Thank you for your last letter! It was a pleasant surprise to me! Thank
you very much for your effort to reply in such comprehensive and understanding manner!
Often Muslims are inclined to minimize sins by classifying them into big and small ones,
those that can be compensated for by ‘good deeds’, those that need repentance
and those that are unforgivable. The Bible makes a different assessment.
Maybe it is best understood when looking at what Jesus called the
‘Great Commandment’. It really is the sum total of the Law of God, the Ten
Love the Lord your God
with all your heart and
with all your soul and
with all your mind...and...
love your neighbour as yourself!
This is God’s desire for us. Anything short of that is actually
‘missing the aim’ that He has for us. You will recall this allegory from my last
To practice self-will or self-gratification instead of God’s will
is not only missing the aim, but has consequences as well. The Bible simply states:
Your iniquities have separated you from your God.
Sin is a kind of ‘red card’, like in a soccer game. I means:
I am out! Religion demands from its followers a rigid effort to act aright and, once a sin
is committed, to try to compensate for it somehow with ‘good deeds’. That very
much pleases our pride. ‘I can! I am able!’ It is part of our nature to try to
pacify God by compensating for our sin. Ultimately that amounts to the assumption that as
long as I do not commit shirk or kufr, I do not really need God. This is
equal to the expectation of a convicted criminal to be released on the promise to do a
‘good deed’ to compensation his crime, and in addition not to repeat that crime again.
God’s righteousness does not work like that; neither does this reflect his mercy and
grace. Unless God removes it, sin separates an offender from God for all eternity!
The last book in the Bible records a vision of the devastating
consequence of that:
I saw the dead,
great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened...
The dead were judged according to what they had done according to the books.
Judgment Day is harvest day. Everybody receives what he or she
deserves. It is the execution of God’s judgment.
The Judge will be Jesus, as he himself stated:
Son of man (i.e. Jesus) comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, he will sit
on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will
separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He
will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left ... Then the king will say to
those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the
kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world' ... Then he will say to those
on his left, Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the
devil and his angels' ... Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous
to eternal life.
Who then are the ‘blessed by my Father’ that inherit the
Kingdom of God? Are these people who are sinless? When we look at the text carefully, we
notice, that it is not those who deserve to be in God’s presence, but those
who inherit it. How can we understand that? The heirs of someone are (as a rule)
his children. They do not inherit their fortune because they deserve it, but because they
are the children of the testator. Inheritance is obtained after the testator has died. In
His New Testament God uses that metaphor. Every person that receives God’s pardon
through Jesus belongs to the family of God, for the barrier, which separated us from God
is removed. Being a child of God then, we can joyfully call God our Father! But to belong
to the family of God, one must be born into it. It says of Jesus:
He came to that which
was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, 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
Explaining this, Jesus said:
I tell you the truth,
no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. ...
I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless
he is born of water and the Spirit.
Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the
Spirit gives birth to spirit.
You should not be surprised at my saying,
‘You must be born again!’
It needs some contemplation to
understand the deeper meaning of this metaphor. We are all alive, because we were born
into this world. That was our physical birth. Jesus said that to be truly human the way
God intended it, we must in addition also be born spiritually. Without a spiritual birth
one is spiritually dead.
Spiritual birth into the ‘family’ of God is affected through
faith in Jesus. This faith not only constitutes trust in what he did for us, but also the
recognition of our desperate need for His forgiveness. He was the one Who was executed in
our stead. By this rebirth we become children of God and by that his heirs
(Romans 8:17, Galatians 3:29).
Having understood this, we will agree with an important statement in
the New Testament:
Because of his great
love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead
in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved! —
... through faith, not
by works, so that no one can boast.
Because we all have sinned,
we all depend totally on God’s mercy.
That raises the question, whether in that case our attempt to live
righteously is really necessary. Not as a means to relinquish former sins or to gain
merit! God wants His children to ‘grow up’ spiritually by being changed more and
more to reflect His nature! Jesus once said:
Be perfect, as your
heavenly Father is perfect!
But as much as we may try, our old nature just does not always comply.
As long as we live in this life, we cannot be righteous in the sight of God by our own
effort. Neither can God’s Law justify or forgive us. A law merely determines what is
right and what is wrong:
Know that a man is
not justified by observing the law
says the Bible.
That is why God, in his mercy, offers us his own righteousness. Speaking
about the Jews who rigidly tried to keep the Law, the New Testament says:
I can testify
about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since
they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own,
they did not submit to God’s righteousness.
This was never different, for we already read of Abraham that
he believed God and
He credited it to him as righteousness
I just wonder now, how you, as a Muslim, will react to this for you
possibly very foreign ‘language’.
It tells you—as it does to the Jews—that by trying to establish
merit or righteousness before God, you actually do not submit to God!
The tenet of our faith in God is that we can do nothing to earn eternal
life, but depend on His rescue. We already noted that salvation is offered by the saviour.
He is Jesus. Salvation means to be pardoned. Actually, it is more than a pardon that is
offered to us. God actually says:
I will forgive their
wickedness and will remember their sins no more.
You will cast
all our sins into the depth of the sea.
As far as the
East is from the West, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.
God not only condescends to forgive and to pardon us, but he actually
promises to forget our sins. He makes us as pure as though we had never sinned. Our
heavenly records are clean. We are recorded in the ‘Book of Life’
(see also Daniel 12:l; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 20:12,15; 21:27),
which is the deciding factor
determining our entrance into God’s eternal glory. In short, we have been reconciled to God
and are at peace with him:
All this is from God,
who reconciled us to Himself through Christ.
(2 Corinthians 5:18)
You will now understand why we Christians rely so much on Jesus. He is
our only chance. Jesus himself said:
and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
Last not least I like to mention a question I have been asked
repeatedly: why should anyone endeavour to perform good deeds, when their sins will be
forgiven anyway. Well, we want to please our Father! It is out of gratitude for having
saved us! Our love for God makes us hate sin, because he hates it and it hurts him.
The Bible presents God as deeply affected and grieved by our sin, and
because we are devoted to him and love him, we strive to be the way he wants us to be. Let
just a couple of verses from the Bible demonstrate this:
Whatever is true,
whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovable, whatever is
admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.
blameless and pure, children of God
without fault in a crooked and depraved generation,
in which you shine like stars.
And why do we try to live in an uprightly fashion? Because
the love of Christ
(2 Corinthians 5:14)
Now you want to ask me, where those Christian are that live with such
resolve. You find them in every country and every society, in some more—in others
less. Their numbers are not big, and more often than not they are not in the limelight.
But if you search for them, you will find them. But please take note again: they are not
perfect. Perfection cannot be found this side of the grave. But they will have a resolve
that is already reflected in the Bible:
Not that I already
obtained all this... But one thing I do:
Forgetting what is behind and straining toward
what is ahead, I press on toward the goal... for which God has called me.
With sincere greetings, I am