Articles

A Christian Review of Islam (14)

A series of blog posts on the Reformed Free Publishing Association website written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.

Islam (1)

This article was originally posted on the RFPA blog and was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.

Islam (1)

Because of multiculturalism and increased immigration, especially in Europe, Muslims are increasingly common in the post-Christian West. This makes Muslims our neighbors, those whom God has placed on our path. Many Christians view Muslims as their enemies. Nevertheless, the command of Christ is clear—love your neighbor, and even love your enemy.

Part of the love that the Christian owes his Muslim neighbor is to present the gospel to him. Many Christians are ill equipped to do so. In a series of blog posts, I intend to introduce the reader to the doctrines of Islam, so that we can better understand our Muslim neighbor, and so that we can witness to him about Jesus Christ. You might find that the Muslim is more interested in hearing the gospel than the hardened “lapsed Christian.”

One problem in witnessing to Muslims is that Muslims misunderstand what Christianity is. They have wrong notions about the Trinity, the Son of God, and other Christian truths. Not only do they reject them, but their Qur’an misrepresents them. This is a formidable barrier, but it can be overcome when we plainly state the truth.

A good place to begin is with history. The Qur’an was written during the lifetime of Mohammed (c. 570-632 AD). A lot of very significant church history took place before Mohammed’s birth. First, the Christian church defined from the scriptures the doctrine of the Trinity (the Council of Nicea in 325 AD and the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD). Second, the Christian church defined the relationship between the one person and the two natures (human and divine) of Jesus Christ (the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD).

The reason that these dates are significant is simple—the church had defined from the New Testament who God is and who Jesus Christ is over a century before Mohammed’s birth. (We do not mean that the church invented these doctrines, but that the church officially defined them out of the inspired scriptures). Therefore, the Qur’an, which Mohammed allegedly received as divine revelation, should accurately reflect what the church had defined. If the Qur’an shows evidence of ignorance of Christian doctrine or deliberate misrepresentation of it, the Muslim is faced with very serious questions about the authenticity of his “sacred book.”

Consider the following citations from the Qur’an against the Trinity:

 And behold, Allah will say: ‘O Jesus, the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, ‘Worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah?’ He will say: ‘Glory to Thee! Never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, Thou wouldest indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, though I know not what is in Thine. For thou knowest in full all that is hidden’ (Surah 5:116).

O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not Three: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is One God: glory be to Him: (far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs (Surah 4:171).

 They do blaspheme who say: ‘God is Christ the son of Mary.’ But said Christ: ‘O children of Israel! Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.’ Whoever joins other gods with Allah, Allah will forbid him the Garden, and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrongdoers be no one to help. They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One God. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily, a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them (Surah 5:72-73).

The reader will notice that the writer of the Qur’an views the Trinity very differently from the official statements of the Christian church. “Worship me and my mother in derogation of Allah.” The Qur’an’s “Trinity” is not Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but Allah, Jesus and Mary! Moreover, the Qur’an views the Trinity as “join[ing] other gods with Allah.”

This misrepresentation of the Trinity is inexcusable because the church defined the Trinity as one God in three distinct persons centuries before Mohammed wrote one word of the Qur’an. No Christian has ever defined the Trinity as the Qur’an does. It is, however, easy to imagine how Mohammed could have jumped to such a conclusion. Mohammed observed churches; he saw statues and icons; and he conversed with Christian merchants of various heretical sects. There is no evidence, however, that he was familiar with the Nicene or Chalcedonian creeds. In fact many believe that Mohammed was illiterate.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made … And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life; who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

How could Mohammed have been unaware of a theological controversy that had been resolved in the Christian church two centuries before the Qur’an was written, if he is (as Islam claims) the prophet of God, and if the Qur’an is (as Islam claims) the inspired word of the all knowing, all seeing Allah? For Mohammed to disagree with Christian orthodoxy is one thing; for him to be ignorant of or deliberately to misrepresent it is quite another.

Next time, DV, we will explain what we mean by the Trinity so that we can properly present the truth that Jesus is the Son of God to our Muslim neighbor.

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Islam (10)

This article was originally posted on the RFPA blog and was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.

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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Islam (11)

This article was originally posted on the RFPA blog and was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.

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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Islam (12): Christianity Quiz

A series of blog posts on the Reformed Free Publishing Association website written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.

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?

________________

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

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Islam (13)

This article was originally posted on the RFPA blog and was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.

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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Islam (14)

This article was originally posted on the RFPA blog RFPA blog and was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.

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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Islam (2)

This article was originally posted on the RFPA blog and was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.

Islam (2)

In the last blog post on this subject we noticed that many Muslims do not understand the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. This is because their book, the Qur’an either deliberately or ignorantly misrepresents the doctrine. We call this a “straw man” argument—a “straw man fallacy” occurs when a person creates a misrepresentation of his opponent’s position and attacks it instead of the true position of the opponent. Christians must not be guilty of such fallacies. The Ninth Commandment of God’s Law forbids “falsify[ing] any man’s words” (Heidelberg Catechism, LD 43).

When the Qur’an presents Christians as worshipping Jesus and His mother “in derogation of Allah” (Surah 5:116) or presents Christians as joining “other gods with Allah” (Surah 5:72-73), the Muslim’s supposedly inspired text grossly misrepresents what Christians believe. The Trinity does not consist of Allah, Jesus and Mary, and the Trinity does not consist of many gods. Consider another text from the Qur’an: “They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except one God” (Surah 5:73).

Two concepts in Islamic theology make it very difficult for the Muslim to understand the Christian doctrine of the Trinity—in addition, of course, to the natural depravity of the human heart. Those two concepts are tawhid and shirk.

Tawhid is the absolute oneness of Allah—Islam is a religion of absolute, non-negotiable, Unitarian monotheism. Muslims view other religions (except Judaism) as polytheistic. Hinduism, for example, is polytheistic, for Hindus do indeed worship many gods. Christianity, however, is not polytheistic, for Christians worship only one God. However, when Muslims hear that Christians worship Father, Son and Holy Spirit (or when they imagine that Christians worship Allah, Jesus and Mary!), they conclude wrongly that Christians are polytheistic.

Shirk is the unforgivable sin (in Islam) of associating others with Allah. Muslims fear the sin of shirk above all other transgressions. Allah can forgive adultery, murder and every other sin, but Allah will not under any circumstances forgive one who has died in the sin of shirk: “Allah forgiveth not that partners should be set up with Him, but He forgiveth anything else to whom he pleaseth; to set up partners with Allah is to devise a sin most heinous indeed” (Surah 4:48). “Whoever joins other gods with Allah—Allah will forbid him the Garden, and the fire will be his abode. There will for the wrongdoers be no one to help” (Surah 5:72).

No wonder that the Muslim is especially prejudiced against Christianity—it has been ingrained into him that Christianity is shirk! What the Christian needs to do, therefore, in witnessing is to demonstrate to the Muslim neighbor that the doctrine of the Trinity has nothing to do with shirk. And the Christian must pray that the Spirit of God might open the heart of the Muslim neighbor to receive the truth. Ultimately, we can only present the truth. We cannot convince anyone of the truth. That is the work of God’s Spirit, who blows where He wills in the hearts of God’s elect (John 3:8).

The word Trinity is not found in the Bible, but that should not disturb us, for every field of knowledge has technical vocabulary and terminology. The word Trinity is shorthand for theological concepts that are found in the Bible. The word Trinity explains who God is—in a certain sense, He is one; and in another sense, He is three. He is one God in three distinct persons. This is basic Christianity, but the Muslim will find it confusing.

The Bible teaches that there is only one God. This is the teaching of the Old Testament. When the Gentiles worshipped many gods, Israel confessed and worshipped only one God. “Before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the LORD, and beside me there is no Saviour” (Isaiah 43:10-11). This is also the teaching of the New Testament—Christians did not jettison their monotheism even when they confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord. They continued to confess and worship only one God, the same God as the God of the Old Testament. The Greeks and Romans worshipped many gods, but the church steadfastly remained monotheistic. “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 2:5).

Nevertheless, the Bible does not hesitate to give the name of God, ascribe the attributes of God, attribute the works of God, and present the worship of God to three individuals—to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

The Bible gives the name of God to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. The Bible ascribes the attributes of God to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. The Bible attributes the works of God to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. And the Bible presents the worship of God to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Many texts could be cited to prove the points above, but I forbear for lack of space. The point, however, is this—the Father is called God, the Son is called God, and the Holy Spirit is called God, and yet there is only one God. (Notice, by the way, contrary to the misrepresentation of the Qur’an, that it is not that Allah is called God, Jesus is called God and Mary is called God. Nor is that the Son is called God and joined as a secondary God to Allah. Nor is that others are worshipped as gods alongside Allah. The doctrine of the Trinity means that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equally God).

To explain the truth of the Trinity, the early church needed to use terminology. In what sense is God one, and in what sense is God three? The theological terms on which the church settled were being or essence, and person. Of course, the early church used Greek terms (ousia and hypostasis). These terms became all the more important because of the presence of false teachers in the church. For example, a heretic called Arius (d. 336) agreed to call the Son of God homoiousion, which means of a similar essence or being to the Father, but he baulked at the word homoousion, which means of the same essence or being as the Father. (The astute reader will notice that the difference between those two words, and therefore the difference between heresy and orthodoxy, is one letter—the smallest Greek letter, iota!). These theological debates occurred long before Mohammed’s birth, as I explained in the last blog post on this subject.

The being or essence of something makes it what it is, and distinguishes it from every other being. Everything apart from God is creature. The divine being of God is unique—and one. There are not two, or three beings called God. There is one God, one divine being, or one indivisible Godhead.

A person is a conscious, intelligent, active individual distinct from other persons. The writer of this blog post is a person. The individual reader is another, distinct person. This world has billions of human persons in it.

The difficulty is this—in our human experience, one human being is also one human person. No analogy or illustration exists in which one being is more than one person. Yet that is who God is—He is three distinct persons subsisting in one divine being. To understand something of that, or to grasp that, is to understand the doctrine of the Trinity. The Father is not the same person as the Son or the Holy Spirit, yet He shares the same being as the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Son is not the same person as the Father or the Holy Spirit, yet He shares the same being as the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the same person as the Father or the Son, yet He shares the same being as the Father and the Son.

Is that deep and mysterious? Absolutely! Is that illogical, contradictory and impossible to reconcile with human reason? Absolutely not!

There are two more significant truths about the Trinity that we must bear in mind.

First, the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity is one of equality. Christians do not worship one person “in derogation” of the other persons. Christians view the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as coequal in power, glory and majesty—there is no gradation of being or difference of rank. The Father is not more divine than the Son or the Holy Spirit, for example. The Father is not higher, and the Son is not subordinate to the Father in the being of God. Remember the word homoousion—of the same essence. There is also no time in the Trinity—the Trinity is eternal, which means that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are co-eternal. The Father is not before the Son or before the Spirit.

Second, the relationship between the persons of the Trinity is one of perfect love and fellowship. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are not rivals, but holy family. The Father loves the Son in the Holy Spirit, and the Son loves the Father in the Holy Spirit. God, therefore, is not a lonely deity, but He is the living God, full of life, love and fellowship, within Himself, within His own being. It is because of this love of God within the being of God that God is capable of loving the creature.

This God—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—is the God of our salvation.

Next time, DV, we will explain what we mean by the Christian confession that Jesus is the Son of God, something about which Muslims have many misconceptions.

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Islam (3)

This article was originally posted on the RFPA blog and was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.

Islam (3)

If you read the Qur’an, you will learn very little about Jesus Christ.

The New Testament presents Jesus as the incarnate Son of God, true God and true man. It records details concerning His birth, His childhood, His public ministry, His miracles and His teachings, and it devotes a lot of attention to His sufferings, His death, and His glorification (especially His resurrection from the dead). The Qur’an, on the other hand, contains very scant details about Jesus. It seems that Mohammed had very limited knowledge (and perhaps no knowledge at all) of the New Testament scriptures. Never does he interact with the New Testament scriptures, for example.

This in itself is striking, for the Qur’an speaks of something called the Injil, which is the gospel: “We sent after them Jesus, the son of Mary, and bestowed on him the gospel [Injil]” (Surah 57:27). “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 [Injil] (of Jesus) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the Criterion (of judgment between right and wrong” (Surah 3:3). If the Qur’an itself recommends the gospel [Injil], why is Mohammed ignorant of the gospel, and why does the Qur’an not interact with the clear teachings of the New Testament?

The Qur’an presents Jesus Christ as a creature, as a mere man, who is a prophet or messenger of Allah. Time and time again, the Jesus of the Qur’an denies that he is anything more than a messenger. “Christ the Son of Mary was no more than a Messenger; many were the messengers that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how Allah doth make his signs clear to them: yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth!” (Surah 5:75). “The similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, ‘Be’ and he was” (Surah 3:59). “Christ Jesus the Son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him … far (Exalted is He) from having a son” (Surah 4:171). “They say: ‘Allah hath begotten a Son!’—glory be to Him! He is self-sufficient! His are all things in the heavens and on earth! No warrant have ye for this! Say ye about Allah what ye know not” (Surah 10:68).

The Qur’an clearly rejects the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, but does the Qur’an give any evidence that Mohammed understood what Christianity means by the confession, “Jesus is the Son of God”? Sadly, we have another example of a “straw man fallacy” in Islam’s “holy book.”

Consider these texts from the Qur’an: “To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth: how can He have a son when He hath no consort? He created all things, and hath full knowledge of all things” (Surah 6:101); “Exalted is the Majesty of our Lord: He hath taken neither a wife nor a son” (Surah 72:3). A consort is the spouse of a king or queen. Clearly, the writer of the Qur’an understands begetting a son to require a husband and a wife; and since Allah has not taken to himself a female consort (wife), he could not have begotten a son.

However, Christians do not have any carnal conception of the Sonship of Jesus. This is something that we must explain to our Muslim neighbor when we witness to him. No Christian has ever taught, for example, that Mary is the consort of Allah, or even of God the Father. The Christian church taught in her historic creeds, centuries before Mohammed allegedly received the revelations that make up the Qur’an, what the Bible means when it calls Jesus “the Son of God” or “the only begotten Son of God.” Between 325-381 AD, the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople defined that Jesus is the Son of God in this sense: “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God; Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made, being of one essence with the Father; by whom all things were made...” In 451 AD, the Council of Chalcedon defined the orthodox Christian position in these words: “begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead…”

Jesus is the eternal, only begotten, uncreated Son of God.

By the term “Son of God” the Bible does not mean merely that Jesus is like God. The term “Son of God means that Jesus has the same essence as the Father and the Spirit (recall the word homoousion from the last blog post on this subject), the same attributes as the Father and the Spirit, performs the same works as the Father and the Spirit, and receives the same worship as the Father and the Spirit. Indeed, He has the same life as God. In other words, if Jesus is the Son of God, He is God.

The Bible says some wonderful things about the relationship between the Father and the Son: According to Hebrews 1:3, the Son of God is “the brightness of [God’s] glory and the express image of [God’s] person.” Colossians 1:15 calls Jesus “the image of the invisible God.” John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

Another reason why this is difficult to understand is our experience of fathers and sons. Would not God the Father be “older” than God the Son? And if God is the Father of Jesus, does He not need a wife or a consort, in order to “beget a son”? And if God is the Father of Jesus, does that not make God the Creator of Jesus, and does that not make Jesus a creature, like an angel? Many religious groups reject or corrupt the teaching that Jesus is the Son of God with such misconceptions.

First, the Bible is clear that Jesus is the eternal Son of God—which means that He does not have a beginning. He is not younger than God the Father. He is eternal. About God, scripture says, “From everlasting to everlasting thou art God” (Ps. 90:2). About the Son of God, scripture says, “Out of thee [Bethlehem] shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). Jesus says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). The Son of God has no beginning or ending. He has no eternal mother, only an eternal Father. He always was. He always is. He always shall be.

Second, the Bible calls Jesus the only begotten Son of God. That term “begotten” needs explanation.

A person might be the son of his father in different senses. A person might be his father’s son biologically—a DNA test would verify the biological parentage. A person might be his father’s son legally—by the act of adoption, a man could bestow the rights and privileges upon one who is not biologically related to him.

Similarly, the Bible uses the term “son of God” in different senses. The angels, for example, are the created sons of God. Jesus is not the created Son of God. Believers are the adopted sons of God. Jesus is not the adopted Son of God.

Jesus is begotten, indeed, only begotten. The verb “beget” describes the activity of a father in bringing forth a son. In begetting a son, a man brings forth one who is of the same being as himself but who is personally distinct from himself. When a human father begets a son, for example, he does not beget a horse or a cat—he begets another human person. Since God the Father is spiritual, He does not beget a physical Son—He begets the Son in an eternal, spiritual act. Within the infinite spiritual being of God, the Father begets the Son, who is the image of the Father, and the object of the Father’s eternal love and delight. And no consort or divine mother is involved.

Thus, the Father brings forth the Son eternally within His own being. Never is the Father without the Son. Never is the Son without the Father. The Bible says of Jesus, “He is in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18). Let us not have any carnal conception of this great wonder!

Next time, DV, we will explain what we mean by the Incarnation of the Son of God, something about which Muslims have many misconceptions.

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Islam (4)

This article was originally posted on the RFPA blog and was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.

Islam (4)

In the blog posts thus far on Islam we have noticed Islam’s confusion with—we might even say deliberate misrepresentation of—the Trinity and the Sonship of Jesus Christ. Next, we address Islam’s view of the Incarnation.

Quite simply, Islam denies the Incarnation. Indeed, the Incarnation is inconceivable for the Muslim. The elements of the doctrine of the Incarnation are missing in Islam. (1) Islam teaches that there is only one divine person—Allah. Therefore, there is no other divine person who can become incarnate. (2). The very idea that Allah or God or a divine person could become a man is abhorrent to Islam. The concept of voluntary humiliation on the part of the Son of God is beyond a Muslim’s comprehension (3). Islam denies that Allah has a Son—it denies that Jesus is the Son of God. If He is not the Son of God, He cannot become incarnate. (4). If someone else (let’s say, Gabriel or some other creature) could assume flesh, that is, could become incarnate, it would not accomplish anything—for the Incarnation to be a saving work of God, the One who becomes incarnate must be very (true) God.

Islam agrees with Christianity on this point: there was a man called Jesus. But so different is the description of the “man called Jesus” that we simply cannot identify the Qur’an’s Jesus (Isa) with the biblical (true) Jesus.

In Islam, Jesus was a prophet or a slave of Allah, whom Allah created. “The similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: ‘Be’: and he was” (Surah 3:59). Yet the Qur’an also teaches a virgin birth:

He [the angel] said, ‘Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son.’ She said, ‘How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?’ He said: ‘So (it will be) the Lord saith, ‘This is easy for Me: and (We wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from Us’: it is a matter (so) decreed.’ So she conceived him, and retired with him to a remote place (Surah 19:19-22).

Absent from the narrative of the birth of Jesus are all the tokens of Christ’s humiliation, for in Islam Allah’s favored prophets do not experience humiliation, which will become an issue when we discuss Islam’s view of the sufferings of Christ and the cross. The Qur’an denies that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in a stable, and laid in a manger, and depicts Mary giving birth alone (Joseph is not mentioned) under a palm tree.

When Mary presents her son to the people of her city, they accuse her of sin. “O Mary! Truly a strange thing hast thou brought! O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste!” (Surah 19:27b-28). Notice, by the way, that the Qur’an’s Mary is a sister of Aaron (of the tribe of Levi), and not a daughter of the tribe of Judah, and of the lineage of David. In her defense, Mary points to her baby, whereupon the baby speaks from the cradle to vindicate 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 on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)!’ (Surah 19:30-33).

The Jesus of the Qur’an performs miracles, albeit “by Allah’s leave”:

And Allah will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel, and appoint him a Messenger to the Children of Israel (with this message): ‘I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah’s leave, and I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah’s leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a sign for you if ye did believe.

One miracle stands out here, because it is not in the Bible. The miracle by which Jesus gives a clay bird life is found in the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which is a spurious gospel account and not part of the canonical Scriptures. Mohammed, however, must have come across it in his contact with heretical Christian sects (see also Surah 5:110).

For all of the respect and honor the Qur’an bestows upon Jesus (Isa), Islam denies that Jesus is anything more than a prophet, messenger, servant or slave of Allah: “Christ the Son of Mary was no more than a Messenger; many were the messengers that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how Allah doth make his signs clear to them: yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth!” (Surah 5:75).

That is an interesting statement. Why would the Qur’an make reference to Mary and Jesus eating food? To the Muslim mind the fact that Jesus (forget about Mary for the moment, because Christians do not suggest that she is divine, but remember the confusion of the Qur’an in Surah 5:116) ate food proves that He could not be divine. God does not eat food. You see the “logic” of the Qur’an’s argument: (1) God does not eat food. (2) Jesus had to eat His daily food. Therefore, (3) Jesus cannot be God. Such an argument betrays a fundamental misconception about the Incarnation.

Quite simply, when Christians confess the Incarnation of the Son of God, they teach that the Son of God took upon Himself a human nature. They do not teach that He turned into a man—He did not cease to be God. He remained God while adopting a human nature. Part of adopting a human nature is the necessity to eat daily food. In fact, if Jesus had not had to eat daily food, we would have to conclude that He was not a true man. Jesus ate food both before and after His resurrection to prove that He was a true man. And He performed miracles to prove that He was true God.

The issue of the Incarnation is this—was the man (who had to eat His daily food) also God? To that question we turn next time, DV.

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Islam (5)

This article was originally posted on the RFPA blog and was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.

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.

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