4.4.1 Man’s Need
I once heard a very significant comment from a Turkish Christian. He knows some isolated villages which had been staunchly 'Christian' for centuries, but in the last 100 years had become Moslem. But they retained an old Christian meeting room, where a Christian man they called 'the priest' lives. Although they're all Moslems, whenever they sin, or the village judges someone to have sinned, they go to see 'the priest' and enter into the meeting room, where he sprinkles water on them and tells them Jesus forgives them. Now all this is of course far from Biblical Christianity as we know it, but it serves to illustrate the crisis of Islam- there is no provision for mercy, grace and forgiveness, and it is this which our new brethren and sisters are so enthusiastically grasping and preaching in its true terms.
The Qur’an teaches as does the Bible that due to Adam’s sin in Eden, the whole of humanity were cursed (2.36). The question is, how to escape from this? Again, the Qur’an seems to identify the problem without giving any hope of salvation or concept of redemption. Sadly we have to say that the Qur’an reads as if someone wrote it having poorly remembered the Biblical text. Thus the tree which Adam ate is called “the tree of eternity” (20.120). If this were so, then Adam should still be alive. The Biblical record makes so much more sense: Adam was told not to eat of the tree of knowledge; he ate of it; and was punished by not being allowed to eat of the tree of eternal life. The Qur’an suggests that all man has to do as a result of Adam’s sin is to repent and ask forgiveness. But God would not change His principles: He had said that eating of the fruit meant they must die. And so they had to. Repentance alone is not enough; for the wages of sin is death. It cannot be that God would simply waive His principles on emotional grounds. But He is compassionate, and He is a saviour God, and He went straight on to tell Adam and Eve of the way to salvation. There was to be a descendant of the woman who would destroy the power of the snake [i.e. sin] with a fatal blow to the head. During this conflict, the descendant of the woman would be bruised temporarily in the heel (Gen. 3:15). This we understand to mean that Jesus, the descendant of the woman through Mary, would suffer temporarily [in that He died and then resurrected] in order to permanently destroy the power of sin.
Sin separates a man from God (Is. 59:2). I seriously wonder to what extent Islam has a concept of sin; and because they do not perceive sin as a real and felt offence against God, there is no joy in forgiveness, no appreciation of grace; and their understanding of the nature of God as cold and indifferent fails to inspire them to show these things to others. Forgiveness, grace, forgiving somebody whilst they are still sinning against you [as God did to mankind on the cross]- these are foreign to Muslims; because this is their view of God. And we become like what we worship. The whole of the Bible is about sin and our personal struggle with it. “The prophets”- David, Jeremiah, Abraham / Ibrahim, Isaac, Jacob etc. - all have their sins and struggles recorded, and as David often wrote in his reflections upon his sin with Bathsheba, these things are an inspiration to others to believe in the gracious forgiveness and mercy of a loving Heavenly Father. We need not just a succession of prophets to teach us God’s way. We need a Saviour, to save us from the results of our disobedience.
The Law of Moses presented mankind with something similar in outline to the requirements of Islam - in that believers were required to follow specific laws. But man was and is incapable of perfect obedience to such a system. It becomes slavery rather than giving the freedom of salvation. In Christ, the whole concept of legality has been done away. When we read in Romans of “the law” having been done away, the Greek often carries the idea of ‘law / legality’ (see RV). The true Christian is under grace, not law. Virtually all ritual, ceremony and form has been stripped away from the true worship of God. No code of dress, rites or ceremonies for worship; no daily exercises or routines of piety. Instead, we seek for the reflection of the man Jesus Christ in our lives, thinking and being. The New Testament speaks of “the spirit of Jesus”, which we understand to be a spirit / way of life in conformity to His. All the time we are seeking to act and speak as He would have done in our situation. We strive for a holy, loving, patient character like His. And insofar as we achieve this, we are witnessing Him to this world. This is why so many Muslims have been converted to Christianity - not so much by debate, as by the living example of those truly “in Christ”. True Christianity [and there is much false Christianity in this world] isn’t just a religious message, comprised of propositions. It is above all a life to be received, a living out of the doctrines of Jesus. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). We all sin. So, we must all die. Therefore any attempt at justification with God through doing things is simply doomed. We are thrown upon our desperate need for His grace.
The whole Islamic concept of sin is what makes the cross unnecessary to them. They believe that God forgives who He wants, as He wants; and that sin isn’t really a separation from God, but rather it is a slip made because God created man with a weak nature. This effectively makes God responsible for sin, which can’t be right. Because God predestinates our fate, there is no need for atonement or reconciliation with Him. And this explains the fatalism and lack of spiritual energy found in many Islamic people. There is no real concept of having offended God; there is no real forgiveness from Him, although there is the idea that sin can be cancelled out by keeping certain commandments. Yet the Bible reveals that there is forgiveness with God, that He may be feared (Ps. 130:4). David reflected on his sin against Uriah and Bathsheba: “Against you, you only have I sinned” (51:4). God was grieved at His heart that man sinned at the time of Noah (Gen. 6: 6). It’s an amazing idea, when we first grasp it: that you and I, down here on earth, can really touch the heart of Almighty God. That our sins so hurt Him, He allows Himself to get personally hurt and offended by us; and our attempts at righteousness can touch the heart of God Almighty. We aren’t just predestined: our destiny is in our hands. This is why God through Moses and Joshua told His people: “Choose life, that you may live…” (Dt. 30:19; Josh. 23:8,11; 24:14). This is the passion and urgency behind those appeals. To obey or disobey was in the power of those individual people. They had nobody else to blame for their rejection of God’s offers; and for those who accepted, nobody could or will take their joy from them. Thus Job rejoiced that he would see Jehovah [Allah] for himself, and nobody else would see their maker in quite the same way as Job would (Job 19:26-27).
Because sin exists as a reality, something we can blame nobody else for, not a ‘devil’ up in the sky or beneath us, but we alone are 100% responsible for our sins…therefore we need atonement. God has decreed that sin must result in death. We have already sinned; therefore we must die. But God wants to save us. And He doesn’t do that by saying ‘Well OK, I wasn’t serious about all that stuff about commandments’. He is serious, deadly serious. Because He is a just and moral God, therefore there must be a basis for forgiveness. This basis for forgiveness is totally un-provided by Islam. In the Old Testament, He offered forgiveness on the basis of animal blood being shed, as representative of the death of the sinner. But the animal wasn’t a full representative of the sinner. It was an animal, not a man. And yet, God provided forgiveness through their blood. Why, seeing they weren’t truly representative of the sinner? Because, they pointed forward to the blood of a future sacrifice, of a representative man, who would never sin (Heb. 9:28; 10:4-6,10-12). Through being counted as “in him”, all that was true of Him would become true of the person who became in covenant relationship with Him. That person was Jesus - a man like us, although the Son of God. Our representative, with our nature and temptations, but who never once sinned. And we enter that covenant with Him, we become “in him”, so that all that is true of him becomes true of us…by being baptized [immersed] into His death and resurrection. This Saviour couldn’t have been Muhammad - for Muhammad sinned and asked for forgiveness (33.37; 47.19; 48.2). No man [who has sinned] can redeem his brother (Ps. 49:7). The wonder of it all is that we are saved by pure grace. The more that sinks into us, the more we are inspired to live lives of grace, of imputing the best to others, of having the love that thinks no evil (1 Cor. 13:5). And the more we realize that we do have genuine freewill, the more we will live lives of spiritual energy and dynamic service. To believe in complete predestination is to believe that God forces human beings to act against His own will.
4.4.2 God’s Provision
We have shown earlier that the way of escape is through the death and resurrection of Jesus: a man like us, the descendant of Ibrahim, yet who never sinned, strengthened in this by His being the Son of God. And this saviour from sin was prophesied all through the Old Testament: “I will bring my servant the Branch [a clear reference to Messiah]…I will remove the guilt of this land in a single day” (Zech. 3:8,9). And remember, the Qur’an recognizes Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.
To reject the cross, as Muslims do, is to act like Peter did when he tried to dissuade Jesus from dying on it. Jesus told him: “Get behind me Satan! You are not on the side of God but of men” (Mt. 16:23). The cross was God’s way. There is something repulsive about the cross - whenever Jesus started talking to His followers about it, they always changed the conversation onto another topic. And so this is what Islam has done. It has tried to make this rejection of the cross which is rooted in our natures, something theologically and intellectually respectable. But it is taking the side of men and not that of God. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their iniquities unto them” (2 Cor. 5:19). He was manifested in the death of His Son. God made Jesus to be a sin offering, even though Jesus Himself never sinned, “that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). These are wonderful, marvellous things! Don’t you want to become “in him” by baptism, so that you can really share in this wondrous process of atonement and reconciliation with the God you love, but are separated from…?
God knew that just telling us to be submissive [‘Muslim’] and obedient wouldn’t be enough. Our natures are so biased towards disobedience. Yet in the fact Christ died, we not only have forgiveness through His blood (1 Jn. 1:7); we have an inspiration to a life of dedication. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:24).
We know we will sin - and “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:10). The way of escape cannot be through vowing never to sin again. In this sense the system of commandments “which promised life proved to be death to me” (Rom. 7:10). And in any case, the fact we have sinned already, even once, requires we die. Adam’s sin in Eden is a clear enough example.
4.4.3 The Need For Baptism
And all this is the reason why we must make a conscious decision to identify ourselves with the death and resurrection of Jesus through baptism: a dipping in water, into His death and resurrection. I am aware that many false Christian groups seek to glory in the numbers of Muslims they have baptized. We are not like this. No true Christian is merely interested in numbers they baptize. They will love people, and will want the lives of people to be transformed. Jesus Himself said some hard things, and they were nearly all in the context of encouraging people to weigh up carefully their commitment to Him. When a man wanted to follow Him wherever He went, He replied that He had nowhere to lay His head - even though it seems that most nights of His ministry, He probably did have somewhere to sleep (Mt. 8:19,20). This kind of hyperbole [exaggerated statement] is common on the lips of Jesus. He spoke of how a man must sit down and count the cost first; and when “many believed in him”, He tested the sincerity of their faith until they finally tried to stone Him (Jn. 8:30,48,59). When “many believed in his name” one Passover, “Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men….he himself knew what was in man” (Jn. 2:23-25).
Where To From Here?
You need to be baptized. But don’t just go to any ‘Christian’ church and get baptized. Jesus said that first of all, we must understand the Gospel- the real Gospel, that which was preached to Abraham / Ibrahim so many years ago - and then, once we properly believe, be baptized. And Jesus Himself warned us that “many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ” (Mt. 24:5); that “many” will say to Him when He returns “Lord, Lord, didn’t we do many miracles in your name…?”. And He will tell them that He never knew them (Mt. 7:22,23). This means that “many”, perhaps even the majority, of those claiming to be Christians aren’t the genuine thing. There is a huge apostasy amongst Christians. Now this doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as true Christianity in existence. It is there, as this book has sought to show.
I suggest you need to get yourself a Bible, both Old and New Testaments, if you don’t already have one. And read it daily. I use a plan called ‘The Bible Companion’, which gives certain chapters to read every day. Tens of thousands of Christians world-wide read every day according to that plan, and it binds us together wonderfully. By using the plan, you’ll read the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice in the course of a year. And devote yourself to a systematic study of the basic doctrines of the Bible. We have a Bible study course which you can do on your own, with no need to attend churches or listen to pastors or priests. And when you have finished this and understand it, we’d be so happy to arrange for someone to come and have a chat with you and baptize you if you are ready. We care for you; we are with you. We want to help you. If there is some overwhelming material problem in your life or community that stops you from being able to concentrate on what is most important - studying God’s word and committing yourself to His Son, Jesus - then write and tell us about it. We might be able to do something to help. But above all, pray to God, and ask Him to guide you to His Son, to His Kingdom; ask Him to open your eyes to understand His word as you read and study it.
I so hope to hear from you!