"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Friday, October 8, 2010

Grace in Islam and Christianity

Several days ago I posted a link to Facebook of a religious quiz that prompted many replies as people posted their results. One young Moroccan friend whom I've never met and know only in a very small I-met-you-on-Facebook way stated he didn't do well and said the question about Islam was too easy.  He proceeded to give me a super-short quiz (2 questions) on the Quran and I told him I read it this past year.  Anyway, a local friend -- someone two years ahead of me in high school -- started asking Zayd a few questions about his Islamic beliefs.  Mercy, grace, ways to please God .. good topics like this came up.  One day I thanked them both for their discussion and posted how I see grace in Islam and Christianity.  I figured I'd copy and paste it here for your critique.  I am curious if I understand "grace" correctly according to your views of it.  Please let me know.

This is what I wrote  ...

In Islam there is grace and it is God's grace and mercy that permits one to enter His heaven. While we may never be assured that we will be there, we can hope our chances are good because we have obeyed the rituals laid out for us in the Quran and ahadith. Since Muhammad was supposedly the best example of a Muslim (literally, submitter to Allah), this is why most Muslims strive very hard to follow the ways of Muhammad. (Some take it to an extreme like the Taliban outlawing toothbrushes in Afghanistan since the Prophet used a miswak. They think most modern inventions are unlawful.)

Just as Christians often say they follow Jesus and seek to live their lives according to his teachings ("no man comes to the Father except through me"), Muslims will strive to be like the perfect Muslim - Muhammad - so they may live a life pleasing to God. Both are following someone in order to please God. While Christians will want to glorify God because He has already saved us and we were created to do good works and as we follow Jesus, our lives will reflect his actions and teachings (ideally!), Muslims want to do good deeds and follow Muhammad (their best example) because they hope to obtain salvation on Judgment Day.

So in Islam grace is present in that God allowed you into heaven, however, you try to please Him by overcoming tests on earth and proving yourself worthy of His choosing you. In other words, you strive (the greater jihad) to overcome your sinfulness, you strive to have inward and outward expressions of piety whether that is your willingness to forgive someone who has wronged you, putting up with polygyny although you don't really love being one of four wives, caring for your children or ailing parents or even how you dress and practice modesty (e.g. covering your hair, face, or just from chest to knees).

In Christianity we realize we can never do enough to make us worthy of God's heaven so we recognize we are sinners in need of a Savior. God's grace is demonstrated in that while we were in our sinful conditions (NOT all prettied up by religious observation and rituals), He sent Jesus into the world to pay for our sins. It's a gift from God...not something we work for which would be payment/wages for our work. As Chris quoted from the verse this is so we can't boast in that we earned our salvation and good standing before God somehow. All the glory goes to HIM - the Creator, the Sustainer, the Savior of mankind!

It's only when we recognize our neediness, our complete inability to save ourselves or earn our spot in heaven and cry out to God for His mercy, that we realize what grace is: God's gift to undeserving sinners. As the old song goes...that's why grace is so amazing. :)


Nikki said...

I kind of believe in a mishmash of the two, because of my Christian background, but Muslim belief in the oneness of God/Allah and Muhammad as a prophet.

Even as a Christian, I didn't believe that all people who fell under the umbrella of "Christianity" were going to Heaven. So, therefore I must disagree with your thought that Christians do good deeds and worship to thank God for the gift that has already been given...yes, the gift has been made available to us, but we still (although always falling short) must at least STRIVE to be as worthy as possible.

Perhaps that's a part of why I converted to Islam. I already held the belief that I had to prove myself to God. I certainly don't think anyone in heaven has anything to brag about (besides maybe prophets and the like who aren't the bragging type anyway)because all will be aware that without God's mercy all of their efforts (despite how "good") would have been for naught.

We all sin, that's a given. I never believed salvation was "free" though. Partly because my church was contradictory on this teaching. We'd sing songs about grace being free and such and such, but our preacher would scare us with Hell quite regularly. If you TRULY believe that belief in Jesus/the sacrifice of the crucifixion is all you need to achieve salvation, why are preacher's still preaching the "do's" and "don'ts"? Why do Christians still repent for the sins in prayer or in confession (Catholicism)?

I guess what I'm saying, is that I think we do carry a bit of the responsibility concerning our salvation. God's not handing out free passes. If you've used your life to only build up "treasures" in this world, you aren't going to find any substantial (or maybe not any) treasure stored in Heaven for you. My understanding of Christianity mirrored my current Islamic understanding on most of these points.

Lat said...


There's this Quranic verse that says that if God were to punish every single sinner on earth then there'll be no one left living.I've read the Quran for a long time now and (maybe unlike others) I've not once raised a thought in my mind that obeying 'rituals laid out for us in the Quran...' (maybe hadith) will make my chances to enter heaven will be good.For those who do perhaps they've not understood the substantive message of the Quran.As muslims are also told to guard against the fire themselves.

God is graceful to whomever He wants.In one verse,God is said to be 'in' our very veins and knows what's 'in' our hearts.Whether we have to prove to God to let God know our faith by performing the rituals without fail,I feel is unnecessary because He already knows.

Yes we have to perform but that's only to satisfy ourselves as you said our inner and outer selves,being in unity and not be in contrast to our faith,and prayer is established to stay connected with Him thru' glorifying Him alone or by congregation.

"So in Islam grace is present in that God allowed you into heaven, however, you try to please Him by overcoming tests on earth and proving yourself worthy of His choosing you"

I believe those who have good lives on earth whoever they are have God's Grace.We do not need to go to heaven to find that out.When Quran speaks of gratitude and thanksgiving it not only says about people who'll receive it in heaven but those on earth too.And that's why God praises them because of them recognizing God as the True and worthy One bestowing Grace and the Ultimate Truth.

Yes Grace is a gift,a mighty gift indeed for gnats and pebbles! With saviour or no saviour,God can and will save whomever He wants into His paradise as wide as the heavens and the earth.

observant observer said...

Hi Susanne,
I thought that as Christian, we can see that grace is working in believing that we have been freed from slavery and adopted (or what is better term, english is not my first tounge)as God's children, as chidren we are supposed to be in voluntary actions of loving him back in real action not only in words or rituals, actually there are so many ways that we can build up to have good relationship with Him. As I also see it that as a Heavenly Father, God doesnt create punishment but lesson for His children to grow in life.He doesn't want to have any of His children perish in hell , it's all finally the result of the chilcren's deed that eventualy throw them away from the everlasting connection with God in the hereafter, but this is just me knowing nothing much but hold on the promise of His Son, our heavenly brother.

As for Islamic thought, well as an outsider, I can only say (pardon me if this is not what the reality of what Muslims think of, but i can see it prevalent in my Indonesian muslim society) they rely too much on the externality of deeds and rituals, that perhaps they cannot see the other way possible. Externalities of deeds are sometimes tend to make the society too judgemental. And we can see how often it is exercised.

observant observer said...

Perhaps I'd like to add more,
yes as children we do often feel to prove something to God as our heavenly Father, but to see it from the Father's eyes, he has seen us of what we are genuinely, what we are capable of, all to the bones of or the least cell in each of us, and there's nothing to change His stand of loving each of us,except if there's any of our intention of being against Him deliberately to show that we are independent of Him. It's all depends on us because of th free will that is part of the gift given to us. Perhaps what He needs is for us to take care of what He has given us, to enjoy and be grateful to Him always, and to share what we have with other children of God....Do you think God will be less of anything or less mighty should we forget to worship or adore Him? Do you think it's for the sake of God that we do all the deeds of virtues? All i can see, it's the call and the need of human being to be connected to God and to do good to others. Well, again, this is just my two cents.

Susanne said...

Thank you, Nikki,Lat and OO, for your comments. I'll be off the computer for most of the next two days, but will reply to you soon. Just wanted to acknowledge your comments and thank you for taking time to share your thoughts on this topic.

I greatly appreciate your feedback! :)

Unknown said...

That was interesting to read. :) I like the comparisons you made and just the fact that you put in the effort to understand and explain another religion.

Susanne said...

Nikki, welcome and thanks for leaving your feedback! I enjoyed what you had to say. :)

I can agree with you on this:

"Even as a Christian, I didn't believe that all people who fell under the umbrella of "Christianity" were going to Heaven"

as it's not how we label ourselves that is important at all! I can say I'm a Christian and do everything anti-Christ. I don't think God checks my label to see what I or others call me. :) So I agree that all who fall under the Christian umbrella are not true believers.

I disagree with this although I do agree it's how many people live.

"yes, the gift has been made available to us, but we still (although always falling short) must at least STRIVE to be as worthy as possible."

I've heard my preacher say Baptists [which some of us are in my interdenominational church are] will say "it's by grace we are saved through faith" and then they will give themselves a list a rules and regulations to keep as if they must WORK FOR salvation! Argh! :-D I think people just like checklists because it helps them feel as if they are somehow measuring up to God's standard. I think we are NEVER worthy enough that's why God's gift of grace is so amazing. It's free and it's something we don't earn, nor can we.

" Why do Christians still repent for the sins in prayer or in confession (Catholicism)?"

I think we definitely still sin once we are saved or following Jesus. We are prone to stray, that selfish part of us still rears its head and wants its way. When we do our own thing, we must realize we've gone against what God wanted and confess our sins. By no means do I believe once God saves us, we never sin. It's a struggle between our two natures and we often have conflict between acting like self wants to act and how Jesus wants us to act. There is no conflict that I see concerning grace and asking God for forgiveness when we wrong Him. Do you not seek the forgiveness of people in your life because you realize you hurt them by your actions or words? That's only common sense if you want to keep the fellowship good and the relationship close.

" If you've used your life to only build up "treasures" in this world, you aren't going to find any substantial (or maybe not any) treasure stored in Heaven for you."

Good point. I think this is why Jesus urges us to store heavenly treasures instead of accumulating cars, clothes, trinkets and the like. There are much more important, eternal things worth treasuring. The stuff we accumulate here won't matter much 100 years from now.

Thanks again for your comment!

Susanne said...

Lat, I always enjoy your understanding of Islam as it seems quite different from most everyone else that I've talked to or read. It's so charming and sweet just as you are! I really appreciate you sharing what you did! If I ever were to call myself Muslim, I'd like to be as YOU are! :)

Susanne said...

Observant, it was nice reading more about your background. You showed up all of a sudden and I was curious about you, but didn't see a Blogger profile attached to your name. :) I wondered if English were your first language. You do fine in it and express your thoughts quite well! I enjoyed reading your point of view concerning this post. I agree that we are adopted as children of God and we should love Him in return. However, I read in the Bible that we love Him because first He loved us. John 15 teaches that without Jesus we can produce no good fruit - or none that counts in God's eyes, I suppose. What we do in our own effort .. maybe it's just our own attempts at earning favor in God's eyes and not something He likes. Maybe He enjoys giving GIFTS, freely and not having His children trying to *earn* them. Just throwing out some thoughts. :)

I agree that external deeds can make society judgmental. We can say, "Oh, hey, I pray numerous times a day, dress modestly, attend worship services, do this rule, keep that ritual, I really am doing well. Look at HER! Oh my word, she is horrid. Surely God sees me in a more favorable light than HER." So yeah, I can see how the judgmental attitude can creep up. Reminds me of the Pharisee and publican who were praying and the Pharisee praying and thanking God that he wasn't like that horrible sinner. You can feel the pride oozing from him and indeed Jesus said this man did NOT go away made right by God. His attitude was all about HIS goodness whereas the publican realized, "I am a sinner. God have mercy on me!" and fully relied on GOD's mercy and not his own efforts of goodness.

I really love what you shared in your second comment as well. Thank you very much for taking time to share your thoughts!

Sanil, I appreciate that. It means a lot coming from you! :)

Richard A. Price, Moderator said...

I like the reconciliation of grace and works taught by C. S. Lewis. It is by striving to be obedient that we discover our sinfulness. We then come to Christ seeking reconciliation. Grace and works are like the two blades of a scissors. Neither can say 'I have no need of thee'.

Susanne said...

Oooo, I like that! Thank you for adding that.

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