This month the Islamic holiday Ramadan is marked on calendars, but few Americans know what the event is about or much about the religion in general. Studying the beliefs of Islam is not a huge need or concern for most Christians. However, when I sat down to a brief overview of the religion at a Christian conference, I ended up exploring my own faith. I left with my eyes opened to a greater understanding of the distinctive value of Christianity in three areas in particular.
Christianity is Christ-centric rather than man-centric. The focus is on who God is and what He does to secure man’s redemption (i.e. through the atoning sacrifice of Christ). Islam, like most other world religions, centers on man – what people can or should do to win favor with their god. Christianity stands alone in saying a person can never meet God’s standard or deserve salvation on his or her own, apart from Christ.
Christians are quick to recognize and acknowledge that difference. But how often do we act as if we truly believe it? How often is our attention directed horizontally and on ourselves instead of vertically, as it should be?
Sitting in the conference hearing about the followers of Islam’s constant self-questioning and efforts to do better, to toe the line and somehow find hope that their god is satisfied with them, I felt a moment of conviction. Too often, I get caught up in a similar pattern of thought, looking at myself and my own efforts to measure up, when my gaze should be turned to my wondrous God to marvel at how good He is and to rejoice in all that He does.
The Christian can be absorbed with God since we can know Him in a real and personal relationship, and as with a human relationship, that relationship can be ever growing and deepening and becoming more delightful. Relationship is possible because God reaches out to us and lowered Himself to become a Man and meet us at our level.
Followers of Islam, however, believe their god cannot be truly known. In fact, the idea that god could be knowable is offensive to those to follow the religion because they believe that would degrade their god from being so much above man as to be unreachable. So, they have no personal relationship with their god and know very little of his character and purposes. All that they know of him is the rules he has given to them through the Quran, which is identified as being “guidance for mankind.” They do not know the god himself; they know only his will. The core of their religion, then, is to know his will and submit to it.
But do we Christians live as if we have something better than rules to follow? Do we pursue Jesus even more than we seek to know His will?
I was sorry to realize how much time I spend before God fretting over discerning His will or worrying how I ought to act instead of simply staying quietly and worshipfully in His presence, finding peace in His nearness, hope in His power, and trust in His goodness.
Christians have more than a religious text, more than guidance, more than the letter of the law. We are given God Himself. He has revealed Himself, not only in words of Scripture but also in Person, “God With Us.”
Islam does not have a god who reveals himself, but only a book, the Quran. The Quran is the most the god of Islam has revealed, so its followers treat it as holy in a real sense. The very letters with which it is written are considered to be sacred, even aside from the actual meaning of the words. As a result, it cannot be altered in any way. Only the text in its original Arabic language is the true Quran. Any change, if just translated into another language, renders it an interpretation.
As wonderful as the Bible is in every way, and as much as we constantly strive to maintain the greatest integrity and accuracy to the original text as possible, Christians do not have to read every syllable and letter in the original Greek or Hebrew. The fullest revelation we have is Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, and He endures forever, is always near, and is at work in every moment. And so, whether printed in Swahili, Farsi, or Japanese, whether in time-honored KJV or NIV, it is the Spirit of God that lends power to the ink-on-paper words of the Bible and changes hearts.
Is the spirit of God, the supernatural power of Christ, at work in our lives? To us, is the Bible a real and living force that transforms our lives and thoughts and behavior, or is it just dry words of well-written text that we intellectually admire and adhere to but that remains remote and unreal?
It was through examining another religion (click here and here for details) that I was reminded of the exclusive and unparalleled truth of Christianity, and made to reflect on whether I truly exhibited those beliefs in my own faith walk. If someone were to study your life, how much would they see of Christ and the distinctiveness of Christianity in your religion?