At the close of an interview with the New York Times this week, former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg had this to say about heaven:
Mr. Bloomberg was introspective as he spoke, and seemed both restless and wistful. When he sat down for the interview, it was a few days before his 50th college reunion. His mortality has started dawning on him, at 72. And he admitted he was a bit taken aback by how many of his former classmates had been appearing in the “in memoriam” pages of his school newsletter.
But if he senses that he may not have as much time left as he would like, he has little doubt about what would await him at a Judgment Day. Pointing to his work on gun safety, obesity and smoking cessation, he said with a grin: “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.”
Before you become too critical of Bloomberg, take a moment to consider whether or not you share his religion. Dr. David Martin Lloyd-Jones, the British pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, used a very simple diagnostic question to determine if people understood and embraced Christianity or were adherents to religion. Jones would ask a person “Are you a Christian?” If they answered with, “I’m trying,” or “I’m doing the best I can to be Christian,” or “I hope so,” he knew the person did not understand what Christianity is. What Bloomberg said, and what many many people believe, is that the power to get into heaven, or to be pleasing to God, rests with us. It is our job to be good; to do good, and it is God’s job to call balls and strikes. And in the end we expect God will give us all a very generous strike zone because He is kind and generous and loving. Is that what you believe? Is it up to you to keep the Ten Commandments or follow the Golden Rule or to be generous with your stuff? If so, then you shouldn’t be too critical of the Mayor because he is only telling your story with more confidence than most of us can muster. He is sure his life will measure up. He is so sure that his record is acceptable that he doesn’t even think it needs double checking at heaven’s gate.
That gate may be somewhere, but it isn’t the gateway to heaven that any Christian is looking for. The Christian gospel is not our record offered to God for his acceptance, it is Jesus’s record given to us. Are you a Christian? Yes or no is the only correct answer. There is no earning it. It is a gift. The whole Bible shows this pattern. Abram gets God’s promise of land and blessing and seed before he did anything notable. Moses is a washed up shepherd who ran away from a murder rap when God chooses him. God rescues all of Israel from slavery before he gives them the Ten Commandments, not after they obeyed them.
The God of the Bible consistently gives away his endorsement to people who don’t deserve it; to people who have not earned it. The final and full expression of this is Jesus. Jesus earns a perfect record with perfect performance of human life. This is a whole other topic worth considering – that when you see Jesus its not that we are just looking at a sinless life (no mistakes or nothing that makes God angry) its that we are seeing what a completely full human life looks like. This life earns Jesus a place before God like none other. Jesus then gives away his record to anyone who asks for it. Good people don’t get it. Bad people are not excluded. Anyone can have it. The only thing you have to do is accept a complete record swap. You have to take all his record and give up all your record. None of our marks transfer. None of our good marks – the ones we’re really proud of – come with us, and none of our bad marks – the ones we’re really ashamed of – come with us either. Complete swap. That is the gospel and that is Christianity. Are you a Christian? If the answer is yes, you can have Bloomberg-like confidence in your record. No need to even think about getting into heaven. You already know your record “works” to get into heaven because Jesus got in with the same record and now its yours. Pretty simple. Thats the gospel. Thats why gospel means “good news,” for those of us who aren’t strong and sure we can work our way into heaven. We are going to heaven the real old fashioned way…Jesus earned it.