Two questions from a truth-seeking Muslim on the death of Jesus on the cross: DID He die on the cross (which we looked at in Part One), and, if so, WHY did He die on the cross?
“I am looking at the Christians are preparing for this Easter. I have known from friends that it was the real Christ on the Cross. But my Muslim friends and our [Muslim] teachings say that He was another man. I trust if the bible says then it is CHRIST…
“Actually in Muslim faith there are some different stories about crucifixion of Christ. But need to know the reality. Perhaps I need to re read it for better understanding...but it is very important for me to learn about why Christ was crucified. He was able to save himself from the enemies...why did he allow them to beat him and take him to the cross?
In the first part of the discussion (Part One), we concluded that the Qur’an does not deny the historical crucifixion of Jesus, but only denies that his Jewish enemies were correct in their boasts to have thwarted God by executing/extinguishing His Messenger with finality. And that the Qur’an does point to a historical death of the historical Jesus—and that it was special in the eyes of God.
The Qur’an does not explicitly discuss the meaning of that death—other than as a martyr before God, as with other prophets—and so to understand the meaning of that death we had to look at the pre-Qur’anic revelation/messages of God (i.e. the Hebrew Bible and the Injil).
In the second part (Part Two) we studied the question of why Jesus/Isa allowed himself to be mistreated/killed, since he did not actually have to.
The answer to the second part of the question was straight-forward:
Jesus allowed His enemies to do these acts of evil to Him, because He was fully committed, submitted, and obedient to the will of God, as revealed in the prophetic Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament.
In one of His post-resurrection appearances, Jesus pointed out that the Messiah/Christ must have experienced the suffering, in order to then experience His glory:
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Lk 24:13-27).
In Part Three of this series, we looked at the prediction of the coming of Israel's Messiah. The Qur'an (and Muslim tradition) identifies the Jewish Messiah with Jesus, and Israel's Messiah was supposed to suffer (like Jesus did). We looked at the pre-Quranic Hebrew Bible/Old Testament for WHY the Messiah was supposed to suffer, as given by Jesus.
We looked at two teachings of Jesus in depth:
The Ransom sayings:
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10.45)
"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Gospel of Matthew 20.25-28)
The New Covenant forgiveness sayings:
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” [The Holy Bible : Today's New International Version. 2005 (Mt 26:26-29). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.]
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. [The Holy Bible : Today's New International Version. 2005 (Mk 14:22-24). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.]
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. [The Holy Bible : Today's New International Version. 2005 (Lk 22:19-20). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.]
We saw that Jesus himself indicated that His death--as the Messiah--was foretold in the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament as both a ransom (for 'buying us' out of slavery to judgment, resulting in the forgiveness of sins) and as an inaugural sacrifice for the New Covenant (which included forgiveness of sins, and the power to submit to God in our very hearts). His death was not an accident, nor was it a failure, nor was it 'only' a human death--it was God's powerful love in action, providing a complete basis for forgiveness to us all. We need only to be honest with God about His work in and through Christ on the Cross, to be able to receive this free gift of forgiveness and a restored relationship with the Living, Loving, and Holy God.
In Part Four, we looked at what God taught Jesus' companions (e.g., Peter and John) and other apostles (e.g. Paul) about the results of the Cross. We saw that the disciples taught the same thing as did their teacher Jesus, about His death as a ransom from judgment. They wrote these things down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, for us to learn from.
Peter was obedient to his Teacher, and was faithful in handing down the same teachings as Jesus about the purpose of the death of Jesus on the cross.
know that God paid a ransom
to save you from the empty life you
inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold
or silver. 19 It
was the precious
blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. 20 God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but
he has now revealed him to you in these last days. Through
Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed
hope in God because
he raised Christ from the dead and
gave him great glory. You were cleansed
from your sins when you obeyed the truth" (1 Pe 1:18–22)
"He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls." (1 Pe 2:22–25)
The Apostle John was also faithful in proclaiming Jesus' teachings about His death on the cross, as our substitute and to free us from the punishment we deserve. Jesus did this--as sent from God the Father--out of love for us.
"My dear children, I write this letter to you so you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have a helper in the presence of the Father—Jesus Christ, the One who does what is right. He died in our place to take away our sins, and not only our sins but the sins of all people. (1 Jn 2:1–2).
The Apostle Paul consistently taught that following laws and rules--even those given by God in the Hebrew bible--are not able to make one right with God. In fact, these divine laws clearly show us that we cannot obey them perfectly, and that we are guilty and in need of God’s forgiveness.
He points out that the message of Jesus was that God was the One who provided a special way for humans to receive forgiveness of sins, and further teaches that only by accepting God's message of the Good News ('gospel') of forgiveness by faith, can one even begin to submit to God's laws of love.
Paul learned and understood that the Messiah of God came to earth specifically to ‘become guilty as our substitute before God’; so that we could be freed from the penalty we deserve and could gain spiritual power to begin to love and obey God. As we saw in the part about Jesus’ own teachings, Jesus came to carry the sins of all of us upon Himself, to absorb the punishment and wrath of God (on the Cross) that we all deserve.
Paul consistently repeated the message that the Lord Jesus gave us during his last night on earth—that Jesus would be a ransom-substitute for believers, and that Jesus would be a perfect sacrifice to bridge us to God the Father for forgiveness of sins.
There is one God and one mediator so that human beings can reach God. That way is through Christ Jesus, who is himself human. He gave himself as a payment (ransom) to free all people. [1 Timothy 2.6; New Century Version]
He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom (ransomed us) with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. [Ephesians 1.7; New Living Translation]
Christ took away the curse the law put on us. He changed places with us and put himself under that curse. It is written in the Scriptures, “Anyone whose body is displayed on a tree is cursed.” [Gal 3.13; New Century Version. ]
So, the three main writing apostles of Jesus in the early church--Peter, John, and Paul--confirm the words of Jesus, as they taught about what the death of Christ on the cross accomplished for us.
Jesus’ followers and disciples were uniform and faithful to the teaching of their Messiah and Lord. They learned from Him that people need more than just guidance and instruction in how to please God—they need rescuing, ransoming, and saving from the penalty of our moral failures, sin, and lack of godliness. They needed more than a Teacher--they needed a Savior and Redeemer too.
We can see now that the role of the Messiah was one of both teaching about God the Father, and also about fulfilling the Father's will to reach us with His love and forgiveness. The Messiah Jesus was the means to our ransom from captivity to the penalty of sin. We had been captured by sin and death (by our disobedience), and as such were legitimate targets for the just punishment of our God. But Jesus--in keeping with the prophecies which went before Him, and in obedience to the will of God--offered Himself up as a substitute, a sacrifice, a ransom (like the ram in the story of Abraham) for us. His love for the Father and for us led Him to the death on the cross, and the Father exalted Him by raising Him from the dead. Forgiveness and salvation are the work of God, not of us imperfect and often-disobedient humans. God deserves all the credit for our redemption, since He is the One who took action.
Jesus taught that He provided for our salvation by taking our punishment on the Cross, and His apostles spread that good news throughout the world.
In this final part of this series, we will look at how we should respond to Jesus' teachings about the purpose of His death? How do we submit to God's instructions about trusting His provision for our sin?
The Holy Spirit, in giving the New Testament revelation to us, uses many beautiful terms to describe the powerful results of the work of Jesus on the cross, and of the relationship we humans can have with God the Father because of that sacrifice. Some of the terms are 'eternal redemption', 'eternal salvation', 'forgiveness of sins', 'justification', 'reconciliation', and 'peace with God', but Jesus' favorite expression was that of 'eternal life'.
Eternal life is not just human life extended indefinitely, but one that also includes a quality of life that was akin to that enjoyed by God. Our resurrected bodies and purified spirits would be free from the pain and death caused by sin and brokenness in the world, and our hearts would be filled with the joys of experiencing God in His presence.
Like Jesus, the Apostle Paul described this resurrected life as 'immortality', contrasting our present life as 'mortal' with our future bodies as 'indestructible', in his first letter to the Christians in Corinth in Greece:
"It is the same with the dead who are raised to life. The body that is “planted” will ruin and decay, but it is raised to a life that cannot be destroyed. When the body is “planted,” it is without honor, but it is raised in glory. When the body is “planted,” it is weak, but when it is raised, it is powerful. The body that is “planted” is a physical body. When it is raised, it is a spiritual body. There is a physical body, and there is also a spiritual body. … I tell you this, brothers and sisters: Flesh and blood cannot have a part in the kingdom of God. Something that will ruin cannot have a part in something that never ruins. But look! I tell you this secret: We will not all sleep in death, but we will all be changed. It will take only a second—as quickly as an eye blinks—when the last trumpet sounds. The trumpet will sound, and those who have died will be raised to live forever, and we will all be changed. This body that can be destroyed must clothe itself with something that can never be destroyed. And this body that dies must clothe itself with something that can never die. So this body that can be destroyed will clothe itself with that which can never be destroyed, and this body that dies will clothe itself with that which can never die. When this happens, this Scripture will be made true: “Death is destroyed forever in victory.” [New Century Version. (1 Co 15:42–54).]
In His teaching, Jesus explains that God the Father gives eternal life to those who accept Jesus' claims as to His identity (Messiah and absolutely unique Son of God) and who trust in Him to give them eternal life. Jesus gives eternal life to those who trust in Him, because that is the will of God the Father.
Here are some of the passages in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus indicates this:
They [the Jews in Galilee] replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?” Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” … Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But you haven’t believed in me even though you have seen me. However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them. For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.”[New Living Translation. (2nd ed.) (Jn 6:28–40).]
Notice some points that Jesus is making here:
And again, as Jesus speaks with a teacher of Israel:
Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up [on the Cross], 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. [New Living Translation, Jn 3:10–15]
The apostle John--who recorded these words-added at this point in the Gospel of John these words:
God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him. People who believe in God’s Son are not judged guilty. [New Century Version. (Jn 3:16–19).]
In fact, the entire Gospel of John was written under the prompting of the Holy Spirit so that we might understand that eternal life is available to all of us who simply accept Jesus and trust in His work to save us from judgment:
Jesus did many other miracles in the presence of his followers that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Then, by believing, you may have life through his name. [The Everyday Bible : New Century Version. (Jn 20:30–31).]
This was of course the reason Jesus came to earth from Heaven. Both the Quran (3.45) and the Bible (Gospel of John 1.1-114) refer to Jesus as the "Word" (kalam in Arabic; logos in Greek). This Word from God was an explicit message and messenger from God the Father, revealing both the Father's character and His will. This Word/Message from God was Jesus (no other messenger in the Quran or Bible is called "a Word" or "the Word"), and was to be the focus of our trust--to give us a new relationship with God. We can be elevated from simple creatures of God to being His newly re-created children:
The Word was in the world, and the world was made by him, but the world did not know him. He came to the world that was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to all who did accept him and believe in him he gave the right to become children of God. They did not become his children in any human way—by any human parents or human desire. They were born of God. The Word became a human and lived among us. We saw his glory—the glory that belongs to the only Son of the Father—and he was full of grace and truth. [New Century Version. (Jn 1:10–14).]
Jesus gives eternal life to his sheep--it is a gift, not a payment for a life of good works or obedience to God:
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never die, and no one can steal them out of my hand. My Father gave my sheep to me. He is greater than all, and no person can steal my sheep out of my Father’s hand. [New Century Version. (Jn 10:27–29).]
After Jesus said these things, he looked toward heaven and prayed, “Father, the time has come. Give glory to your Son so that the Son can give glory to you. You gave the Son power over all people so that the Son could give eternal life to all those you gave him. And this is eternal life: that people know you, the only true God, and that they know Jesus Christ, the One you sent [New Century Version. (Jn 17:1–3).]
But to trust in Jesus was essentially to trust in God, because the relationship between the miraculously unique Son of God and God the Father was of some type of unity. So, Jesus could point out that our trust was to be in the Father too:
But Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing alone. The Son does only what he sees the Father doing, because the Son does whatever the Father does. The Father loves the Son and shows the Son all the things he himself does. But the Father will show the Son even greater things than this so that you can all be amazed. Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to those he wants to. In fact, the Father judges no one, but he has given the Son power to do all the judging so that all people will honor the Son as much as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. “I tell you the truth, whoever hears what I say and believes in the One who sent me has eternal life. That person will not be judged guilty but has already left death and entered life. [New Century Version. (Jn 5:19–24).]
Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me is really believing in the One who sent me. Whoever sees me sees the One who sent me. I have come as light into the world so that whoever believes in me would not stay in darkness. [New Century Version. (Jn 12:44–46).]
We saw earlier in this series that Jesus taught us that His death on the cross was deliberate and the center of the plan of God the Father to ransom us from the penalty of judgment for our sins.
We see now that He also taught that He will give us eternal life (which is based on the forgiveness of sin by His sacrificial death in our place) if we simply submit to God's message of good news: that Jesus was the promised Messiah sent from God (as described in the Hebrew Bible), and that He has the power, authority, and desire to save us from judgment.
The Apostles of Jesus echoed this message faithfully, as they carried God's good news to the world. They proclaimed that God demanded acceptance of His message about Jesus and demanded us to place our trust in Jesus as the one who could free us from the debt of our punishment. We have already seen the statements by the Apostle John in the Gospel of John, so now let us look at the message of the Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul.
The Apostle Peter:
Peter began to speak: “I really understand now that to God every person is the same. In every country God accepts anyone who worships him and does what is right. You know the message that God has sent to the people of Israel is the Good News that peace has come through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Lord of all people! You know what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after John preached to the people about baptism. You know about Jesus from Nazareth, that God gave him the Holy Spirit and power. You know how Jesus went everywhere doing good and healing those who were ruled by the devil, because God was with him. We saw what Jesus did in Judea and in Jerusalem, but the Jews in Jerusalem killed him by hanging him on a cross. Yet, on the third day, God raised Jesus to life and caused him to be seen, not by all the people, but only by the witnesses God had already chosen. And we are those witnesses who ate and drank with him after he was raised from the dead. He told us to preach to the people and to tell them that he is the one whom God chose to be the judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets say it is true that all who believe in Jesus will be forgiven of their sins through Jesus’ name.” [New Century Version. (Ac 10:34–43).]
The Apostle Paul:
Brothers, understand what we are telling you: You can have forgiveness of your sins through Jesus. The law of Moses could not free you from your sins. But through Jesus everyone who believes is free from all sins. [New Century Version. (Ac 13:38–39).]
I am not ashamed of the Good News, because it is the power God uses to save everyone who believes—to save the Jews first, and then to save non-Jews. 17 The Good News shows how God makes people right with himself—that it begins and ends with faith. [New Century Version. (Ro 1:16–17).]
Yet we know that a person is made right with God not by following the law, but by trusting in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus, that we might be made right with God because we trusted in Christ. It is not because we followed the law, because no one can be made right with God by following the law. [New Century Version. (Ga 2:16).]
These last quotes from the New Testament -- by the Apostle Paul -- make a very important point: we cannot become right with God by obeying His rules--it is only by trust/faith that He grants us forgiveness and a right standing with Him.
God wants us to obey Him, to honor Him, to love him--and wants us to love one another. All of the Law of Moses was summed up by Jesus in the two great commandments:
One Pharisee, who was an expert on the law of Moses, asked Jesus this question to test him: “Teacher, which command in the law is the most important?” Jesus answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ All the law and the writings of the prophets depend on these two commands.” [New Century Version. (Mt 22:34–40).]
Paul can say:
"Do not owe people anything, except always owe love to each other, because the person who loves others has obeyed all the law. The law says, “You must not be guilty of adultery. You must not murder anyone. You must not steal. You must not want to take your neighbor’s things.” All these commands and all others are really only one rule: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Love never hurts a neighbor, so loving is obeying all the law. [New Century Version. (Ro 13:8–10).]
But the problem with the Law is that it requires us to be perfect in obedience and in low--which we are not (and no religion teaches that we ARE perfect!):
As James, the physical brother of Jesus on earth, said in his letter in the New Testament:
This royal law is found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” If you obey this law, you are doing right. But if you treat one person as being more important than another, you are sinning. You are guilty of breaking God’s law. A person who follows all of God’s law but fails to obey even one command is guilty of breaking all the commands in that law. The same God who said, “You must not be guilty of adultery,” also said, “You must not murder anyone.” So if you do not take part in adultery but you murder someone, you are guilty of breaking all of God’s law. [New Century Version. (Jas 2:8–11).]
And so, we humans all have to become right with God, forgiven, and rescued from the judgment we deserve for being lawbreakers. We deserve to pay the debt-penalty of execution at the hands of God. But God's love for us drove Him to create a plan to redeem us from this penalty, by His sending His unique Son Jesus to earth to be the sacrifice and substitute for us.
The Law of Moses, of course, had provisions for sacrifice. It contained rules as to how someone who broke the law (in a small way or a large way) could be cleansed or purified from those sins. But all of this cleaning was by sacrifice:
The law says that almost everything must be made clean by blood, and sins cannot be forgiven without blood to show death. [New Century Version. (Heb 9:22).]
And, as Jesus said, His blood was poured out on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins. His blood cleanses us and frees us from the guilt of our sins. As the New Testament points out:
Jesus is the faithful witness, the first among those raised from the dead. He is the ruler of the kings of the earth. He is the One who loves us, who made us free from our sins with the blood of his death. [New Century Version. (Re 1:5).]
Because of his love, God had already decided to make us his own children through Jesus Christ. That was what he wanted and what pleased him, and it brings praise to God because of his wonderful grace. God gave that grace to us freely, in Christ, the One he loves. In Christ we are set free by the blood of his death, and so we have forgiveness of sins. How rich is God’s grace, which he has given to us so fully and freely [New Century Version. (Eph 1:5–8).]
Of course, God desires us to obey His commands to love Him and our fellow humans, but we must become right with God--through forgiveness--before we can become clean enough to actually submit to His love-centered rules. In fact, when we trust in Christ, God re-creates us specifically for us to live lives of love:
But God’s mercy is great, and he loved us very much. Though we were spiritually dead because of the things we did against God, he gave us new life with Christ. You have been saved by God’s grace. … I mean that you have been saved by grace through believing. You did not save yourselves; it was a gift from God. It was not the result of your own efforts, so you cannot brag about it. God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us to do good works, which God planned in advance for us to live our lives doing. [New Century Version. (Eph 2:4–10). ]
That is the way we should live, because God’s grace that can save everyone has come. It teaches us not to live against God nor to do the evil things the world wants to do. Instead, that grace teaches us to live in the present age in a wise and right way and in a way that shows we serve God. We should live like that while we wait for our great hope and the coming of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. He gave himself for us so he might pay the price to free us from all evil and to make us pure people who belong only to him—people who are always wanting to do good deeds. [New Century Version. (Tit 2:11–14). ]
Basically, God saves us through Christ's payment for sin on the Cross for the purpose of having us submit to Him for obedience to His laws of love. In contrast, God does NOT save us because we submit to Him for obedience to His laws of love. The empty hand of faith that reaches upward to God to accept His free gift of eternal life through Jesus, then can become--by God's power--the hand that grasps the tool to become a worker for God.
God's will is for us to believe in and trust in His Son Jesus, as the one Sent from Heaven and as the One who gave His life as a sacrifice to God -- to pay the penalty for our sins and to give us eternal life.
The moment that we decide to trust the person (Jesus) and His work (sacrificial death) to be the solution that God provided for the problem our sin created, He forgives all our sins, creates in us a new spiritual life that is eternal (though our bodies may die, our souls live on in heaven until we get a new, immortal body), and adopts us into His heavenly family. And all of this goodness from God is poured upon us simply because we trust the Sacrifice He provided in His Son, as promised in the prophets before Jesus:
God makes people right with himself through their faith in Jesus Christ. This is true for all who believe in Christ, because all people are the same: Everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard, and all need to be made right with God by his grace, which is a free gift. They need to be made free from sin through Jesus Christ. God sent him to die in our place to take away our sins. We receive forgiveness through faith in the blood of Jesus’ death. This showed that God always does what is right and fair, as in the past when he was patient and did not punish people for their sins. And God gave Jesus to show today that he does what is right. God did this so he could judge rightly and so he could make right any person who has faith in Jesus. [New Century Version. (Ro 3:22–26).]
Friend, all of these articles so far have led up to this point -- for me and for you.
We have looked at the witness of God in the New Testament writings, and the Old Testament prophecies by the Hebrew prophets.
We have seen that Jesus made claims about His unique relationship of 'Sonship' with God the Father, and that He was somehow both 'fully man' and yet 'more than man' at the same time. We accepted that mystery --without really understanding it fully--because the Word of God in the New Testament (including the words of Jesus) taught it. God the Father bore witness to the fact that Jesus was His 'beloved Son', in a relationship that was unique in the entire universe and in all history. We do not understand this--we affirm it and believe it, because God declared it in His Holy Scriptures.
We have seen that this Jesus, the Jewish Messiah (Christ) and the unique Son of God came to earth specifically to 'take away the sins of the world'. He came to die as our substitute. He came to die as a sacrifice. The Hebrew prophets taught this, Jesus taught this, Jesus told His disciples to spread this truth to the world, and His apostles and disciples taught this.
All the work required to be done for our redemption from the penalty of our sins, for our forgiveness, for us to be given eternal life, and for us to be adopted as children of God was done by Jesus, on the Cross, in His death--at the command of God the Father.
We receive all this bundle of gifts (forgiveness, eternal life, new relationship with God, ransom from penalty) by simple faith or trust. We do not work, obey, or submit to God to earn forgiveness or to merit eternal life --we work, obey, and submit to God because He has already given to us (for free) this forgiveness and this eternal life.
In fact, as odd as it sounds, we do not ASK God for salvation--we TRUST Him for salvation. We take Him at His word, that He paid the penalty for our sins and that therefore, there is no penalty left for us to pay when we die. We believe His message that He has done this for us for us on the Cross, and the moment we begin to understand, realize, and then rest in that fact--He gives us our new status as forgiven, our new spirit with eternal life in it, our new 'name' before the angels as His adopted children.
Let me be clear what this faith or trust includes (or requires):
Faith does NOT include (or require):
All of these are good things--many of which God desires for us to do after we have trusted Him for salvation--but they are not part of the faith or trust that God requires of us for eternal life and for forgiveness.
Trust is an internal attitude, a choice or realization one comes upon. When you realize and begin to believe that Jesus was who He (and God the Father) said He was, and that He did the things for our salvation that He (and the prophets) said He did, then your confidence (that this is true) is the core of biblical faith.
You can express that faith in prayer (but remember that the prayer is not faith itself--just an expression of it), something like this:
"Almighty and gracious God, thank You for using my upbringing to keep me interested in knowing spiritual truth. Thank You for the influences in my life that have encouraged me to seek Your Face and to know Your will for me.
“I understand now that You have told the world of Your love and of Your promises to draw us to yourself, from the time of Adam, through the life of Abraham, down to the time in which I am alive.
“I understand now that You promised us—through Your prophets and apostles—forgiveness of sins through Messiah Jesus. I understand now that You provided Jesus as the Perfect Sacrifice to suffer the punishment that we deserve for our sins and disobedience.
“I understand now that Your Holy Scriptures explain to us that the Messiah had to die—voluntarily—as our substitute. I now believe that Your unique Son Jesus came to earth to be that Messiah and to do that for ME. I believe that His death on the cross paid the penalty for MY sins. I have now placed my confidence and trust in Him—that He will give me eternal life, forgiveness of sins, rescue from Final Judgment, and a place in Your family.
“I know that my efforts to be good, obey Your laws, submit to Your will and avoid sin in the future is not a part of this. I understand that You want me to do those things in the future, but I also understand that You alone have done all the work for my salvation—and that, therefore, YOU ALONE get all the glory and credit for my salvation and forgiveness.
“Thank you, Jesus, for paying the punishment-debt for my sin.
Friend, if you say that prayer in sincerity of heart, God hears. You don’t have to understand all of it—nobody does!—but if you understand the basic fact that Christ died on the Cross in your place, and that He gives you eternal life FOR FREE when you admit that to Him, that is all that the good-hearted God requires for your salvation.
From your Muslim background, you will have many questions about the person of Jesus and His relationship with God the Father. You will have many questions about the Holy Scriptures and how Jews, Christians, and Muslims relate to one another. All those who seek to learn from God will face difficult questions of understanding—God is above our understanding, and we must submit to what He has disclosed about His person, His being, His will, and His heart.
But as the Perfect Teacher and Perfect Father, He will give you guidance and encouragement in learning more and more about His wondrous works, gifts, and beauty as you walk in life with Him.
You do not have to change anything at all in your life to do this—trust in Christ is something in the heart, something between you and God. If there are changes you need to make in your life, God your heavenly Father will reveal it to you—and give you the strength to face them.
I do encourage you to begin reading the Bible as you get opportunity, especially the New Testament and the Old Testament prophets. You will find many themes and ideas that will sound familiar to you, from your background in Islam, but you will find other items that will sound new or different to you. But keep reading, and keep asking God to teach you, to guide you, and to open your heart to His truth for your life.
Radical changes in the way you worship publicly should be initiated by God. A good example of this principle is found in the Hebrew Bible, in the story of Naaman the Syrian (parts of the story have been omitted for brevity).
Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was honored by his master, and he had much respect because the LORD used him to give victory to Aram. He was a mighty and brave man, but he had a skin disease. The Arameans had gone out to raid the Israelites and had taken a little girl as a captive. This little girl served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “I wish my master would meet the prophet who lives in Samaria. He would cure him of his disease.” Naaman went to the king and told him what the girl from Israel had said. The king of Aram said, “Go ahead, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left and took with him about seven hundred fifty pounds of silver, as well as one hundred fifty pounds of gold and ten changes of clothes. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “I am sending my servant Naaman to you so you can heal him of his skin disease.” … So Naaman went with his horses and chariots to Elisha’s house and stood outside the door. Elisha sent Naaman a messenger who said, “Go and wash in the Jordan River seven times. Then your skin will be healed, and you will be clean.”… So Naaman went down and dipped in the Jordan seven times, just as Elisha had said. Then his skin became new again, like the skin of a child. And he was clean. Naaman and all his group returned to Elisha. He stood before Elisha and said, “Look, I now know there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. Now please accept a gift from me.” But Elisha said, “As surely as the LORD lives whom I serve, I won’t accept anything.” Naaman urged him to take the gift, but he refused. Then Naaman said, “If you won’t take the gift, then please give me some soil—as much as two of my mules can carry. From now on I’ll not offer any burnt offering or sacrifice to any other gods but the LORD . But let the LORD pardon me for this: When my master goes into the temple of Rimmon to worship, he leans on my arm. Then I must bow in that temple. May the LORD pardon me when I do that.” Elisha said to him, “Go in peace.” [New Century Version. (2 Ki 5:1–19).]
In this sweet passage, a man from the biblical area of Aram (in the modern area of Syria) becomes a believer in the God of Abraham and his family. But his public job – as a servant to the pagan king of Aram – requires him to bow to a pagan deity Rimmon, in a polytheistic world. Although he has renounced polytheism, his job requires some level of ‘secrecy’ of his belief:
“Naaman had become convinced that Yahweh alone was God. Naaman asked Elisha whether two mule loads of Israelite soil might be taken with him back to Syria so that whenever circumstances forced him to bow ceremonially to the Aramean gods with his king, he might in reality be placing his knees in the soil of the true God of Israel (vv.17–18). Thus he might be a true though secret believer. His request granted, Naaman set out for home (v.19). [Patterson, R. D., & Austel, H. J. (1988). 1, 2 Kings. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 4: 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (190). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.]
“Third, Naaman requests Elisha’s indulgence on one point. He requests that the Lord forgive him for participating in worship of Rimmon when such participation is necessary to carry out his career responsibilities. Rimmon was a Syrian version of Baal. Naaman seems to say that this “worship” will not be real worship, since he has already confessed Yahweh’s sole existence and sovereignty. His dilemma is not unlike the one Obadiah faced (cf. 1 Kgs 18:1–15), who also felt torn between prophet and king and between Yahweh and Baal. Even in this request, however, Naaman places himself under Elisha’s authority and admits Yahweh’s importance. Elisha gives Naaman his blessing. Has the prophet been too lenient? Has Elisha given in to religious accommodationism? Three observations may help provide an answer. First, Keil notes that Naaman simply asks whether or not God will forgive him. He does not ask permission to worship Rimmon. Second, Naaman has stated his opinion of Rimmon and has declared his intention to serve and offer sacrifices to Yahweh. Third, he must create what amounts to a personal outpost of Yahwism in Syria. He can pray, but there is no opportunity for community worship, nor is it likely that he can come back to Israel to worship. Elisha understands these realities and lays no more guilt on Naaman than Elijah did on Obadiah. Again, his commitment to the Lord is already greater than all but a remnant of the faithful. [House, P. R. (2001). Vol. 8: 1, 2 Kings (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (273–274). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.]
These types of external circumstances may restrict how publicly we display our new faith in Christ, but God sees the heart and God will lead and guide you to the right decisions and the right timing on these matters. It may be that God guides you to a public announcement of your faith in Christ early, or it may be that He wants to you learn more from the Bible before you do that. If you have trusted Him with your eternal destination and future, you will find that you can trust Him with your short life upon this earth too.
The Apostle Paul was raised as a strict Jew in His day, and when he first proclaimed his faith in Christ to his family, he was basically disowned by his family. He suffered the 'loss of all things' (in his words) for sake of believing the truth from God.
But the critical step is trusting Jesus to be God’s answer to the problem of YOUR (and mine!) future punishment for sin. This single step—by God’s grace and power—opens up new life, new possibilities, and a new future for you. Forgiveness, eternal life, rescue from punishment, and adoption into the family of God—what a difference the Cross makes in our own personal history!
Do not postpone this—God is watching your heart as you read this, and His heart and will for you is for you to embrace His free gift of forgiveness, friend.
God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him. People who believe in God’s Son are not judged guilty. [New Century Version. (Jn 3:16–19).]
Join the others of us who have accepted this free gift, with empty hands and needy hearts. And we shall all celebrate the goodness of God, the love of Christ, and the power of the Cross together in heaven someday!