The Meaning of the True Path
If you have read through this entire book, you were undoubtedly impressed by the moral and spiritual quality of the life-changing experiences recounted in each chapter. Yet you may not be clear in your own mind concerning the explanation of these experiences. Are they experiences that anyone can have in any religion? Are such experiences, as narrated in this book, subjective delusions? Do they have any basis in fact, that is, can we be sure that the foundations of such experiences are objectively and truly there? Is the object of their faith real or imaginary?
It is natural for someone to resist beliefs and ways of life that are alien to his own background. It is also understandable if one looks with suspicion on the Christian faith when he has been taught that it is obsolete, having been superseded by a faith that is superior and final. Opposition or indifference to the Christian faith will be increased if one unknowingly substitutes a caricature for the real thing. There have been many individuals, churches, organizations, and movements that have claimed the name "Christian," but their actions have offended others because they violated Christ's spirit of love and humility. One should not lose the truth, however, because it has been misrepresented in deed and word by those whose claim is unfounded. In order for you to have a more adequate basis for understanding the Christian faith, I want to sketch the distinctive elements that define it as it truly is - apart from the distortions and misrepresentations that so often conceal its true nature.
How is one to arrive at an objective and adequate understanding of the Christian faith? Certainly not by taking a church or an individual Christian as the standard according to which one proceeds to construct a comprehensive and full interpretation. No church or Christian believer completely embodies the meaning and reality of the Christian faith. There is only one place where the true nature of the Christian faith can be seen in its completeness and perfection, and that is in the Bible itself. And the central theme of the Bible is God revealing himself and redeeming man in the person of Jesus Christ who gave his life on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead.
Every true Christian acknowledges that his life and the churches' doctrines and practices must be judged by the Bible, not vice versa. Unfortunately, most Muslims, from the time of Muhammad to the present, have been led to think of Christianity in terms of the sacramental* churches of Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. These groups are conspicuous examples of extreme departure from the teaching of the New Testament. Contrary to these churches, the Bible clearly teaches that there should be no idolatry (e.g., the elevation of Mary, the mother of Jesus, to the level of deity* - Matthew 12:46-50), no images or icons in worship (Exodus 20:3,4; John 4:24), no mediating "saints" (I Timothy 2:5), no priestly class and no religious distinctions among believers (I Peter 2:5; Matthew 23:1-12), no sacramentalism (John 6:63; I Peter 3:21), no use of force (e.g., the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition) and no alignment with worldly powers (John 18:36), no holy days and no sacred diets (Colossians 2:16), no holy places (John 4:20-26), and no monks and monasteries (I Corinthians 5:9,10; Colossians 2:23).
It is understandable that Muhammad condemned various aspects of the "Christianity" he saw in the Arab world, for they were perversions of the true teaching of the Bible. If a Muslim, or anyone else, desires to know the truth about the Christian faith, he must not confuse it with the unbiblical traditions and notions of men.
What is the Bible? It is a book composed of sixty-six smaller books, ranging in size from one page to almost a hundred pages. These sixty-six books are divided into two main sections, the Old Testament (thirty-nine books) and the New Testament (twenty-seven books). [For a list of these books in the order they appear in the Bible, see Appendix A at the end of this book.] They were written by prophets and apostles who were inspired by God to convey his word to mankind. There were about forty such writers, beginning with Moses who wrote the first five books of the Bible over three thousand years ago. While the writing of the Old Testament began at that time, its narrative begins with the creation of the world and significant subsequent events. Its historical account ends in the fifth century B.C.,* but its numerous prophecies span the ages in a graphic foreview that culminates in the second coming of the Messiah* and the final judgment.
There was no additional prophetic voice from the fifth century B.C. until John the Baptist, who prophesied at the time of Jesus in the first half of the first century A.D.* By the end of the first century all twenty-seven books of the New Testament had been written.
The books of the Bible claim to be the revelation of God, true and accurate from beginning to end. If one reads them carefully, it becomes evident that there is an integral unity that binds them together even though they come from different centuries and diverse cultures. As a result of painstaking textual and historical examination of the documents and sources of the Bible, scholars have established that it is reliable and trustworthy. [For a list of some recent, scholarly books on the truthfulness of the Bible, see Appendix C.] It has been shown that the writings of the New Testament are those of eyewitnesses or are based on testimonies of eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ.
It is inconceivable that the all-powerful God who gave his revealed Word would fail to keep it from corruption. He not only had the power to reveal his words in the first place, he also has the power to preserve them forever - and he promised that he would: "The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in an earthen furnace, purified seven times over. You will keep them and preserve them, O Lord . . ." (Psalm 12:6,7a).
What, then, does the Bible teach about the Christian faith? What is Christianity? How does one become a Christian? Can one know God apart from Christ? Is there any other way to be accepted by God both now and for eternity?
In his brief autobiography, Why I Became a Christian, Sultan Muhammad P. Khan expressed the key issue in these terms:
. . . the question came to my mind: "Can one have confidence in this extraordinary claim of Christ?" I concluded that one could rest upon it, for in the first place, Christ is accepted by Muslims as sinless, glorious in this world and the next, the Word of God, and the Spirit of God. These and other such descriptives applied to Jesus indicate perfection. Secondly, according to Christians He is perfect God and perfect man, free from all base passions and worldly ambitions. Hence, it is impossible that Christ, who, according to both Muslims and Christians, possesses the highest qualities, would sin or do anything unworthy of Himself. (Gospel Literature Service: Bombay, India, pp. 26-27)
The Bible was not written merely to give man a theoretical knowledge about God or to satisfy his intellectual curiosity. While intellectual content and accurate information are an inseparable part of it, the Bible was given to bring man into a life-transforming, personal relationship with God.
Who is the God that speaks in the Bible, and who is the God of whom the Bible speaks? Christ said: "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). The consistent affirmation throughout the Bible is that God is not material, not composed of spatial parts or accessible to sensory experience - unless he chooses to manifest himself to man in that dimension (John 1:18; II Corinthians 5:19; I Timothy 3:15,16). To say he is spirit is also to affirm that he has personality, intelligence, and will.
The Bible asserts that only God is eternal, without beginning and end (Psalm 90:2). He has made the whole universe and he sustains it entirely and in all of its parts. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). He also made man in his likeness: "And God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27). This act of creation established man's responsibility to God; the creature must give an account of himself to the Creator. It also laid the basis for relationship and fellowship; man as a personal being can enter into vital communication with a personal God.
In the beginning, when man was created by God, he was without sin or defect. In making him in his image, however, God made him with the capacity for conscious choice. And he decided to test man's loyalty and devotion by giving him the opportunity to choose between obedience and disobedience to his will. The Bible tells how man deliberately chose to rebel against God (Genesis 3) and it describes the disastrous consequences of that choice (Romans 1-3).
The Bible does not present any superficial notions about man's plight. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin" (John 8:34). Man does not have it in his own power to forgive his sin or to free himself from its bondage and guilt: "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature . . . For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing . . . When I want to do good, evil is right there with me" (Romans 7:18,19,21). These are the words of Paul, an opponent and blasphemer of Jesus Christ at one time, but later converted and called to be one of his apostles.* His conscience became sensitive to his self-righteous pride, and in this new awareness of his own sinfulness, he cried out, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24,25).
Shallow optimism about human nature is not found in the Bible. Not only is man capable of committing terrible crimes, he also reveals his wickedness by corrupt motives and thoughts: "For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man unclean" (Mark 7:21-23).
The most serious of all the consequences of man's revolt against God is spiritual separation and estrangement from him. God is holy and perfect in his righteousness; one of the prophets speaks to God in these words: "Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil, and Thou canst not look on wickedness with favor" (Habakkuk 1:13). To rebellious man the Bible says: ". . . your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you" (Isaiah 59:2).
Man was made to have fellowship with God and to enjoy his presence in a life of loving devotion to him. When man sinned, however, spiritual death resulted and he lost this ultimate good. "When lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death" (James 1:15). The Bible teaches that human beings are dead in transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1), because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). This death is separation from God, now and forever - unless God's one remedy is accepted. Only if we have a correct diagnosis of man's condition will we understand the radical nature of the cure required. If one has a malignant tumor in the brain, an aspirin will not remove it or prevent death. Surgery is needed.
What man needs to remedy his spiritual plight is not ethical precepts, moral commands, or ceremonial prescriptions. These are merely cosmetic and fail to reach the root of the problem. Man's most desperate need is to have his rebellion turned into love, his sin forgiven and cleansed, his inner being morally transformed, his guilt replaccd with the declaration of God's acquittal and imputed righteousness,* his wayward will brought into conformity with the will of God, his despair conquered by an assured hope, his broken relationship with God healed and restored, his life raised from the grave of spiritual death. These are not mere figures of speech; they refer to the realities of man's predicament. Nothing less than this is required if man is to experience wholeness and the ultimate fulfillment of the meaning of his existence. There must be an effective means of justifying man while at the same time preserving the justice of God. There must be a way for man to have new life, hope, love, and power to transform him at the roots of his being and bring him into intimate and vital fellowship with God.
Since the first act of sinful rebellion on the part of man, the natural state of all men is spiritual estrangement from God. This estrangement is accompanied hy spiritual blindness, an inability to properly understand the truth of God. This is evidenced in both gross and subtle forms of idolatry, the worship of the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:18-32). The worship of many gods is as wrong as the denial of the reality of the one true God. The Bible is consistently clear that there is only one God, not two or three or a million: "The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!" (Deuteronomy 6:4). "Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the Lord, he is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other" (Deuteronomy 4:39). The New Testament is just as clear as the Old Testament: ". . . there is but one God" (I Corinthians 8:6). Atheism is the denial of the truth of God's reality. Polytheism is the denial of the truth that there is only one God. The Christian faith is uncompromising in its insistence that there is no less and no more than one true God, "for from him and through him and to him are all things" (Romans 11:36).
To worship anything or anyone other than the one true God is idolatry. In fact, to fail to love God with one's total being is to break the first and greatest commandment, and to fail to love your neighbor as yourself is to disobey the second commandment (Matthew 22:36-39). Apart from Christ, every human being has failed to keep these commandments, and the Bible teaches that "whoever keeps the whole law, and yet stumbles at just one point, is guilty of breaking all of it" (James 2:10). The whole world is guilty before God, and this means that we are in need of divine deliverance from our tragic condition (Romans 3:19,20).
The Bible tells us that the commandments of God were given to show us that we are sinners, that we have broken his law, and that we have rebelled against his love (Romans 3:20). And there are no exceptions to this. Every human being has sinned and has fallen short of God's glory (Romans 3:23), so that "there is none righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10).
Since we are not perfectly righteous as God is, and since our evil thoughts and actions come from within us, how can we be forgiven for our sinful failures? How can we have our guilt removed? How can we be reconciled to God? How can we overcome the downward-pull of our evil passions? How can we find genuine fulfillment and meaning in our lives?
The Bible gives a clear answer to these questions. First, it is emphatic that no one can earn these things from God. It cannot be of works or human effort, otherwise men would have some basis for boasting before God (Ephesians 2:8,9). This is a subtle form of pride, called self-righteousness, and God rejects the proud. If a person trusts in his own character, then, he is both proud and foolish. He is proud, because he thinks he is good enough to be accepted by a holy God. He is foolish, because he thinks that his character is good in the sight of God. He errs by making the evaluation of others or his own self-evaluation the criterion for determining God's judgment of him (II Corinthians 10:12,18). No matter what others think of us or what we think of ourselves, the judgment of God is according to truth and righteousness - and it is final. Nothing keeps us from knowing the truth about ourselves and about God more than our pride - which he always condemns (James 4:6).
While many are deceived by the self-righteous pride that offers one's own character before God as meriting his acceptance, there are others who place their ultimate confidence in religious works. They err in thinking that the avoidance of evil actions and the performance of good ones, including certain religious acts of devotion, will bring them forgiveness and acceptance with God. Once Jesus told about two men who wanted to pray to God. One was a Pharisee, a very strict religious devotee, and the other was a tax collector, a man despised by most of his countrymen. The Pharisee said this when he prayed: "God, I thank you that I am not like other men - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all my income" (Luke 18:11,12). But the tax collector would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, "but beat his breast and said, `God, have mercy on me, a sinner'" (Luke 18:13).
Jesus said that the Pharisee was not accepted by God because he trusted in himself and his deeds. By thinking he was righteous, he was exalting himself in pride before God (Luke 18:14). Thus, when there is external conformity to religious requirements (even those given by God), one's heart may be far from God. Christ spoke of such persons when he said, "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" (Matthew 15:8).
It is impossible for fasting and praying, giving alms and doing works of charity to give man acceptance with God, for "all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment" (Isaiah 64:6). Forgiveness cannot be bought. Love cannot be earned. Acceptance cannot be merited. Man's refusal to admit this is itself a form of pride. Yet people all over the world strive to accumulate "good works" in order to gain entrance into God's presence. They continue to trust in pilgrimages and fasts, prayers and rituals, holy places and holy chants. They seek to create a balance of "good deeds" over evil deeds, hoping that by that means, on the day of judgment, they will be received into God's kingdom. But this represents a serious misunderstanding of God, righteousness, sin, forgiveness, human nature, and divine judgment.
How, then, can you and I be forgiven by God? How can we know him and experience the new life that he alone can give ? Seeing that man is not able to do the will of God merely if he knows what it is, and seeing that man has an inner bias toward evil, how can he be changed at the roots of his being so as to be enabled to love and obey God from the heart?
Every human being needs forgiveness, for all of us have offended God by doing what we should not do and by leaving undone what we should do. But only those who are honest and humble enough to admit their failure will truly acknowledge their need for forgiveness. Those who are self-righteous have an unwarranted self-satisfaction, and it is difficult for them to see their needy condition before God. When one truly senses his sinfulness and sincerely believes he is a sinner before God, he becomes open to the reality of God's forgiveness.
If we are to know God and have fellowship with him both now and in eternity, we must be forgiven by him. Even on a human level forgiveness is necessary when we have offended someone. There can be no genuine acceptance and fellowship when a relationship is broken by an offense. All sin is against God, and the deepest meaning of sin is not merely that we have broken the law of God but that we have offended him by our rejection of his love and authority.
Since God is absolutely holy and righteous, he cannot ignore sin. He must deal with it; he must judge it. It is a barrier that must be removed if man is to enter into a personal relationship with God. If the sinner cannot be forgiven until the last judgment, then no one can have fellowship with God now, and prayers in this life are not heard by God. God would compromise his righteousness if he accepted the sinner in his unforgiven state. Moreover, since God cannot accept man's efforts and works as a means of forgiveness, there is no basis for the expectation that forgiveness may be granted at the last judgment. If it is a manifestation of human pride to appeal to works as meritorious in this life, it is equally so at the judgment throne of God.
While it is true that God is all-powerful, it is also true that God is all-righteous. It would be as wrong to compromise the righteousness of God as it would be to compromise his power. For God to forgive sin without vindicating his righteousness would be for him to become an accomplice with the sinner in his sin. God would be an unjust judge, acquitting the guilty without providing for the penalty of his sin. It is impossible for a perfectly righteous God to declare the sinner righteous unless the penalty is paid and the basis for righteousness is provided.
Man needs forgiveness because he is responsible for the sin that he has introduced into God's world. To attribute the cause of sin to God is to deny that he is righteous. God does not tempt anyone with evil (James 1:13). If God were the author of evil, then he would be less than perfect and he could not be trusted to keep his word or do anything that he promises. Any view that compromises his righteous character removes the basis of forgiveness and acceptance with God. What kind of assured hope can one have with an imperfect and untrustworthy God?
How can a righteous God declare the sinner righteous and yet remain righteous himself? This can be done only if the penalty of sin is paid, not in theory or in word but in fact and in reality. The penalty of sin in death, that is, spiritual death, physical death, and eternal death. Spiritual death is the separation of a person from God's fellowship; it is the lack of personal relationship with God in the experience of his love and presence. Physical death is not only the termination of our earthly existence, it is the separation of the soul and spirit from the body. Eternal death is the unending separation of the sinner from the presence of God. Both physical and eternal death are the result of spiritual death.
How can the penalty of sin be paid? It cannot be paid by any finite or merely human act, such as works, rituals, ceremonies, almsgiving, pilgrimages, fasts, self-mortification, etc. The penalty is an infinite one because the guilt incurred stems from rebellion against an infinite and holy God. No finite act or finite offering can provide the grounds of forgiveness and restoration to God. To bear the penalty oneself is to be eternally doomed. How, then, can a penalty of infinite consequences be paid?
The Bible teaches that (1) there is one God, (2) God's being is a unity, (3) the divine unity is complex, (4) God is righteous, and (5) God is love. The only infinite being is God. Therefore, if the penalty of sin is to be removed from man, and if that penalty has infinite consequences, only God is able to bear it. That the penalty must be borne is required by the fact that God is absolutely righteous. That God wants the penalty to be removed from man follows from the fact that God is love, that is, God personally, intimately, truly cares about us.
How can God bear the penalty of sin that justly falls on us? The central message of the Bible is that God has come, literally and historically, into the world as a human being. His love is so great that he decided to come into the very midst of human suffering and need. His power is so great that he was able to enter the human race as an infant born of a virgin, as foretold by Isaiah the prophet in the eighth century B.C.: "The Lord himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14). How could this be? The key is found in the nature of the unity which characterizes God's being.
The only way we can know about the nature of God is by revelation. Human speculation is incapable of determining it. God's revelation in the Bible indicates that his being is a unity, but it distinguishes between simple and complex unity. When the Bible states that "the Lord is one" (Deuteronomy 6:4), the original word for "one" indicates a composite unity - for example, as a bunch of grapes is "one" and yet at the same time has a plurality of grapes within it. That is one kind of complex unity. One solitary grape, in contradistinction to the bunch of grapes, would be an example of simple unity.
The complex unity of God's being consists in the fact that, while there is only one God, there is personal differentiation within the being of God. The Bible speaks of the one true God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - not as mere names alternately used for God but as eternally real distinctions in the nature of God's unitary being (Matthew 28:19; II Corinthians 13:14 )*
* For passages front the Bible on the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, see Appendix B.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are organically one, equal in essence, power, and dignity. When the Father acts, it is God who acts. When the Son acts, it is God who acts. When the Holy Spirit acts, it is God who acts. There is perfect oneness and harmony in the triune being of God, and in every action there is complete agreement. God so loved the world that he decided to come into the world in the person of his Son and thereby take the penalty of the world's sin on himself (John 1:29; 3:16).
When the Bible speaks of Christ as the Son of God, it does not mean that he was brought into being or that he was created by God. It does not mean that Jesus was produced by God as the result of physical procreation. He is called the Son of God because of his eternal relation to the Father and the Holy Spirit - three persons in one being, not three beings or three gods. Whenever God reveals himself to man, he does so in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. The Bible says that no one has seen God at any time but that his Son has manifested him (John 1:18). Since God is personal, the highest and fullest revelation of him must be personal. Since the persons of the Trinity share the same being, Christ could say, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30) and "he who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). The same kind of distinction in persons and identification in being is seen in Christ's relationship to the Holy Spirit. Shortly before he went to the cross to die, Christ told his disciples, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you" (John 14:18). In this instance, he is referring to the Holy Spirit, as the context indicates: "... the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you" (John 14:26). The doctrine of the Trinity, properly understood according to the teaching of the Bible, bears the marks of divine revelation, for it is unlikely that man would have ever invented it.
In Christ's life of love, compassion, purity, righteousness, and humility, the reality of God's character is demonstrated. He humbled himself and came into the world in a lowly way (Philippians 2:5-9), born into a simple and unpretentious home. The Son of God did not merely come in the outward form of a man, he actually became a human being while retaining his divine nature. And yet he identified with the poor and the downtrodden. He cared about the oppressed and the rejected. He healed the sick, restored withered limbs, gave sight to the blind, imparted hearing to the deaf, brought wholeness to the paralytic, cleansed the leper, lifted the downcast, raised the dead, and forgave the sinner. His contemporaries marveled and said that no one had ever spoken with such authority and graciousness (John 7:46; Luke 4:22). Even those who did not accept his claims admitted that they could find no guilt in him (John 19:4). He was not only faultless and perfect in every respect, he was also the decisive and final revelation of God. It could not have been otherwise, because he is the eternal Son of God (Hebrews 1:1-3).
Although Jesus Christ came to reveal God to man, that was not the only purpose for which he came. He himself said that he came "to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). He repeatedly foretold his own death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave three days later (Matthew 16:21). When he first told his disciples that he was going to be crucified, they could not understand it or accept it. They thought it was not fitting that he, the Messiah and Son of the living God, should die on the cross. Jesus replied that the denial of his death was not from God but from Satan (Matthew 16:16-23). In fact, Jesus said that he must be killed and raised from the dead for the sake of others (John 12:24-33). And yet he made it clear that his death would be a voluntary act, freely chosen by his own decision. He says that no one can take his life from him but that he lays down his life on his own initiative and he takes it up again by his own power (John 10:17,18).
Christ's death on the cross is graphically presented in the New Testament. In fact, more attention is given to his sufferings, death, and resurrection than to any other event in his earthly life. And there are four historical documents - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - that attest the factuality and circumstances of these events. These are eyewitness accounts that together fulfill the requirements of an important legal principle: "Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses" (II Corinthians 13:1). The death and resurrection of Christ are also referred to hundreds of times throughout the New Testament and in extra-biblical literature as well. Central to the Christian faith is the gospel, that is the good news that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day, just as the Old Testament foretold it (I Corinthians 15:1-4).*
For a list of some of the Old Testament prophecies that have been fulfilled in Christ, see Appendix B.
A Sufi scholar from India, J.A. Subhan, placed his faith in Christ when he came to understand the meaning of the gospel. In his autobiograplly, How a Sufi Found his Lord, he records these reflections:
Why did Christ give his life on the cross? There are two questions implicit in this one. First, what motivated him to give his life? And secondly, what was the purpose for which he gave his life? The Bible gives an explicit answer to both of these questions.
Christ was motivated by love. The Bible teaches that God is love (I John 4:8). It also says, "No one has greater love than the one who lays down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). How do we know that God loves us? We know his love by this, that he laid down his life for us (I John 3:16). He does not limit his love to a particular nation or race. It is universal, for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son (John 3:16). This love is for all human beings, for God desires all men to respond to his love and to come to a knowledge of the truth (I Timothy 2:4).
God's love is unconditional and prior to all else: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). No one naturally loves God, and it is always God who loves us first (I John 4:19). And his love is not theoretical, but genuine and active. He proves and communicates his love in taking the initiative to reconcile estranged man by giving himself on the cross. His love is effective in removing barriers and restoring relationships that have been broken by sinful rebellion against him. His love is unfailing and eternal.
God's love is not separate from justice, however. Christ died for us because he loves us, and also because God's righteousness necessitates a sufficient sacrifice for sin. To be sure, God does not compel man to turn from sin to him. He allows man to make his own choices and to bear the consequences of those choices. This is the way of his love - to refrain from coercion. But he must deal with sin, because sin destroys our relationship with him and with others. His wrath is directed against sin because he is righteous and loving. Since he is righteous, he will not compromise with sin but will see that the just penalty of sin is paid. Since he is loving, he does not want man to destroy himself by sin. He wants to free us from guilt and condemnation. He wants to liberate us from the bondage and power of sin. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). This is the purpose for which Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead. He bore the penalty of our sin that we might be forgiven and accepted by God for time and eternity.
Without the death and resurrection of Christ no one could be forgiven or brought into fellowship with God. Just as God's nature makes it impossible for him to lie, so his nature makes it impossible for him to forgive and accept a sinner without the penalty of sin being paid and the barrier of sin being removed. To believe that God arbitrarily forgives sin is to think of him as unrighteous, and in fact it is to make him an accomplice with man in his evil. If a judge unjustly acquits a criminal, he thereby becomes implicated in his crime. God cannot be unjust. He can acquit a sinner and declare him righteous only when the guilt is justly removed. That is the only way God could be just and at the same time justify the sinner - and we are all sinners (Romans 3:23-26).
If Jesus Christ had been a mere man, he would have been a sinner. For there is no human being who is righteous (Romans 3:10). And if Christ had been a sinner, he could not have given his life as a ransom for anyone. He would have his own guilt and punishment to bear. He would need a savior. But the unanimous attestation of his contemporaries both friends and enemies, was that he was without sin. The Bible affirms that Christ never sinned in thought, word, or deed. Even those who lived with him for three years asserted this (Acts 3:14; I Peter 2:22; I John 3:5; II Corinthians 5:21).
If Christ had been only a perfect man or mere prophet, his life could not have been given to redeem the world. As we have seen, the Bible teaches that the penalty of sin is infinite, because it is separation from the infinite God for all eternity under his wrath (John 3:36; Matthew 25:46). No merely finite being, no matter how special and great his calling and position in the created order, could have the inherent value in his person to effect reconciliation between God and man. Every being other than God is created. Every created being is finite. If Christ were not truly and fully divine in his person - if he had not been God manifest in the flesh - then he could not have given his life to redeem a sinful humanity. His death could not determine man's relationship to God. But because he is the all-powerful, all-loving God who made this universe (John 1:1-3), the giving of his life on the cross has infinite value.
It is often asked how Christ could die if he is God. Can God die? No, God cannot die, but man can and does die. This is why he was incarnated and became a genuine man, without surrendering his deity (John 1:14; Isaiah 9:6; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 2:9). Only in this way could he suffer and die for man (Hebrews 1:8; 2:14-17).
Only in the light of the cross can we have a true understanding of the love and righteousness of God. And only in terms of Christ's death can we understand the depth and seriousness of man's sin and guilt. There is no other way to know God and be accepted by him than through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is why he said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me" (John 14:6). Sultan Muhammad P. Khan states the uniqueness of the Christian faith in these words of personal testimony:
Christ gave his life for us sinners. This is a marvelous way to which the world can show no counterpart. Scores of men have founded religions in this world, but no one of them claimed that his death will serve for the forgiveness of sins. Christ alone not only made this claim but also fulfilled it . . . The picture of Christ and His love for men made an indelible impression on my heart. But while I was absorbed in this ecstasy, another question came to my mind: "What was the need of Christ's sacrifice and atonement? Could He not have given salvation without giving His life?" After a little further thought I found the answer to this also: God is both merciful and just. If Christ had promised salvation without giving His life, the demands of mercy would certainly have been fulfilled. In order to satisfy the demands of justice also, Christ paid the ransom, which was His precious blood. In this way God has manifested His love for us. "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins" (I John 4:10).
In short, I continued my investigation in the New Testament, and read it several times from beginning to end. In the course of this reading I found hundreds of verses and scores of parables which proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that salvation (which is the very heart and purpose of religion) is available only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. (Why I Became a Christian, Gospel Literature Service: Bombay India, pp. 27-28)
There is no person other than Christ who is both God and man - God from eternity to eternity and man from the moment of his incarnation. There is no other person who has taken the sins of the world on himself. There is no one else who has given his life and shed his blood as the ransom for sin. He alone is the good shepherd who gives his life for the sheep (John 10:11). There is no mediator between God and men but Jesus Christ (I Timothy 2:5). Therefore, one's attitude toward Jesus Christ is the touchstone by which his eternal destiny is determined: "Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist - he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also" (I John 2:22,23). Therefore, it is impossible to know and serve the true God apart from genuine trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as he is revealed in the Bible. "Now this is eternal life: that men may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:3).
The proof of Christ's claims and the evidence that he is the Son of God whose crucifixion avails to bring men to God is found in his resurrection from the dead. For he "was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4). His resurrection was also at the center of the apostles' preaching. And they proclaimed it not only because his burial tomb was found empty on the third day after his death, but also because he personally and bodily appeared to them for a period of forty days after he was raised from the dead (Acts 1:3; I Corinthians 15:1-8; I John 1:1-3; Luke 24:33-48). This is the glorious message of the Bible: Christ has conquered sin and death, and he is alive and able to save forever those who come to God through him, because he always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25).
Since he has died for our sins and has risen from the dead, and is alive now, he has the power to break the chains of evil habits and to defeat the overpowering mastery of sin in the human heart. Christ made no empty claim when he said, "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36), or when he said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10). When one sincerely opens his heart to Christ and invites him in (Revelation 3:20), a supernatural change takes place at the roots of his being. This is what the Bible calls being "born from above" (John 3:3) or being "born of God" (John 1:12,13). Thus, the individual who places his entire trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is brought into a living relationship with God. He also experiences a moral and spiritual transformation that changes his desires so that he wants to please God - not out of a fear of punishment but out of love and gratitude for the free gift of salvation in Christ.
When one receives Christ into his life, Christ truly comes to dwell in his heart by the Holy Spirit. And this indwelling of the Holy Spirit changes the individual on the inside so that he has a new inner power to please God (Romans 8:9; John 14:16,17; Romans 5:5; I Corinthians 6:9-11,19,20). This change in a person's life is so deep and permanent that the Bible says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (II Corinthians 5:17). While perfection is not experienced by any of us in this life, the pattern of our behavior is changed by faith in Christ.
One of the greatest benefits that the believer in Christ has is the present assurance of his permanent and unfailing acceptance by God. The New Testament states it clearly:
The person who places his trust in Christ does not have to wait until death or until the day of judgment to know that he is accepted by God. Since Christ has paid the full penalty of sin for us, one cannot perform one good deed to add to the completed work of redemption accomplished on the cross. And since there is no place for merit, there is no reason to be in doubt as to the balance of good deeds over evil deeds. Good deeds can have nothing to do with salvation. They are the outward demonstration of the reality of the transforming power of Christ who indwells the Christian believer. Forgiveness of sin and acceptance with God are by his grace (i.e., God's undeserved love) in Christ, and that is different from every system of works and self-effort (Romans 4:4,5; 11:6). Therefore, whenever anyone receives Christ as Savior and Lord, he can know, precisely at that moment, that he belongs to him for time and eternity. Nothing can destroy that bond of relationship with the living God through Christ: "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:27,28).
For the true believer in Christ there is no fear of the day of judgment, because Christ has borne that judgment (II Corinthians 5:21; I Peter 3:18). There can be no condemnation for the one who trusts in Christ (Romans 8:1). And nothing can separate us from the love of God which is given to us in Christ (Romans 8:31-39). It is no wonder, then, that the genuine believer in Christ has joy that is inexpressible and full of glory (I Peter 1:8) and peace that surpasses all comprehension (Philippians 4:7).
In conclusion, two matters need special emphasis. First, this personal, joyous, life-changing relationship to God is the experience of only those who place their unreserved trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. The majority of those who call themselves "Christians" are merely nominal in their profession of faith, that is, they have not personally committed themselves to Christ as Savior and Lord. Nominal "Christians" are in the same condition before God as all other people. They are without God and without hope in the world. They need to know the living God through Christ just as everyone else does. To be born in a Christian family does not make one a true believer. This is the chief explanation of the fact that many people who call themselves Christians do not demonstrate the pattern of life and conduct that is consistent with the teaching of the New Testament. It is also the reason why the so-called Christian West is not truly Christian. A relatively small number of people in the West are true believers in Christ. Becoming a Christian does not make one a Westerner any more than being a Westerner makes one a Christian.
Now, dear reader, I want to speak to you on a very personal level. Perhaps you have received a glimpse of the truth of God's love for you in Christ, but you are hesitating to trust him and commit yourself to him because you are afraid of the consequences. Your family and society may disown you and persecute you. You may think that it will cost too much in the way of suffering for you to acknowledge Christ as your Savior and Lord. But in reality it will cost you far more if you do not commit your life to him, for the consequences are eternal. This is why Christ said, "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36). And what he said of Judas, who betrayed him, can be applied to everyone who refuses to believe in Christ: "It would be better for him if he had not been born" (Mark 14:21).
The important question is this: Do you love truth more than anything else - more than your family, friends, national identity, traditions, and biases? Do you love truth more than falsehood and error, more than sin and evil, more than lust and pleasure? The Bible warns that people will "perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved" (II Thessalonians 2:10). Christ said that if anyone is willing to do the will of God, he will come to know the truth (John 7:17).
Are you thoroughly sincere and earnest about your relationship to God? He loves you and invites you to experience his fellowship through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. You have that opportunity now, but it will not last forever. The Bible solemnly warns us against the postponement of commitment to Christ (Proverbs 27:1; 29:1; II Corinthians 6:2; Hebrews 3:7). For the one who rejects Christ, there is no hope or opportunity beyond this life, for "man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).
Genuine faith in Christ requires that you turn from sinful rebellion and false concepts to the true and living God (I Thessalonians 1:9). Christ alone can give you the power to live for God in loving and sacrificial service to others. Christ did not come to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45), and the same attitude will be evident in the daily activities and relationships of his followers. And if one is truly Christ's disciple, he will face suffering, for "everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (II Timothy 3:12). In that suffering, however, God's comfort, power, and wisdom will be experienced in a profound way (II Corinthians 1:3,4; 12:9,10; James 1:1-5; I Peter 4:16). You can take every problem to God in prayer, for he is concerned about your total life - spiritual, moral, mental, emotional, physical, and social (I Peter 5:7). He loves you and wants your joy to be full (John 15:11; I John 1:4), and that is why he has promised that whatever you ask in the name of Christ and for the glory of God you will receive (John 14:13; 16:24).
Will you call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ in prayer and trust in him right now? If so, you will understand why Sultan Muhammad P. Khan makes the following affirmation:
Christ is willing to come into your life and make you a new person if you humble yourself and confess that you are a sinner in need of him who is the only one who loved you so much that he died for you and rose again. He will accept you and transform you, for "if you confess with your mouth, `Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved" (Romans 10:9,10).
If you will make this commitment now, please write to us and tell us. We will do our best to put you into contact with other true believers in Christ so that you can be part of their joyous fellowship.
At the end of this book is an "Inquiry Page" that can be filled out and sent to the address at the bottom. If you have prayed to God and asked Christ to become your Savior and Lord, please indicate it by marking the appropriate box. We will send you additional literature that will help you to grow in your new life in Christ. Or it may be that you have some questions that you need answered before you can decide to commit your life to Christ. Please send us your questions, and we will correspond with you. And if you do not have a New Testament but would like to study it for yourself, please indicate that by checking the box, and we will send you a copy that you may keep.
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. 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. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have now received reconciliation.
What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns7 Christ Jesus, who died - more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all the day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." 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 nor 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.
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