Earlier this year, the former Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, made a pretty stunning statement. It was in the middle of a speech in which he was reflecting on his own legacy at the age of 72. He spoke about initiatives he had spearheaded in to reduce obesity, eliminate second hand smoke from public spaces, and neuter gun violence on the streets. In each instance, Mayor Bloomberg had demonstrated a desire to promote human health, safety, and flourishing.
The surprising part of his speech was the takeaway, in which he speculated about the afterlife. He said, and I quote, “I’m telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I’m heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”
After first hearing the Mayor’s statement, a thought dawned on me: Whatever we might think about Christianity, it is by far the most utterly unique religion that the world has ever known. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that unlike every other religion ever known to humanity, Christianity has an entirely different view of the afterlife than Michael Bloomberg.
Because with Jesus, and only with Jesus, the door of heaven’s entry is presented to us at the beginning of our journey, not at the end. The door is Jesus himself. He lived the life we should have lived but didn’t, and he died the death we should have died but will never have to…because he lived and died in our place. And he rose from the dead to seal it.
Besides Christianity, other religions say what Mayor Bloomberg said on account of himself: If you want to make it to heaven, you have to accomplish something. You have to live up to something. You have to bring it.
For honest people, this is a terrifying thought. Even Karl Marx recognized this. In a rare moment of transparency, Marx disclosed an inner thought that no doubt had a lot to do with the destructive worldview he would come to espouse. Reflecting on his own struggle for “salvation” or “significance” or “identity” or whatever we want to call it, Marx said, “I am nothing and I should be everything. Man, the poor, denuded creature, must repress his smallness.”
Michael Bloomberg and Karl Marx are really saying the same thing, just from different angles — Bloomberg from a place of superiority and feeling big, and Marx from a place of inferiority and feeling small. Both are saying that the way to salvation is through work. Through exertion. Through human effort. Through fulfilled expectations. We start off small and we become whatever it is that we make of ourselves. In the end, that will be our salvation or our judgment, depending on how we have performed. In the end, that will be our ticket to being accepted by God (if we believe he exists), by others, and by ourselves.
Have you ever wondered where the insatiable ache comes from? You know, the one that longs to have our name remembered on a building, or in a history book, or on a donor list, or on a book or album cover, or by an industry, or by our descendants? Have you ever wondered where the drive to accomplish something comes from, or the desire to leave a legacy?
But what if your name has already been given to you, and your legacy has already been achieved? What if it is God who has already given you that name and that legacy?
Jesus Christ lived and died—he made himself nothing—so you would never have to feel like a nothing. He became small so you would never have to “repress your smallness” as a poor, denuded creature. And he rose from the dead so you could get to heaven and walk right in and not have to stop for an interview, because your trial has already occurred and your record of accomplishment has already been established by another.
The door of heaven’s entry is opened to you at the beginning of your journey, not at the end.
Another way to put this is that God has not called you to be awesome. Rather, he has called you to be humble, faithful, forgiven, and free.
We can all leave the awesome to Jesus. When we do, we will also become the best version of ourselves. But without the pressure.
Scott Sauls is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and author of Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who are Tired of Taking Sides. You can connect with Scott at scottsauls.com or on Twitter at @scottsauls.
Originally published at scottsauls.com.