangerous territories. He was eventually forced into an internment camp.

While living the camp, many testimonies exist of his generosity and kindness. As well as preaching and teaching, Liddell organized games for children and shared his meagre rations with those in more need. He lived out his faith with incredible joy and generosity. Tragically, he became ill and died aged just 43.

Liddell had everything set up for a life of fame and comfort but he chose a very different path.

Radical steps

The apostle Paul was another who took decisive decisions to step away from where his social and religious pedigree could have taken him and instead take a radical steps to follow Jesus.

Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, written from prison, is one of my favourite books in the Bible. In chapter 3, Paul writes:

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him’ (3:7-9)


This turns the world’s wisdom on its head. The things that others would greatly value mean nothing – they are considered garbage – some translations say excrement! The language Paul uses is distinctively personal:

‘I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.’ (3:10)

Christian hope depends on the resurrection. If Jesus did not rise again then our faith is hopeless. But of course, this is no easy path.  Knowing his resurrection power involves participation in his sufferings – and even becoming like him in his death.

And these are not the words of an academic theologian, Paul’s commitment meant controversy, beatings, shipwrecks, arrests and imprisonment.

A different race

Martin Luther King, another frequently arrested Jesus-follower, said:

‘Christianity has always insisted that the cross we bear precedes the crown we wear.’

And this was the path that Eric Liddell took too. Armed with the hope of the resurrection, he exchanged the glory of athletic success for obedience to God. He kept running, but took part in a very different race – and lived out Paul’s sporting metaphor:

‘Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.’ (3:14)


Authentic faith is always personal, but never private.  Personal conviction is the engine room of social transformation.

So this Easter, what does God’s resurrection power mean for you personally? What do you need to let go of and what goal do you need to strain towards?

I was recently a guest on the Seasoned for Life podcast where I talk about homelessness, social action and faith.

6 thoughts on “The power of personal conviction”

  1. Thank you very much, Jon. I read Duncan Hamilton’s biography a few years ago, and marvelled at his ability to bring Eric Liddell to life, especially his internment under the Japanese. In fact I used the themes of this book for a whole term’s weekly assemblies at our local primary school. I may be wrong, but I think he writes as a non-Christian, but with an inspiring sensitivity towards Liddell’s beliefs and faith. As you will know, in internment he taught his fellow captives to treat the Japanese as those for whom Christ died. His heart and life were so deeply embedded in the Sermon on the Mount.


    1. Thanks Graham. Yes, I imagined that Liddell may have had a more ‘hardline’ kind of faith but as you say, the compassion and kindness is so palpable on almost every page. I have read a lot of Duncan Hamilton’s other sports biographies and I think you are right about how brilliantly he conveys Liddell’s faith. He is not a Christian as far as I know and I think the book perhaps benefits from this as it makes it more objective.


  2. “Authentic faith is always personal, but never private. Personal conviction is the engine room of social transformation.” Thank you for this. These are wayfarer words, so vital.

    Liked by 1 person

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