Jimmy Buffett once sang, “I’d rather die while I’m living than living while I’m dead.” I’m not totally sure what he meant by that, but I can guess. He was possibly implying that he’d rather live a lifestyle that was slowly killing him than live a lifestyle that might garner him eternal life. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. I’m not all that good at mind reading.
It probably will come as no surprise to you that I disagree with that mindset—at least as I understand it. Still, it’s his mindset and he’s entitled to it. But, if my Biblical understanding is correct, he’s been misinformed.
One Per Person
First of all, we’re all going to die. As the old saying goes, “The statistics on death have not changed. It’s still one per person.” Jimmy can (and should) enjoy this life as best he can. We, like Mr. Buffet, only have one, so we may as well make the best of it. Trying to live with a tad less hedonism and a little more love for God and neighbor isn’t going to take away from la vida loca all that much. In fact, it may even bring more joy than one might expect.
That isn’t the real problem with his philosophy, however. He seems to be implying that a lot of us refrain from many of the “fun things” so we can earn our way to Heaven. Anyone with a good grasp on theology knows that isn’t true. There’s not a blessed thing we can do to warrant salvation. It’s a gift, pure and simple. Any good thing we do is merely a response to the love of Christ.
I’m sure people like Jimmy reach their conclusions honestly. We in the church have given that false impression to people for years. We go around acting like we’re great because we’ve got it all together. We don’t, of course, but our attitudes don’t reveal that fact. I think the term for it is, “Holier than thou.”
The real truth of the matter is that, without Jesus, we’re lost sinners. With him, we’re found—but still sinners. If we come across as do-gooders, it’s only because we owe the Lord a debt we cannot pay. On our best days, our response to His overwhelming love, grace, and generosity is to do what He desires for our lives. We can’t add a thing to our salvation (although we often try).
When the call of Christ is on your life, you are made spiritually alive. The Apostle Paul puts it this way. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). Later in the same letter he wrote, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). You may notice that he doesn’t say this happened because we were good. Christ’s work alone will make us live when we’re dead.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]