Incredibly short – that’s what life is! It’s but a dash between the first knock-out to the last knock-down. The dash for Muhammad Ali looked like this: 1942 – 2016. What happens to all, happened to the self-proclaimed greatest. You know your four-number configuration to the left of the dash but you don’t know how quickly the numbers will be written to the right of the dash. That’s sobering – especially when so many people are totally unprepared for after-death.

Ali, the world’s most famous boxer, achieved too many awards in life to list in this post. Of his 61 fights, he won 56. He was an American Olympic, a professional boxer and an activist. Among his most memorable fights were:

  1. The Fight of the Century, both Ali and Joe Frazier were undefeated world champs and one would again become the Heavyweight Champion of the World. The aberration of having two World Champions was caused by Ali being stripped of his title and banned from boxing due to his refusal to join the US Army and fight in Vietnam. During his three-year absence from the ring – Joe Frazier captured the world title. On March 8, 1971, the two world champs went into the ring. It was Ali’s first professional defeat.
  2. Four years after the Fight of the Century, the two fighters were together again in the match promoted as Thrilla in Manila. Ali regained the world title on October 1, 1975.
  3. Ali won The Rumble in the Jumble with George Foreman on October 29, 1974 with a knock-out blow in the eighth round, with 60,000 fans cheering in a Zaire stadium.

It would be difficult to call Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay) humble in victory and modest in life. He proclaimed himself to be “The Greatest” and is reported to have basked in the glow of such a shining title when others called him that. In fact, he said he was the greatest before he even knew himself he was the greatest – or words to that effect.

Raised a Baptist and baptized at 12, Ali credited his mother with good values. “She taught me all she knew about God. Every Sunday, she dressed me up, took me and my brother to church, and taught us the way she thought was right. She taught us to love people and treat everybody with kindness. She taught us it was wrong to be prejudiced or hate.”  (1)

In his early 20’s Ali converted to Islam and had his name changed. At that time, he said: “I believe in Allah and in peace. I don’t try to move into white neighborhoods. I don’t want to marry a white woman. I was baptized when I was twelve, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m not a Christian anymore. I know where I’m going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be … I’m free to be what I want.” (2)

Ali may have gone through several iterations of Islamic beliefs in his life-time. After the 9/11 terror attacks in the USA, Ali was interviewed about his perspective on the attacks. In that interview, he provided a critical insight into his spiritual perspective in 2001.

“One day we’re all going to die, and God is going to judge us [our] good deeds and bad deeds. If the bad outweighs the good, you go to hell. If the good outweighs the bad, you go to heaven.” (3)

What an uncertain and fearful way to live one’s life! How would one ever know what their chances were? Have you ever met anyone who, like an accountant, keeps an actual ledger with two columns:  1. Bad Thoughts and Deeds and 2. Good Thoughts and Deeds?

It’s not surprising then why Lonnie Ali, in eulogizing her husband at his funeral, said:

“He awoke every morning thinking about his own salvation and he would often say, I just want to get to heaven and I’ve got to do a lot of good deeds to get there.” (4)

That’s heart-breaking! I am so thankful for the only written Word of God – the Holy Bible. The Bible completely contradicts, condemns and refutes the religious notion of personal salvation as a reward for good works. I confess my ignorance of Islamic beliefs – but this I do know – millions of people around the world who identify as ‘Christian’ have also been led to believe their good-works have salvation-merit.

Led. Misled. God has no such eternal-life-equation. Good living and sincerity are not factors in who obtains eternal life and who doesn’t. Could that be Satan’s biggest and most successful lie he has perpetrated down through the ages?

No wonder people live their lives with uncertainty and a deep but, often unexpressed, fear about the after-life.

It was Muhammad Ali’s 50th birthday when he told his son he was afraid of the after-life. Ali Jr. indicated it was the only real conversation he ever had with his famous dad. “He told me he was afraid of what might happen to him in the afterlife because some of the things he had done.” His 21-year-old son told him that whatever had gone on in the past, he still loved him and he recalled seeing the tears in his father’s eyes. (5)

After a 32-year valiant battle with Parkinson’s disease, Muhammad Ali passed away at the age of 74 – June 03, 2016. He made his mark in an historic way. He contributed to very worthy causes and advocated for many good things in life.

If you have been inclined to think, like so many others, that the recipe for salvation and final acceptance by God is having the right mix of good works throughout your life – let this be a defining moment in your journey. There is not one shred of evidence in the Holy Bible, suggesting a person can somehow be good enough to overpower and outweigh the sins which they have committed.

The Apostle Paul was writing to Christians when he reminded them:

God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

Perhaps you are accustomed to reading a different translation of the Bible than the one cited above. It was chosen for its easy-to-read English. Look it up in your Bible. You will agree the bottom-line is identical. Our good deeds have 0% to do with our salvation and obtaining eternal life. The Bible teaches good works follow salvation but don’t earn it.

Here’s another selection of verses from the Holy Bible – words written to people who had already become Christians:

“…we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:3-7 ESV

Jesus came to be the Saviour of sinners – the Rescuer. He didn’t come to ‘help’ us get to heaven. We had to be rescued. The Bible teaches that every one of us have been disqualified because we are sinners. (Read Romans Chapter 3) Some worry more about their individual sins (fruit), than about who they are – sinners (root). Everything we may try to offer God, is totally unacceptable to Him because of the source – our sinful hearts.

If we cannot earn salvation or eternal life – then how can we obtain it? Eternal life is totally a gift a person receives now – in this life; not a reward after death.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 ESV

Have you accepted the gift of eternal life in our Lord Jesus Christ? Would you like to? What’s stopping you? To discuss this further click here.

Sources:

  1. Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times
  2. MUHAMMAD ALI, Sports Illustrated, Mar. 9, 1964
  3. “Ali,” Reader’s Digest (December 2001), p. 93;
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/11/sports/lonnie-billy-crystal-bill-clinton-eulogies-for-muhammad-ali.html
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AG9fzbUGkWg