by Bill Nugent
I recently heard a radio commentator discuss why Islam is spreading so quickly and gaining so many converts. He said that the main reason for the rapid spread of Islam is the simplicity of its salvation message. The salvation message of Islam basically states that a person earns the right to enter paradise (heaven) on the basis of good works.
Muslims believe that recording angels record the deeds done by each person and on Judgment Day they will be weighed to see if the good works outweigh the bad. I realize that Islam is a much more complicated religion than this but all things considered, it all boils down to earning heaven by good works.
It struck me how similar the Islamic salvation message is to the religious views of most modern and postmodern Americans. Most Americans, when asked about how to get to heaven will say something like “I imagine that anyone who lives a somewhat decent moral life will die and go to heaven.” This means the typical non-Muslim American who may have had some nominal church upbringing nevertheless agrees with the Islamic doctrine of personal salvation.
The typical American therefore adheres to a kind of Islam without the jihad. This is what I call “American Islam.” This American religion of works salvation maintains that no matter what religion a person may have, as long as he or she does good deeds he or she will walk straight through heaven’s gate. Salvation by good works sounds reasonable and caters to the American sense of fair play. It’s a kind of friendly, inclusive, affable, I’m OK you’re OK kind of attitude. This American religion may seem reasonable but is it true? In other words . . . to be technical . . . is there an epistemological basis for the religion of earning heaven by good deeds?
Let’s take a brief look at what the Bible has to say. The Bible is a book of extremely sound epistemological certainty. The Bible is not just a book that explains a religion. The Bible is a book that is buttressed by more solid supernatural witness than any other book in the world. The Bible contains accurate history and is confirmed by archaeology but most importantly it contains hundreds of prophecies. Several hundred prophecies were fulfilled in the first coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Hundreds more Bible prophecies concern Israel and the surrounding nations. Some of the prophecies about the nations were fulfilled in ancient times but many, especially those relating to the restoration of national Israel, are being fulfilled in our own time. The Koran has nothing to compare with this. The Bible stands alone as a beacon of certainty because the fulfilled prophecies confirm that it is inspired by God.
From cover to cover the Bible speaks of good works and the extreme importance of acts of kindness and all other good deeds. From Genesis to Revelation the Bible is also clear, that important as good works are, they do not earn us entry into heaven. The Bible teaches that salvation from sin and entrance into heaven is granted by substitutionary atonement.
Let me explain substitutionary atonement. In the very first pages of Genesis we see a man named Abel offering a sheep in sacrifice. The sheep was Abel’s substitute. The guilt of Abel’s sins were transferred to the sheep and the sheep died for Abel’s sins. Does that sound bizarre, strange or even macabre? Yes, it does seem bizarre and strange because human nature revolts against any notion that good deeds are not enough! Human nature finds substitutionary atonement repugnant and bewildering. That’s why the Bible contains prophecies and miracles and other types of supernatural witness. It is so we will believe in God’s way of salvation which is substitutionary atonement which is contrary to human nature! If heaven could be gained by good works, the Bible would only be filled with exhortations to work harder and it wouldn’t need prophecies or miracles to confirm such a message.
Many centuries after Abel, Noah offered animals in sacrifice (Gen. 8:20) and God made a covenant with Noah for all nations. Many centuries after Noah, God spoke to Moses to set up the animal sacrificial system under Judaism. In all these biblical examples over all those centuries the guilt of sin was transferred to animals which were burned on altars in sacrifice.
The signs and wonders worked by Moses served to prove that this sacrificial system was indeed given at God’s command. These animal blood sacrifices were accepted by God but they were nonetheless a mere prophetic picture of something greater to come.
Many prophecies given through Moses and the prophets spoke of a coming One who would be the Messiah, the Savior who would be the ultimate sacrifice who would take upon Himself the sins of all people of all nations! (Messiah is the Hebrew word for Christ.) This is indeed what Jesus did in His suffering and death on our behalf. Jesus was our substitute. The miracles that Jesus wrought and that greatest miracle which was His resurrection from the dead served to prove that He indeed is the One sent by God to save the world!
We who turn to God through Christ in humble repentance, admitting that our own good works are not enough to earn heaven, and trusting in the sufferings of Christ alone for salvation receive forgiveness of sins. Once we receive this forgiveness then we ask the Lord what good works He would have us do in service to Him.
Islam claims both Judaism and Christianity as parent faiths yet Islam’s rejection of Christ’s substitutionary atonement absolutely separates it from both. The common American attitude of salvation by works which I call “American Islam” is also a denial of substitutionary atonement and hence an absolute rejection of Christianity. Christianity is the prophetic fulfillment of Judaism and maintains and in fact intensifies the Jewish Bible based concept of substitutionary atonement.
American Islam, the postmodern salvation by works, has no supernatural witness from God. American Islam certainly cannot look to the Bible for support. American Islam has no Bible, no miracles, no fulfilled prophecies but only wishful thinking that God will accept good works as an entrance pass into heaven.
Each of us has a choice: salvation by works or salvation by the Savior, Jesus Christ. Isaiah 64:6 says “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (NASB). Even our righteous deeds are stained to some degree by underlying selfish motives. How futile to think that any such deeds could purchase heaven!
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8&9). First Corinthians 3:13-15 teaches that good works done by a Christian result in the Christian receiving reward in heaven. Such works are worthy of reward but are futile if a person doesn’t first receive entrance to heaven which is only given by trusting in Christ.