As the final chapter is closed on the life of icon Mohammed Ali, the question remains in many minds, “Did he go to heaven?”
Is the answer obvious because he was such a goodwill ambassador and did so many good things? Is it insensitive to consider a person’s salvation after they die? Should we embrace the thinking that “God is a God of love and therefore never sends anybody to hell?”
I try to be compassionate in responding to people’s inquiries. Matters like this should ultimately be left to a loving, just and holy God. Yet none of us are left in the dark as to God’s plan of salvation revealed clearly in scripture.
“I don’t believe in a literal hell and I don’t believe God sends anyone there!” is a common refrain. It is ironic that some of these same people turn around and tell others, “Go to hell!” or say, “I hope you rot in hell.”
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Contrary to what many believe, hell is real and Jesus Christ warned of it and how to avoid it. He also taught that it was not created for man but “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41).
Here’s the deal: God sends no one to hell. He sent his Son to redeem us from this horrific plight and to this day sends messengers sharing the gospel to rescue people from this possibility. Those who refuse His gift, sad to say, suffer the consequences of their willful rejection.
Jesus Himself told a sincere religious man this easy-to-understand reality regarding our eternal destiny when a leader came to Him in the secrecy of night. His words are plain and simple.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned, But he who does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (Jn.3:16-18).
In other words, all of us have sinned and deserve the penalty for our actions before a holy God. Loving us immensely, God provided a pardon through His sinless Son crucified on the cross in our place, receiving the judgment we deserved. He freely offers us forgiveness and redemption. He “does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
When a person repents and puts his trust in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, believing in His finished work on his behalf (not our own good works which have no merit in gaining salvation, no matter how impressive or widespread they may be), a person is saved!
When people are well known for their charitable and benevolent activity, this one is probably hardest to swallow! But if we can save ourselves by our good works, why do we need a Savior?
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves. It is the gift of God not of works, so that no one should boast” (Eph.2:8-9).
Good works and charitable activity result as proof of a genuine conversion to Christ. It’s the fruit, not the root, of a life transformed by the amazing grace of God we sing about, often at the memorial service of the departed.
The ultimate question is: “Will we accept God’s path, provision and pardon for being reconciled to Him as a holy God, or will we stubbornly stick to what we want to believe in the face of sacred
scripture?” It’s all the same and easy to understand for the poorest illiterate or the prime minister of a nation!
In 1830, George Wilson was tried by a US court in Philadelphia for robbery and murder and was sentenced to hang. Andrew Jackson, then president of the United States, pardoned him, but Wilson refused the pardon!
Wilson insisted it was not a pardon unless he accepted it. The question was brought before the Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Marshall wrote the following decision:
“A pardon is a paper, the value of which depends upon its acceptance by the person implicated. It’s hardly to be supposed that one under sentence of death would refuse to accept such a pardon, but if it is refused, it is no pardon. George Wilson must hang.”
And he was hanged.
What About Mohammed Ali?
I have a friend who personally sat with the “Champ” and shared the gospel with him. When he did, Ali rejected it and instead tried to convert him to Islam.
Franklin Graham tweeted after Mohammed Ali passed:
My father @BillyGraham hoped Ali would give his life to Christ. I’ve wondered if he trusted Him before slipping to eternity. I sure hope so.
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) June 9, 2016
On a 60 Minutes segment that was broadcast after his death, the program showed footage of Ali walking through crowds shaking with Parkinson’s disease and handing out tracts introducing people to Islam. It also showed him at home affixing his autograph to the tracts with which he proselytized crowds wherever he went.
Brushing aside sentiment, preconceived notions, political correctness and any religious teaching contrary to the Bible, let’s follow Scripture. “Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord” (Is.1:18).
1. Mohammed Ali was a phenomenal person, global ambassador of goodwill and, along with Babe Ruth, one of the greatest athletes of the century. He was also a master showman with many names (“The Greatest”, The Louisville Lip”) and many wives (four).
2. He was raised a Christian but later converted to the separatist Nation of Islam which he later disavowed in becoming a devout Sunni Muslim.
* “My mother was a Baptist when I was growing up, she taught me all she knew about God. Every Sunday she dressed me up, took me and my brother to church, and taught me the way she thought was right.”
– “Mohamed Ali: His Life and Times”
* Cassius Marcellus Clay (1810-1903), for whom he was named, was a Christian Republican abolitionist from Kentucky. Converting to Islam, he took the name Mohammed (“Worthy of Praise”) after the founder of Islam and Ali, who after Mohammed is the most important figure in Shia Islam.
It is ironic that he changed his name from his “slave name” to honor
two men who were slave dealers and slave holders!
3. He was one of the most recognized faces on the planet and an aggressive evangelist for the Islamic religion.
* While genuinely loving Muslims and people of all faiths, authentic Christians embrace the Bible as our highest authority and hold fast to the fact that Jesus Christ alone is the Savior of mankind for all who repent and put their trust in Him.
* Islam is a false religion; Mohammed is a false prophet; the Quran is a false “holy” book; Allah is a false god; and, Islam violates all
fundamental truths of the Christian faith by repudiating Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God, rejects the Bible and the Trinity, promulgating Jesus never died on the cross or rose from the dead!
* The truth be known, Jesus Christ was not a Muslim as Islam teaches and Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God.
I’ve spent hours at the Mohammed Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky; seen the Ali Mall in Quezon City, Philippines and remain one of countless millions whose life has been impacted by the life and legacy of Mohammed Ali who is now dead.
Here’s the Deal: While boxing aficionados will debate endlessly whether Ali or Joe Louis or Sugar Ray Robinson was the best boxer of all time, for the true, Bible-believing disciple of Jesus Christ, there was and never will be anyone who can usurp the preeminent place of Jesus, as the only begotten Son of God and Savior of all who put their trust in Him alone.
He may never have declared of Himself, “I am the greatest!” but He did state unequivocally, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn.14:7).
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.