Archive for February, 2013

As you guys probably know, I am in the midst of taking “Introduction to World Religions” this semester in my Master of Christian Ministry program at North Greenville University’s graduate school. In the book, Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions by Winfried Corduan, the author makes the following statement in Chapter 3 in his chapter on Islam:

“In distinction to Judaism, which ultimately enjoins obedience to the law simply out of devotion to God, Islam focuses on heaven as a reward on hell as punishment. In contrast to Christianity, which also emphasizes outcomes, Islam is not a redemptive religion. Whereas the Christian’s faith in Christ provides absolution from all sins, the Muslim’s confession of faith is only the first step in a life that may eventually be rewarded in heaven. In general, Islam frowns on claims to certainty of salvation.” – pp. 92-93.

 

 

This paragraph really caught my attention as to the difference between Christianity and Islam (and pretty much all other human religions). The central issue of the difference between the two religions is this issue of what salvation represents. In Christianity, we are taught that the law of God (of which there are 613 laws specified in the OT)[1] is the list of requirements for existing in the presence of God. However, we are also taught that it is impossible for us to keep all 613 commands at all times throughout our lives for if we violate one law at any given time we have sinned. Sin makes us forever impure. Impurity makes it impossible for us to exist in the presence of God. The purpose of the law is to reduce us from our haughty belief that we can exist in God’s presence on the power of own ability. The law then crushes us in our ability to keep it and thus condemns us to eternal separation from God.

 

The law ensures that God’s holiness is upheld at all times. In Christianity, we believe that God does not vindictively or spitefully create laws just to dart us down but it is simply that God is purity. God is perfection. Therefore, only that which is pure and perfect can exist in His presence. Man, in his sinful nature, is unwilling to meet these requirements 100% all the time for his entire life. We therefore become excluded from God’s presence and it was only through heartfelt adherence to God’s pre-ordained sacrificial system that we could clear ourselves into purity again. This, though, was only a temporary solution to a permanent problem of man. It was a training and a pointing to us toward Christ.

 

In Christ, we find the permanent solution to the sin problem. In Christ, we find God’s purity and perfection personified in the flesh. He was sent by the Father to be the final sacrifice in the sacrificial system. He was sent to be that one sacrifice for all time that solves the sin problem – the thing that which separates us from the presence of God. God ordained that Christ would willingly offer his human existence as that final pure sacrifice for all sin for all time. All that we as humans must now do is believe that this is the case. We must have the faith to believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God who was sent to earth to die as the final sacrifice for our sin and that he conquered sin through his resurrection. When a person truly believes this fact with all of their heart, soul and strength, the salvation moment takes place. As John 10:28 states, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Herein lies the most critical distinction of Christianity from Islam. Once true salvation takes place for the Christ follower, his salvation is assured forever, permanently, not to be lost, not to be journeyed for. No evolution of the soul. There is transformation. A complete change at that moment occurs that sets us on a course of shedding our worldly ways toward those of Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We are daily being sanctified toward the perfection of Christ that will be complete when we reach heaven after death. The perfection of Christ is imputed to us at salvation and can never be taken away. That is why the moment of salvation is critical in Christianity. The fruit of true salvation is repentance, a turning away from our old ways toward the humble submission to Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our lives. When that moment is true, we are snatched from uncertainty into certainty.

 

Islam in its purest sense (not the hijacking the use of it in the name of hidden political agendas such as Osama Bin Laden – that 99% of devout Muslims themselves detest) has the seeds of Christ message in it. In its pure form, it is a solid guide to moral living. However, it is ultimately only that. It is a way of life – a way of living. It is a religion rather than a relationship. Having said that, before we condemn Islam mercilessly, we must recognize that certain streams of Christianity have digressed into the very same thing. We see the seeds of what could have lead Islam toward Christ in its basic beliefs. However, Muhammad could not push his humanity out of the way and they left Christ out of their religion as a result. We come from the same stock of the Abrahamic tree. Muhammad recognized Judaism and borrowed many of its monotheistic beliefs. The Qur’an references many of the Jewish prophets. There is that common bond to both Jews and Christians. However, in Muhammad’s humanity, he left Jesus out of the equation. He relegated Jesus to being “just another prophet” mentioned in the Qur’an.

 

When we leave out Christ or marginalize Him, our religion becomes about merits and demerits. It becomes about ritual. Ritual becomes the way that we can validate our beliefs to others. God becomes impersonal because He becomes this unitarian entity that exists outside our realm of consciousness. Without the Trinitarian concepts that we have spelled out to us by Christ where God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are one but with differing functions, God becomes totally transcendant (this greater than the world entity that does not touch our daily lives). Thus, in Islam, as in any other religion without Christ, we are reduced to trying to figure out what will please God. Further, without Christ, Islam must imbue humans as not having a basic sin nature that will eternally separate him from God. Man becomes basically good but who makes occasional mistakes. Man is elevated to a level of goodness far inferior to God’s but a level of goodness nonetheless. In this “I am good but occasionally bad” scenario (again without Christ), it comes down to how much good you can do in a lifetime to overcome the bad things that you have done. In Islam (as in any other performance-driven religion), this ledger is then weighed at the end of your life. Thus the code of conduct in the Qur’an requires the need for it to be fleshed out in specific detail in what is known as the Hadish (it takes the Qur’an’s general commands and applies them to every specific day-to-day life situation that can be thought of). In this battle, the Hadish gives guidance to the do’s and don’ts of life. It must be very specific (just as the Jewish Talmud and the Roman Catholic Magisterium) because there is no Christ. There is only what we can do as humans. It is because without Christ, religion becomes about outward signs to others of having complied with the code of conduct. It becomes ritual and the ritual becoming evidence of faith. The rituals themselves thus impart a measure of grace – not full grace mind you, because you have to keep doing the ritual! Without these signs, there is no assurance that we will spend eternity with God.

 

Only Christ followers (those that have not fallen into ritual religion) have full and complete assurance of spending eternity with God. It is because the Christian faith when rightly practiced is not about outward signs. It is about relationship! With our salvation assured (no hoops, no dogs and ponies) at that moment we fully submit to Christ and believe that he died for our sins and conquered death for us at the resurrection, we get all the clutter of humanity out of the way and we can have a real relationship with God. With Christ as our salvation, we have joy. We spill our joy all over the world around us – not because we have to do it to meet some requirement or quota. We do it because we know our sin nature and no longer believe that we are basically good on our own. We have proven that to ourselves. We do not lie to ourselves about man’s basic goodness. We know that our justice would be eternity without God were it not for Jesus. We need no extensive rules and regulations. We need no high ritual except for the two ordained in Scripture which are simplicity at their best. We have this joy and we have the Holy Spirit to guide us toward the right decisions in life instead of having to consult man-made rules. We are changed from the inside out and not from the outside in.

 

We must show our Muslim brothers that we love them and not deride them. We must show them the example of Christ through our daily lives. We must show them that it is about love and relationship with God not performance. We must, in love, show them that Christ has already done the performance piece. Through his sacrifice, we are free to worship God in spirit and in truth. Simply, we are free to love the world around us and give them the chance to see the joy we have found and want them to share in. It is no longer about our individual performance. We are free of ourselves!


[1] HaCohen, Yisrael Meir. The Concise Book of Mitzvoth: The Commandments which can be Observed Today, Trans., Charles Wengrov. (Nanuet, NY: Feldheim Publishers, 1990), 3-12.