They called him the greatest.
I met him once. He was very involved where I went to Elementary school, and that is where I had the opportunity to challenge “The Greatest” to a fist fight.
He was wonderful with kids.
He was an outspoken advocate against injustice.
He personified the rare celebrity athlete who used his influence to make the world a better place. The world would be better with more people like Ali doing what they could, with what they had, to improve it.
Heck, he even got into boxing (as legend has it) after his bike was stolen. A police officer suggested Ali (then Clay) take up boxing when he came across the boy—fuming with anger—who wanted justice to be done.
I read story after story this week of how my hometown said goodbye to their “patron saint.” Ali is a legend in Louisville, and will not soon be forgotten. My Instagram and Facebook feeds have been absolutely saturated with memorial graphics, inspirational Ali quotes, and tribute videos to the boxer AND the man.
I read story after story this week, and I got sadder and sadder.
It was worst when I read about his prayer service at Freedom Hall. I could barely contain the sorrow that crashed over my like a brutal 1-2 punch from Ali’s own golden gloves.
Muhammad Ali, the Greatest, the Louisville Lip, who floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, will spend eternity in Hell.
I don’t like the sound of that any more than you do. Many are still mourning (though if we’re honest, few of us actually knew him), and it is hard to bring this up right now.
The day before his funeral service in Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center, there was another service: a traditional islamic prayer service.
The Truth when Great Dignitaries Die
Yes, Muhammad Ali was a great man. And yes, he did great things for the world and strove to use his influence to improve the world we all live in.
His legacy should ABSOLUTELY be celebrated, and his example should inspire us all.
But at the end of the day, he was a man who will now spend eternity in torturous separation from God.
It’s not a pleasant thought in the wake of mourning and loss, but as Christians, we have to remember that while he may have been a great man, who is greatly celebrated among men, we cannot earn our way into God’s grace through good deeds and humanitarianism.
In the final judgment he was a man, created in God’s image to bring God glory and praise, who devoutly gave his life to a false god. His final arrangements are evidence that he never repented and turned to the One True God.
He never trusted in Jesus for forgiveness of his sins.
Where the Gospel comes in
I don’t want my final judgment to be like a weigh-in pitting my good deeds against those of the greatest heavyweight champ the world has ever seen. I don’t want to need to live up to his legacy. I can’t live up to his legacy.
If life is a series of scales, where we weigh good and bad deeds, then who is our standard? I will always be able to fool myself into thinking my good deeds outweigh my bad.
If we can earn our way to heaven, then Christ died for nothing.
If being a wonderful humanitarian is the ticket to heaven, then I have neither the personality, nor the resources to influence the world greatly, and 99% of people don’t either.
But God says we can’t earn his grace. It is freely given to any and all who put their faith in Jesus Christ!
In Jesus, God became one of us! He experienced this broken world, and sought to improve it, but he did it all without ever sinning and incurring the wrath of God on himself.
And yet he bore God’s wrath for the rest of us.
Any and all who put their faith in Jesus Christ and are baptized into his name will be saved! And not just saved from our sins, but saved TO glorify God and give our lives to give our lives to the one who loves us.
In Jesus, the wrath of God is satisfied, and the creator of the universe can call us sons and daughters.
People like Ali need to be celebrated. But in the Church, we must remember that there are ETERNAL stakes in the mission we are called to, and strive to share the message of Christ’s salvation with everyone we meet.
Today, I celebrate Muhammad Ali.
Today, I mourn Muhammad Ali not once, but twice.
And the best thing I can do in his honor and memory is to strive to make the gospel known to my neighbor, lest they suffer the same fate as he (but without the fanfare).