October 4, 2007 Publishing Good News since 1884 Volume 124 Number 235

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Salvation: Scales or grace


EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is the fourth of a five-part series exploring the differences between Christianity and Islam in the weeks leading up to the 5th anniversary of the terrorist attacks by Islamic radicals on Sept. 11, 2001.

Understanding Islam
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GRACEVILLE (FBW)—The concept of salvation is the area in which theology becomes practical. All of the themes of theology unite in the subject matter of salvation. Because Jesus characterized the purpose of his ministry as one of seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19:19), salvation is an important New Testament concept. From a Christian perspective, “salvation” is a comprehensive concept that expresses the act of God on behalf of sinful humanity in which He brings sinful human beings into a personal relationship with Himself through the ministry of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Because orthodox Christianity and Islam affirm radically dissimilar views of God, human nature and sin, these two religions possess contradictory understandings of salvation. Allah does not seek the lost. The average Muslim would not be familiar with the Christian language about a personal relationship with God. Yet, the answer to basic religious questions demonstrates the varied understandings of salvation.

First, Islam and biblical Christianity provide different answers to the question “Why does mankind need salvation?” This question inquires into the essence of human nature.

Christianity answers the question by teaching that humans possess a sinful nature. The universality of sin testifies to a serious condition within each person. A medical analogy provides help in understanding the biblical truth. Sins—the isolated acts of disobedience—are the symptoms. Sin—a sinful nature—is the disease. Humans commit sins (the symptom) because we have a sinful nature (a disease). Because of our sin nature, a corruption of our very nature, humans are helpless to cure themselves of the disease.

The Baptist Faith and Message expresses this truth in the following manner: man “fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherits a nature and an environment inclined toward sin.” Paul provides the clearest biblical expression of our sin nature in Romans 3:10-18. He noted that all humans are “under sin,” that is, under the mastery of sin. Our sin nature negatively affects the totality of our life from head to feet: thoughts (v. 11), actions (v. 12), throat (v. 13), tongue (v. 13), lips (v. 13), mouth (v. 14), feet (v. 15), and eyes (v. 18). Further, Christians affirm that the entrance of sin into God’s created order disrupted the cosmos (Rom. 8:20-21). The greatest tragedy of sin, however, is alienation from God.

Islam denies that a sin nature characterizes humanity. The Qur’an affirms the universality of sin. “Should God punish men for their perverse doings, he would not leave on earth a single living being” (Surah 16:61). Yet, Islamic theology provides no explanation for this universality of sin. Each individual begins life innocent with no inclination toward sin. Theoretically, Islam should affirm that an individual could possibly live a sinless life. Each individual sin exists as an independent isolated act. Islam conceives of sin as a weakness—a forgetfulness to walk in the right way. Sin, therefore, neither corrupts humanity’s nature nor disrupts the cosmos. Second, Islam and biblical Christianity disagree about the answer to the question, “What is the remedy?” “Savior” is not a title for Allah in Islamic thought, whereas the Bible repeatedly ascribes the title "Savior” to God (Isa. 43:11; 1 Tim. 1:1; Titus 2:10, 13). According to Islamic thought, humanity lacks a predicament from which humans need saving. No need exists for a savior. Each individual works out his or her salvation, or forgiveness.

The Qur’an utilizes the analogy of scales to describe what is necessary for entrance into heaven. At the sound of the trumpet signaling the Day of Judgment, “They, whose balances shall be heavy, shall be the blest. But they whose balances shall be light, thee are they who shall love their souls, abiding in hell forever” (Surah 23:102-103). If an individual’s good deeds outweigh his or her bad deeds, the individual will enter into paradise.

Christianity ascribes salvation to the grace of God rather than the actions of a human being. Christianity affirms that humanity is helpless and powerless to deal with the human predicament of sin (Rom. 5:6-8). Jesus, as the God-Man, serves as a Mediator between a holy God and sinful humanity by becoming a ransom on behalf of humanity (1 Tim. 2:5-6). A ransom price purchased the freedom of a slave. Although Muslims deny the necessity of an atonement or atoning sacrifice, the concept of ransom occurs in a prominent Qur’anic narrative. When Abraham attempted to sacrifice his son Ishmael (not Isaac, as in the Bible), Allah “ransomed his son with a costly sacrifice” (Surah 37:102-109). Christians affirm that God provided a ransom for sinful humanity through the costly sacrifice of Jesus. The blood of Jesus poured-out for sinful humanity frees a believer from enslavement to sin. By bearing our sin in the suffering of the crucifixion, Jesus provided an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Jesus, therefore, removed the cause of alienation from God. An individual appropriates by faith the action of Jesus on behalf of humanity.

Third, Islam and Christianity provide disparate answers to the question, “Can I have certainty about my destiny?” A Muslim can never be sure if his or her scale weighs heavy, that is, that the good deeds outweigh bad deeds. Further, Allah does not grant assurance of a heavenly destiny. Since Allah both guides and deceives people (Surah 14:4), Allah is not a source of assurance. Even Muhammad himself expressed uncertainty about his future, “By Allah, though I am the Apostle of Allah, yet I do not know what Allah will do for me” (Hadith al-Bukhari 5:266). Umar, a companion of Muhammad and his second successor, said at the moment of his death, “Had I the whole East and West, gladly would I give up all to be delivered from this awful terror that is hanging over me.” Death, therefore, remains an enemy for a Muslim.

In contrast, Christianity proclaims that a believer may have assurance of eternal life (1 John 5:13). A Christian’s assurance does not rest in his or her actions. Rather, Christians experience assurance because salvation is God’s acts, not an action of an individual.