Michael Phelps Isn't Fully Michael Phelps

By Matthew Lautz

“With humans it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Matthew 19:26

I was watching an interview with Michael Phelps the other day where he was talking about his experience going through rehab.  Michael Phelps, if you don’t know, is the most decorated olympian of all time, having earned 22 medals in three olympics.  But he’s also known for struggling with drugs and alcohol, and having been suspended from competition in 2014-15.  As a result, Phelps spent a number of weeks in a drug treatment program in the middle of the Arizona desert. 

And now he’s back and ready for Rio, which kicks off this weekend.  Phelps will be the U.S. team’s flag-bearer during the opening ceremony on Friday, with his likely dominance in the pool to follow. 

But during that interview, I was most struck when he said that he wasn’t operating at 100 percent when he won all those medals.  The most decorated olympian in history saying that he wasn’t 100 percent when he won.  He talked about all the distractions and things in his life that took his focus away.  Imagine if he was 100 percent.  Would 22 medals be 25?  Maybe all 22 would be gold?

Michael Phelps knew that he had failed to live up to his potential.  Why?  Because he got in the way of himself.  In a way, this is what sin is.  Sin keeps us from living up to our full potential.

Think of this famous verse from Paul’s letter to the Romans: “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

What does that mean?

It means that we haven’t lived up to our potential.  None of us have.  We have all fallen short.

I remember one summer in middle school I was trying out for a baseball team.  I don’t know what got into me, but during the tryout I was more confident on the field than I had ever been.  I was fielding balls, making throws, hitting the ball, and doing it better than anyone else.  The coach came up to me and was like, “Who are you?”, as if I had come out of nowhere?  That day I realized my potential.  I was a really good ball player.  But over the course of the season, my confidence wained.  I began missing ground balls and making bad throws.  I was inconsistent and error prone.  By the end of the season I was reduced to the role of pinch hitter, a substitute.  I had failed to live up to my potential.  I had fallen short.  I knew what I was capable of, but I just couldn’t rise to the level.

Do you know what human potential is?  Do you know what you are capable of?  I think we all get glimpses of it.  We see hints of our perfect selves.  We know of the goodness that is inside of us, that deep down we long to be good and not evil.  But at the same time, that perfection feels fully unattainable.  We can see it, but it’s just out of our reach.

But it’s not out of God’s reach.  God, who created us and gave us that potential, is able to help us live up to that potential.  That’s who Jesus was.  God came down as a man to demonstrate the full capacity of humanity.  Jesus is everything that we are capable of being.  The only difference is that while we fail, he succeeds.  Why?  

Because Jesus is God and is without sin.

Sin is what prevents us from being our utmost.  Sin was what kept Michael Phelps from being 100 percent Michael Phelps.  And it’s what keeps you from being 100 percent you.  But Jesus offers a solution.

Jesus says, “Put your faith in me, and my 100% will become your 100%.”  This is the gift of God’s grace.  Jesus’ realized potential becomes your realized potential.

If you know that there is a good and loving person inside of you that just can’t seem to break out, then the only way you can get there is through faith in Jesus, because for you it is impossible, but for God, nothing is impossible.