Islam (14)

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).

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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. 

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Islam (13)

On January 13 (blog post: Islam 11), we considered the death of Jesus on the cross, explaining why only he is qualified to be the Mediator and substitute for his people. On February 2 (blog post: Islam 12: Christianity Quiz), we reviewed the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and sin and salvation.

Christianity would not be good news if Jesus had remained in the tomb. A dead Lord Jesus is neither Lord (for a Lord rules) nor Savior (remember: Jesus means Savior, and a dead Jesus cannot save). The Qur’an is somewhat ambivalent on the subject of the resurrection of Christ, for in the Qur’an the infant Jesus speaks from the cradle in defense of his mother:

“I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; and He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; so Peace is upon me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised to life (again)!” (Surah 19:30-33).

Elsewhere, Allah makes this promise to Jesus: “O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of Resurrection: then shall ye all return to me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein ye dispute” (Surah 3:55).

Most Muslims, however, deny that Jesus died, and therefore they also deny that he rose from the dead. (The day of resurrection in Surah 3:55 probably refers to the general resurrection of the dead at the end of the world, a belief shared by Muslims, Jews, and Christians, although obviously they do not agree on every aspect of that doctrine).

The Bible teaches emphatically and clearly that Jesus rose from the dead. Therefore, in witnessing to a Muslim we must not end with the cross. The four gospel writers agree that Jesus rose from the dead, and although (without contradiction) they vary in the details, they teach the same basic truth.

First, Jesus rose from the dead in the body. At the point of Jesus’ death on the cross, his soul was separated from his body, which is the experience of all who undergo physical death (although Jesus is the only one who had the power [authority] to lay down his own life): “And Jesus cried with a loud voice and gave up the ghost” (Mark 15:37); “And having said thus, he gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46); “And he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30).

Jesus’ soul departed from his body and went to be with his Father in paradise: “Into thy hands I commend my spirit,” cried Jesus (Luke 23:46). Jesus’ body hung lifeless on the cross, and to prove that Jesus was really dead, a Roman soldier pierced his side with a spear: “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:34). Later, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus buried the lifeless body of Jesus in a tomb.

But Jesus’ death (with the separation of his body and soul) did not bring about the end of the incarnation. The human and divine natures in the one person of the Son of God were not separated. There was no severing of the hypostatic union. The Belgic Confession explains:

And though he hath by his resurrection given immortality to the same, nevertheless he hath not changed the reality of his human nature; forasmuch as our salvation and resurrection also depend on the reality of his body. But these two natures are so closely united in one person, that they were not separated even by his death. Therefore that which he, when dying, commended into the hands of his Father, was a real human spirit, departing from his body. But in the meantime the divine nature always remained united with the human, even when he lay in the grave. And the Godhead did not cease to be in him, any more than it did when he was an infant, though it did not so clearly manifest itself for a while.

While the dead body of Jesus lay in the tomb, it was still united to the person of Jesus, whose divine person was also still united to his human soul! (Although his human soul and body were separated, and are finite, his divine person is infinite and omnipresent). Nothing can separate the human and divine in Jesus—not even death!

On the third day, when Jesus rose from the dead, he did not rise as a disembodied spirit. At the point of his resurrection, his body and soul were reunited, and he rose in the body. His body was glorified as a real human body. We see that in his post-resurrection appearances in which, for example, he ate food and permitted his disciples to touch him: “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have…And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them” (Luke 24:39, 42-43).

Second, Jesus’ resurrection was attested by many witnesses. These witnesses are significant because none of them expected him to rise from the dead. The women who came to anoint his body on the first day of the week expected to find a dead body. Mary Magdalene in particular was devastated not to find Jesus’ body: “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid him” (John 20:2). The initial reaction of the disciples to Jesus’ resurrection was fear and even unbelief. Especially Thomas would not be convinced until he saw Jesus: “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). On seeing Jesus, Thomas’ response was worship: “And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

Not only did these same men boldly proclaim Christ’s resurrection, but they were so convinced about it that they were willing to die for the truth of it! The disciples were neither gullible fools nor deliberate deceivers. They knew that Jesus had risen because they were eyewitnesses of his resurrection!

Third, there are “many infallible proofs” of the resurrection. Apart from the compelling eyewitness accounts, we mention two: the empty tomb and the position of the grave clothes. Incontrovertible is the truth that on the third day, against all the expectations of his friends and enemies alike, the body of Jesus was not in the tomb. In addition, the grave clothes in which Jesus had been wrapped were lying in the tomb intact. Grave robbers could not have left the grave clothes behind so neatly, and grave robbers do not unwrap bodies before they carry them away. Besides, no one had the motive, means or opportunity to steal the body, which was guarded by armed soldiers on the orders of the Roman governor!

Fourth, the resurrection is significant both for Jesus and for his people.

The resurrection was vindication and glory for Jesus. He had been condemned, but God, in raising him from the dead, attested that he is the Son of God. “[He was] declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead” (Rom. 1:4).

The resurrection proves that Jesus has conquered death. If Jesus had remained dead, we would have to conclude that death had permanently conquered him. And if that were the case, we would have no hope, for if Jesus could not conquer death for himself, neither can he conquer it for us.

The resurrection of Jesus is the way of eternal life for God’s people. Jesus died for sin, bearing in his body and soul the punishment due to the sins of his people. If Jesus did not rise, we can only conclude that he failed to satisfy the justice of God. Therefore, we are still in our sins. Paul writes,

And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept (I Corinthians 15:17-20).

Finally, because Jesus rose from the dead, we have the confidence that our bodies will also one day rise from the dead. That is the hope that a Christian has at the funeral of a believing loved one, a hope of which the unbeliever is altogether devoid.

That is the Christian gospel—the Son of God became a man; the Son of God was made under the law whose curse he suffered when he died on the cross; the Son of God was buried; and the Son of God rose again from the dead, triumphant over death!

The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed (Romans 10:8-11).

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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. 

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Islam 12: Christianity Quiz

We interrupt the series of blog posts on Islam. If you have been following, and if you have comprehended the blog posts so far, you, and hopefully your Muslim contacts, should be able to answer these questions. Quiz yourselves and your families, especially your teenagers in Heidelberg/Essentials catechism class. How well do you understand the Christian faith? Could you prove these important teachings from scripture? 

Part 1: the Trinity

TRUE OR FALSE?

  1. Christians believe in three gods?
  2. Christians believe that the Son of God is a creature?
  3. Christians believe that there are three Creators?
  4. Christians believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one person?
  5. Christians believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three beings?
  6. Christians believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each one third of God?
  7. Christians believe that when Jesus was on the earth, there was no God in heaven?
  8. Christians believe that Mary is a god?
  9. Christians believe that the Father came before the Son and the Holy Spirit?
  10. Christians believe that the Father and the Holy Spirit have physical bodies?
  11. Christians believe the Father first created the Son, who then helped him create the world?
  12. Christians believe that the Father and the Son created the Holy Spirit?
  13. Christians worship only the Father, and do not worship the Son or the Holy Spirit?
  14. Christians believe that the Father adopted the Son at his baptism in the river Jordan, at which point he became God's Son?
  15. Christians believe that Jesus became the Son of God when he was born into the world?
  16. Christians believe that to become a father, God took a wife through whom he bore a son?

 

Part 2: The Incarnation

TRUE OR FALSE?

  1. Christians believe that when the Son of God became a man he was no longer God’s Son?
  2. Christians believe that during his life on earth the Son possessed no divine attributes?
  3. Christians believe that the Son of God was always human, even before the incarnation?
  4. Christians believe that because Mary is the mother of Jesus, she should be worshipped?
  5. Christians believe that the human nature of Jesus consists only of a human body, but not of a human soul?
  6. Christians believe that because Jesus is human and divine, he is or has two persons?
  7. Christians believe that Jesus has one nature?
  8. Christians believe that the qualities of one nature also belong to the other nature in Jesus? For example, Christians believe that the body of Jesus is omnipotent and omnipresent, like his divine nature?
  9. Christians believe that, because Jesus was hungry, thirsty and tired, he was not really God?
  10. Christians believe that, because Jesus suffered and died, he was not really God?
  11. Christians believe that, because Jesus performed miracles, understood the secret thoughts of men, and was worshipped, he was not really human?
  12. Christians believe that Jesus did not really have a human nature; he just seemed to?
  13. Christians believe that the human nature of Jesus was corrupted with sin?
  14. Christians believe that Jesus lived a perfect life of obedience and that he never sinned?
  15. Christians believe that, as a human being, Jesus was obligated to keep God’s Law?
  16. Christians believe that the Son of God on earth prayed to God?

 

Part 3: Sin and Salvation

TRUE OR FALSE?

  1. Christians believe that God tolerates sin and turns a blind eye to it?
  2. Christians believe that God only punishes “serious” sins such as murder or adultery?
  3. Christians believe that the penalty for sin is death?
  4. Christians believe in total depravity, which means that man is totally corrupt, unable to do anything good, and inclined to all evil?
  5. Christians believe that the sin which Adam committed in the Garden affected only Adam?
  6. Christians believe that all human beings are born good, but they become sinful because of their environment?
  7. Christians believe that it is possible to do enough good works in order to earn salvation?
  8. Christians believe that God accepts a work as truly “good” if it is sincere?
  9. Christians believe that a truly good work must be done out of faith to God’s glory?
  10. Christians believe that, because sinners could not save themselves, the Son came to be the Savior?
  11. Christians believe that Jesus obeyed the Law of God in the place of his people because they could not perfectly obey it themselves?
  12. Christians believe that Jesus carried the penalty of the Law of God in the place of his people because they could not carry that penalty themselves?
  13. Christians believe that the penalty that Jesus carried is the wrath (anger) and curse of God?
  14. Christians believe that the Father forced Jesus to carry that penalty against his will?
  15. Christians believe only Jesus was qualified to carry that penalty because he is God in human flesh?

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For the answers to these questions, visit the Islam 11 blog post.

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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. 

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Islam (11)

A Review of the Differences 

In our study of Islam, we have noticed that the two religions are diametrically opposed to one another.

First, Islam arose after Christianity—Mohammed was born in 570 AD, centuries after the Trinitarian and Christological controversies of the early church (c. 325-451 AD). In a certain sense, Islam can be called a truly anti-Christian religion, in that it developed in opposition to Christianity (although, as we have noted, Mohammed in his Qur’an was really attacking a caricature of Christianity).

Second, Islam’s Theology, or doctrine of God, is diametrically opposed to Christianity—the Islamic god Allah is a Unitarian deity, transcendent above the creation, and lacking the eternal fellowship of life and love of the triune God of sacred scripture. The cardinal doctrine of Islam is tawhid or the absolute, indivisible oneness of Allah, and the cardinal, unforgivable sin of Islam is shirk, the sin of joining or associating others with Allah. Christianity teaches God’s oneness (there is one God or one divine being or essence) and God’s eternal threeness (for He exists or subsists in three, distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Those three persons are co-equal, co-eternal, and co-essential or consubstantial).

Third, Islam’s Anthropology, or doctrine of man, is diametrically opposed to Christianity—Islam views man as essentially good, albeit prone to evil, and rejects the doctrine of original sin or inherent depravity, whereas Reformed, biblical Christianity views man as totally depraved, needing divine grace to deliver him from sin and death. In many ways, therefore, Islam is close to Pelagianism, which also teaches the inherent goodness of mankind without the need of divine grace, a heresy rejected by the church roughly a century before Mohammed’s birth.

Fourth, Islam’s Christology, or doctrine of Christ, is diametrically opposed to Christianity—Islam views Jesus Christ as one of Allah’s greatest prophets, second only to Mohammed. The Islamic Jesus (called Isa in the Qur’an) is virgin born and he performed miracles (even as a child). The Islamic Jesus is in no sense divine, but is a creature subject to the lordship of Allah. Therefore, Islam has no concept of the Incarnation or of the two natures (human and divine) of Jesus Christ. Moreover, Islam repudiates any notion that Jesus is the Son of God, for Allah cannot have a son according to Islam’s understanding of God. Since Islam rejects a divine, incarnate Savior, Islam also rejects the atonement of Christ (both the need for it and the possibility of it), and the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Most Muslims believe that Jesus was not crucified, but a switch occurred at the last moment to spare Jesus the indignity of the cross. Christianity teaches that Jesus willingly suffered for the sins of his people in order to deliver them from sin and death, which sufferings are efficacious for the salvation of God’s church.

Fifth, Islam’s Soteriology, or doctrine of salvation, is diametrically opposed to Christianity—Islam views man as imperfect, but savable. Salvation in Islam is by the performance of good deeds, whether almsgiving, prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage. In Islam, salvation depends on the outcome of the “scales” on the great Day of Judgment: “Then those whose balance (of good deeds) is heavy, they will attain salvation: But those whose balance is light, will be those who have lost their souls; in Hell will they abide” (Surah 23:102-103). Christianity teaches that man is lost and undone, and that Jesus came to seek and to save those who were lost. Therefore, salvation is by grace alone, a concept altogether foreign to Islam. In Christianity, salvation from the beginning (regeneration) to the end (glorification) is entirely the work of God. The Christian does not trust in good works, because his best works are imperfect. Instead, he trusts in the works of Jesus (his obedience, suffering, and death on his behalf), and he performs good works out of a thankful heart, which has been renewed through the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Muslim’s Soteriology drives him to seek to accrue sufficient good works for the Day of Judgment. Nevertheless, the Muslim can never have assurance of the favor of Allah, for who can know whether his “scales” will balance on the Last Day? The Christian’s Soteriology causes him to enjoy peace with God because he knows that all of his sins have been forgiven through the shedding of Christ’s blood.

Given the stark differences between the two religions on the most basic and fundamental issues of truth (Who is God? Who is man? Who is Christ? What is salvation?), it is astounding that many teach today that Islam and Christianity are basically the same. They are not, and we do our Muslim neighbor no favors by pretending that they are. However, we also do not vilify or demonize our Muslim neighbor—he is as lost in his sin as our unbelieving atheist, Jewish, or even nominally Christian neighbor. Instead, in love, we seek gently and patiently to explain to him the only way of salvation in Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus: The Only Substitute

In our last blog post on Islam (November 28, 2016), we ended with the following “dilemma” (a dilemma for us, not a dilemma for God. God does not experience dilemmas):

The sinner cannot pay the penalty for his own sin. If he does, he perishes everlastingly.
God will not clear the guilty. If he did, he would be unjust.

Is there, then, anyone who can pay the penalty of sin for the sinner?

The answer, we said, was that God provides a substitute, his own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

A substitute is one who stands in the place of another and does for another what he cannot do for himself. A biblical term similar to substitute is the idea of “surety.” A surety is one who assumes the responsibilities and duties of another. If the other person fails in his obligations, the surety fulfills the obligations for him. Jesus is called the surety in Hebrews 7:22: “By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.”

The obligation that comes to every human being is to love God with the whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love the neighbor as oneself. That is a summary of the whole law of God. Or, to express it differently, the obligation that comes to us as creatures is perfect, lifelong obedience. The law of God says to us, “Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10). Elsewhere, James writes, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). Therefore, our “best efforts” (whatever they are) are not good enough.

As the substitute or surety, Christ says to his people, whom he came to save, “I have taken the obligation of perfect obedience upon myself. Where you have not obeyed God, I have obeyed God for you. Where you have not loved God with a perfect heart, I have loved Him on your behalf.” Paul explains it this way, “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:5).

What a wonder—the Son of God, the Lawgiver, becomes subject to the law of God (“under the law”), and willingly, and perfectly, obeys it for miserable, sinful, rebellious lawbreakers!

Since mankind has not kept the first obligation, he becomes subject to a second obligation, which is punishment. As sinners, we are liable to the wrath and curse of an offended, holy God, a God who will by no means clear the guilty. God’s wrath is perfectly just and holy, and that wrath issues in the sinner’s death. Unless God is propitiated with respect to man’s sin, the sinner’s end is eternal punishment in hell.

As the substitute or surety, Christ says to his people, whom he came to save, “I have taken the obligation of punishment upon myself. Where you deserve in God’s just judgment to be punished for your sins, I have been punished in your place. I have taken upon myself the wrath and curse of my Father, so that you are received into my Father’s favor as his beloved sons and daughters.” Peter writes, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (I Peter 3:18). Paul writes, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).

What a wonder—the Son of God, who is perfectly righteous, holy, and without sin, is punished for the sins of his people, so that his people, who deserve to perish, are saved!

In order to qualify as the substitute or surety, Jesus must fulfill three requirements.

First, he must be a true man. Since human beings have sinned against God, a human being must fulfill the obligations of lifelong obedience and atoning sufferings and death. Therefore, an angel was not qualified to be the substitute or surety of God’s people. God did not send the angel Gabriel to perform the work of salvation. And we have seen, in considerable detail, that the Son of God, in the incarnation, took to Himself a real human nature, consisting of body and soul.

Second, he must be a righteous man. Any would-be substitute cannot himself be guilty of sin. Otherwise, he would be obligated to satisfy for his own sins, which he could not do. There are no specimens of humanity who are perfectly righteous and sinless—even the greatest of men, whether prophets, religious leaders, scientists, philosophers, kings, or artists, are sinners, and, therefore, guilty before God. None of them is qualified to be the Savior.

Third, he must be God. Consider the work that the Savior must perform, and you will understand that only divine omnipotence and perfect wisdom could accomplish it. The Savior must bear in his own body the sins of all his people, which is a burden that would crush a mere man. The Savior must suffer the terrible weight of the wrath and curse of God, which would destroy a mere man. And the Savior must be personally God so that his obedience, sufferings, and death have infinite value in the sight of God. None of the sufferings of men and angels can be compared with the sufferings of the Son of God in our flesh.

That is why Jesus Christ is the only Savior—he is the only one qualified to be the Savior. Others can teach us about salvation, as God’s true prophets and apostles have done. But only the Son of God, who is eternally and unchangeably God, and who, in the incarnation, became truly and completely man, and who is perfectly righteous and holy, can be the Savior.

And God, knowing our need for such a Savior, in great love for his people sent exactly that Savior whom we need. Our calling is to believe in that Savior, to trust in Him alone, and to love and to serve Him forever out of gratitude for his salvation. Listen to the good news proclaimed by the angels: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

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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. 

 

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ANSWERS to the Christianity Quiz:

Part 1: all the statements are false.

Part 2: all the statements, except 14-16, are false.

Part 3: all the statements, except 3, 4, 9-13, and 15, are false. 

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Islam (10)

In our last blog post on this topic, we showed that the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ were voluntary and necessary, necessary because God ordained them for His Son; voluntary because Jesus willingly endured them for His people.

But why would the merciful Father of our Lord Jesus Christ ordain such dreadful sufferings for His beloved Son? Why would He not spare Jesus? The answer lies in another necessity, the necessity of our salvation.

The Dreadful Cup

Jesus wrestled with this necessity in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before His arrest. After the Last Supper with His disciples, Jesus made His way to a garden on the outskirts of Jerusalem. In that garden, Jesus prayed. In His prayer, we get a glimpse into the soul of Jesus as He contemplated the path that He must take to the cross. Jesus describes how He felt: “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Matt. 26:38). What could have so oppressed the soul of Jesus that He became “sorrowful and very heavy” (v. 37)? What could have caused Him to be “in an agony,” so that “His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44)?

The answer is found in one word—the “cup.” In the Bible, a cup describes the allotted portion of something. Sometimes a cup is a cup of blessedness and salvation. The Psalmist sings, “The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup” (Ps. 16:5) and “my cup runneth over” (Ps. 23:5). Elsewhere, the Psalmist vows, “I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD” (Ps. 116:13). Often, however, a cup is a cup of punishment, cursing, and wrath: “Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire, and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup” (Ps. 11:6); “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them” (Ps. 75:8).

Jesus knew that God had appointed a cup for Him to drink, but when He saw the contents of the cup, He shuddered. The cup contained the wrath of God, the fullness of His Father’s fury against sin. Only by the drinking of that cup could the sins of God’s people be forgiven! Understandably, Jesus looked for another way—could, perhaps, salvation be accomplished even if He did not drink the cup? Listen to His prayer: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” and “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done” (Matt. 26:39, 42).

The Father answered by His silence—there is no other way. Either Jesus drinks the cup, or we must drink the cup. If we drink the cup, we will perish, because we must drink the cup forever in hell if Jesus does not drink the cup for us.

Having understood that, Jesus willingly went forth to embrace suffering and death. The Son of God in our flesh submitted His human will to His Father’s will. The next time that Jesus mentions the cup is at His arrest. Peter attempts to save Jesus with the sword, whereupon Jesus, rebuking Peter, exclaims, “Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11).

The Necessary Cup

That leads us to another question—why is such a cup necessary? Why does anyone have to drink the cup? Could the cup not simply pass away so that no one—not Jesus, and not we—drinks it? Or to express it in different words, could not God simply forgive sins without the need for the suffering and death of His Son?

The answer to that question is the justice of God.

God’s justice is that perfection of His being according to which all of His activity is in perfect harmony with His holiness. As the holy God, He hates sin, which is rebellion against His Law; as the just God, He punishes sin. God revealed this in the Garden of Eden, where He declared, “In the day that thou eatest thereof [of the forbidden fruit] thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Throughout scripture, God has revealed that the penalty for sin is death: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20); “They that commit such things are worthy of death” (Romans 1:32); “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Every pious Jew understood this, for God has ordained a system of animal sacrifices to teach him this important truth.

Moreover, death in the Bible is not merely physical death, but spiritual death, which is the corruption and ruin of man’s nature; and eternal death, which is eternal torment in the lake of fire.

Therefore, as the righteous judge, God will punish sinners with death (physical, spiritual, and eternal death), and God must punish sinners with death (physical, spiritual, and eternal death). Not to punish sinners with death would be for God to be unjust.

The Bible, however, teaches that God forgives sins. But He will not forgive sin at the expense of His justice. God declares to Moses, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty…” (Ex. 34:6-7). The true God of the Bible is merciful—rich in mercy, abundant in mercy and truth—but He will not clear the guilty. He has always revealed that in order to forgive sins He requires satisfaction of His justice. Anything less would be injustice, or a denial of His justice.

Islam teaches forgiveness without atonement, for Islam teaches that Allah forgives sin without payment for sin. At the same time, the Qur’an claims that Allah is just: “Allah is never unjust in the least degree: if there is any good (done), He doubleth it, and giveth from His own presence a great reward” (4:40). If Allah is not unjust, how can Allah forgive sins without satisfaction of his justice? The Qur’an offers no answer to this.

Atonement is necessary.

The sinner cannot pay the penalty for his own sin. If he does, he perishes everlastingly.

God will not clear the guilty. If He did, He would be unjust.

Is there, then, anyone who can pay the penalty of sin for the sinner?

The answer is that God provides a substitute, His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

To that we turn next time, DV.

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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. 

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Islam (9)

In our last blog post on this topic, we examined the Qur’an’s denial of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ:

That they said (in boast). ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah’—but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not—Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power. Wise” (Surah 4:157-158).

Apart from that textual stumbling block—the text of the Qur’an denies that Jesus was crucified—the Muslim stumbles over another matter: it is not fitting that God’s holy prophet should suffer such terrible shame by being crucified. What the Muslim needs to understand is that the sufferings of Jesus Christ were voluntary and necessary.

Voluntary Sufferings

The idea that Jesus was a tragically misunderstood moral leader whose life was cut off in his prime by the malice of His enemies is false. Yes, Jesus had cruel and malicious enemies, who desired His death. Certainly, many conspired against Him to destroy him, but Jesus was never a helpless victim.

Jesus makes it very clear throughout the gospels that he came to perform his Father’s will. Throughout His life, He operated according to a divine, and not a human, plan and timetable. As early as twelve years old, Jesus declares, “I must be about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49). Throughout the gospel according to John, reference is made to His “hour,” an hour that had not yet come (John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20), but which at the end of His life had finally come (John 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1). In John 5:19, Jesus declares, “The Son can do nothing of himself,” which means that the Son cannot act independently of the Father or in opposition to the Father, for they are one. In John 6:38, He explains, “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” The Father’s will was for the sufferings, death, and resurrection of His Son, something Jesus clearly knew and understood.

Therefore, Jesus was not forced against His will—either by men, or by His heavenly Father—to suffer and die on the cross. He willingly embraced the cross as the way of obedience. He steadfastly resisted anyone and anything that would deflect Him from that purpose. When Peter tried to persuade Jesus not to go to the cross, Jesus sternly rebuked him: “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matt. 16:23). As the time of the end drew near, Jesus “stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51), knowing full well what awaited Him there. When Peter attempted to prevent Jesus’ arrest, Jesus rebuked him again, “Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? (John 18:11). Even when Jesus was on the cross, He refused to come down and rescue Himself, despite His ability to do so, because He willingly gave His life.

In all of this, Jesus is unique. Only Jesus, as the Son of God, has power (authority) over His own life and death. As creatures, we cannot determine the moment of our death—and the sixth commandment forbids us to try. Listen to what Jesus declares, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:17-18).

Jesus willingly laid down His life on the cross out of love—love for the Father and love for His people. “Greater love,” says Jesus, “hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). “The Son of God … loved me, and gave himself for me” is the confession of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2:20. “Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it,” declares Paul in Ephesians 5:25 In Titus 2:14, Paul describes the Savior this way, “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”

Notice the constant refrain of the New Testament—He gave Himself; He offered Himself; He laid down His own life for those whom He loved. That is the Christian gospel of salvation.

Necessary Sufferings

The sufferings and death of Jesus Christ were necessary. If they were not necessary, the infinitely wise and good God would not have ordained them for His Son; and the infinitely wise and good Son of God would not have willingly submitted to them.

Jesus knew from the beginning that they were necessary. In Matthew 16:21, just after Peter made the famous confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (v. 16), Jesus confessed the necessity of His sufferings: “He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.” When His enemies came to arrest Him, He declared, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (Matt. 26:53-54). He added in verse 56, “But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Later, after His resurrection, Jesus explained the necessity to His disciples: “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory” (Luke 24:26) and “Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day” (v. 46).

The sufferings and death of Christ, therefore, were necessary, first, because God decreed them as part of His eternal purpose; and, second, because the Scriptures prophesied them.

There is a third necessity. The sufferings and death of Christ were necessary for our salvation. Without the sufferings and death of Christ, we cannot be forgiven, and we must perish. But because of the sufferings and death of Christ, all those who believe in Him are saved.

To that subject we turn next time, DV.

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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. 

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Islam (8)

“But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (I Corinthians 1:23). The message of the gospel—Christ crucified—was a stumbling block to the Jews because they could not accept a crucified Messiah. It is a stumbling block to Muslims for similar reasons.

Many Muslims believe that Jesus (Isa) did not die. Instead, He was honored and taken directly into heaven. Therefore, Muslims, in general, deny the crucifixion and death, the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Islam has no need for the cross and resurrection because Islam’s doctrine of salvation is based on human effort, not on the redemptive acts of God in Jesus Christ. Certainly, the Qur’an denies the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. On the death of Jesus, the Qur’an is less clear.

Some passages seem to suggest that Jesus did die, albeit not by crucifixion.

For example, the infant Jesus of the Qur’an speaks from the cradle with these words: “Peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)! Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute” (Surah 19:33-34). Clearly, if peace was upon Jesus on the day that He died, He must have died; but if peace was upon Him, he did not die under the wrath and curse of God on the cross as the Christian gospel teaches.

Elsewhere, Allah makes the following promise: “Behold, Allah said: O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of Resurrection: then shall ye all return unto me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein ye dispute” (Surah 3:55). To “take thee and raise thee” has, according to some scholars, the idea of death followed by exaltation.

Whether the Jesus of the Qur’an died or not, he was not crucified:

That they said (in boast). ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah’—but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not—Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power. Wise” (Surah 4:157-158).

Surah 4:157 is decisive for the Muslim against the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ only appeared to be crucified, but, in fact, he was not crucified. The common explanation is the “substitution theory.” Someone was substituted for Jesus so that he died instead of Jesus, while the enemies of Jesus believed that they had killed Jesus. Powerful, wise Allah fooled the enemies of Jesus, and Jesus was exalted into heaven. Many Muslims believe that Judas Iscariot was the substitute. Judas was arrested, scourged, crucified, and died instead of Jesus.

Therefore, the Qur’an (written during the lifetime of Mohammed c. 570-632, and compiled shortly after his death) opposes the Bible, both the Old Testament, which prophesies the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the New Testament, which records and interprets the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact, the central message of the Bible, and certainly the centerpiece of Biblical salvation, is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Consider these words of Jesus to His disciples after the resurrection:

These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me… Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day. And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things (Luke 24:44-48).

Christ teaches that His sufferings and death are (1) necessary and (2) prophesied in the Scriptures (the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms). Just one example from the prophets will suffice at this point:

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities (Isaiah 53:4-11).

The gospel narratives (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) contain very detailed descriptions of the arrest, trial, sufferings, and death of Jesus. If Islam is true, these accounts are almost entirely fabricated.

The denial of these explicit Old Testament and New Testament testimonies places Muslims in a difficult position. The Qur’an attributes the Law (Torah), the Psalms, and the Gospel (Injil) to Allah:

Before this: We wrote in the Psalms, after the Message (given to Moses): “My servants, the righteous, shall inherit the earth” (Surah 21:105).

It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the Book, confirming what went down before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the Criterion (of judgment between right and wrong) (Surah 3:3).

And in their footsteps we sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah. Let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) those who rebel. To thee We sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety: so judge between them by what Allah hath revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging from the Truth that hath come to thee. To each among you have We prescribed a Law and an Open Way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute (Surah 5:46-49)

If only the People of the Book had believed and been righteous, We should indeed have blotted out their iniquities and admitted them to Gardens of Bliss. If only they had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side. There is from among them a party on the right course: but many of them follow a course that is evil (Surah 5:65-66).

If Mohammed during his lifetime spoke to his Jewish and Christian contemporaries to judge out of the Torah and the Gospel (Injil), which books did he mean? He must have meant the Law and Gospel that existed in the 6th/7th centuries (Mohammed lived from c. 570-632). There are many Old Testament and New Testament manuscripts from that time and all of them agree that Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus is fully God in human flesh, Jesus was crucified, and that He was buried and rose again from the dead. None of the manuscripts deny the fundamental truths that Christians confess today. Had the Jews and Christians consulted the Torah and Gospel (Injil) available in their day, they would have found them to contradict Mohammed’s message in the Qur’an. Mohammed did not know this, of course, because (as most acknowledge) Mohammed was illiterate.

If the Muslim wants to answer that the Torah and Gospel (Injil) have been corrupted, we must ask when this alleged corruption took place. If it happened before Mohammed was born, how could Mohammed ask the Jews and Christians to judge out of such (allegedly) corrupted texts? If it occurred after Mohammed’s death, it is easy for the Christian church to reconstruct the original text of Scripture. Many manuscripts are very old and certainly predate the Qur’an by centuries. In fact, there is more textual material available for the New Testament than any other ancient Greek text.

Either Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of His people, and rose again from the dead, or all the Christians who testified to His death and resurrection are liars and false witnesses. One cannot honor the Injil as the Qur’an commands, and still deny the death and resurrection of Jesus:

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures … Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable (I Corinthians 15:3-4, 12-19).

Next time, DV, we shall prove from the Scriptures that Jesus Christ was crucified, that He died, and was buried, and that He rose again from the dead. And we will explain why this is necessary for our salvation.

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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. 

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Islam (7)

Arguably, among the most complicated questions in Christology (the doctrine of Christ) are those that concern the natures of Christ. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is both divine (He is the eternal, only begotten Son of God, the second person of the Godhead) and human (He is the man Jesus of Nazareth, with a real, physical human body and a real, spiritual human soul).

Confusion arises when we try to understand how the divine and the human are related in Jesus. The Qur’an says nothing about this, which is understandable—the Qur’an teaches a merely human Jesus (Isa). Although the Jesus of the Qur’an is virgin born and performed miracles, he is a mere human prophet like Moses, Elijah or some other servant of God. It is true that Jesus (Isa) is highly esteemed in Islam, but the Qur’an falls far short of honoring Jesus as the Son of God, a truth that the Qur’an vehemently denies. The New Testament, however, is not satisfied with faint—and false—praise for Jesus. “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).

In the last blog post we mentioned certain questions that the Muslim might raise in objection to the truth of the Incarnation of the Son of God:

“If Jesus is God, how could He be hungry?”
“If Jesus is God, how could He be tired?”
“If Jesus is God, how could He pray to God?”
“If Jesus is God, how could He die?”

“If Jesus is God, who was ruling the universe when He was in the grave?”

The simple answer to those questions is that Jesus was hungry, tired, suffered, and died only according to His human nature; and that (while a human being) Jesus still ruled according to His divine nature. That is simple to state, but less simple to understand.

When you observe Jesus Christ in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you are observing one who is the eternal Son of God (that is His person) in the human flesh. “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). When the baby Jesus lay in the manger, He was the Son of God or the Word made flesh. When the boy Jesus grew up in Nazareth, He was the Son of God or the Word made flesh. When the young man Jesus worked as a carpenter, He was the Son of God or the Word made flesh. When the adult Jesus walked around Galilee, or sat in a fishing boat, He was the Son of God or the Word made flesh. When after a long day, Jesus sat down to a meal, ate food, drank water or wine, and then fell asleep, He was the Son of God or the Word made flesh. When Jesus suffered and died on the cross, He was the Son of God or the Word made flesh.

He never ceased to be the Son of God—His deity or divinity was not diminished in the Incarnation.

He never ceased to be man—His humanity was not changed in its union with the divine Son of God.

Jesus was both God and man. Even today, in heaven, Jesus is still both God and man.

Each of those two natures in Jesus has its own distinct properties. Those two natures must not be confused, therefore.

It is the property of humanity to be finite. Therefore, Jesus’s human nature (exactly because it is a true human nature) is finite.

The human body of Jesus, therefore, grew. He grew as a child until He reached His adult height. To speak of an infinite human body that fills heaven and earth by its immensity is nonsense. No human body can be immense, infinite or omnipresent.

The human mind of Jesus, therefore, developed. Jesus was ignorant as a child, just as we were, so He had to learn. Of course, His mind was sharper and keener than ours, simply because His mind was unimpaired by sin, but Jesus never reached a stage in His development when He was omniscient in His human mind. Omniscience is not a human characteristic. (Jesus is omniscient, but only according to His divine nature). That explains, for example, why Jesus was ignorant of certain things not revealed to Him by the Father.

The human body of Jesus, therefore, was not omnipotent. An omnipotent human body is a contradiction in terms. (Jesus is omnipotent, but only according to His divine nature). That explains, for example, how Jesus was able to experience fatigue, pain, hunger, thirst and other natural human weaknesses. He experienced such sensations in His real, finite, non-omnipotent human nature.

It is the property of divinity to be infinite, unchangeable, eternal, omniscient and omnipotent. Therefore, Jesus is and remained infinite, unchangeable, eternal, omniscient and omnipotent. For example, when Jesus perceived the thoughts of the Pharisees, He displayed His omniscience (Mark 2:8). When Jesus calmed the storm of the Sea of Galilee, He displayed His omnipotence (Mark 4:9). Indeed, in all of His miracles Jesus displayed His omnipotence as the Son of God. However, for the most part, during His life on earth Jesus’ glory as the Son of God was hidden behind the infirmity of His flesh. Nevertheless, when Jesus showed His power, not even His enemies could deny it.

As I have indicated more than once, the questions concerning the true divinity and perfect humanity of Christ were settled at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, over a century before Mohammed’s birth. That Mohammed was unaware of these things and makes no effort to interact with Christianity’s official creeds is remarkable.

A much later Christian confession, the Belgic Confession, explains the relationship this way:

We believe that by this conception, the person of the Son is inseparably united and connected with the human nature; so that there are not two Sons of God, nor two persons, but two natures united in one single person: yet, that each nature retains its own distinct properties. As then the divine nature hath always remained uncreated, without beginning of days or end of life, filling heaven and earth: so also hath the human nature not lost its properties, but remained a creature, having beginning of days, being a finite nature, and retaining all the properties of a real body… (Article 19).

The next question we must face is why did Jesus come? Why did the Son of God become incarnate? And the answer is quite simply at the very heart of the Christian gospel: He came to suffer and die for the sins of His people. To that subject we turn next, DV.

________________

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. 

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Islam (6)

We have—for the benefit of the Muslim neighbor, who does not understand the Christian faith—been explaining the great wonder of the Incarnation.

We have noted that (1) The one who became incarnate is the Son of God; (2) His becoming the Son of God did not mean that He ceased to be fully divine; (3) In becoming incarnate, the Son of God took to Himself a real, complete human nature of body and soul; and (4) The human (nature) and divine (nature) in Christ (the eternal Son of God) are distinct.

This wonder took place in the virgin conception and birth. The Qur’an teaches the virgin birth, that is, it teaches that Mary give birth to Jesus (Isa) when she had not known a man sexually (Surah 3:47; 19:19-22). However, the virgin birth in Islam does not really serve any purpose; it is simply given to be a sign (Surah 19:21)—a sign of what, we might wonder.

The Bible gives very great importance to the virgin conception and birth, for in this very way the Son of God became a real human being, or “the Word was made flesh” (John 1:14). (Incidentally, the Bible does not accord such importance to the virgin birth in order to honor Mary, who is but an instrument in God’s hand. We honor Christ by confessing His incarnation through the virgin birth).

Listen to the following exchange between the angel Gabriel and Mary in Luke 1:31-35

And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

The goal or purpose of the virgin birth is not merely to be a sign—it is a sign, but it is more than a sign. The virgin birth is the vehicle of the incarnation. It is the way in which the Son of God becomes human. Notice that Gabriel identifies the son that Mary shall bear as (1) the Son of the Highest; (2) holy; and (3) the Son of God. Notice, too, that the wonderworker of this miracle will be the Holy Ghost (or the Holy Spirit).

Something deeply mysterious and wonderful took place in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Who can fathom it? The Holy Spirit took part of the flesh of Mary, part of her human nature. This was necessary so that Jesus might be related to the human race and a true descendant of King David. Then without the use of any flesh from a man (such as Joseph, Mary’s espoused husband, who is entirely excluded from this miracle), the Holy Spirit formed a real, complete human nature. That human nature consists of body and soul. Who can fathom the coming together of a body and soul when we are formed in our mother’s wombs? How much greater is that wonder by which a real human body (a human embryo at this point) and soul were formed in Mary’s womb for the Son of God! To that real human nature the person of the Son of God united Himself by the power of the Holy Spirit. The result is that the eternal Son of God, without ceasing to be God, became true man.

Jesus from the very moment of His conception was fully and true God, and fully and true man. When He was born, Jesus was fully and true God and fully and true man. Throughout His earthly life, Jesus was fully and true God and fully and true man. And in His death, Jesus was fully and true God and fully and true man.

Another sublime passage on the Incarnation is Philippians 2:5-8:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Consider briefly these words. First, Jesus is “in the form of God” and “equal with God.” Those two expressions mean that He is God. Second, Jesus “was made in the likeness of men” and “being found in fashion as a man.” Those expressions mean that He is truly human. Third, Jesus “made himself of no reputation,” “took upon himself the form of a servant,” “humbled himself” and “became obedient.” Those expressions speak of His voluntary submission or humiliation. And the whole passage is designed to illustrate the virtue of humility.

Another passage in this connection is Romans 8:3:

For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.

Notice the precision of language. God sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. God did not send His own Son in the likeness of flesh. That would be a denial of the reality of Christ’s human nature. God did not send His own Son in sinful flesh. That would be a denial of the reality of Christ’s sinless purity. God sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. That perfectly encapsulates the truth of the Incarnation.

One final passage that speaks powerfully about the Incarnation is Galatians 4:4-5:

But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

The important expressions here are “made of a woman” (a reference to the Incarnation—Jesus was not merely made “in” but “of” [out of] a woman) and “made under the law” (a reference to His humiliation, for Jesus voluntarily placed Himself under the law in order to obey it, and in order to deliver us from the penalty of the law).

All of this makes Jesus Christ altogether unique. He is the only one who has ever lived who is both God and man. He is the eternal Son of God, and He is a true human being. That is the meaning of the Incarnation, which is so important for our salvation.

One final matter in this connection is the vital relationship between the human and divine in Jesus. If this is not understood, Jesus becomes inexplicable. It is exactly because the Muslim does not understand this that the Incarnation is such a stumbling block to him. It is exactly because of these misunderstandings that the Muslim will bring objections such as these:

“If Jesus is God, how could He be hungry?”
“If Jesus is God, how could He be tired?”
“If Jesus is God, how could He pray to God?”
“If Jesus is God, how could He die?”

“If Jesus is God, who was ruling the universe when He was in the grave?”

These questions might seem foolish to the Christian, but to the Muslim they are genuinely perplexing issues. (Incidentally, you will hear similar objections from cultists such as the so-called Jehovah’s Witnesses). Some may ask the questions in a mocking, sneering tone, but we should not respond in kind: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (I Peter 3:15).

To those questions we turn next time, DV.

__________________

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. 

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Islam (5)

In our last blog post on Islam, we looked at some of the teachings in the Qur’an concerning who Jesus (or, as Islam names him, Isa) is. Consider this statement in the Qur’an: “Behold, the angels said: ‘O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah” (Surah 3:45).

Nevertheless, Islam does not honor Jesus in confessing Him to be the eternal, only begotten, incarnate Son of God. Islam denies that Allah has a son, thus destroying the very possibility of an Incarnation.

In witnessing to a Muslim neighbor, the subject of the Incarnation simply must be addressed. Without the Incarnation, there is and can be no salvation. The Muslim must be brought to see this, and, at the very least, you must explain to him what the Incarnation is. Often, Muslims deny and reject what they do not understand. Still, we must remember that only the Holy Spirit by the Word can reveal the truth to a sinner. Your calling as a Christian witness is accurately to bring the Word, while leaving the fruit to Him “that bloweth where He listeth” (John 3:8).

We begin with the sublime passage of John 1:1-3, 14:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made…And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

In these verses, John presents Jesus not as the Son of God, but as the Word of God. The Word means the Logos, from which the word logic is derived. The Logos is the perfect revelation or the speech of God. Nevertheless, the Logos is not an abstract concept, but a person, an active person with intelligence and will.

The Logos is divine—not merely like God, but God: “The Word was God” (v. 1). As God, the Logos is not a creature, but the Creator: “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (v. 3). If the Word, Logos or Son of God is the Creator, He cannot be a creature. (In the Bible, creature and Creator are the only two categories of being). Moreover, as divine, the Logos is eternal, for “in the beginning was the Word” (v. 1) and “the same was in the beginning” (v. 2), and one who is the Creator of all things (v. 3) must be eternal. In addition, as the divine Son of God, the Logos has the glory of God (“the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” [v. 14]). Remember the meaning of “only begotten” from an earlier blog post.

The Logos is also personally distinct from God. In John 1:1 we read, “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Not only is the Word (Logos) God, but He is also with God. This fits, of course, with the teaching of the Trinity by which Christians confess that God is three distinct persons in one divine being or essence. The relationship between God (the Father) and the Logos (the Son) (this passage does not mention the Spirit) is described with the preposition “with”—“the same was in the beginning with God” (v. 2). The word “with” could be translated with “towards,” which expresses close fellowship. In verse 18, John writes, “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”

At this point, the Muslim may object, and his head might be spinning. (Maybe yours is too!). However, ask your Muslim neighbor to be patient. It is important that he sees what the Christian scriptures actually teach before he brings his objections and questions. (By presenting these things to him, you are clearing away many misconceptions about Christianity, so proceed slowly, patiently, and prayerfully).

That, dear reader, is the Jesus of the Bible—the eternal, divine Creator, the Son of God, who, although personally distinct from the Father and dwelling in the Father’s bosom, is fully and truly God.

That Jesus became incarnate.

Only that Jesus became incarnate.

The Father did not become incarnate. The Holy Spirit did not become incarnate. The angel Gabriel did not become incarnate. The Son of God, the divine Logos, He became incarnate.

The Incarnation of the Son of God is the great wonder of God by which God became man. John 1:14 explains it thus: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” The important word in verse 14 is “flesh.” (We get our word “Incarnation” from the Latin for “flesh’). In the Bible, the word “flesh” refers to human nature with respect to its frailty. “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field” (Isaiah 40:6).

“The Word was made flesh” (John 1:14). This means that the Son of God became human—He adopted, assumed or took on a human nature.

That human nature is, first, physical or material. (God is not physical or material, but spiritual). Therefore, the Son of God has a real human body with all the physical organs that we do. To make that concrete, Jesus had real human blood, which He shed on the cross; Jesus wept real human tears at the grave of Lazarus, His friend; Jesus perspired with real human sweat and experienced real human tiredness so that His real human body required real human sleep; and when Jesus suffered physically real human pain receptors in His real human skin sent messages to His real human brain, so that He experienced the real human sensation of pain.

And remember, the Word (the eternal, divine Creator, the Son of God, who, although personally distinct from the Father and dwelling in the Father’s bosom, is fully and truly God) became flesh. That is the wonder of wonders, a wonder of God’s grace!

The human nature is, second, psychological or spiritual. Humans are not only physical, material bodies, but we have also human souls. Jesus had full human psychology, which means that He had a human soul, a human mind, and a human will. Jesus experienced human sorrow, human joy, and even human surprise. Jesus, as a human, began as a tiny baby in the womb of His mother, and He grew and developed physically and psychologically as we do. Luke 2:40 says, “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.” Luke 2:52 adds, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”

This means that the Word (the eternal, divine Creator, the Son of God, who, although personally distinct from the Father and dwelling in the Father’s bosom, is fully and truly God) became everything that we are, and experienced everything that we experience—birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, work, play, joy, sorrow, pain, suffering, and death.

There is only one exception to that—Jesus did not experience sin, for He has no sin. He is the spotless Son of God. Peter writes of Him, “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (I Peter 2:22).

We need to clear up a few further misconceptions about the Incarnation.

First, when the Son of God became incarnate—when the Word “was made flesh” (John 1:14)—He did not cease to be the Son of God, that is, He did not cease to be divine. The Muslim is tempted to object that the Incarnation means that the infinite God became finite, or that the eternal God became temporal, or that the omnipotent God became weak and helpless, or that the immutable God became changeable. Strictly speaking, that is incorrect. The infinite, eternal, omnipotent, immutable Son of God, who is fully divine, took to Himself a human nature that is finite, temporal, weak and changeable. The human body and soul of Jesus is finite, but Jesus, the Son of God, is not finite.

Second, in the Incarnation, the two natures of Jesus remain distinct. This was something settled at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 (which, I remind you, was some 119 years before Mohammed’s birth):

We, then, following the holy fathers, all with one consent teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ…one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ.

This means, for example, when Jesus fell prostrate before the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, He did so as the Son of God in the human nature. When Jesus had to eat His necessary food, or when Jesus was tired, or when Jesus experienced pain or sorrow, He did so as the Son of God in the human nature.

But we need to write further blog posts to explain further that relationship between the human and divine in Jesus Christ, as well as to explain how and why Jesus the Son of God became a real human being.

Suffice to say that the human nature of Christ—with the Incarnation by which Jesus assumed that human nature—is necessary for our salvation.

______________________

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. 

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