How Christianity and Islam are Deeply Different

Truth is freeing, but also frightening. In an age of political correctness, it is more appealing and deceptively rewarding to merely let truth slide under the rug, wear a smile on the street than invite conflict to your corner. The consequences of neglecting reality vary, from temporal to eternal.

One of those fundamental truths that cannot be discarded without eternal consequences is the question of God and salvation. As the gap between the infinite God and humans is, so is the danger that a distorted understanding of the nature of the true God can cause, which is why it is imperative to speak the truth candidly and transparently.

In 2006, Larycia Hawkins, an associate professor of political science at Wheaton College in Chicago Illinois was given administrative leave after affirming on social media that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, something that contradicted the school’s statement of faith.

In one of the social media groups that I am a part of, I chanced upon a document, circulated on social media platforms, arguing to the same effect that Yahweh and Allah (as taught by Islam) are the same God. The Author claims that ‘Christians and Muslims are more alike than different.’

Points of Agreement Between Islam and Christianity

There are indeed points of agreement between Christianity and Islam. For example, they both believe that there is one True God. ‘Know that there is no deity but God’ (Koran, 47:19). ‘Hear oh Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One’ (Deut. 6:4).

Secondly, both Christians and Muslims recognize the significance of Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus in God’s redemptive plan.

As for Jesus, the Koran teaches that He was born of Virgin Mary and conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit (19:20). It records that He was taken to heaven alive (3:55), was a miracle worker unlike Muhammed (2:253) and was given the gospel (5:46). Jesus also commands obedience (43:63) and was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit (2:87).

We should not be surprised at such similarities between Islam and Christianity since Christianity was in Arabia for over 600 years before Islam. In fact, Paul himself records his time in Arabia (Gal 1:17). The likeness Islam has with Christianity is what Islam learned from Judeo-Christianity, as well as what is plain and to common all.

Where the Similarities End

Christianity and Islam differ in fundamental ways, which are irreconcilable. The two roads lead to different places, and I think, anyone who suggests that they are more similar than different either does not know what the two worldviews teach, or is a bold liar.

First of all, although both Islam and Christianity believe in One God, they differ in their conception of this Oneness. Allah is a monad. Yahweh is Triune. And this fundamentally affects everything else. It is true that in the Koran there are traces of the plurality in the Godhead (for example, in the virgin conception of Jesus in 19:17, Allah says thus: ‘We sent to her Our Spirit’).

But Islam rejects the Trinity and the Sonship of Jesus. We see this in how 4:171 reads:

People of the Book! Do not exceed the limits of your religion, and attribute to Allah nothing except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was only a Messenger of Allah, and His command that He conveyed unto Mary and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His Messengers, and do not say: ‘Three.’ Give up this assertion; it would be better for you. Allah is indeed just one God. Far be it from His glory that He should have a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and the earth. Allah is sufficient for a guardian.

Yahweh, on the other hand, is a Triune God. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). The fourth gospel introduces Christ as the Word that was with God from the beginning and is God (John 1:1-4). Christ insists that God is His Father, in an unbroken unity of indwelling (John 10:30).

The reason why the Father sent the Son and the Spirit is to reveal to us the Triune nature of God, without which there is no God and no salvation. The sending of the Son to us was so that we may be made sons of God by the Spirit of God after the pattern of Christ the eternal Son of God (Rom 8:10:17). You cannot deny that Jesus is God’s son and be saved. For to be redeemed is to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29). The Spirit makes us sons of God according to the example of Jesus’ sonship.

Islam mistakenly thinks that the Trinity is God, Jesus, and Mary (5:116-117). Indeed, as Christians, our ministry to our Muslim neighbors must involve this clarity. Mary is not the Third Person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is. It will be helpful thus, to invite Muslims to read the Bible with you.

The second fundamental difference between Islam and Christianity concerns the death of Christ recorded in history. Islam rejects that Jesus died on the cross. It is important to note that Islam came 600 years after the death of Christ. On the other hand, the accounts about Jesus’ death come to us from those who witnessed it and recorded it. The Christian gospels are confirmed by Pagan Roman and Greek sources who were themselves hostile to Christianity. Tacitus (A.D. 54-119), Suetonius (A.D. 75-160), and Pliny the Younger (about A.D. 61-115) mention the death of Christ as a historical fact, even when they hated Him and would gain nothing from lying. Also, the non-Christian Jewish commander turned scholar Josephus (A.D 34-97) confirms the death of Christ.

Only Muhammad who came 600 years after these events claims that Jesus did not die. Based on what? Nothing. He just said it without proof, and many believe him. And because Muhammad knew that the weight of evidence was against him, he taught that Allah lied to those around the cross that Jesus was crucified, but took Him to heaven. In fact, the Koran says that Allah is a Master contriver (3:55). To contrive is to arrange for something to happen or be done by being smart or deceiving others.

But Christ died. And He rose again from the dead, according to history, and scriptures. That sets Yahweh apart from Allah. The Koran depicts Allah lying to those around Jesus including the followers of his prophet, while the Bible and history record Yahweh raising the dead to life.

The third fundamental difference between Islam and Christianity is their view of salvation. How does the righteous God save sinful men?

Because Islam rejects the perfect sacrifice of Christ by denying His death on the cross, they teach salvation by self-help and works. On this point, Christianity differs entirely from every world religion. Christianity teaches that the sinner can never meet God’s standard of holiness. It also explains that God does not, and indeed cannot lower His holy standards.

Because God does not lower His standards, no sinful man can meet them, no matter what kind deeds they do. Islam underestimates the consequences of sin and the holiness of God. Even without sin, everything we have belongs to God, which means that a perfect being owes God his flawless life.

But we have a problem; we are all imperfect. So, what do you do to the perfect God? If you owe him your whole life when you are sinless, how do you pay Him when you sin? It can’t be with your sin-tainted life. It cannot be your fasting and good deeds because you owed Him those even without transgressing. Your list of broken good deeds cannot compensate your unfaithfulness.

And you cannot think that asking for forgiveness will pay the debt. It cannot. For if God were to forgive us without any payment for our debts, what happens to His justice? Suppose you default on your taxes, and standing before the judge, you mention that you have managed to help you neighbor move in. And based on your good deed you plead for mercy. Should the Judge acquit you of your debt to the state based on the fact that you helped your neighbor move in last night? If the Judge is righteous, he would send you to prison. And if he does not, he is not just. No amount of good deeds pays a debt you owe to the God you owe all you have and have given back infinitely less than what you owe Him.

That is how hopeless the situation is in self-help religions, such as Islam. But Christianity teaches differently. We cannot pay the debt we owe God, and thus God alone can do it. And yet only man should and must take the responsibility, for it is him who sinned.

The only way out is for God to become a Man. That is why we have the story of Christmas. So then, Jesus Christ, the God-Man can pay the debt, which is the story of Easter. As God, He can, and as Man, He should. And because He is sinless, and of infinite value, His sacrifice is credited on account of those who believe in Him, so that Christians are not only free of their debt before God, but also have abundance credited to them to live for God free of shame and guilt. Therefore, only those who believe that Jesus died for their sins and put their trust in Him can get past the gate into heaven.

That is why I mentioned at the beginning that the consequences of neglecting reality vary, from temporal to eternal. I said that the two roads lead to different places for the path of Islam is broad, and leads to destruction, while the way of Christianity is narrow and leads to life.

What Does This Mean For us as Christians

I began by saying that truth is freeing, but also frightening. Let me challenge Christians to read their bibles and not fall to this deception of thinking that Islam and Christianity as more alike. They are fundamentally different, and the cross is at the core of those differences. Without the cross and the empty tomb, there is no salvation, no hope, no Christianity.

I also mentioned that in an age of political correctness, it is more appealing and rewarding just to let truth slide under the rug, wear a smile on the street than invite conflict to your corner. Let me challenge us to preach the gospel, in love. Engage your Muslim neighbors. Invite them into a personal relationship with God. The reason why the Trinity is fundamental is that it reveals a God who is relational. You can know him personally as a Father because He eternally has a Son. Such a relationship with God is impossible in Islam. Our God has forever been in fellowship, and Jesus came to give us an invitation to this communion. Do not avoid Muslims, but invite them into communion with Jesus as the Son of the Triune God. But do not be deceived by them either.

Lastly, I stated that as the gap between the infinite God and humans is, so is the danger that a distorted understanding of the nature of the true God can cause. I said that it is imperative to speak the truth candidly and openly. Preach the Word, be ready in season and out of season. And remember, it is the grace of God that divides Christianity from other worldviews, and it is grace that bridges the gulf between the fallen man and the righteous God. So preach the grace of God in Christ to those who do not know the gospel, and preach it gracefully.

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