I am getting close to the fourth quarter of life and find that most people my age do not like talking about what I consider to be life’s most significant issue. Death. It is clearly coming, yet talking about an afterlife and what awaits us seems to be a conversation that many do not want to have. Is there a heaven and if there is, how do I make sure I get in?
Jack Welch is considered by many to be one of the greatest business leaders in recent memory. He transformed General Electric, a home appliance company, into one of the most prominent corporations in the world.
Several years ago, Welch was being interviewed by Larry King. During their conversation, King asked Welch, “What is the most difficult question you have ever had to answer in an interview?” Welch though for a moment and then replied, “I was once asked if I thought I would go to heaven.” King, of course, immediately asked him how he responded to the question. Welch said, “I told him that I have given it my best shot.”
From the interview it became apparent that Welch was not sure what happens to him after death. He had given it his best shot, but is his best shot good enough? Ultimately, how good do you really have to be to get into heaven?
Michael Bloomberg is a multi-millionaire and the former mayor of New York City. He seems to think he knows how to get into heaven. After pledging $50 million to advance his views on gun control, Bloomberg told The New York Times, “I am telling you, if there is a God, when I get to heaven, I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”
It is not surprising that an extraordinarily successful businessman might think this way. In most arenas, particularly in business, you get what you deserve. You get what you earn. Life is just. And people reason that this must be how religion works – you live your life, you present your record to God, and you hope that you measure up to God’s approval.
This view however is diametrically opposed to the Christian view. We are sinful people and if we get what we deserve, we will receive God’s wrath. The apostle Paul explains how we get into heaven in Ephesians 2:8,9:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, it is not from yourself, it is the gift of God; not as a result of good works, that no one may boast.”
Salvation is a gift you receive by grace through faith. There is great parable that explains grace:
There was a very bright, ambitious young man who upon graduating from business school moved to Silicon Valley to begin his career. He was very creative and quite the entrepreneur. At the age of 28 he left his place of employment to start his own technology firm. His new company grew and flourished and a week before his 35th birthday, he took the company public. At the end of the first day of trading the stock, this young man was officially a billionaire.
Later that night, he experienced a real sadness in that he had no one special to share in this great moment. He appeared to have everything except meaningful relationships. All he had ever done was work. He was married to his business. He realized how lonely he was and that he yearned for a wife and family.
Across town there was a lovely young woman who had worked her way through college, taking out student loans to pay her way. She was an accomplished musician, graduating with honors as a music major. After college she fulfilled her passion by teaching music to underserved youth.
As fate would have it, this lovely young woman and the man in our story, the billionaire, are introduced to one another by a mutual friend at a symphony event. They immediately connect and over time fall in love, and eventually get married.
The moment they become husband and wife, all of his fortune becomes hers. All of his riches come to her because she said yes to him and entered into the covenant relationship of marriage.
Think about it. One person has done everything in order to create this wealth. The spouse gets married and receives this wealth by grace.
This is a picture of God’s grace. We are like the music teacher. As she receives her husband’s monetary wealth, we receive the wealth of God’s grace. The apostle Paul describes it as “… the riches of God’s grace which He lavished upon us …“(Ephesians 1:7.8). In essence, we did nothing. Jesus did everything at the cross. When we are united with Him, everything that Christ has done on the cross is true for us. We are credited with His righteousness. We are forgiven of our sins.
I love this parable because marriage has always been seen as a picture of our relationship with Christ.
The next time you go to a wedding, pay close attention to the exchanging of the vows. In essence the bride and groom are giving themselves completely to each other. This is what must happen if you are to become a Christian. But know this, Jesus has already given Himself to us at the cross. Galatians 1:4, Ephesians 5:2. Ephesians 5:25, and Titus 2:14 all speak of Jesus giving Himself to us when He voluntarily laid down His life at the cross.
So, picture this: Jesus is the bridegroom and He is saying to each of us, “I have given Myself up for you, I have laid down My life for you. Will you receive Me, and will you completely entrust your life into My care? Will you surrender your heart?
This is the great question we all are faced with.