by Bob Wheeler
Mohammed, as we have seen, came on the scene claiming that he had received revelations from God. There is only one God, and the entire human race owes Him its allegiance. So far, so good.
Jews and Christians, however, already believed that there is only one God. So why should they embrace Islam?
Mohammed tried to answer this question in Sura 2 of the Koran. His answer, however, is not entirely clear. At points he seemed to be saying that he was a prophet, just like Moses and Jesus, and therefore Jews and Christians should accept his authority just as they had the other two. At points Mohammed seemed to be saying that his message was the same as that of Moses and Jesus, and so Jews and Christians should not object. But this is not entirely true, at least as far as Christianity is concerned, for Mohammed specifically rejects the idea that God could have a Son (Sura 2:116).
So why embrace Islam? At one point Mohammed said of the Bible, “None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten . . ,” but then went on to say, “But we substitute something better or similar . . .” (v. 106). But which is it? Similar or better? At points Mohammed seemed unsure of whether he was saying something different from Judaism and Christianity, and insisted that he was following the true religion of Abraham. “So if they [i.e., Jews and Christians] believe as ye believe, they are indeed on the right path” (v. 127).
So why embrace Islam? Speaking as a Christian I might phrase the question this way: what does Islam offer that Christianity does not have? And the answer is, nothing at all. Islam, in fact, lacks a great deal that Christianity has.
Most of the Koran centers around Mohammed himself and how his message was received. As far as the religion itself is concerned, it consists of a few relatively simple external duties: prayer, fasting, pilgrimage and charity. What is missing is any real understanding of the human predicament and what can be done to remedy it.
In the apostle Paul’s great exposition of the Christian gospel, Paul begins by declaring “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness
men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18, NKJV). Up to this point Mohammed would be in full agreement. The Koran, in fact, is full of denunciations of the wicked with promises of divine judgment. But Mohammed did not fully appreciate the reasons for god’s anger. What exactly constitute “ungodliness” and “unrighteousness”? They simply mean breaking God’s Law. Right?
In Romans chapter 7 Paul gives us a fascinating, and in some ways terrifying look into the human heart. He is speaking as someone who outwardly was certainly a moral, upright person. Raised as a Jew, trained as a rabbi, he certainly tried to keep the law. And to outward observers he certainly appeared to have succeeded. But what Paul came to realize is that inwardly it was an entirely different story. Intellectually he could see that the law was good – “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man” (Rom. 7:22). “But,” he added, “I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (v. 23). In other words, he knew what was right, but too often he couldn’t actually do it. Tragically he concluded, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin” (v. 14).
The “law is spiritual.” It does not just say, “You shall not commit adultery.”; “You shall not steal.” It goes on to say, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. . .” (Ex. 20:14-17). The law condemns not just the action, but the desire itself. And what Paul discovered when he tried to keep the law was that he was “carnal, sold under sin.” There was “another law,” a mysterious force at work deep within his psyche that prevented him from keeping the law. He was, in fact, a sinner by nature.
What this means is that, as human beings, we are all hopelessly guilty in the sight of God. “There is none righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10). And so Paul concludes by saying, “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (v. 20).
What hope is there, then, for mankind? The answer is contained in that most famous of all Bible verses, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” God cannot simply excuse or overlook sin – He would be less than just to do so and He would be tacitly condoning something that runs counter to His very nature. Sin must either be punished or atoned for in some way. And this God did by sending His own Son into the world to die on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. And in order for it to be a true atonement Christ had to be both truly man and truly God. Man, so that He could act as the representative of the human race; and God, so that His death would be of sufficient value to atone for the sins of all who come to Him in faith. That is why Christ was not just a human prophet; He was the God-man, the Savior of the world.
All of this, unfortunately, was utterly lost on Mohammed. He could see no need for a Savior because he could not see his own personal guilt as a lost sinner. And therein lies the difference between Christianity and Islam.