Friday, 25 December 2015

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

Roland Clarke
A generation ago many people in the west (including some Christians) wondered if, perhaps, followers of other faiths were worshiping the same God as Christians. Usually this question was prompted by looking at the many different religions around the world. Today, however, Christians are hearing this same question and often we're hearing it directly from Muslim neighbors or work mates – who've recently emigrated to the west in large numbers and now comprise the largest non-Christian faith. It is not uncommon to hear a friendly Muslim remark to his Christian neighbor, “You are not so different from us … we worship the same God as you”.
In this day and age dominated by religious pluralism and tolerance towards other cultures, Christians are increasingly perplexed by the question, Do Muslims worship the same God as Christians?

If one focuses only on certain similarities, it might be easy to agree, especially when you consider that Muslims believe – as Christians do – in one God who created the universe.
Not only so, the word for God in the Arabic Bible is Allah – the very same term Muslims use. The question of whether Christians and Muslims worship one and the same God will continue being asked, and increasingly so, as the number of Muslims keeps growing in the west, and indeed, globally.

Let me clarify that our intention is not to argue against using the terms God or Allah in a generic sense, as if to imply that we should undertake a new translation of the Arabic Bible. Our aim is simply to discuss the core character qualities of God. 'Oneness' is a primary attribute of God but aren't there other key characteristics that distinguish God from all other so-called gods – traits that prove he is greater? These are the kinds of questions we want to consider.

Now that we have properly understood the question, the reader wants to know, “How should I, as a Christian, respond to my neighbor?Should I immediately try to expose those aspects of Islam which I know to be false? Should I begin by pointing out the stark differences between our two faiths? For example, the Qur'an – strictly speaking – denies that God is Father. Muslims emphatically reject Jesus as God's Son and they firmly deny Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection – the very heart of the gospel.

If we begin discussing such topics with a Muslim it will probably provoke an argument. The alternative is to start talking about common beliefs, such as the oneness of God. This approach is wiser (generally speaking). Not only is it consistent with the gracious example we see in Christ's life (especially with ordinary people), it is also in keeping with the teaching of the apostles.
(John 4; 1 Corinthians 9:19-22; 1 Peter 3:15-16; 2 Timothy 2:22-26)

If our aim is to speak the truth in love – as the Bible instructs us to – we will want to use a gentle approach. We can respond warmly to our Muslim friend's comment about Muslims and Christians worshiping the same God.
We can give him 'the benefit of the doubt', so to speak. Of course, it is entirely possible that our friend might discover – on closer examination – that the evidence points to a different answer.

We might say, “I believe in one God, as it is written in the first commandment, 'You must not have any other god but me.' (Exodus 20:3) By taking this approach we set the Muslim at ease because this belief is the cornerstone of his faith. In fact, most Muslims acknowledge that this commandment was the very first commandment (of 10) which Allah revealed through the prophet Moosa (Moses).

It is important not to just tell our friend the short version of this command. We should read the full statement as recorded in Exodus 20:2-3, “I am the LORD your God who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me.” The Exodus story, as recounted in the Qur'an, corresponds to the Biblical account – in most respects – although the Muslim version omits the 10th plague and Passover Lamb. The fact is: Muslims know the broad outline of this epic rescue story, including the climactic rescue when God parted the waters of the Red Sea. Muslims, therefore, are inclined to agree with the first commandment as found in Exodus 20:2-3.

It would appear – on the surface – that Muslims recognize Allah exerted awesome saving power on behalf of the helpless Israelites who faced an overwhelming Egyptian army!
Unfortunately for most Muslims, this amazing deliverance is something they take for granted. True, they agree that Allah was 'mighty to save' but they overlook its significance because they don't include the name Savior on the prominent list of 99 names of Allah (nor are close synonyms such as Deliverer and Redeemer mentioned in this list).

The Bible, on the other hand, repeatedly emphasizes God's saving power, showing how it serves as a criterion for distinguishing the true God from other so-called gods. This is clear from the report Moses gave to his father-in-law Jethro, a Midianite priest. We read that Moses told him,

everything the LORD had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians on behalf of Israel. He also told about all the hardships they had experienced along the way and how the LORD had rescued his people from all their troubles. Jethro was delighted when he heard about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel as he rescued them from the hand of the Egyptians. “Praise be to the Lord,” Jethro said, “for he has rescued you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh … I know now that God is greater than all other gods.”(Exodus 18:8-11)

How do Muslims respond when they hear this amazing story? They agree that Moses' God must be greater than all other gods.
The logic is simple and straightforward. But we should not assume that this one story is enough. The truth that God is 'mighty to save' needs to be reinforced by reading the stories of other prophets.

A good example is the prophet Hosea who came hundreds of years after Moses.
The Israelites were forgetful so the prophets had to remind them to worship God alone. We read in Hosea 13:4, “But I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Savior except me.” (bold font added for emphasis)

Most Muslims agree that Hosea 13:4 echoes the first commandment, but the last part of the declaration that says there is “no Savior except me” is unfamiliar to Muslims – to put it mildly.
There are some Muslims who do not think this name is valid in our day, and there are a few who object strongly to using it. A Christian who understands this will be forbearing and patient. He knows the wisdom of gradually “unfolding your words [so that it enlightens and] gives understanding to the simple.” (Psalm 119:130, NIV, see also 2 Tim. 2:24-26)

Space does not permit us to explain why Muslims respond so differently to the Divine name Savior (or with such ambivalence). Nevertheless, it is interesting that these reactions remind us of the question that started this whole discussion: “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?”

Of course there are some Muslims who anticipate where this topic is going and jump to conclusions. In a few cases, they even prejudge the answer to the question. However, we will assume – for the sake of our discussion – that the Muslim friend we are talking with continues to give us the green light. The dialog continues with both parties showing mutual respect and a teachable attitude.

Jonah is a prophet who Muslims acknowledge was rescued by God from a near-death experience.
As the story unfolds, the sailors were the first ones to narrowly miss being drowned. You recall that they desperately prayed to their idols while the storm raged around them. But their idols could not save them. However, they finally did as Jonah instructed and the raging sea suddenly stopped. Their lives were spared, “they were awestruck by the LORD'S great power and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.” (Jonah 1:16)

Jonah barely survived the fury of a killer storm, and then he experienced something frightfully close to death – being swallowed by a gigantic sea monster. However, he was miraculously rescued by God. From inside the belly of the fish, Jonah prayed, “But you, O Lord God, snatched me from the jaws of death! ... Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God's mercies.
But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise ... For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.” (Jonah 2:6-9)

There is a story that isn't told in the Qur'an but it makes fascinating reading for a Muslim – the story of Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego.
They defied the King's command to bow down to an idol. Every Muslim would agree this is a brave and noble act. They faced the threat of punishment from King Nebuchadnezzar for disobeying his orders. The punishment would be certain death in a fiery furnace. They were willing to die rather than deny God – a very admirable and heroic act (especially in the eyes of Muslims). God miraculously saved them which amazed Nebuchadnezzar so much that he ordered everyone in his kingdom, “I make this decree, 'If any people, whatever their race or nation or language speak a word against the God of Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb... There is no other god who can rescue like this.'” (Daniel 3:29)

All these stories show that God is 'mighty to save'. Not only so, in each story idol worshipers are confronted with the one true God who alone is worthy of worship. Each story reinforces what we learned from Jethro – that God's saving power distinguishes him as utterly unique from (and greater than) idols. As we discuss these stories with our friends we should be much in prayer that God's Spirit will awaken in them, a deepening hunger, to read the Bible for themselves.

Now let us reflect once again on the Exodus story. This time, however, we will pay special attention to its world-wide implications. Notice how God said to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Exodus 9:16, NIV) Pharaoh hardened his heart as a series of confrontations unfolded between Moses and Pharaoh. Pharaoh kept on hardening his heart and the plagues became more and more severe. Finally God struck Pharaoh and his people with a plague that was worse than any disaster Egypt had suffered or would ever suffer in the future! (Exodus 11:6) The magnitude of the catastrophe was so great that it reverberated around the world and its repercussions have been felt until today. The epic Exodus story has echoed down through the centuries, having been popularized 60 years ago in the block buster movie, The Ten Commandments.

Long after most movies have been forgotten, this movie has continued being sold; in fact, just a few years ago it was digitalized. And, of course, today the Exodus story has become even more widely known since Steven Spielberg produced his animated movie, The Prince of Egypt. Like The Ten Commandments, this movie was circulated world-wide, in fact it was dubbed into 17 languages! Think about it and you'll realize that this epic story appeals not just to Muslims but also to people of other faiths, such as Sikhs, Jains, New Agers and even Hindus! There are limitless possibilities for sharing the Exodus story with followers of other religions.

It is significant that these movies have helped spread the fame of Israel's God – the One who gave the 10 commandments through Moses. Although many Muslims would agree that the LORD gained world-wide fame and honor by overpowering Pharaoh and his idols, some might prefer to say that the title Savior had a peculiar relevance only to the Jewish people. After all, it was the Israelites who God rescued, so naturally they should honor him as Savior. Whether or not other nations acknowledge him as Savior is another matter.

If Muslims made the effort of reading the prophets they would realize that the LORD clearly commanded the whole world to honor him using this specific title.
As it is written, “There is no other God but me, a righteous God and Saviour. There is none but me. Let all the world look to me for salvation! For I am God; there is no other. I have sworn by my own name; ... Every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess allegiance to me.” (Isaiah 45:21-23)

How Does the (Jewish) Savior-God Bring Salvation to the Whole World?
We've seen how the OT prophets praised God for accomplishing mighty exploits of deliverance. But there is something else the prophets highlighted which is virtually synonymous with saving power, that is, salvation. The prophets foretold that God's servant would come – the Messiah. God described the Messiah's mission saying, “I will make you a light to the Gentiles and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

Seven hundred years later we read in the Gospel (Injil) how Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus Christ (Al Masihu Isa) was born. Notice how this nativity story – in the Bible and Qur'an – tells of a special name revealed through the angel. (Surah 3:45; Matthew 1:21) This common belief lends itself to friendly discussions between Muslims and Christians. Furthermore, as we ponder this miraculous sign from Allah (see Surah 30:21; 21:91), our discussion becomes even more stimulating, i.e. “seasoned with salt.” (Colossians 4:6) Our hope is that Muslims will be motivated to explore specifically how the Messiah brought salvation.

Speaking of giving children names, it is interesting to see how Muslims are encouraged to choose meaningful names for their children. If we apply this to how God chose a name for the new-born Messiah we find an amazing insight. I've asked many Muslims, “Do you think Allah chose the name Jesus/Isa randomly as in a lucky draw or do you think he chose the name purposefully and wisely?” How do you think they replied? They consistently said that God would not choose a 'lucky' name. He would choose purposefully in keeping with what he knew of the future.
As one Muslim writer put it, the name reflects a person's personality or accomplishments. As Christians we could not agree more strongly, especially with regards to Jesus' name!

Some Christians are amazed to find out that our Muslim friends can agree on this point – that is, Allah chose a fitting name.
So where does this discussion lead us? What is the next piece of the puzzle?

Do you recall Isaiah's prophecy which we read a moment ago? (Isaiah 49:6) This strategic choice of a name provides a clue to those who will “ponder” this sign of Allah (cf. Surah 30:21). The name Jesus, meaning 'God is salvation', fittingly summarizes Isaiah 49:6.

You will remember how the OT portrays God's saving power by rescuing people in perilous circumstances. Similarly, in the NT the Messiah is described as intervening and saving people who were in life-threatening situations. Rescuing people in such situations confirmed the meaning of his name.

- Jesus healed sick people, not just those who were mildly sick, but those who were terminally ill. (Matthew 11:5; cf. Surah 5:113)
- Jesus saved his disciples from a perilous storm
- Jesus even saved people who had gone beyond the brink of death, into the grave. (John 11; Surah 5:113)
- Jesus saved people from their sin. (Luke 19:1-10) As we have recounted OT stories we learned that God intervened and rescued his servants in extremely dangerous circumstances. Most stories focus on a physical rescue but at a deeper level these stories usually imply that God saved people by forgiving their sin. The same holds true in the NT. Jesus not only saved people physically he saved them spiritually. Both layers of meaning are important. God worked through Jesus to save people from death (physical deliverance) AND from sin (spiritual deliverance).

Perhaps you have found these insights eye-opening. You've learned how Muslims can acknowledge that the one true God proved himself greater than impotent idols, so he is 'mighty to save.' You've also been surprised to see that Muslims – in dialog with a Christian – can acknowledge prophecies about the Messiah bringing God's salvation to the ends of the earth. (If they don't agree, at least they can ponder it!)

As we've been tracing the theme of salvation from the OT to the NT perhaps you've also been surprised to learn that some Muslims acknowledge God chose Jesus' name wisely – and that his name means 'God is salvation'. Not only so, this meaning is reflected in Christ's personality and accomplishments!

Christians may well ask themselves, “How is it possible that Muslims can acknowledge so many similar beliefs and yet it is incredibly difficult for them to accept the Lord Jesus as Savior?” The fact is: they are able to connect the dots. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see where the discussion is leading. If we read Luke 19:1-10 where Jesus saves/forgives a sinner like Zacchaeus he might connect the dots to the end of Christ's life – his climactic saving act on the cross where he takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29) Three of the more common reasons why Muslims find it difficult to accept the Messiah as Savior are:

- Islam emphatically denies that Messiah died on the cross.
- Muslims deny Christ's deity (in fact, this is the unforgivable sin).
- To become a Christian means becoming an apostate – a crime punishable by death.

What does all this mean with regard to our earlier discussion, i.e. in terms of the Almighty One (Allah) who is 'mighty to save'? In conclusion, consider this question that summarizes our discussion; “Is this Jewish Savior-God the same as the Islamic Allah?”

At this point in our dialogue journey, we may find some Muslims parting ways. It should sadden our hearts whenever a person turns his back on God's mercy through one Mediator – the sacrificial Lamb of God, Christ Jesus.

I trust that you, the reader, will appreciate how difficult it is to explain the theme of salvation in just a few pages. My prayer is that this brief overview will help Christians and Muslims engage in discussing these important truths in a gracious and mutually respectful way.
Let us bear in mind how Jesus told the woman of Samaria, 'God the Father is seeking people from all cultures to worship him in spirit and in truth.' For those of us who are Christians, let us pray that God's Spirit would open the hearts of our Muslim acquaintances and friends to gain a fresh understanding of God's salvation. Let us be alert to opportunities to connect and talk with one another as genuine friends (just as our Master showed us in his example of dialog with the Samaritans in John chapter 4). If you would like to receive an article which shows glimpses of how Christ seamlessly interweaved grace and truth throughout his dialog with the Samaritans contact Roland Clarke here.

As we conclude, let us look briefly at another monotheistic faith which, in many ways, parallels Islam: the religion of Samaritanism.

Is the Samaritan God (Elohim) the Same as the Jewish God? (also named Elohim)
Probably you can see a similarity between this question and what we asked earlier: “Is the Qur'anic God (Allah) the same as the Allah whom Arab Christians worship?” The answer to both questions initially seems to be, “Yes”. But let us pause and ask ourselves, “How would Jesus answer this question?” A careful reading of John chapter 4 shows that Jesus did not answer this affirmatively. He spoke frankly with the Samaritan woman, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews ... the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” (John 4:21-23, NIV)

Jesus did not exactly tell her that her understanding of Elohim – the name both groups used for Almighty God – was incorrect. He told her,“You Samaritans worship what you don't know.” What Jesus said next was very significant. He put his finger on the key flaw in her religion – “salvation is from the Jews.” Samaritanism, like Islam, prided itself in being monotheistic. Over the years, they distanced themselves from their Jewish cousins so much so that they became increasingly disconnected from (and unaware of) the theme of salvation as taught by the prophets.
This theme can only be grasped as one reads the Messianic prophecies. These particular prophecies are recorded in the scriptures which Samaritan leaders branded as corrupt and not worth reading, i.e. all the prophetic writings which were written after the Pentateuch.

My wife uses an analogy to explain the puzzling question about the real identity of the One who is called God by followers of different monotheistic faiths, i.e. Allah or Elohim.
Let's suppose Nelson Mandela's biography is penned by an honest, objective author. Later a dishonest schemer also writes a biography which gives a distorted portrait of Mandela. Both biographies identify him by his correct name (outwardly) but one of them isn't the true Mandela.

This analogy also explains the finer nuance of
counterfeit or forgery. A false biography that is obviously at variance with what everyone knows to be true of Mr. Mandela will not sell. It has to be close enough to the truth to be seen as plausible. In the case of a criminal who forges money, the more the counterfeit money can be made to look like real currency, the more successful he will be at deceiving people. At the beginning we noted how this question is being asked more frequently than ever: “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” Now as we conclude, I trust you realize how urgent this question is.

Here is the conclusion to the whole discussion: The most recurring and prominent signature attribute of God which distinguishes him as the true God is that he is 'mighty to save'. He alone is Savior. It is precisely this criterion that Jesus applied to the Samaritans when he said, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews ..." (John 4:22, NIV, bold font added for emphasis)

The author has written a couple dozen articles that are available online

Several of these are formatted as booklets with ornamental graphics. They can be downloaded here.

If you want to order hardcopies of these booklets or if you have any pertinent questions you would like to discuss please contact me.

Bible quotations are taken from the New Living Translation unless otherwise noted.

Concluding Chorus

Having spoken the praises of the 'mighty-to-save' God it is only fitting to join the chorus of praise by singing the well known song
'Mighty to Save.' As you sing the words “he can move the mountains” I want you to think about the 'mountain' that Moses and his people faced as they stood before the Red Sea, “trapped in the wilderness” - so Pharaoh thought - and facing what seemed an inevitable onslaught from the Egyptian armies which were now about to overtake them. (Exodus 14:3ff)



Friday, 11 December 2015

Knowing God Personally; The Christian Message to the Muslim World, Part I

Continuing from Part II

Jesus Christ: Son of David, Son of Abraham
Christianity has the most pessimistic view of what human beings are by nature – bound in sin and slaves to it to such an extent that they cannot acquit themselves – but it also has the most optimistic view of what men and women can become – sons and daughters of God, born of his Holy Spirit, transformed into his personal image, and generating his glory for all eternity. Yet, when God’s supreme deliverer came to achieve this, he was missed by his own people and his mission is still overlooked and rejected by countless millions down to the present day.

The 17 prophetic works written at the time when God promised the new covenant climaxed the revelations of God to the Jewish people. The promise of a coming Messiah, a deliverer, was to be their final and supreme hope as God’s purposes for the human race would be concluded. After these books no new ones followed. All went quiet for about four hundred years. By the time Jesus was born the nation of Israel had feverish Messianic expectations. A similar period of silence, also just over four hundred years, had followed God’s promises to Abraham before the first covenant had been introduced through Moses. The time for the new covenant to be enacted had surely come. Israel waited anxiously and – correctly, as it turned out – expected the Messiah to appear at that time. Yet, when he came, only a relatively few recognised him while the nation as a whole overlooked him and, worse still, opposed and rejected him.

God had promised David a son who would rule over his kingdom for ever. When Jesus one day asked the Jews: ‘What do you think of the Christ? Whose son is he?’ they replied ‘the Son of David’ (Matthew 22:42). Solomon, David’s immediate son, had been Israel’s most prosperous and powerful king. In his day Israel ruled its surrounding world. Peace prevailed. The nation now longed for a new king who would introduce a similar reign and one which would never pass away. They expected their Messiah-king to make the Jewish nation the most powerful and affluent on earth. But they had missed one crucial point – and they had no excuses for their oversight. God had promised another patriarch a son long before the time of David and Solomon who was also to prefigure a greater Son to come, and they should have paid most of their attention to him, for he was to appear first.

You don’t have to look far into the Christian Scriptures (the New Testament) to find out who it was. Just read the first verse of its first book, the Gospel of Matthew. The opening text of the whole of the Christian Scriptures reads: ‘The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham’ (Matthew 1:1).
It was the Son of Abraham whom they should have first anticipated. We looked at some length at the son God promised to Abraham, namely Isaac, the son of his wife Sarah. When Abraham took him up to Mount Moriah to sacrifice him, Isaac said to him ‘Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ (Genesis 22:7) Abraham replied ‘God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son’ (Genesis 22:8). The original Hebrew is more emphatic – it effectively says ‘God will give from himself the lamb for a burnt offering.’ Abraham was, in reality, saying to Isaac “my son, you are the offering, but take heart. You are only a type of another yet to come. God will one day giveof himself the true lamb as an offering.”

John the Baptist (Yahya in Islam), looking at Jesus as he walked one day, proclaimed “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29), identifying the lamb of whom Abraham spoke. On another day Jesus himself said to the Jews who were arguing with him: ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad’ (John 8:56). He clearly had the moment in mind when Abraham had said ‘God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’

Abraham foresaw the whole Christian Gospel. Isaac was born of the Spirit in unique circumstances, so Abraham knew God’s Son would be born uniquely too (Jesus was born of a virgin woman). Abraham planned to sacrifice Isaac, knowing the Son of God would be sacrificed as well. Abraham believed Isaac would rise from the dead. In so doing he foresaw the resurrection of the Son of God. No wonder we find it stated that the scripture ‘preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham’ (Galatians 3:8).

Whenever the following question is asked “what is the greatest gift God has ever given you to show his love for you?”, some might say “my health”, others “my children” or yet others “he answered my prayers and helped me when I was in terrible trouble.” All these are good answers, they show the kindness of God in providing for us and caring for us. But none of them cost him anything, they are not evidences of any depth of love in his heart for us. But if he should give his Son to die for us so that we could receive eternal life as a gift, be forgiven of all our sins, and be able to know God personally, it would be the greatest gift he could give because it would come at the greatest possible cost to him. And this is exactly what happened when Jesus came into the world! As one of his most famous disciples, the apostle Paul, put it: ‘He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?’ (Romans 8:32)

This was the supreme price God was prepared to pay to gain the highest treasure he sought – a cleansed, forgiven people in whom his own Holy Spirit could always comfortably dwell. When Jesus died on the cross God’s wrath against the sins of all those who would fully believe in him was exhausted. The sin-holiness problem, which had caused such trauma during Moses’ time and in the generations to come, had been solved. The door was open for all those wonderful things God had promised through Jeremiah and Ezekiel to be fulfilled.

True Christian believers don’t just believe in God, they would have no special message for their fellow monotheist Muslims if they did.
But they do have a very special message for all who dwell on earth including Muslims. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, fulfilled the hopes of all true believers when he laid down his life for their redemption. Abel sacrificed the blood of his lambs to symbolise his hope in God’s salvation to come. Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son and share his blood as a shadow and token of God’s great love in being willing to do the same one day in return for him. Moses ordered every Israelite family to spread the shed blood of a lamb on their doorposts and lintels, symbolising the crucifixion of the Son of God to come for their eternal deliverance.

Our message to Muslims and all the world in consequence is this – in Jesus we have received the salvation of God, we have been given the full forgiveness of our sins, we have become the children of God, we have received the Spirit of God, we are heirs of the kingdom of God and, most importantly, we have come to know God as his saved, redeemed people.

When God spoke to Moses his face shone, reflecting the immediate presence of God before him and among his people. The glory of God was manifested in the first Jewish temple when Solomon dedicated it to God, again proving that God was present among his people in a very special way. But when Jesus, God's Son, stood among his people, the manifestation reached a new dimension. He took three of his disciples up a mountain apart and was suddenly transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light (Matthew 17:2). This time the glory far exceeded its manifestations at the time of Moses and Solomon, but it went still further. Jesus himself was transfigured. The glory shone through him. He did not reflect it or behold it, he generated it from within himself in awesome splendour. When the Son of God took human form, God and man became united forever. We will soon see how, in eternity, the followers of Jesus too will generate the same glory from within themselves.

In all other monotheistic religions God’s image is much the same. He revealed his laws, summoned obedience from his servants, and folded his arms, watching and waiting to see what would follow. This is the Religion of Cain and it breeds formal monotheism. But, in fulfilling the hopes of Abel, Abraham and Moses whom he was willing to call his friends, God stepped off his throne, unfolded his arms, spread them out over all the earth, humbled himself and visited our world, paying the supreme price to show his eternal, perfect love for us and give us the assurance of a glorious place in his heavenly kingdom.

The Jews missed the Son of Abraham. They could not see that the Messiah had to come as his son first, in complete humility, to be sacrificed for our redemption. Paul puts it in these words: ‘Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2:5-8).

Prophecies to the sacrificial death of the Messiah abound in the Jewish Scriptures. Most were made through David and Isaiah centuries before Jesus came. Many predicted the circumstances of his death in fine detail (Psalm 22:1-21, 69:1-29) while others declared the purpose of his sacrifice – to redeem the world from its sinfulness – in explicit, unmistakable language (Isaiah 53:1-12). The prophets did not know precisely what they were predicting but knew it was for generations to come. As the apostle Peter put it: ‘The prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired about this salvation; they inquired what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of Christ within them when predicting the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things which have now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look’ (1 Peter 1:10-12).

Many predictions of his reign in glory as the Son of David yet to come also fill the pages of the same scriptures. Sometimes predictions of the coming Messiah as the suffering son of Abraham were couched between others predicting his heavenly glory, so the Jews had no excuse. Here is a typical example: ‘Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high (glorious son of David). As many were astonished at him – his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men (suffering son of Abraham) – so shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him (glorious son of David); for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand’ (Isaiah 52:13-15).

Having first shown how the greater son of Abraham, Jesus Christ, not only humbled himself but was even prepared to be humiliated through his death on a cross, Paul then concludes: ‘Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2:9-11 – emphasis added).

Jesus gave the Jewish leaders of his time every indication of who he really was and that his coming had been clearly foretold.
Moses wrote of him (John 5:46). Abraham rejoiced that he was to see his day (John 8:56). David, inspired by the Spirit, had called him his Lord (Matthew 22:43). They should have known and recognised him.

To his own disciples, however, on the night before his crucifixion Jesus said: ‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you’ (John 15:13-15). God’s cycle was complete. He had called Abraham his friend. He had spoken face to face to Moses as a man speaks to his friend. So now Jesus was able to speak to all his disciples present as the true friends of God. His impending death and resurrection were to open the door, at last, for all God’s people to know him personally, to be forgiven of their sins, to love him with all their hearts, and to eventually be glorified at his own level. It was what God had most deeply desired and for which he had endured so much.

The Holy Spirit: God’s Indwelling Presence
After Jesus rose from the dead he appeared to his disciples on various occasions. On the fortieth day he ascended to heaven after first telling them ‘Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49). He identified that power very clearly: ‘Before many days you shall be baptised with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 1:5). Ten days after his ascension, as the disciples were gathered together in Jerusalem, ‘a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind’ and suddenly ‘they were all filled with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:2-4).

God’s deepest desire, to enter into the closest possible relationship with his people, was fulfilled as his own Spirit came down on Jesus’ disciples.
It was the beginning of the golden new covenant age. God and man united to each other – for all eternity! The climax of his supreme goal had been reached. While Jesus, the Son of God, had walked in human form among the Israelites, God was present with his people in a personal way far more intense and intimate than it had ever been at the time of Moses. But now, as the Holy Spirit came to live in the hearts of God’s people and to remain there until Jesus returns, God became present in his people, resident within the deepest recesses of their hearts.

True Christian believers, born of God’s Spirit, know God personally. They allow his Spirit to search the depths of their hearts, to root out all dishonesty, arrogance, pride, lust, religious self-sufficiency and malice. They have an absolute assurance of eternal life. They know all their sins have already been forgiven. They love the Lord with all their hearts. They know that God is worthy of their deepest affections, having paid the supreme price to redeem them. As they behold that love, perfected in the sacrifice of his Son, they are free to love him with all their hearts, souls and minds. Nothing stands between them and the kingdom of heaven.

The apostle Paul addressed the first true Christian believers as follows: ‘now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known of God’ (Galatians 4:9 – emphasis added). This clearly shows that it was God’s good pleasure to open the door for him to be known and not some religious effort on any man’s part that brought him into this position. You too can know God personally – if you are willing to commit yourself to Jesus Christ and receive the fullness of his salvation.

Abraham’s faith, perfected in his willingness to sacrifice his son, was a wonderful reflection of God’s own faithfulness.
But God’s gift of his Son as a sacrifice for our redemption, is the perfect proof of his intense love for us. ‘In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation of our sins’ (1 John 9-10).

Jesus said ‘Unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God’ (John 3:3). That includes you. To be born of God’s Spirit is the only way for any man, at any time, in any age, to be freed from his sins and become a citizen of heaven.
True faith, the Faith of Abel, is the world’s only true religion, if it can remotely be called a religion. In reality it is a living faith, a response to God’s faithfulness finally and fully revealed in his salvation through Jesus Christ. Referring to God’s declaration that Abraham was righteous in his sight purely because he had believed in his faithfulness, Paul says: ‘But the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification’ (Romans 4:23-25).

So Paul continues: ‘Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). God’s true people are those who have believed in Jesus, the Son of God, and have received his ultimate promise, the Spirit of God.
Christians who read the Qur’an are often struck by the striking statements in the book that actually confirm this. The Qur’an comes tantalisingly close to acknowledging this revelation. Firstly, it says that an angel appeared to Jesus’ mother and said to her: ‘O Mary, surely Allah gives you good news of a word from him whose name is the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary’ (Surah 3:44). In the original Arabic the key words are kalimatim-minhu “a word from him.” Note the words minhu – ‘from him’ – meaning that Jesus came from God himself and was not just another ordinary human being.

In another passage the Qur’an says of true believers ‘These are they into whose hearts He has impressed faith, and strengthened them with a Spirit from himself’ (Surah 58:22). The key words here are very similar: ‘a Spirit from him’ – ruhim-minhu.
It is uncanny to find the Qur’an confirming the core of the Christian Gospel. Jesus was the Word who came from God (minhu – ‘from him’), and the Holy Spirit who followed is the Spirit who also came from God (minhu – ‘from him’). The Qur’an emphatically states that these two persons came from God himself. It does not use this expression (minhu) for any other personality in a similar context.

The door is open for you to believe in God’s Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and to enter into a personal relationship with him by receiving the Holy Spirit. All it requires is one supreme act of committed faith – believing in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.

I have, in recent years, often asked Muslims three crucial questions. Firstly, do you know God personally? Have you come into the greatest of all relationships – a living, personal relationship with him? Secondly, are your sins forgiven for his sake? Have you been cleansed not only from the guilt of all your sins but also their power? Lastly, do you love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength? Do you have real evidence that God is truly to be loved, that he has done something outstanding to prove his love for you, and asks only that you respond to him in heartfelt love in return?

I have received a variety of answers to these questions, but a young Muslim woman recently gave me three answers that, in my view, correctly reflect the only real answers a Muslim can give according to Islamic theology.
Firstly, she said: “According to Islam it is impossible to know God personally. You can believe in Allah, pray to him, worship him, but never know him.” She went on: “it is also impossible to know you are forgiven of all your sins. You can pray for forgiveness, try to keep the laws of Allah, and hope in his mercy, but you can never know for sure in this life that you are forgiven.” Lastly she said: “do I love God with all my heart? I’ve never really thought about that. I believe in him, I’m willing to serve him – but love him? That has never crossed my mind.”

The good news is that all three are open to you. The true God broke down the barriers between him and sinful men and women when Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world. The door was opened for all true believers to receive his Holy Spirit and live solely by faith in him (the Faith of Abel), rather than to try vainly to commend themselves to him by slavish adherence to fixed religious routines and rituals (the Religion of Cain). You can know God personally, you can be forgiven of all your sins, and you can love him with all your heart, soul and mind. These are the keys to eternal life.

Abraham’s faith reflected God’s faithfulness. It shone like the moon in response to the sun’s light. But true believers can do far more than this. They can generate the love of God back to him in return. They will shine like little suns in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said ‘Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father’ (Matthew 13:43 – emphasis added). Angels will continue to reflect the glory of God when that day comes, but true Christian believers will generate it back to him.
Angels are God’s heavenly servants, but God’s redeemed people on earth are his sons and daughters. They will manifest the very presence of the Holy Spirit within them. Their light will shine from within in pure, transparent splendour. No wonder Paul spoke of: ‘what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’ (1 Corinthians 2:9).

By faith in Jesus, and by that faith alone, you can become a true child of God, know him personally, be forgiven of all your sins, and become an heir of eternal life. Jesus said: ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father but by me’ (John 14:6). All true Christian believers are assured: ‘Without having seen him, you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls’ (1 Peter 1:8-9).

The door is open for all human beings on earth, no matter what their backgrounds may be, in spite of all their sins and no matter how grievous they may be, to receive God’s perfect mercy in this age of grace and become the heirs of his eternal kingdom.

As Jesus put it: ‘I am the Door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture’ (John 10:9). That door will remain open until he returns. It remains open to you.

Knowing God Personally