(See Part 1 here)
- Salvation – Getting “right with God” in Islam means showing one’s submission to the laws and decrees of the God the Qur’an as revealed through Muhammad’s words and deeds. Paradise is promised to those who have been obedient enough to please God. Of course, one can never know in this life if he/she has done enough to merit God’s approval, even though the Hadith traditions depict Muhammad as teaching all sorts of “short cuts” for those who memorize the right Qur’anic texts or recite extra prayers or do certain particular good deeds. In the end it’s the same for all works-based soteriological systems created for sinners. One can never have sufficient assurance that one’s good deeds have outweighed one’s evil deeds, or that one will make the grade even if God grades on the curve. The God of the Bible, on the other hand, declares that no human being can be justified before Him by one’s own good works, but only by taking refuge by faith in the salvation wrought by His sinless, incarnate Son through his crucifixion and resurrection. Divine salvation is assured for those who follow Jesus Christ, and good works become the outflow of a redeemed life rather than the entry ticket to heaven.
- The Indwelling God – it is unthinkable in Islam that the transcendent God would condescend to directly interact with human beings, much less that He would actually indwell them with the purpose of transforming them into His perfect image. Human beings do not have fallen natures, according to Islamic anthropology, and so do not need saving transformation. According to the Bible, on the other hand, human nature is infected with sin and enslaved to fallen appetites, from which no mortal can extricate himself. Salvation means not simply a rescue from the penalty of our wrong actions but the impartation of a new nature, reflecting the perfections of Jesus, the New Adam. To accomplish this, God pours His Spirit into the lives of those who give their allegiance to His Son, and the Spirit engages in the work of transforming us from slaves of sin to children of God. All three members of the Trinity are actively involved in the work of salvation, with the Father condescending to our weakness by refraining from wrath, the Son condescending to our fallenness by taking on human flesh, the Spirit condescending to our need by taking up residence within our sin-ridden souls. The biblical God shows a gracious humility for which the God of Islam has no taste.
- Plan for reaching the world – did God decide to reach the world with His grace and mercy through developing a unique relationship with one man (Abraham) and the nation formed of his descendants (see Genesis 12:1-3), through whose lineage ultimately God would introduce His Son into the world as Messiah and Lord, or was it His plan to reach the world by sending 124,000 prophets to every people group with the same simple message: Submit to God’s law, keep His requirements as best you can, and hope that in the Day of Judgment to come you will be spared hell and be rewarded with heaven. Though Islam claims linkage to Abraham through Ishmael, the God of the Qur’an seems woefully ignorant of much of Old Testament history (even to the point of getting biblical stories wrong in the retelling), and shows little interest in the Jewish people except to excoriate them as objects of God’s special and eternal wrath. The God of the Bible, on the other hand, though He punishes Israel often through history for her waywardness nevertheless never forgets the covenant of grace which He has entered with her. Even in New Testament times, when many Jews were rejecting the message that their Messiah had come in Jesus, Paul proclaims that “…concerning God’s electing purposes, the Jews are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:28-29). The God of the Bible is faithful to, even constrained by, His promises. The God of the Qur’an is so sovereign that nothing, even His own prior promises, can bind Him to any course of action. In the Bible, all of God’s promises lead to the coming of Jesus as divine fulfillment (see 2 Cor 1:20). He is the key to all of God’s plans throughout the Old Testament. In the Qur’an, Jesus (known there as ‘Isa) is merely one in a long line of prophets – a great one, no doubt, but by no means the key linchpin in God’s purposes for the world. This leads to my final point concerning the God of the Bible and the God of the Qur’an.
- What God thinks of Jesus – the New Testament makes it abundantly clear that Jesus and God share a unique, eternal relationship best described in human language as Son to Father. In Matthew 11:27, Jesus captures the one-of-a-kind nature of this relationship: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Twice, God publicly declares His orientation toward Jesus: first at his baptism to inaugurate his ministry (“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”); and secondly at his Transfiguration (“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”). In this mutual relationship of love, the Son does only what the Father wills. His lives for the honor of his Father. The Father in turn glorifies His Son and exalts his name. Their relationship is so symbiotic that the way a person relates to One will dictate the way that person relates to the Other. So Jesus says to his opponents, “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19). Or, “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him (John 5:23). Or, “He who hates me hates my Father also” (John 15:23). When his opponents claim to have “one Father, even God,” Jesus counters, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but He sent me” (John 8:42). He sums up his divine mission in John 12:44-47 with these words, “He who believes in me, believes not in me but in Him who sent me…. I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness…for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” According to the New Testament, God sent His Son into the world, not merely as a prophet but as its Savior. To those who love the Son, God the Father promises eternal life, grounded in His love. As we read in 1 John 2:23, “No one who denies the Son has the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also.”
The Qur’an, on the other hand, declares that God will curse to destruction any who claim that Jesus is His Son, for they are completely deluded (9:30; see also 2:116; 19:34-36; 5:116; 4:171). One short but entire sura (chapter) is devoted to denying the Father-Son claims of the New Testament:
Say: He is Allah the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him. (112:1-4)
For the God of Islam, Jesus is only a human being like all others, with no special ontological status. He is but a slave, called to be a messenger for the people of Israel. His message to them, according to the Qur’an, was the same message as that of all previous prophets and that of Muhammad as well – the message of submission to Allah. Those who believe in the Jesus of the New Testament are committing Islam’s unforgivable sin, that of associating anything in the creation with the glory and uniqueness of God. As such, they fall under the curse of God’s eternal wrath.
This lays an ax to the proverbial root of the claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God (as the Qur’an claims in 29:46). How can the same God exalt Jesus as His Son and commend him to the world as its Savior, promising to bless those who follow him, and then six hundred years later deny the Sonship of Jesus and curse to eternal destruction any who make Jesus their Lord and Savior? For a God who is the same yesterday, today and forever, this is an impossibility.
Therefore, on the basis of all the above points, but especially this last one, I have come to the conclusion that Christians and Muslims are not talking about the same God. As a Christian who believes that biblical revelation accurately portrays the self-revelation of the one, true God, I must conclude that the God of Islam, while mirroring some of the qualities of that true God, nonetheless fails at crucial points to align itself with the God of the Bible, and so in the end must be considered an imitation or counterfeit of the real thing. Christians and Muslims, if they are following their own respective Scriptures, do not worship the same God.