The Preaching of the Gospel
- "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an
- apostle and set apart for the gospel of God." Romans 1:1
As soon as you begin to read the Scriptures among Muslims you will be aware of many questions that will automatically be raised. Some of them will deal with misunderstandings of certain points of Christian doctrine. You must be patient and loving and not disappointed if the first and second encounters seem fruitless. You will find that you have to wait on the Lord to reveal himself to them through the Scriptures. Your only concern will be your faithfulness to Him and to his Word.
The name of Paul will elicit two reactions. Either they will not have heard of him at all, or they will tell you that he is the greatest villain that Christianity has ever had. They may say Paul invented doctrines that Jesus never preached. Muslim scholars have always been delighted to read the works of the higher critics. If something heretical appears in a London or New York newspaper, you may be sure that it will be picked up, translated and reprinted in full in the daily newspapers of the Middle East. Unfortunately there have been too many such statements by Western theologians who deny one or another precious article of the Christian faith. Thus, as we approach Muslims with the Christian message, we base it totally on the revealed Book, doing our utmost to explain that we are, in the tradition of Paul, messengers bearing the Word of God.
We have many words to explain, starting with the name of our Lord. The word Christ has come to us from the Greek New Testament. It is the equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah. In translating the New Testament into most Islamic languages the Greek word Christos is rendered el-Massih, i.e., the Messiah.
Jesus, or in Arabic Yesu’a, is another word which does not ring a bell. Right away we have to explain the meaning of the word rather than take anything for granted. The name Yesu’a is the same as Joshua, and Joshua means Savior. In the Arabic Bible our Lord is called Yesu’a el-Massih, Jesus the Messiah. In the Qur’an, Muhammad refers to our Lord as ‘Issa. There is a continuing debate over the use of this name. I am convinced that we should not use it. It is a loaded word, and I cannot empty it of its connotations. In other words, when you say ‘Issa el Massih, you are evoking the Qur’anic concept of the Messiah. You have no way of ridding it of its associations. Furthermore, when we analyze ‘Issa in Arabic, we find that it has no meaning at all. However, the name el-Massih has an Arabic root and means the Anointed One. I prefer to call our Lord: Jesus the Messiah. Remember, you must always supply the meaning of the word Jesus (Savior) in whatever Islamic language you use.
Why do I make such a point of this? Because you must show Muslims that the person you are proclaiming is not a mere prophet. That is their idea of the Messiah. You should explain that Jesus the Messiah, Yesu’a el-Massih, is el-Mukhalles, the Arabic for savior. And by using it, you indicate to Muslims that Christianity is a redemptive religion. This is the most distinctive feature of our faith. When Jesus was born, this is how the angels announced His birth: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
Quite often, we find that the New Testament interprets for us the meaning of words that are of Hebrew origin. For example, when the angel appeared to Joseph he explained the meaning of the name to be given to the child. Referring to the Virgin Mary, the angel said: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21. Matthew went on commenting on the birth of the Messiah with this quotation from the Old Testament: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ which means, ‘God with us.’” Matthew 1:22
It is always a good idea when you use a Biblical name to find out its meaning and interpret it to a Muslim audience.
Paul declares that he has been set aside by Christ Jesus to be an apostle. In Arabic the word for apostle is rasool. Muhammad is called a rasool. The Islamic credo or shahada is: “I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is the apostle of Allah.” In Arabic it reads: “Ashhadu anna la Ilaha illa Allah, w’anna Muhammad rasool Allah.”
So now we are setting Paul up as a very special person. He is an apostle, chosen and called by God.
The word used for God in Arabic is Allah (with the accent on the second syllable). Some Western Christians, who are unfamiliar with the history of Eastern Christians, think that it is not proper to use this word for the name of God. I disagree. First of all, there is no other word for god in the Arabic language except Allah. And besides that, it is a word that has been used long before the rise of Islam. Allah is a Semitic word equivalent to the Hebrew word Elohim. So it does not belong simply to Muslims. During the nineteenth century, both the American and the Lebanese scholars who translated the Bible into Arabic, decided to use the word Allah for God, and that was a wise decision.
In the Arabic version of the letter to the Romans the word Injeel is used for good news and this is what our message is all about. The gospel is the good news of what God decided to do concerning the redemption of man, and how it became an accomplished fact through the incarnation of the Son of God, His suffering, His vicarious death and His glorious resurrection.
Right away you must deal with the Muslim’s misunderstanding of the gospel. They think that it was a book descended from heaven on the Messiah. He simply received and was commissioned to preach it to the children of Israel. That was, according to the Qu’ran, the mission of the Messiah. There is no word at all about redemption!
When Paul calls the Injeel the good news of God he is stating that it has a divine origin. The good news is not just attributed to Jesus the Messiah, but to God the Father. As Paul said: “the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son.” Romans 1:2. You have to keep in mind that the gospel is the gospel of God. Do not be mesmerized by the Muslim misunderstanding of the gospel. The description of our Bible is “the Gospel of God” and “the Gospel of His Son,” and these expressions do not contradict each other. Of course, there would be no gospel if the Son was not willing to be born of the Virgin Mary, to suffer under Pontius Pilate, to be crucified, die, and be buried and to be raised again. The gospel is about God’s Son.
When we say God’s Son, we immediately have done something terrible so far as the Muslims are concerned. They say that this is blasphemy. It is called shirk, which in Arabic means the worst concept of sin a person can commit regarding the Godhead, i.e., associating partners with God.
The Muslim considers God a lonely being in a Unitarian way. They say—how can God have a son? There is a verse in the Qur’an that states, He does not beget, and neither is He begotten. In fact, they have a very crude idea of the Christian Trinity as consisting of God, Mary and Jesus.
The Qur’an states that, Mary conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and she gave birth to the Messiah. But they insist that the Messiah was a mere man. Furthermore, one may not deduce from the Qur’anic references to the Holy Spirit that this is recognition of his deity. God, according to Islam, is one in the Unitarian sense of the word. More is mentioned about this doctrine in Part II of this book.
Paul refers to Jesus Christ as our Lord. Muslims do not like this word to refer to Jesus the Messiah. They reserve the word Lord (rab) to Allah alone. So how can Christians call Jesus Rab? As far as they are concerned, Jesus was a mere nabi, a prophet, and a rasool, i.e., an apostle of Allah.
- Who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
Here Muslims raise vehement objections, for according to the Qur’an, and to Muslim tradition, He was never crucified. There is a verse in the Qu’ran which says that “they have not crucified Him but it was likened unto Him.” In some of their traditions, they claim that it was Judas Iscariot who was crucified on the cross. Their argument is that God, who sent such a great rasool as Jesus the Son of Mary, would never allow him to die such a shameful death on the cross.
At this point, we must remember that not all Muslims are against the idea of suffering as having some redemptive value. For example, the Shi’ites in Iraq, Iran, and southern Lebanon, have a high regard for suffering. They are followers of Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammad, who became the fourth Caliph in 656. Unfortunately for him, all the Muslim parties in Medina did not accept him. As a result of the dissension in the Muslim community, he was murdered in 661. His followers to this day remember his assassination, as well as the murder of his son Hasan, years later. (See Chapter 7)
With respect to Romans 1, you might find it useful to talk about the history of the time. Roman roads are still visible in certain parts of the Middle East. It would be very helpful to talk about the many people who had come from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine and settled in Rome. Our main concern is to find topics, which will be helpful in reaching the Muslims with the gospel. Remember that they are historically conscious, even though their knowledge of biblical history is often marred by inaccurate accounts handed down in their tradition. Christian missionaries working among Muslims must become quite familiar with the details of the history of the Mediterranean world in the early years of the church. Quite often, we refer to the orthodox Christian faith as the historic Christian faith.
Turning to verse 16 in the first chapter of Romans, we have the summary of the whole book.
"I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile."
It is a dynamic message. Your job is to explain the gospel to the Muslims and then pray that the Holy Spirit will open their hearts to receive that gospel. It is your responsibility to clear up the misconceptions that have been imprinted in the Muslim mind since the dawn of Islam. You must explain what the gospel is and is not.
There was a good reason for Paul to write: “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” He wanted to express his conviction in a negative form. When he said he was not ashamed of the good news he was implying that, in the Roman cultural context, many parts of the message of the Injeel were not acceptable. The entire worldview of the Greco-Roman civilization was antagonistic to the contents of the message as proclaimed by Paul. There existed a strong temptation to compromise, but the apostle resisted that temptation. In the language of the twenty-first century, we may say that Paul did not adapt his message according to the dictates of political correctness.
In the Islamic concept of the Injeel, it is a book that the Messiah received from God. But we must insist that the gospel is not primarily a book, neither are its contents nothing but law. The Injeel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. There was a point in time, i.e., during the First-Century A.D., when the only Bible in existence was the Old Testament. The common version was the Greek translation done in Alexandria, Egypt and known as the Septuagint. So when the Apostles and their assistants proclaimed the good news in the Mediterranean world, the New Testament, as we now know it, had not yet existed. Its various parts were circulating and preserved by the Church. Thus, early in the Second-Century, the canon of the New Testament was being established and its twenty-seven books preserved in various sections of the early Church.
I am using this historical information in order to emphasize that the gospel is a dynamic message from God. It is a message of salvation. The good news of God is found throughout the Bible. It is in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Romans or any other part of the Scriptures. This fact must be stressed in all of our evangelistic labors among Muslims. If the gospel were a book of law, as they think it is, then it would be a legalistic document, incapable of communicating the way of salvation.
But the Biblical gospel is God’s power that saves all who believe. Now Muslims will tell you, “We are believers.” This is a very important concept in Islam. For them, a believer, “mu’min” (feminine: mu’mina and plural, mu’minun) is a person who has professed his faith in Allah and in his apostle Muhammad, as well as in all the previous messengers of Allah, from Adam through Jesus, and finally to Muhammad. However, what we mean by “believe” is trusting in the person and work of the Messiah, as revealed in the Bible. In other words, we must state that the Jesus a Muslim must believe in, is none other than the Biblical Christ; and certainly not ‘Issa el Massih of the Qur’an.
Reviewing again—the faith that Paul refers to in “everyone who believes” is in the Christ of Al-Kitab, i.e., the Book, the Arabic name of the Bible. Unfortunately, while Jews and Christians are called in the Qur’an, Ahlul-Kitab, i.e., the people of the Book, Muslims, in general, have seldom had the opportunity to see or read the Bible in their own languages. By the time they came across an Arabic translation of the Word of God, they faced a different version of the “story” of God’s revelation, a version that differed radically from the one found in their sacred Book.
Recently, a very important manuscript was discovered at the Monastery of Saint Catherine in Mount Sinai, Egypt. It contains a translation of the Book of Acts and the Epistles from Syriac into Arabic. It took place in 867 A.D. in Damascus, Syria. I have studied the Arabic text that was published by The Institute for Middle Eastern New Testament Studies, in Louvain, Belgium, in cooperation with The Bible Society in the Levant. I came to the conclusion that within two centuries after the conquest of the Middle East by the Arab-Islamic armies, at least a portion of the Bible was translated into Arabic. However, for all practical purposes, the Arabic Bible was not made available to the Arabic-speaking people until 1860! The same goes for the other major languages of Islam such as Urdu, Turkish, and Persian. In that sense, mission work among Muslims is of rather recent origin!
Looking at the phrase “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile,” we may say that it was natural that the Bible came first to the Jews, because they were the people of God in the Old Testament times. The Jews referred to all non-Jews as goyim, (singular, goy.)
The Righteousness of God
Here we come to the fundamental doctrinal difference between Christianity and Islam (and Judaism). The gospel reveals how God makes people right with himself. The accent in the true gospel is not that God has revealed a higher law, nor a superior law, which we fulfill and thereby become well pleasing in His sight. Writing toward the end of his First Letter to the Corinthian Church, Paul gave us a clear description of the gospel. This is how he put it:
“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. … Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed” I Corinthians 15: 1-5, 11
The Biblical gospel was a promise during the Old Testament times, but it became a reality when Jesus Christ came to our world, died for our sins, and was raised on the third day. As one theologian stated, the gospel is not just that Christ died, but that Christ died for our sins. In other words, it refers to the historical fact of the death of Christ, his resurrection, and God’s interpretation of these facts. People become righteous in the sight of God when they believe this gospel, and certainly not other pseudo-gospels.
The accent in the Scriptures is on God’s initiative. It is “a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.” Romans 1:17b
According to Islamic teaching, Moses received a book from God called the Tawrat. This book taught the children of Israel how to please God by doing good deeds. In Islam, such terms as save or salvation are not part of their religious vocabulary. The Muslim’s main concern is to please Allah by accomplishing all the requirements of the Shari’a Law.
The best point to stress at the beginning of our approach to Muslims is exactly in the area where we have our greatest difference. And this is precisely the doctrine of man. Biblical anthropology is diametrically opposed to Islamic anthropology. According to Islam, man does not need a Savior, because man is simply a weak creature. What he needs is to know the will of Allah so that by doing it, he may please God. To put it in Christian terms, Muslims believe that the revelation of God’s will is adequate to save man. To them, man suffers from ignorance. It is not the righteousness of God that he needs, but simply to know the will of God. Through this enlightenment, man is enabled to fulfill all the requirements of the divine will. This is the major difference between Islam and Biblical Christianity.
In Islam man sins, but he is not sinful. He commits many sins and transgressions, but he is not sinful in the sense of having inherited a powerful inclination or propensity to sin. To the Muslim (as well as the Jew) man’s nature is inherently good. Man is basically decent. He simply misses the mark, because he does not know the will of Allah. Supply him with that knowledge, and he will be able to keep the Law and please his Creator!
Muslims have been immunized against the acceptance of the Biblical doctrine of salvation throughout a 1400-year religious culture that teaches the inherent goodness of man. It is not easy for them to acknowledge the wickedness or the sinfulness of man. Even though many examples from Islamic history point to the evil nature of man, they continue to deny the necessity for Divine redemption. Neither Muslims nor Jews are willing to accept the basic teaching of Biblical Christianity, that man is totally fallen. Every aspect of his personality has been polluted by sin: the mind, the will and the emotions. In Reformed theology this is called Total Depravity. And this is the burden of the second part of the first chapter of Romans.
This section (1: 18-32) deals with the fallenness of man, the phenomenon of heathenism and heathen morality, and the degeneracy of man in the sophisticated and cultured societies of Rome and Greece. This section shows that moral perversions and religious idolatry illustrate the Pauline teaching about the fruits of sin.
Within the first chapter of the book of Romans, Paul gives a description of the rise of idolatry. Muslims abhor idolatry. What is the Biblical explanation of this sin? It is a primal sin that our first parents committed. It was not just simply ignorance. It was not that God had failed to give them adequate light at the dawn of creation. It was by an act of will that Adam and Eve sinned against God.
Unfortunately the Islamic concept of the fall is a caricature of the Biblical doctrine of the fall of man. They believe Adam disobeyed God and fell physically from the Garden to a lower level of existence on earth. And then he more or less apologized to God, and was forgiven.
The fall of the angels as told in the Qur’an is the most fantastic, unbelievable story. The angels fell after the creation of man. God called one of their leaders and said, “bow down to Adam” but the angel said, “Oh, Lord, how can I do that? You have taught me only to bow down to you.” And God became angry with him and called him the devil.
This puzzling contradiction was dealt with in a book entitled Naqd Al-Fikr Ad-Dini (A Critique of Religious Thought) written by Dr. Sadeq Al-‘Adham, a Muslim Marxist, He wrote it while he was a professor at the American University of Beirut. He points out that this is the most unbelievable and contradictory story in the Qur’an. How could God ask an angel to worship man when, according to the other teachings of the sacred book of Islam, only God should be worshipped?
Idolatry, which is so abhorrent to Muslims, is not the result of man’s ignorance. It is the fruit of the fall of man. Sin, in the Biblical sense of the word, begets idolatry. This specific sin is, in the final analysis, the worship of self. Those idols that populated Mecca in the days of Muhammad were not simply there because of the whim of the tribal leaders of Quraish. They were there and they were worshipped as the concrete forms of men’s vain thoughts and imaginations. Putting it simply, Idolatry exists because of sin. Sin is a very serious and hideous thing!
The moral perversions that are mentioned in Romans 1 are quite prevalent among Muslims. But they are not fully aware of the seriousness of these sins. And even though Islam is a legalistic religion, Muslims do not seem to have a clear knowledge of the demands of the Law of God. The Ten Commandments of the Tawrat are nowhere to be found in the Qur’an.
Paul’s emphasis in Romans 1 was the fact that all mankind is guilty of sin and rebellion against God. We would do well to emphasize to the Muslims that our Injeel, our good news must be seen in the light of the bad news of man’s condition since the fall. Paul indeed described powerfully the bad news in the second part of Romans 1.
The Place of the Law in Our Lives
Bearing in mind that the Muslim regards the Law as savior, it becomes necessary that we have a clear understanding of the Pauline teaching of the role of the law in the life of the Christian. Here is something that we have in common with the Muslim: a high respect for the law of God. Of course, the Muslim, who has a very optimistic doctrine of man and a shallow understanding of sin, does not allow the law to act as a teacher that would bring him to Christ. This is how Paul described one the functions of the Shari’a (law) in his letter to the Galatians. (3:24)
By reading the Qur’an, we learn about the Muslims’ great emphasis on the oneness of God. We also believe that God is one. This is a Scriptural teaching and was one of the main themes of the prophets. We must make it clear to the Muslims that while we believe in a Trinitarian God, it does not follow that we have renounced our faith in the oneness of God. Throughout the Arab world, for example, whenever Christians invoke the name of God, they affirm in the same breath both his unity and trinity saying: “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God, Amen.” We shall deal with this subject further in Part II.
Nowhere in the Qur’an do we find any reference to the importance of using the name of the Lord in the right way. As noted earlier, there is nothing comparable to the Ten Commandments in Islam. “You shalt not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” Exodus 20:7. These words do not form part of the memory of a young man or young woman growing up in the Muslim world. When working or living among them, one notices the frequency of transgressions against this specific command of God. It seems as if the word Allah, among Muslims, has lost its holiness, as it is so frequently used in vain.
Paul goes to great length to point out the sinfulness of mankind. As we have noted, in Romans 2, head knowledge of the existence of an absolute standard of right and wrong does not mean that the possessor of that knowledge becomes immune to the judgment of God.
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.
The whole argument here is to show that the one who condemns others does that on the basis of the law. But he forgets to apply this law to himself. Throughout the Letter to the Romans, Paul engages in a polemic with Rabbinical Judaism. In this sense, they are similar to the Muslims who also believe that they can please God through the observance of the law (as based on the Qur’an and the Hadith).
In Chapter 2 verse 12, the word law is repeated more than once. Here it refers specifically to the Law of Moses. But later on in this chapter, Paul uses the word law as referring to the principle of right and wrong that is written on the heart of man, as created in the image and likeness of God.
All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.
Romans 2: 12, 13
Now a Muslim may respond and say to you: “See, the Bible does teach that those who obey the law will be declared righteous.” Well, this is true. But we must explain to the Muslim the sheer inability of any human being to fulfill the demands of the law. There is no such person in the world that can keep the shari’a perfectly.
(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they area law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)
Romans 2:14, 15
Now Paul proceeds to deal with the question: Is there any benefit then in possessing the law of God?
Now you, if you call yourself a Jew, if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law;
While Paul is directing this teaching to the Jews, yet it applies to Muslims as well. When a Muslim is honest with himself, he must realize that quite often, he is breaking this law. So the following words apply to Muslims as well.
Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’
Here we have the Pauline emphasis on the total inability of man, even when living within the sphere of the revealed law, to gain God’s favor by keeping his commandments.
- Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised.
Paul goes on to discuss the subject of the sign and seal of the covenant in the Old Testament era. He then comes up with this summary:
No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.
How clear this is! It is the work of God—of the Holy Spirit. Muslims, who have inherited a legalistic system, are condemned by these words of the apostle, but in a loving way. One must be careful not to assume a harsh attitude as these words apply to us all. None of us is above the law of God.
The Sinfulness of Man
Romans 3: 1-20 explains the fact that we cannot please God by our own efforts. Paul quotes from various parts of the Old Testament that explain the doctrine of the sinfulness of man. These passages refer to both Jews and Gentiles.
There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away; they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.
Paul was quoting from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was made in Alexandria, Egypt between 280 and 130 B.C. These quotations were designed to point to the Biblical teaching that man was unable to please God by his own efforts. This teaching is crucial in our work with Muslims, since their doctrinal tradition maintains that man is capable of accomplishing the demands of the divine shari’a.
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
Romans 3:19, 20
Nothing could be more definite than that. The law of God functions as the X-ray that reveals the true nature of our chronic and deadly illness.
Having heard the apostle explain to us the function of the Law, he is now ready to expound the true meaning of the Good News of Jesus the Messiah, or as we may put it in Arabic, the Injeel Yesu’a el- Masih. And here we must never tire of repeating that this Injeel is not that book that the Messiah, according to the Qur’an, received from God. The person and work of Jesus Christ form the subject of the Gospel.
The Good News
This is the beginning of the section in the Letter to the Romans that deals with the Gospel. It goes on to expound the Good News and its application in the hearts of the believers to the end of chapter 8.
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
The Injeel of the Qur’an is not the Gospel of the Bible. Furthermore, we must stress the fact that the Injeel is not a book of law, but rather the Good News of the grace of God that is bestowed on us when we believe in the Messiah. The coming of this Messiah and his work of redemption were predicted in the sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament. In the New Testament, they are quite often known as the Law and the Prophets.
Being put right with God or the righteousness from God was promised during the Old Testament times. But now, at the dawn of the New Testament age it is revealed in the person and work of the Messiah. The word ‘reveal’ is not an easy term to translate into Islamic languages. The Arabic word ‘a’alana’ that is commonly used in the Arabic translation of the Bible refers nowadays to commercial advertising. I prefer to substitute the Arabic kashafa,’ i.e., unveiled, whenever I want to say reveal.
Paul says it is ‘apart from law’ (no definite article here). It means that God’s way of putting us right with him, of giving us His righteousness, of making us acceptable in His sight, is not based on law. It is not through a legalistic scheme that we are made righteous before God. He makes us righteous on the basis of the work that was accomplished on our behalf by the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the good news, the Injeel.
However, one must not think that this gospel was something novel. It was already mentioned in the Law and the Prophets, i.e., in the Old Testament. In other words, the Gospel was present in the Old Testament as promise. In this New Testament age, it was fulfilled when the Messiah died on the cross and rose again from the dead. This is further explained in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15.
Romans 3:22 becomes more explicit. ‘This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus the Messiah to all who believe.’ I am substituting the word Messiah for Christ. In Muslim lands, it is much better to refer to our Lord as Jesus the Messiah, or Yesu’a al-Masih.
God puts people right through their faith in the Savior, the Messiah. Remember that the name Jesus (Yesu’a) does not ring a bell in Arabic. You must supply its meaning, i.e., Savior, (Mukhalles). This is not to imply that we may not use Jesus in our vocabulary when working among Muslims. But whenever possible give a synonym or meaning that would convey to Muslims the fact that Jesus was much more than a prophet. He was and is the only Savior.
God does this for all who believe in the Messiah, regardless of their ethnic or religious background. What a wonderful statement! Paul is saying that those who bring the message of the Injeel as well as those to whom it is addressed, are in the same predicament. All mankind is fallen and in need of salvation. This must be emphasized lest Muslims misunderstand us as if we were preaching at them or looking down on them. ‘There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’ Romans 3:23, 24.
This is a revolutionary idea to the Muslim: that salvation is a gift from God and based on the death of Christ. Paul adds the adverb freely to emphasize that the gift of salvation is not earned; it is a gift of God’s grace. This is a tremendous concept. Furthermore, when we talk about the work of our Lord we cannot describe it simply by the use of one word. For example, when I refer to our Lord, I use several words to properly explain his unique role in our salvation. He is our Liberator, our Emancipator, our Redeemer and our Savior. Each word has a slightly different shade of meaning. So, I hope and pray that one of these names would grab the Muslim and convey to him or to her the wonderful person and work of Jesus the Messiah.
Muslims believe that God is almighty and powerful enough to forgive anyone’s sins. What does the Bible say about the basis of our forgiveness?
God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Romans 3: 25, 26
A Muslim may have the same reaction as many Jews had to this teaching of Paul. You are corrupting God’s Word if you are implying that the law is of no value.
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. Is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
Paul always anticipates such questions that would naturally arise in his hearers’ minds. Shortly we will deal with that phrase ‘we uphold the law.’ We have already shown that we have a high regard for the law and that we see it playing a major function in bringing us to Christ the Savior.
The Example of Abraham
The example of Abraham as set forth, in Chapter 4 of Romans is very helpful when we deal with Muslims. They, as well as the Jews, regard Abraham as their father. He is called the father of all believers. The Arabs claim they are the descendants of Abraham through Ishmael. So, when Muslim pilgrims go to Mecca they commemorate the intended sacrifice of Ishmael in that holy place. Thus, they contradict the Biblical record relating the command that God gave to Abraham to ‘sacrifice him [Isaac] there as a burnt offering.’ Genesis 22:2b The ‘there’ of the Biblical account, is Mount Moriah in Palestine. Jews, Christians, and Muslims honor Abraham and regard him as a great man of God. The Arabs call him Ibrahim Al-Khalil, i.e., Abraham, the Friend (of God). In Arabic Hebron, on account of its association with Abraham, is known as Al-Khalil.
In Romans 4, Paul refers to Abraham as one would appeal to the Supreme Court. What does the life of Abraham, according to the record of the Old Testament, teach us?
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about — but not before God. What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.’
What was so great about Abraham? It was that God accepted him as righteous because he believed the promises of God, even though he, himself, was extremely old, and his wife Sarah had not born him any children.
Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from the works: ‘Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him’
Paul is not at this point, propounding a new interpretation of the life of Abraham, nor is he setting forth a principle that was foreign to the Old Testament scriptures. He points to the Book of Psalms that was well known and was highly regarded among the Jews. At this point, we may add that Muslims have no clear idea of the Book of Psalms, as it is not quoted in the Qur’an but is simply known by the name of Zaboor. Paul taught that our father Abraham was made righteous on account of his faith. Circumcision, so highly regarded by Jews and Muslims, was ordained later on in sacred history. In other words, Abraham was put right with God or was justified, long before he received circumcision as the sign and seal of the righteousness that comes through faith.
This declaration of Paul is a happy thing for us to dwell on because it means that Abraham, the father of all believers, is an example to those who are of Jewish and Gentile background. He is the father of those who believe in the God of Holy Scripture, regardless of their ethnic or racial background.
So, when we study the life of Abraham, we realize that he did not lead a perfect life. He made many mistakes, and yet, the Lord accepted him, and counted him as righteous, because of his faith.
The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
Peace with God
Romans 4:25 tells us that our Lord Jesus Christ ‘was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.’ It is very important to notice how Paul equally emphasizes the death and the resurrection of our Lord. So, when faced with the Islamic denial of the crucifixion of our Lord, we may tend to dwell so much on his death, that we may forget to emphasize the fact that Christ was raised for our justification. Let us therefore keep in mind how Paul mentioned the two events in the same verse.
Paul, as a master teacher, wants to bring the interested inquirer to an understanding of the cardinal truths of the faith. The law enables us to recognize the terrible nature of our sinfulness. This knowledge, through the preaching of the Good News, leads us to God who sent his only begotten Son to die for us on the cross on Good Friday. But this is not the end of the story. God raised Jesus Christ from the dead on the First Day of the week. By believing in Jesus Christ, we become righteous and enjoy the fruits of salvation as described by Paul in Romans 5.
"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,"
The fruit of our justification by faith in Jesus Christ is peace with God. This is the most wonderful news a human being may hear. Peace with God, a peace that is not accomplished through our own efforts, but is the direct result of being put right with God. The Arabic word for peace is salaam, and in Hebrew is shalom. Islam means total and complete surrender to Allah. But ask a Muslim: do you really have peace with Allah? The answer is never simply positive. No Muslim is sure of his exact standing with Allah.
The gospel talks about peace with God, a subject of vital interest to Muslims. We, Christians, have found our peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. We want our Muslim neighbors to have the same experience.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Romans 5:1, 2
So we can tell Muslims that we, Christians, are very interested in peace with God. Before our conversion to Jesus Christ, we were in a state of war, within ourselves, with our neighbors, and with God. But now, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God. All of our life now is lived by God’s grace. As we do not live in a vacuum but in a world filled with sin, Paul mentions some of the problems that surround us. Yes, we have peace with God, but not peace with the world, in the sense of an organized opposition to God.
Not only so but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Paul mentions here the Holy Spirit. This is very important. Christ is with us, even though he is at the right hand of God the Father. He is present with us by the Holy Spirit. Since Muslims reject the doctrine of the Trinity, they have no concept of the Holy Spirit as a Person. Yet they yearn for something vital, they look for a faith that is beyond and above a legalistic code of conduct. We must remember that a Muslim cannot be looked upon as being thoroughly consistent with the basic tenets of his faith. He remains a creature of God. He is made in “the image and after the likeness of God.” Genesis 1:27
This section of Romans is quite relevant to the longings of any human being who is seeking peace with God and with himself. It is at this point that we must explain that the Christian experience of salvation is not something that we have generated. It is the result of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts.
Adam our Representative
Now we come to Adam’s fall into sin. We must keep the Genesis account in the background of our minds, remembering that the Qur’an does not provide a clear picture of what took place in the Garden of Eden. In fact both the sacred text of Islam as well as its tradition denies vehemently the Biblical doctrine of the Fall of Adam. Here in Romans 5, we have the story of the Fall expounded in a theological way. While there are similarities between Adam and Christ, Paul’s goal is to make a contrast between them. He expounds the doctrine of Christ as our representative or the substitutionary work of Christ. This is based on the fact that Adam was a representative of the entire human race. Such language is completely foreign to Muslims.
In the second part of Chapter 5, beginning with verse 12, we have the contrasts and similarities between Adam and Christ. Muslims believe in the historicity of Adam. We do not need to spend any time convincing them that Adam was real. But we must emphasize that the fall of Adam was spiritual and moral. It was a rebellion against God. It was caused by pride. It affected all the descendants of Adam.
Hearing such an exposition of Adam’s sin, Muslims may exclaim with horror. It is not fair that God, according to your Scriptures, would deal with us in this way, and impute to us the sin of Adam. At this point, the Christian evangelist would respond as Paul did in Romans 9, 10 and 11. “Who are we to argue with God?” This doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin to the entire human race is not something Christian theologians have dreamt up. This is what God clearly teaches us in his Word.
We may sympathetically say to a Muslim: ‘Look, I am not dwelling on Adam’s sin and the Fall of the human race, as if they are the whole story. Adam is not the good news. The story of Adam is a prelude to the good news. If you reject the fact that Adam was your representative, you are depriving yourself of a greater Adam, the second Adam, the heavenly Adam, who is the Messiah. If Adam did not and could not represent you, then how could Christ represent you? Christ, by dying on the cross, represented all those who would believe in Him throughout history. Do not deprive yourself of hope by bringing objections to the doctrine of Adam as our representative. Any believer may say: there on the cross, Christ died as my representative. Now he is my mediator before God. I am saved by the blood of Christ.’
Muslims will raise many objections to the doctrine of Christ as our representative before God. Since they do not accept the doctrine of original sin, they do not welcome the teachings of Paul. However, we may not compromise at all. This passage in Romans is so important for the working out of a truly Biblical theology of redemption. It happens to be one of the clearest passages of Scripture that equally deals with our relationship to Adam and to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.
This passage is rendered in this way in Today’s English Version:
- So then, as the one sin condemned all mankind, in the same way the one righteous act sets all mankind free and gives them life.
This happens to be one of those passages of Scripture that has been understood by some theologians as teaching universal salvation. But we may not interpret any specific passage of the Bible without taking into account the entire teachings of the Scriptures on the subject. By nature, we are all represented by Adam who is our progenitor. Like it or not, Adam is our father. However, the only way you can be in Christ is by faith. Once there is faith in Christ, then a person may claim that Christ has set him free and given him life eternal.
I do not believe that on the basis of the teachings of Paul, the teachings of our Lord, or the teachings of the entire Scriptures, one may deduce that the death of Christ meant the liberation of all mankind, numerically speaking. Redeemed mankind is the new humanity whose head is the Messiah.
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
We are not related to our Lord in the same way we are related to Adam. To claim Christ as our representative, we must be united to him by faith. We become children of God by faith.
Reviewing the Law
Paul as an excellent teacher reviews what our attitude should be towards the law and elaborates further.
The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul struggles with these concepts of sin and righteousness and anticipates his hearers’ questions. In Chapter 7:7, he senses that the Jew (like the Muslim) would be feeling that he has made the law of no value.
What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.’
The very fact that Paul goes in for so much repetition helps us not to grow weary of repeating often these basic tenets of our faith. It has taken us much time to absorb these truths, and to learn that the law was our teacher that brings us to Christ where we find our only salvation. On the other hand, Jews and Muslims believe that the law is their savior. This is a basic tenet of their theology. Thus, we have to repeat that the law is the means by which we know our sinfulness. The law is not our savior, but points us to Christ the Savior.
In verse 12, we have another summary that shows the true function of the law. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Simply, the law is unable to save.
- Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
- Romans 7:13.
What Paul is saying is that even though we have the remembrance of the law of God in our hearts, our fallen nature does not allow us to fully understand the sinfulness of sin. But as we come to know and understand God’s revealed law, we see the terrible, devastating nature of sin. Thus, a major function of the law is to show us our sinfulness.
Paul is fully aware of the conflict that goes on in the life of the redeemed. He counsels them to live with the help of Christ. Through Christ we have victory: Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:25.
At this point, it is important to know about some confusion that arises about the sinful nature of man. The word ‘flesh’ that translates the Greek word ‘sarks’ may give the Muslim the idea that the Bible teaches that the body is inherently evil, or that sin resides in the physical nature of man. This is not the teaching of Scripture. Man is a unit. God created man with both body and soul, and when man fell into sin, his entire being fell.
Chapter 8 is a wonderful summary of the teachings of the first part of Romans. There is nothing like it in the Qur’an. Muslims believe that one can never know the outcome of one’s pilgrimage upon earth, whether it is to be heaven or hell. How wonderful then, that one can confess: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1.
While Paul uses the word ‘law’ in his explanation of the doctrine of assurance, it does not mean that he is reverting to legalism. Here, we should recognize the limitations inherent in any human language, especially when we seek to describe spiritual truths. So we recognize that the word ‘law’ has several meanings. ‘Law’ does not always mean Law of Moses, or a specific commandment, or a way of salvation as taught in Judaism and Islam. The word sometimes is a synonym of principle. This is how we should understand it when Paul says: “the law of the Spirit.”
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.
As mentioned above, Paul speaks here about law as a functioning principle in the life of the believer. But when he says, what the law was powerless to do, he is referring to the Law of Moses. Paul does not mean that our Lord’s human nature was sinful. He said in the likeness of sinful man, meaning that the Son of God assumed our human nature. It is important to remember that Muslims believe in the sinlessness of Christ.
When speaking about the assurance of salvation we should not hesitate to share with Muslims the very personal nature of our religion. This element is totally lacking in Islam. Our faith is personal in more than one sense. Obviously, when we believe, our entire personality is involved in the act of believing. It is not a matter of pure sentiment. But our faith is personal in another sense. The object of our faith is a Person. The God we trust for our salvation is a personal being. It is difficult to express these truths in Islamic languages. For example, in Arabic, the word for person has the connotation of guy, or chap. When talking about God, a Muslim cannot say that God is personal, or that God is a person. In Islam, God is transcendent, He is the wholly Other. He is different from anyone and from anything in the whole realm of existence. We have to remember this important fact when we speak in intimate words about God’s care for his children and the assurance we have that our salvation is forever secure.
The Bible finds its focus in a person, and he is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Immanuel, i.e., God with us. This precious truth is missing in Islam. Muslims don’t even say that they know God, or that they have fellowship with God. If they talk like that, they would actually be sufis, i.e., the mystics of Islam. In Christianity we know God, as a person, as our heavenly Father. In Islam, there is always a preposition separating the Muslim from God. No Muslim can say: I know God. He would rather say: “I know about God.” There is nothing equivalent to these wonderful statements of Holy Scripture: That I may know Him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering. Philippians 3:10 (KJV)
Everything in Chapter 8 is intensely personal.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. ... We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies... And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What an assurance!