So far in our study of Islam, we have focused on theology (who God is—and especially the doctrine of the Trinity) and Christology (who Christ—and especially the Person of Jesus as the Son of God, His relationship to the Father, His incarnation, sufferings, death, and resurrection from the dead). In our last blog post on February 23 (Islam 13), we considered the essential gospel truth of the resurrection of Jesus.
However, it is not enough that a Muslim (or anyone else to whom we witness) has an intellectual understanding of these truths, but to be saved he must believe them. With the subject of faith, we come to another important subject—the doctrine of salvation.
In Islam, salvation consists of the Five Pillars, which are (1) confession (of faith in Allah and in Mohammed, his prophet) or the Shahada; (2) prayer (usually five times a day—dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and night); (3) almsgiving (or Zakat); (4) fasting in the month of Ramadan; and (5) the pilgrimage to Mecca (Or Hajj). Of these five pillars, the first (confession) is fundamental, for it makes a person a Muslim: to become a Muslim one must say (preferably in Arabic), “La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadur rasoolu Allah.” This translates into English as, “There is no (true) God but Allah and Mohammed is the Prophet (Messenger) of Allah.” By saying the Shahada with conviction, a person is converted to Islam.
Having recited the Shahada, one enters a life of seeking to attain unto salvation by obedience to Allah through prayers, devotional exercises, and good works (as defined in the Qur’an and in Sharia Law). Islam, therefore, is essentially a works-based religion—there is no room for grace in Islam.
Consider these texts from the Qur’an:
“If any do deeds of righteousness—be they male or female—and have faith, they will enter Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to them” (Surah 4:124).
“But those who believe and work righteousness—no burden do We place on any soul, but that which it can bear—they will be Companions of the Garden, therein to dwell (forever)” (Surah 7:42).
“But those who believe and work righteousness, and humble themselves before their Lord—they will be Companions of the Garden, to dwell therein for aye” (Surah 11:23).
“Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has Faith, verily to him will We give a new Life, a life that is good and pure; and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions” (Surah 16:97).
“But any that (in this life) had repented, believed, and worked righteousness, will have hopes to be among those who achieve salvation” (Surah 28:67).
Christianity, unlike Islam, is not a works-based religion, but the only grace-based religion. Every other religion teaches people to work (at least partly) for their salvation, while Christianity announces the good news that salvation is entirely the work of God, given freely by his grace, and received by faith alone. Grace is God’s favor toward sinners, a favor that is free, that does not come to us because we deserve it, or because we earned it, or because we did anything to cause it or to maintain it. That grace is seen in the sending of Jesus Christ into the world in the incarnation to suffer the penalty of sin and death due to us for our sins. Nothing in us motivated God to send his Son to be crucified for us—God’s motive was his free grace for sinners.
Salvation must be by grace alone because all people are sinners. As sinners they are not merely flawed or imperfect, but as sinners they are guilty, corrupt, and depraved. We call this truth the doctrine of “total depravity,” which teaches that all people are so sinful that they are wholly inclined to all wickedness and incapable of any good. Therefore, a sinner cannot perform any good works in order to be saved. Sometimes, Christians will say, “You cannot perform any works that are perfect enough to please God and to satisfy his justice.” By that statement, they mean, “You can perform some good works, but they will always fall short of the perfection required by God.” However, the truth is worse than that—the unbeliever cannot perform any good works! All of the works that he performs—even the works that seem to be religious, charitable, helpful, and praiseworthy—are sins. (Of course, if he was irreligious, uncharitable, cruel, and base, he would sin even more). That is why to be saved we have to repudiate not only our obvious sins (the things of which we are ashamed; the things that we know constitute disobedience to God), but also our cherished “good works” (the things of which we are proud; the things that we think constitute obedience to God). In other words, salvation by works—and therefore Islam—is a complete non-starter! The same is true of every other religion—Buddhism, Hinduism, and even false Christianity, such as Romanism. Any religion, even if it seems to share some of the beliefs and practices of Christianity, that teaches any form of salvation by works is not Christianity, but a false religion in which there is no salvation.
“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, the just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, the man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:10-13).
It is not possible, therefore, for a Muslim to trust in the Five Pillars of Islam and be saved, for the Five Pillars are simply a form of salvation by works.
His first pillar, the confession, is a lie—an idolatrous lie. Allah is not the only true God—the triune God of the Bible is the only true God. Belief in the deity of Christ, for example, is not optional. Jesus declared, “All men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him” (John 5:23). Muslims claim to honor Jesus as one of the prophets, but Jesus requires (demands) honor equal to the Father. Jesus is not one of the prophets, but he is the Son of God. Elsewhere, Jesus warns, “If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). “I am he” is better translated simply as “I am”—“if ye believe not that I am.” “I AM” is the divine name, as Exodus 3:14 reveals, “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” Jesus claims the divine name again in John 8:58: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus did not say, “Before Abraham was, I was.” Adam, Abel, Seth, or Noah could have said that. The angels could have said that. Only Jesus can say, “Before Abraham was, I am,” because only he is the eternal, unchangeable I AM, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Muslim must do what the Thessalonians did: “How ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).
Of course, for a Muslim to repudiate the Shahada, so that he no longer says, “La ilaha illa Allah” (“There is no God but Allah”), but confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, as Thomas did, “And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God” (John 20:28), is nothing short of earth-shattering. For a Muslim to do so is for him to commit the unforgivable sin of Shirk, as we have seen before, the “sin” of associating others with Allah. Nevertheless, the Muslim must confess the truth concerning God and Christ to be saved. For a Muslim no longer to say, “Muhammadur rasoolu Allah” (“And Mohammed is his Prophet [Messenger]”), but to confess instead that Mohammed was a false prophet, is something that only the grace of God can cause a Muslim to do. Nevertheless, the Muslim must do this, for the teachings of Mohammed in the Qur’an and the Word of God (the Bible) are antithetical to one another.
No Muslim can view this as a light thing—and no Christian witness can treat this as a light thing. A Muslim convert to Christianity (an apostate in Islam) faces ostracism, rejection by family, disinheritance, and in some Islamic countries physical punishment and even death. Therefore, he must know what he is doing when he confesses Jesus as Lord. That is why we have carefully explained the truths concerning God and Christ before we reached this point. However, this is not new. In the Bible, those who confessed Jesus were persecuted. The persecutors were often family members, the community, and the religious leaders of the synagogue, and later the civil and religious authorities of the Roman Empire. Jesus is, however, uncompromising in his demands, something we comfortable Westerners with our “religious freedom,” “First Amendment Rights,” and “easy conversions” often forget:
“And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, if any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-33).
Consider our Muslim friend—or any prospective convert. His wife says, “You must not confess Christ.” He must hate, repudiate, and reject his wife in order to follow Christ. His parents and his brethren fall before him on their knees begging him with tears not to repudiate Islam. He must hate, repudiate, and reject his parents and his brethren and their tears in order to confess Christ. The authorities threaten to arrest him for his confession of Christ. He must hate, repudiate, and reject his freedom and embrace a prison sentence in order to confess Christ. The judge sentences him to death, but offers clemency if he will recant his confession of Christ. He must hate, repudiate, and reject his own life and willingly submit to death if the alternative is to reject Christ.
Do not imagine that people are not forced to make that choice every day. Do we, from the comfort our Western homes, behind our keyboards, know anything of that? When our family tempts us to compromise (perhaps in something as simple as church membership), do we buckle under the pressure? Do not imagine, then, that it is easy for the Muslim to turn his back on the religion of his fathers and become a Christian.
Pray for our Muslim neighbours—pray that God would give them grace to see the beauty that is in Jesus Christ, the eternal, only begotten, incarnate Son of God. Pray that God would give them grace to repudiate all of their empty, dead, and corrupt works in order to have Christ. Pray that God would give them the courage to count the cost, take up the cross, and follow Christ. And pray that you, too, would have the grace to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Christ. Our confession must be the Apostle Paul’s:
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11).
This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.