The new ad campaign from Nike has attracted an enormous amount of social media attention. Pictured in the ad is Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback who ignited a firestorm of controversy two years ago with his decision to kneel during the national anthem as a form of protest. Across Kaepernick’s face are printed the words, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
The ad immediately proved to be controversial, which was probably the intention all along. “No publicity is bad publicity” (or some variation thereof) is a common marketing axiom. Another is “better to be talked about negatively than ignored entirely.” Only time will tell whether the extra publicity Nike receives will outweigh the widespread criticism the ad has generated.
But let’s leave the pragmatic concerns—and the political considerations—aside for a moment. I’d like to comment instead on the slogan itself. “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” This advice will undoubtedly resonate with a large chunk of the populace. But should it?
The sentiment is common enough in our day. It goes like this: What really matters is the sincerity of your beliefs more than their “correctness.” After all, everyone has different perspectives on what constitutes correct or incorrect views. Who’s to say which views are right or wrong? So rather than focusing on correctness, let’s focus on sincerity. Sincerity is thus regarded as virtuous, regardless of the content of one’s beliefs. It’s a powerful distillation of the existentialist impulse, and a variation on the words of Shakespeare through the mouth of Polonius: “To thine own self be true.”
But as is so often the case, popular cultural impulses stand in stark contradiction to Biblical teaching. In a Biblical worldview, belief—however sincerely held or passionately defended—is only as valid as the object or person in which it is placed. When the Israelites repeatedly fell into apostasy and idolatry, the prophets castigated them, not because their beliefs were insincere but because they were wrong! Yahweh is the only God in existence, they argued, so idols are utterly impotent to answer prayers, perform miracles, or intervene in history. “They have no knowledge,” Isaiah wrote, “who carry the wood of their carved image, and pray to a god that cannot save” (Isa. 45:20).
Similarly, Paul insisted that faith in Christ is utterly useless and meaningless if Christ did not literally, historically, and physically rise from the dead. “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty . . . if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Cor. 15:17). In other words, it isn’t enough just to “believe in something.” It’s far more important to “believe in something true.” Sincerely held false beliefs are still false, even if everything is sacrificed for them.
This has a direct impact on the way we share our faith. Our message to the non-Christian world isn’t “you should believe the gospel because we do—sincerely, passionately, and sacrificially.” Rather, we proclaim “you should believe the gospel because it’s true.” Jesus really did die for our sins and rise from the grave, and His death and resurrection are the only basis on which we can receive pardon from a holy God and have peace and fellowship with Him.
At the end of the day, “believe in something” is terrible advice. Instead, we should endeavor always to believe in Jesus, trust in Jesus, depend on and cling to and follow after Jesus . . . even if it means sacrificing everything.
David Gunn is director of Regular Baptist Press.