Do you ever wonder what the difference between Islam and Christianity is? As the United States becomes more pluralistic and our world smaller, if you haven’t yet, there is an increasing chance that at some point you may not only be exposed to the teachings of Islam, but may also personally know someone who practices it. So rightly understanding the differences between these two faiths is vitally important.
“…you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32 NCV)
Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic; they both worship one supreme being–Islam worships Allah (“god” in Arabic) and Christianity the triune God–Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They both have a book that directs their faithful; Islam has the Koran, Christianity the Bible. And they both believe in a judgment and in eternal life. But here the similarities end.
Even though the Koran has retained parts of both the Old and New Testaments, it adds what it’s followers believe is the final revelation of God. Muslims repeatedly contend that the Christian Scriptures have been corrupted, and therefore where earlier Biblical portions contradict what they believe to be the final revelation according to Muhammad, the latter is to be followed. Christians, on the other hand, believe that because the entire Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit of God–and because He neither makes mistakes nor changes His mind–Genesis is every bit as true as Revelations, and as such, greater weight is not given to subsequent portions over former ones–it is all God’s Word. “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21 NIV)
But what, really, is the difference between the two faiths? Is there a chance the Biblical God really did “add on” to His Word as found in the Bible and that the Koran is right? Do we all basically worship the same God? Or is there something so fundamentally different between the two faiths that Islam cannot be rightly understood to simply be the updated version of Christianity?
We live in an apostate culture that generally rejects the spiritual altogether, so when we see someone worshipping even a god substantially different from ours we tend to either think it a good thing (as opposed to atheism, agnosticism, or general spiritual indifference), or we may even be tempted to extrapolate that we are all really worshipping the same God. But this is simply not true. Any shortfall of a knowledge of the true God–of the repentance and forgiveness He gives only through the second person of the Triune God, the holy God-made-human-being Jesus Christ whom He sent–leaves a person still condemned before God and completely dead in their trespasses and sins. “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)
There are multiple problems with accepting the premise that the Koran is a “corrected” version of Christianity–that God gave further revelation beyond the Old and New Testsments of the Bible. 1) The first one is that God neither makes mistakes, nor changes His mind. “God is not a human being, and he will not lie. He is not a human, and he does not change his mind. What he says he will do, he does. What he promises, he makes come true.” (Numbers 23:19 NCV) His revelation is consistent, rendering it one of the foremost methods of evaluating the veracity of any new teaching–does it conflict with the revealed Word of God?
2) Another problem with accepting Islam as Christianity 1.2 is that because God is God He is, furthermore, fully capable of preserving His message of forgiveness and salvation through Christ uncorrupted throughout the ages. We clearly see one unifying theme in all of Scripture, and that is that it is our human nature, not God’s Word, that is corrupted.
3) Which leads us to the most serious problem with accepting Islam as a continuation of the revelation of God–it doesn’t “correct” anything; it denies and shifts completely away from the entire message of the Bible, which is Christ! The Old Testament, you see, sets the stage and points to our need for Christ Jesus; the New Testament reveals Him. God Himself had to step in and do what mankind could not–He had to take on Himself the penalty for our sins and in exchange attribute to us His holiness through faith in Him. That is the entire message of the Bible–Christ, and Christ alone. “…Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)
Scripture explicitly says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 NIV) Jesus Himself said, “if you do not believe that I am he [the word “he” is not in the original Greek text], you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8:24) Jesus also said, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you [the Father], the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) The apostle John explains, “This is what God told us: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life, but whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12 NCV) Forgiveness of sins and eternal life come through Jesus and Him alone. The Koran erroneously asserts Jesus didn’t claim divinity, much less that salvation is through faith in His finished work on the cross; hope of eternal life in the Islamic faith is predicated on the performance of sufficient righteous acts. Yet even that is uncertain for a Muslim; unless he dies fighting for the cause of Islam, he has no assurance of Paradise. Those who follow Christ, however, can have assurance of salvation; the Bible clearly states, “I write this letter to you who believe in the Son of God so you will know you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13 NCV)
Not only that, but Christians also have confidence to approach God. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. [Because Jesus was perfect on our behalf] Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV)
Yet perhaps the most striking difference between Christianity and Islam is that between grace and law–the freedom we have in Christ to grow and become everything He wants us to be in true holiness–to become fully conformed to His character. God gives us grace freely through Christ; Islam requires rigid performance. The prescriptions for a faithful Muslim are many and must be carefully and faithfully followed–and in many parts of the Muslim world the consequences for disobedience are severe.
In the end, we really do need to determine whom it is we are worshipping. Does our god exhibit the very human qualities of changing his mind? Can he not preserve the written record of His Word inviolate without corruption or distortion? The Koran so substantially alters the message of the Bible as to present a teaching completely and irreconcilably foreign to it. It would have us accept that the God who gave the Law in the Old Testament to show humankind its incapacity for true holiness on its own, and provided the remedy through Christ in the New Testament, now has regressed back to a works-based salvation in which you can never be sure you have done enough?! This is exactly what the church in Galatia was reproached for:
“You people in Galatia were told very clearly about the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. But you were foolish; you let someone trick you. Tell me this one thing: How did you receive the Holy Spirit? Did you receive the Spirit by following the law? No, you received the Spirit because you heard the Good News and believed it. You began your life in Christ by the Spirit. Now are you trying to make it complete by your own power? That is foolish. Were all your experiences wasted? I hope not! Does God give you the Spirit and work miracles among you because you follow the law? No, he does these things because you heard the Good News and believed it. The Scriptures say the same thing about Abraham: ‘Abraham believed God, and God accepted Abraham’s faith, and that faith made him right with God.’ So you should know that the true children of Abraham are those who have faith. The Scriptures, telling what would happen in the future, said that God would make the non-Jewish people right through their faith. This Good News was told to Abraham beforehand, as the Scripture says: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So all who believe as Abraham believed are blessed just as Abraham was. But those who depend on following the law to make them right are under a curse, because the Scriptures say, ‘Anyone will be cursed who does not always obey what is written in the Book of the Law.’ Now it is clear that no one can be made right with God by the law, because the Scriptures say, ‘Those who are right with God will live by faith.’ The law is not based on faith. It says, ‘A person who obeys these things will live because of them.’ Christ took away the curse the law put on us. He changed places with us and put himself under that curse. It is written in the Scriptures, ‘Anyone whose body is displayed on a tree is cursed.’ Christ did this so that God’s blessing promised to Abraham might come through Jesus Christ to those who are not Jews. Jesus died so that by our believing we could receive the Spirit that God promised.” (Galatians 3:1-14, NCV)
Dear Lord Jesus Christ,
Help me know the truth, and help it set me free! Amen.