“Jesus came to the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to his own people, but his own people did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” (John 1:1-13)
With the passing of Muhammad Ali, and as always, social media is filled with platitudes like ‘He’s in a better place now,’ ‘R.I.P.,’ and ‘another legend passes.’ It’s as if we get social street cred for saying such things. I’ll be the first to admit that I love boxing. I loved watching him box. I loved his poetic bragging. I loved watching him dance around the ring.
Whenever someone of Ali’s stature passes, the world lauds their accomplishments and reminisces on how many lives they ‘touched’ etc. For the most part, the time of a famous person’s death is followed by a mass celebration of their lives.
Inevitably, some Christians will want to, or presume to know, how his ‘walk with God was.’ They will want to, or presume to know, if he ever ‘repented’ or was ‘saved,’ or if he ever ‘received Jesus.’ Analyzations will be made, commentaries will be given, and arguments will ensue.
Is Muhammad Ali with God now, or is he in the other place? Will we ‘see him in heaven?’ Of course, and not just with Muhammad Ali, but with any person of note, those sorts of questions always come up. In Muhammad Ali’s case, he was a self proclaimed Muslim. For most Christians, that’s a deal breaker.
As I have already seen this afternoon, one comment on Facebook read this way;
Ali had an tested IQ of 78, which is considered a borderline mental disability.
If you read his life story, his religious views changed every time there was a change in leadership in the Nation of Islam.
The leaders of the NOI manipulated a mentally disabled man to say what they wanted him to say. This is a heinous sin, but it is not Ali’s sin. It is the sin of those who manipulated him.
A loving God does not lock the gate when a person with a good heart approaches the Kingdom, even if that person’s mind was misguided and manipulated in life. At the sight of Yeshua, clouded minds will clear, and all that will be left is what is in the heart. Those who are pure of heart will run towards Him and He will embrace them. Those with blackened hearts will be repulsed at Yeshua’s love and goodness, and will voluntarily jump into the fiery pit.
Here’s where it gets complicated. Was Ali deceived? Was he truly incapable of understanding the gospel clearly enough to receive Jesus, or did he simply and outrightly reject Him? What happens to those disabled minds who ‘never really receive Christ?’ What happens to those who through ‘no fault of their own,’ never repent and believe? Or, does such a person exist?
Some would say that ‘everyone eventually get’s saved.’ Others would vehemently disagree. After all, Jesus did say that ‘you shall know them by their fruit,’ (Matthew 7:16) right? Was Ali fruitful? While I think we can and should know people by their fruit and examine both the actions of living and the dead, I am not so sure that we should so easily make declarations concerning their eternal state.
When it comes to sharing the gospel, only 11%, on average, of church members say they do it. Is there an urgency to getting the gospel to people without it? Yes. Unfortunately, while most would agree, their very lives are a contradiction. Whenever someone dies, someone of stature, we should perhaps look to our own lives first. We should examine our own hearts and see if we’ve repented and believed, or if we have born, or are bearing fruit. Maybe then we would not be so quick to make rash judgments and not let our theology be determined by fervor.
A couple of things in the verses above;
I find it interesting that the scriptures use the word ‘receive’ instead of ‘accept.’ No, I don’t think it is semantics. I think it makes a huge difference. Secondly, ‘ to all those who did receive Him’ He gave them THE RIGHT to become children of God.’ It’s clear from this text that not all are children of God. There is a giving of this right by none other than God himself. There is a difficult interplay between the choice of people (free will), and the privilege (right) Given by God. No, I do not wish to initiate the endless debate between Calvinism and Arminianism here.
Regardless, the scripture talks about those who receive Christ and His gospel and those who reject Him and His gospel. (Acts 13:46) (Acts 2:41) The scripture talks about the unrepentant and the rebellious. (Romans 2:5) (Ezekiel 2:7) The scripture talks about being with God and not being with God. (Romans 6:5) (Ephesians 2:12) It talks about being separated and being united with God. (Isaiah 59:2) (Philippians 2:1) Not everyone is a ‘child of God’ in John’s sense of the words. Not everyone has the right to claim that they are a child of God.
Lastly, the receiving of Christ, the believing in Him is not by unaided human decision or sheer willpower. People don’t muster up a belief in God. It’s not by inheritance or made valid by cultural influence. It can not be thrust upon by others. Belief is ‘born of God.’ (John 1:13)
Having a ‘good heart,’ or ‘being a good person’ is not what gives one the right to become a child of God. It’s sobering to reflect on Ali’s life, the things he has said, his ‘sin,’ and great things he accomplished, but at every point, and likewise, I look inward too. Do I act like a person who has received Christ? Will people say of me that ‘he’s in a better place now,’ or ‘I wonder if I’ll see him in heaven?’ or maybe even point out my sins and declare my citizenship and permanent residence in hell? Who knows?
I can only hope, pursue, and persist while I can, share the good news to all that I can, and hope that God gives me the strength to live it. May the God of grace and peace guide you all.