Islam has its own dictionary of Biblical words like atonement or expiation, assurance, salvation and redemption. Expiation (takfir) of sin must be done by the individual himself. Redemption is what men and women do with their own sin through repentance and through expiation by prayers, fasts, sharing their wealth with the poor, and so on. This is seen as type of redemption. So salvation is not just by faith. One enters Islam by reciting the Shahada (lit. witness: There is no god, but Allah and Muhammad is his apostle) but makes progress towards paradise only by strenuous effort that is to observe the five pillars of Islam, including all other religious duties and obligations as prescribed by the Shari’a. So there is in Islam the demand of having the strenuous effort of the heart, the tongue, and the sword. In other words one should believe in the heart of the reality of God and surrender to him, by tongue, confess him both privately and in public and evangelize to the extent of being involved to protect Islam by ‘defense’ and even by ‘offence’ that is: if it is seen that the Muslim community and their faith is in danger or perceived as such.
Jihad as a mean of assurance
Often the obligations of practicing Islam is not just performing and teaching; preaching and fighting to defend and protect Islam is included. For example Muhammad said, “Anyone whose both feet get covered with dust in Allah’s Cause will not be touched by the (Hell) fire.” This statement although appears in the section of Jihad in the collection of Sahih Bukhari, could be easily used to support Islamic evangelism as well as for military struggle.
Here is another tradition. A man comes to Muhammad and asks, “Shall I fight or embrace Islam first?” Muhammad replied, “Embrace Islam first and then fight.” So he embraced Islam, then straight went into a battle and lost his life. Receiving the news, Muhammad said, “A little work but a great reward.” In other words this person did not perform the five pillars of the faith after embracing Islam, but he is rewarded paradise for his fighting.
Amid all this a Muslim is bound to think that during Muhammad’s life, it was Muhammad who knew which war was really for God, but who can decide today that a particular war against the opposition is for Allah and Islam? It could be just a geo-political war. Other traditions make the military struggle as the ‘last resort’ among the duties a Muslim has to perform.
 Shahada (Creed); Salah (Prayer); Sawm (Fasting); Zakah (alms giving – offering); Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). Muhammad said: The foundation of Islam is on 5 [duties], that [a person should confess] there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the apostle of Allah; to perform prayers, give alms, perform Hajj and fast [during] Ramadan (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 2, Number 7).
 Duties like Da’wa (Evangelism) and Jihad (Struggle – inner and external) are further added (Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 2, Number 25).
 Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 66.
 Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 63.
Judgment, Hell and Paradise
Like the Bible, the Qur’an talks about life after death. The last day, or the Day of Judgment, figures prominently in the pages of it. It is also known as the Day of Resurrection (Sura 75:1ff; 81:1-19; 83:4-21). Muhammad said, on this day the sun and moon will be folded up. The day and the hour is a secret, but signs, both major and smaller, signal its approach. All people will then be raised from the dead. The books kept by the recording angels will be opened.
On the surface it seems that in Islam, everyone is his or her own redeemer. To be safe from the punishment of that Day, Islam presents a credit – debit system. Bad deeds can be wiped away by doing good deeds (Sura 11:114). On Judgment Day, God will weigh both the good and bad. Thus, paradise or hell will be granted by the measure of good deeds over bad (Sura 21:47; 23:102-103).
Based on the Qur’anic references (Sura 36:66; 37:23-24) there exists the idea of a bridge, which everyone will cross on that Day. Traditions state that Muhammad said, “I shall be the first amongst the Apostles to cross [the bridge] with my followers.”  This bridge is said to be finer than a hair and sharper than a sword. People with good deeds will cross it with the swiftness of lightning; others will creep along in a crawl. Those with evil deeds will loose their steps and fall into the fire beneath. The infidels and the wicked will be tormented in the fires of hell.
The Muslim scholar Abul ‘Ala Mawdudi in his book, ‘What Islam stands for’, describes the scene in this way:
"Man will stand by himself helpless and alone and render his account, and await the pronouncement of the judgment, which shall be in the power of God alone. The judgment will rest on one question: Did man conduct himself, in submission to God, in strict conformity with the truth revealed to the Prophets, and with the conviction that he will be held responsible for his conduct in life on the Day of Judgment? If the answer is in the affirmative, the reward will be Paradise, and if in the negative, Hell will be the punishment."
According to the Qur’an, hell is a place where unbelievers will be “dragged through the Fire on their faces” (Sura 54:48) and “by their scalps” (Sura 70:16). Their faces will be ‘blackened’ (Sura 39:60). They will have manacles, chains, and yokes placed upon them (Sura 34:33; 40:71; 76:4). The Qur’an even declares that the wife of Abu Lahab (one of Muhammad’s bitter opponents) will have “a twisted rope of palm-leaf fiber round her (own) neck” (Sura 111:5) — apparently a fireproof palm fiber.
Elsewhere according to the Qur’an, hell is a place of raging, fiercely blazing fire (Sura 73:12; 92:14; 101:11) with leaping, piercing, burning flames (Sura 4:10; 17:97; 25:11; 37:10; 48:13; 77:30-31; 85:10; 104:6-7), in which people “neither die nor live” (Sura 87:12-13). In addition to flames, hell also contains scorching winds, black smoke (Sura 56:42-43), and boiling hot water through which the unbelievers will be dragged (Sura 40:71-72; 55:44). In fact, unbelievers will both drink and be drenched with boiling water (Sura 18:29; 22:19-22, cf. 6:70; 10:4; 37:67; 44:48; 56:54,93).
On the other hand, Paradise in the Qur’an is repeatedly represented in materialistic and sensual terms. God will reward those who enter paradise with garments of silk attire. They will recline on soft couches and rich rugs, quaffing goblets of drink handed to them by huris, or maidens of paradise. The Qur’an states, “They are untouched by men or spirits (jinn, Sura 55:74). In the same context the Qur’an describes them as “virgin-pure and undefiled, with big lustrous eyes” (Sura 56:8-38). Paradise also will include golden trays or dishes (Sura 43:71), flowering meadows (Sura 42:22), a pure wine (non-intoxicating— Sura 56:19) sealed with musk and mixed with water from the heavenly spring of Tasnim (Sura 83:25-27). There are multiple storied halls or mansions (Sura 29:58; 34:37; 39:20), fowl flesh (56:21), thorn-less lote-trees (56:28), and clustered plantains (Sura 56:29).
The emphasis on sensual and material rewards in Paradise verses horrific punishment in hell is compared and repeated time and again in the Qur’an. How much is a Muslim confident of paradise? Not much. He does not know the measurement as to if he has enough good deeds or conduct required to save him from hell. The Qur’an states, “Allah punishes whom he pleases and grants mercy to whom he pleases” (Sura 2:284, cf. 3:129; 5:18). The doctrine of kismet, the concept of fate, runs through Islamic teaching. Both good and evil proceed from Allah’s will (laqad khair wa shar minal-laah). Thus even the promise that “the blessed shall dwell in paradise” is balanced by further words, “unless your Lord ordains otherwise” (Sura 11:108).
According to Muhammad, Paradise and Hell argued, and Hell said, “I have been given the privilege of receiving the arrogant and the tyrants.” Paradise complained to Allah, “What is the matter with me? Why do only the weak and the humble among the people will enter me?” On that, Allah said to Paradise, “You are my mercy which I bestow on whoever I wish of my servants.” Then Allah said to the Hell, “You are my (means of) punishment by which I punish whoever I wish of my slaves. And each of you will have its fill.”
 Sahih Bukhari, vol. 4, Book 54, Number 422.
 Sahih Bukhari, vol. 1, Book 12, Number 770.
 Sahih Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 373.
Judgment, Hell and Paradise in Christian beliefs
The Biblical message about Paradise and eternal life is different from the Qur’an. Jesus offers eternal life to those who love and trust Him (Matthew 19:29). This eternal life is not by way of sensual delights, but rather the joy of being in intimate relationship with the living God and his people forever (Revelation 21:3-5). Thus, the Bible depicts life after death in the language of relationship for a believer as “being forever with the Lord”, and being “with Christ” (1 Thessalonians 4:17; Philippians 1:23).
On the other hand, those who turn their backs on God and do not accept his gift of eternal life have automatically passed judgment on themselves, because Jesus has said that only through him we can enter eternity (John 14:1-6). Their position will be what the Bible calls “eternal everlasting destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Jesus warns of hell where “fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). Elsewhere, the Scriptures speak about a lake of fire for all principles of evils to be annihilated (Revelation 19:20).
Jesus during his ministry made it very plain that we have all been given the ability to choose where to spend eternity. He made it clear through his parables and proverbial examples. In his parable of sheep separated from goats on Judgment Day (Matthew 25:32-46) we see how Jesus judges the people. It is important to note that how we treat others reflects if we truly love God, and are following Jesus. We also read of him mentioning the broad way that leads to destruction and the narrow way that leads to eternal life (Matthew 7:13-14). He also shows that being rich on earth does not mean one will be in Heaven (Luke 16:19-21) but rather that people need to listen to God’s message transmitted to the prophets of Israel. Elsewhere, he tells of wheat that is gathered into God’s barn and weeds that are burned (Matthew 13:24-30).
In our lives, we face two paths with two different destinations. One leads to eternal life and the other to eternal destruction. The ball is in our court. The choice is ours. God, who knows everything, knows which way we will go. However, He gives us the freedom to make that choice, whether to accept His plan of salvation as well as eternal life with Him, or not.
Love, mercy and forgiveness
Oh, but what about God’s love, mercy and forgiveness? Can’t he just say, “Let’s call punishment off – everyone is accepted”? Biblically, the answer is ‘No’, because that would make him a liar, deceiver and a Judge who breaks his own principals.
When we look at the Qur’an and traditions the situation becomes uncertain on further analysis. For example, with regard to mercy, Muhammad said, “When Allah had finished His creation, He wrote over his Throne: 'My mercy preceded My wrath.'” The Qur’an tells Muslims, ‘Do not despair of Allah’s Mercy! Surely, Allah forgives all sins’ (Sura 39:53). Elsewhere it describes God as turning to his people in mercy so that they might repent (Sura 9:118). What is this turning in mercy on God’s part? Muslims in their discussion share with us that it is the guidance that Allah sent; the sending of the prophets, giving of the laws and the dispensing of signs to remind us as ‘forgetful human beings’ that we are off the straight path (sirat al-mustaqim).
One wonders if the ‘forgetfulness’ of human beings has been dealt with by guidance after God sent so many prophets, one after another, with messages - the final one according to Islam being Muhammad with the revelation of the Qur’an? No, not really. Revelation and being reminded do not solve the problem. By following the revelation of the Qur’an, a Muslim still does not grasp assurance that Allah, however compassionate, will accept him in his paradise rather than condemn him to hell. Consequently, there is constant effort to gain assurance of forgiveness.
A Biblical answer is ‘redemption’ not just revelation. Human beings need to be bought back and God’s love, grace, and forgiveness provides this as well as guidance. Indeed, Islam does use such a vocabulary but has its own dictionary.
For example, in Islam, God’s love is conditional. It is dependent on people first loving him by following Muhammad. The Qur’an asks Muhammad to tell his listeners, “If you love God, follow me, [and] God will love you and forgive you your sins; for God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace” (Sura 3:31). So here we see that in order to gain Allah’s approval, it is the Muslim who has to take the initiative to earn the love of God for him. Will he know one day that he ‘loved’ God by following Muhammad’s commandments enough so that now God loves him? No, a Muslim will never know that in this life.
When I was a Muslim, this was my dilemma. When I put this question to a respected Muslim scholar, second in command of the leaders of Jama’at Islami, he sarcastically said, “Nawjwan, farz to pura kar lo, mas’ala khud kul jaiy ga” – “Young man, fulfill what is due, the puzzle will become clear itself.” He quoted to me from the Qur’an, “Lo! Allah loves the beneficent” and “Allah does not love the disbelievers” (Sura 2:195; 3:32). I understood that Allah’s love is merely an expression of approval, solely to those who do what is good.
Coming home, I passed by the grounds of the grave of a famous Muslim saint. I was reminded of the consequence that since the Qur’an and the traditions of Islam are so contradictory, it is no wonder other brands of Islam are prevalent in many parts of the Muslim world. In one folk Islam, Muhammad is raised to a semi-divine status, in total contradiction of the Qur’anic authority. He is then approached through pir, or holy man as an intermediary. Prayers are said; offerings are given even on behalf of the deceased to ease the passage and perhaps gain access to paradise. Sure this is the way? Again the answer is: no.
The Qur’an depicts human beings as merely forgetful, foolish, weak, boastful, quarrelsome and even rebellious (Sura 4:28; 11:9-10; 14:4; 33:72; 96:6etc.). In its own way, the Qur’an does see the seriousness of sin in the world and states that if God would punish people for their sins; he would not spare anyone’s life (Sura 16:61. The Bible, however, states, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and continues with God’s amazing grace, “and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
When it comes to ‘forgiveness’ in Islam, it is similar to an amnesty granted by a sovereign ruler, who may never see the person he has pardoned. Fifty-two times, the Qur’an mentions God as forgiving (Ghafoor). However, he may choose to pardon – to be merciful and forgive – but he may just as well choose not to do so (Sura 2:284; 3:74, 129; 5:18; 14:4; 29:21; 48:14). There is no assurance that God will choose to forgive any particular sinner of any particular sin on the Day of Judgment. Even Muhammad expressed doubt about whether he would be accepted by God (Sura 46:9).
If guidance and revelation of the scripture was enough, there would be no need of 124 thousand prophets. Only one would be enough. We need God’s grace and mercy, not simply guidance alone. This realization even dawned on Muhammad when he said that none will enter heaven through his works. People asked him about his situation and his answer was, “not even me unless God covers me with His grace and mercy.” Although Muhammad is mentioned as being sent as ‘mercy’ (rahma) for the worlds (Sura 21:107), he expressed his need for God’s mercy. How may one receive God’s grace and mercy? Although the Qur’an and traditions talk about God having these attributes, it does not go further into clear explanation of this matter.
As a Muslim, I was not the only one facing this dilemma. This lack of assurance and the fear of Judgment, I found, were very obvious and reflected in the last moments of key dignitaries of Islam. For example, the second successor of Muhammad, Umar Ibn al-Khattab (d. 644), is quoted to have said, “All praise is to Allah. If all the treasures of this world were to be at my disposal, I would offer them as a ransom to be saved from the trial at the Day of Judgment.”
 Sahih Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 518; Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wa al-Nihayya, vol. 1, p. 58.
 Some examples include the following: Sura 2:173, 182, 192, 199, 218, 225, 235; 3:31, 89, 129, 155.
 Sahih Muslim, vol. 4, Hadith number 6764 (p. 1473),
 http://www.alim.org/library/biography/khalifa/content/KUM/19/3. On the other hand there is a ‘questionable’ tradition according to which Muhammad named 10 people who will be accepted in paradise. Umar’s name include that list (Sunnan Abu Dawud, Book 40, Number 4632; Tirmidhi, Hadith 3747). The Shia sect of Islam, however, reject that tradition being spurious and forged for political reasons to elevate the adversaries of the Shia Imam, Ali during the Umayyad reign (661–750 AD).
Grace and Mercy available here and now
To bestow on us his grace and mercy and to fulfill his principal of holiness, as he himself is holy (al-Qudus), God sent Jesus to redeem us and also sent him as his grace and mercy to the world. Through believing in Jesus and what he has done for us, we are accepted by God. When we obey, we no longer have to fear the wrath of God. This is the assurance that is not placed in human confidence or in our ‘greatness’ but rather in the crucified and risen Jesus who has redeemed us. God sent Jesus not only to be an honest judge but also to be merciful. This is why the Bible states, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Elsewhere, it is stated:
[W]hen the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7).
While the Qur’an and traditions talk about grace and mercy of God in the ‘future’ and in terms like ‘may be’, the Bible talks about it now and its full fulfillment in the hereafter. That is the reason the Bible encourages us in this very life to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace” (Hebrews 4:16).
Unlike the Qur’an, the Bible declares that God wants his people to share in his holiness and thus expects them to be holy. He himself is pure and completely holy (Leviticus 11:44; 20:26). [Evil does not stand a chance against him, nor can even be in his presence (Revelation 21:6)]
God, our Creator, desires a relationship with us. For that purpose he created us. Because of disobedience, we lost our closeness to him. To reconcile us with him again, he fulfilled not only his justice but his mercy too when he sent Jesus to die for us. It is not that God loves us because Jesus died for us. It is because God loved us so much (John 3:14-21) that he gave Jesus to die for us, in order to fulfill his justice and mercy and to bestow his grace upon us.
To Muslims, this plan of vicarious atonement and redemption from God seems very strange. In Islam, one is expected to bear his or her own burden. Although the Qur’an mentions the Law of Moses, it never states how God commanded Moses and the Israelites to give sin offerings (Exodus 29:10-14, 35-37; Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 4:1-35; 5:1-13; Numbers 6:9-17; 15:22-29) and guilt offerings (Leviticus 5:14-19; 7:1-10; 14:1-24) as well as celebrate an annual Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:1-34) in which animal sacrifices were offered on behalf of the people.
According to the Bible, all these sacrifices were a shadow of the greatest sacrifice: the sacrifice God himself provided for all people once and for all. Thus we see Jesus in the New Testament of the Bible sent by God as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He is mentioned as ‘the holy one’ and as 'Immanuel’ (meaning: God with us) in the Bible (Luke 1:35; Matthew 1:23). This fulfills prophecies concerning him, recorded in Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 9:6. The wonderful promise made with Adam, Abraham, Moses, and the prophets came to pass in the life of Jesus!
The atonement of those who came before Jesus was given on the basis of Jesus’s redemption in the future. Today in our case, we look back in the past to the sacrifice that Jesus made once and for all, accepting God’s providence. How do we get aboard? We repent of our sins, trust in Jesus as our Savior, and follow him as our Lord (Master).
The Qur’an talks about Jesus being the word, the spirit, the prophet, the servant, the blessed, the sign, the mercy for people, the healer, the miracle worker, and the bringer of the gospel (which literally means: the good news) but misses to tell what this gospel is all about. Here is a glimpse:
[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood —to be received by faith (Romans 3:23-25).
 In the Greek New Testament, gospel is the translation of the Greek noun euangelion (occurring 76 times) “good news,” and the verb euangelizo (occurring 54 times), meaning “to bring or announce good news.” Both words are derived from the noun angelos, “messenger.” In classical Greek, an euangelos was one who brought a message of victory or other political or personal news that caused joy. In addition, euangelizomai (the middle voice form of the verb) meant “to speak as a messenger of gladness, to proclaim good news.” Further, the noun euangelion became a technical term for the message of victory, though it was also used for a political or private message that brought joy (http://bible.org/question/what-does-term-%E2%80%9Cgospel%E2%80%9D-mean).
Jesus is the only Hope of assurance!
The Bible offers the only hope and assurance that really matters. It is the kind of hope that neither the Qur’an nor Muhammad in his traditions offer. It is the hope of eternal life. In reference to Jesus as the Christ, the Bible declares, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11). Jesus is the only way. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Those who embrace Jesus, accepting him as the only way, find in Him full salvation and the assurance of eternity in heaven. This is the promise God made, accounted in the Bible: “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). This promise is further explained that if we are children of God “then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17).
The Bible declares, “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). We cannot save ourselves or please God through our own efforts or intelligence. We can come to him through Jesus, admitting our weakness that indeed, “there is none righteous, no, not one … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 23). Jesus said, “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5).
When we recognize that by our own efforts we cannot save ourselves and come to him in repentance, God offers salvation to us through Jesus. He bore the full penalty of sin on behalf of all who would trust him (Isaiah 53:4-6; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 Corinthians 15:3). This salvation is offered freely to all who believe in him (Revelation 22:17; Matthew 11:28-30; John 3:16, 18; John 5:24; Romans 10:9).
Please do not make the mistake of those who, “being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3). Indeed the Qur’an talks about God’s love, his forgiveness, and mercy, but all these aspects are bound with conditions upon human beings, their obedience, and the way they respond to God’s guidance. In spite of all efforts, the follower is still not sure of his destiny.
Both the Qur’an and the Bible talk about the sinful state of humans on this earth. It is the Bible only that speaks further concerning this issue and gives guidance to being saved from sin by God. First of all, it teaches that all our efforts to find God through laborious moral attempts will come to nothing. Our inside (spirit, soul) has to be changed; a reshaping from within has to take place.
Transformation through Jesus
Jesus is the Living Word of God. The Bible is about why God sent him and how we may by believing in him are translated into his fellowship and become the citizen of His heavenly kingdom. As God is light, Jesus too is the Light of the world (1 John 1:5). We being God’s creation and follower of Jesus, receive his light and no wonder he then tells us, ‘you are the light of the world’ (John 8:12; 9:5; Matthew 5:14).
By accepting Jesus, our assurance opens a new page of new life for us. The goal of assurance and redemption through Jesus is transformation of our lives on this earth. The purpose of assurance that is available through Jesus is not simply to avoid hell; it is also to glorify God and to be in his fellowship forever.
It is not anymore just to know about God, but to know Him personally, something the Qur’an does not even dare to consider. Consequently, some schools of thought in Islam consider this intimacy as ‘blasphemous’ much like the religious leaders in Jesus’ time accused Jesus of blasphemy (Matthew 26:62-67; Mark 14:60-65; Luke 5:17-26; John 10:25-39). As Jesus is one in the fellowship with God, the Father, we too through Christ become one in fellowship and purpose with God (John 14:9-21). This is that oneness of which Jesus talked about in his prayer before going to the cross, found in John 17. He prayed not only for his apostles but for all those who would believe in Him in such words:
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (John 17:20-26).
The Bible encourages us to “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). This chance can be lost. When Jesus comes back, the opportunity will be over (Matthew 25:1-13). When a person dies, that person’s opportunity closes as well. A delay is thus unwise.
I remember the day when I had to make a choice. On one hand was the Bible and on the other was the Qur’an. I studied them both and was reminded of Muhammad who said, “I do not know what will happen to me or to you” (Sura 46:9). I thought of Jesus, the living word of God, claiming, “I know where I come from and I know where I am going.” (John 8:14) The Scriptures quotations kept coming to mind, “Believe in me and you will have eternal life.” (John 5:24; John 6:40)
You see, many came and showed the way but Jesus is different. He lives forever and is the conqueror over evil and death. He wants to be in our lives and walk with us each step of the way. All this convinced me to follow him.
No other prophet has promised he would come back to take us with him to eternity. Jesus is different. He says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3). He gives an open invitation saying, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in …” (Revelation 3:20).
The Bible states, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Yes, belief and public confession through words and action are together. Yes, it is costly to become a believer in Jesus. However, it is indeed much more costly not to become a believer in Jesus and accept what he offers. The fact of the matter is if we lose him, we lose eternity.
What must I do?
Like Christians, no Muslim would like to be in the darkness. The Bible states that God has sent Jesus to bring people out of darkness into his light (Colossians 1:13; 1 Peter 2:9). He sent Jesus so that through our believing in him, he would grant us assurance, salvation, eternal life and translate us into His heavenly kingdom forevermore. Jesus calls this action “to be born again” (John 3:3-21).
A Jewish ruler once said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with Him” (John 3:2). In response Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3) He added by way of further explanation: “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5).
New birth, being born again, is an act of God whereby eternal life is imparted to the person who believes (2 Corinthians 5:17; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1-4, 18). “Born again” also carries the idea “to become children of God” through trust in the name of Jesus Christ, “to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God” (John 1:12). This fulfills the prophecies concerning God’s Anointed one having spiritual children (Psalm 89:26-33; Isaiah 8:18).
Before His ascension, Jesus gave His disciples the great commission, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).
It was in the light of this command that the apostles of Jesus went out to share the gospel, the good news of assurance available through Jesus. On the day of Pentecost, the apostles of Jesus received the gift of the Holy Spirit. People from all over the world were there that day for this Jewish holiday. They heard Peter’s message about how the prophecies of the prophets were fulfilled in Jesus. They asked the apostles what they should do. Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38). The whole of the Book of Acts shows how the message was preached and how both Jews and non-Jews believed in Jesus.
Suffering for Jesus - what?
By accepting Jesus, we let him lead our lives. He promises that he will never fail us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Troubles, opposition, and persecution will come but Jesus is always with us, “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He tells us in very clear words: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Thus, we should not be surprised to see that our identity with Jesus would draw the same response the world has for Jesus (John 15:18-25).
After deciding to follow Jesus, I faced persecution in the years that followed at the hands of my family, Muslim friends, and the community as a whole. I followed literally what Jesus had said, “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another” (Matthew 10:23). Many times, I complained to God, asking ‘why’ and ‘how’. Soon however, I learned that for believers in Jesus, faith and suffering go together. I will never forget the day when, during my prayerful time with God, after addressing all my complaints to him, I glanced at my opened Bible. I read, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29).
When the apostles and disciples of Jesus were persecuted, remembering what Jesus had already told them, they rejoiced at being counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the Truth about Jesus (Acts 5:41). They did not even consider the idea of diluting the position of Jesus and his uniqueness by striving for an ‘interfaith’ community. They did indeed co-exist with those who did not believe; they did not kill anyone or force anyone to believe. Rather, they endured persecution at the hands of those who did not wish to co-exist with them. They did not water down the idea of ‘co-exist’ to mean not to tell people about Jesus and his unique message. When they were asked not to preach and teach about Jesus, their polite answer was, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God” (Acts 4:19). They were not intimidated or bullied into not telling the truth about sin, salvation, and assurance available through Jesus. They did not join the ‘crowds’ in a superficial dialogue of “We all are one and the same”. They were put in jail and beaten up, and on their release they did not hold seminars on, “How can bad things happen to good people?” They actually became more zealous. Their prayers were not pity parties about their own situations. Rather, they asked God for boldness to do what Jesus instructed them to do:
Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus (Acts 4:30).
Both Christianity and Islam are mission-based faiths. One uses the word ‘evangelism’ the other ‘Da’wa’. Both begin with sharing the message and inviting people to accept that message. While Muslims, according to the Qur’an and traditions, are allowed to quell opposition to their message with the sword (Sura 2:191-193; 2:217; 4:74-77, 84; 8:41; 9:29, 36, 29, 41, 111, 123; 47:4, 20; 48:15-16; 61:4) believers in Christ are not to do this but rather are to love their enemies (Matthew 5:43-48; 26:52; Luke 6:27-38; John 18:11).
As one can see, the differences between what Jesus said and did around 600 years before Muhammad, as well as what Jesus’ apostles and those who followed Jesus’ message said and did, is very different from what Muhammad and his early followers said and did.
Jesus offers salvation, assurance, and the most amazing relationship humans ever experience: a personal relationship with God our Creator! Muhammad did not offer these gifts and he could not. God our Creator is the One and Only God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The messages that He gave to the children of Israel, including to Moses, King David, through Isaiah and many others, point to Jesus. Jesus is our assurance with God.
As human beings we all like to have access to a life of peace and love. There can be no peace in our heart or between people unless we have peace between us and God. The real peace proceeds from God. He has sent Jesus into this world who grants us that eternal peace. Before, we even took the initiative to love him; God has loved us so much. He made us to love us, and we are made to love him! Love is not based on fear of being cast into hell and tortured forever if we do not. Rather, God freely gives us love first (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10). Through God’s love, we can love him in return (Matthew 22:34-40; 1 John 4:7-8; 16-21)! True love comes through assurance, which Jesus gives!