Many Christians claim with unshakable certainty that they have assurance of salvation, that they know they are saved, that they know they will go to heaven or paradise when they die. How can a Christian have assurance of salvation ? How ridiculous! How arrogant! It is indeed an audacious statement. Can a finite man know for sure that he is good enough to be accepted by an infinite all knowing God? Even if God is merciful, how can an intelligent person be so presumptuous as to believe he can know with certainty his eternal destiny? These questions, and more, will be addressed as we consider in this paper the unbelievable claims that Christians make concerning their future spiritual state.
There once was a great and mighty prince who ruled over a vast domain. This mighty prince, named Abdullah, was known to all as one who was not only great and powerful to strike fear in the hearts of his enemies, but he was also honest in all his dealings, exacting in all his laws, just in all his judgements, and yet very gracious with his great wealth. Prince Abdullah was a very unusual ruler because his integrity was incorruptible and his wisdom in all matters was unsurpassed.
Under the reign of Prince Abdullah lived three men, Musa al-Hajji, Jamal al-Kafir, and Hasan al-Muslim. Each of these three men desire to live in peace and in the good favor of the great Prince Abdullah. Musa, Jamal, and Hasan were good friends. They lived and worked together with their families in the thriving city Ghazwa. Their's was a unique trade, not in the fact that they were weavers, but they were the only weavers who used a rare and expensive thread of extremely high quality in the production of their cloth. The only difference between them was that Musa only used gold-colored thread and Jamal only used indigo-colored thread, while Hasan only used a thread of three colors, green, white, and red. They all three were fine weavers, but the character of Hasan's cloth was very beautiful and unusual compared to the other two. All of the men, however, found plenty of people who wanted to buy their cloth.
One day, Prince Abdullah was riding his white stallion through Ghazwa near the place where the three men sold their cloth. Prince Abdullah decided that day to bestow a special favor upon the three men, Musa, Jamal, and Hasan. The great prince, gave each man a royal robe to be worn at all time to identify them as members of the prince's royal family. In addition to their new identity, they had access to all of Prince Abdullah's vast wealth. The only condition to this great blessing was to only wear the royal robe.
The men were overjoyed by the gift of the gracious and wise Prince Abdullah, however, soon afterwards, the reactions of the three men differed greatly. Musa was the first to complain, "This royal robe seems rather plain by itself. It does not seem ornate enough for a person of my standing in the prince's royal family. I will make a vest, a belt, and a hat of my fine golden cloth to go with this plain royal robe." Musa was quick to impress the people of Ghazwa with the status commanded by his royal robe and the beautiful adornments he had added to them. In fact, he was so well respected that he found no need to seek provisions at Prince Abdullah's royal place.
Jamal's reaction to Prince Abdullah's gift was quite different. After the Prince had left Ghazwa and returned to his palace, Jamal began to doubt what had happened. This was too good to be true. He had always desire to be in the great prince's favor, but this was impossible. Jamal doubted and complained, "There has to be a catch somewhere. I won't even bother to go to his palace because either he didn't really make the promise or I'm not good enough to get the goods he has there. I can't really be a member of the royal family. Anyway, this royal robe looks like it is long and cumbersome. I won't even put it on, but I will keep it around just in case there is problem sometime when I could use some outside help; you never know!"
Hasan, unlike Musa and Jamal, truly believed the promise of Prince Abdullah. Each week, wearing only his royal robe, Hasan would travel to the palace to visit with Prince Abdullah. Bring gifts of his fine cloth to honor the prince, they spent many hours together talking, having tea, and feasting. Hasan always returned home full of joy in his spirit and adequate provision for his needs. He did not take great riches with him because he had no need to horde wealth; he had free access to all of Abdullah's riches. Musa and Jamal noticed Hasan's weekly trips to the palace, and the quiet confidence that developed as a result of knowing Prince Abdullah in a more personal way than them. They inquire as to where he had received his provisions and what he had been doing. Hasan simply replied, "I belong to the prince's royal family."
Musa was the first to protest, "I too wear a royal robe, and I am more respected than you here in Ghazwa. Next week, I too will go to the palace with you and claim what is mine." Jamal joined the attack against Hasan, but he was not united with Musa, "I too have a robe like you, but it is worthless. You two are arrogant fools! You are not of royal blood, but common men. We must work for what we gain. You can never know what that prince might do or how he will act." Hasan calmly replied, "I am neither arrogant nor a fool, I simply know my prince and that I am part of his royal family."
The next week, Musa and Hasan went to Prince Abdullah's palace. Musa proudly walked toward the gate with Hasan, when to his shock, Hasan walked through unhindered while he was unceremoniously jerked to a stop. The guard's questioned Musa, "What do you want?" Musa replied, "I am part of the royal family, see here my royal robe!?" The guards cast Musa away saying, "You imposter, royal family members only wear the royal robe." Hasan continued as was his habit while Musa angrily returned to Ghazwa.
In his stubborn pride, Musa contacted the unbelieving Jamal to stir up the people of Ghazwa against Prince Abdullah. When Hasan return to town, he was terrified by the rebellion founded on the pride of Musa and the unbelief of Jamal that was mounting against his dear prince. Hasan tried to avoid a disaster by speaking to the people, "Do not rise up against the great Prince Abdullah for he is wise and good. However, know this. If you do rebel, he is powerful and just to execute judgment." The people of Ghazwa mocked Hasan saying, "Will Prince Abdullah destroy the people of Ghazwa and spare you? No, because you are one of us." Hasan, wearing only his royal robe, confidently replied, "I belong to the prince's royal family, I have free access to the palace, and all that is his is also mine. This was and is his gift to me."
Word of the rebellion reach the great prince who immediately sent his forces to destroy Ghazwa and its inhabitants. Upon the army's arrival, Hasan went out to plead a final time with his fellow weavers Musa and Jamal. The battle did not last long as the small rebellion was quickly crushed. As the captain of Abdullah's army approached the three remaining men, Hasan boldly stepped forward saying, "I am a member of the royal family, my life is spared." Seeing that Hasan was wearing only the royal robe, the captain of the army passed by him and approached Musa, who continued to wear his royal robe beautifully adorned with his own gold-colored cloth. Musa said, "I too wear the royal robe." Without a word, the captain stuck him down.
Upon seeing the fate of the proud Musa al-Hajji, and the deliverance of Hasan al-Muslim, Jamal al-Kafir, wearing his own indigo cloth, believed and ran to his home in search of his robe with the soldier in pursuit. Arriving just ahead of them Jamal seized the royal robe in his hand and said, "See, I too was offered the gift of the royal robe, please spare my life." The captain drew his sword saying, "it is the one who is only wearing the royal robe who is a member of the royal family. Acceptance of the gift is the only basis for confidence." Judgement fell upon Jamal because he waited until the time judgment to believe.
How then would you evaluate Hasan's confidence? His actions were humble, not arrogant, because his obedience was based on faith in the character, word, and revealed will of Prince Abdullah. What then does this story mean?
There are those who call themselves "Christians" who might claim to have assurance of salvation, yet, are well on their way to Hell. How can this happen? One could cite at least three reason for such a tragedy. First, it is important to understand the human capacity for self deception. In our desire to cope with the challenges and difficulties of life, we are blinded to reality, we ignore the distasteful, and we try to cover the ugliness of our lives. It is less personally painful for a person to think "I am not so bad" or " I am better than that other person." Pride is a driving factor in our ability of self deception.
A second factor that leads to a false assurance is a misplaced faith or unbelief. If a person does not believe that God is a Just Judge who will condemn sinners, then that person might feel secure. Universalism might sound nice, but is it based in reality or is it simply hopeful conjecture? Thirdly, false assurance might have its roots in ignorance. A lack of knowledge about the Will of God and the revealed nature of God as well as God's perspective of our sin could cause someone to think that they rest in security when, in fact, they are in grave spiritual danger.
If our eternal destiny is determined by the weight of our good deeds in the balance, then those who claim to have assurance of salvation are the greatest of fools and their confidence is misplaced. Unfortunately, there are some people who call themselves Christians who make this error. They either consider themselves "good enough" or they have bought "fire insurance." The latter might believe that by praying a prayer or saying the right words saves them, but they use such an external act as a pretention for living an unrestrained life full of sinful practices. The One True God is all-knowing and is not deceived by such hypocrisy and attempted manipulation. This type of Christian assurance of salvation is false assurance, which is no assurance. To the contrary, it is a guarantee of condemnation.
Muslim and Christian Understandings About Sin and Salvation
It is clear that any claim to assurance of salvation by a Christian that is based on human goodness is due to either self delusion, misplaced faith, or ignorance. Rather than attacking a carricature of their beliefs, honesty, integrity, and honor requires that the Christian's claim to assurance of salvation be evaluated based on their understanding of sin, shame, and salvation. To impose external meaning to the Christian understanding and explanation of eternal security unjustly distorts their position. Such an approach to the followers of Isa al-Masiih (Jesus the Christ, Messiah) is shameful and unworthy of anyone who is truly submitted to God. God is Great and needs not the help of men to confound humans if they are in error and stray from the straight path.
Badru Kateregga expresses a common optimism among many contemporary Muslim scholars stating, "Muslims believe that man is fundamentally a good and dignified creature. He is not a fallen being" (Kateregga and Shenk, p. 141). Because of this optimistic analysis of the human condition, there is not a need for human transformation, only guidance (Woodberry, p. 149). The evaluation of the human condition is directly linked to the proposed solution to that problem. In turn, a serious condition with a radical treatment allows for a distinctive analysis. It is illogical, unethical, and fraudulent to critique the Christian idea of assurance of salvation based on a set of presuppositions that they reject.
The Bible teaches that man, though created sinless, acquired an inherited sin nature through the Fall (Romans 5:12-21). The prophet Jeremiah (17:9) says in the Hebrew Scripture, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?" The New Testament of the Bible says in Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Interestingly, the Qur'an says in Surah 50:16, "It was We Who created man, and We know what dark suggestions his soul makes to him: for We are nearer to him than (his) jugular vein" (emphasis mine). From these three reference to the Holy Books of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the common theme is the corrupt and evil nature of humans beings. The Qur'an says specifically "thus did Adam disobey his Lord, and allow himself to be seduced (20:121) It is no wonder, then that the Hadith 8:297; 76.10.446 narrated by Sahl bin Sad, speaks of the greed of the son of Adam (Parshall, p.32). Even the well known Shi'ite thinker, Imam Khomeini, recognizes the problem saying, "man's calamity is his carnal desires, and this exists in everybody, and it is rooted in the nature of man" (Woodberry, p 159). The Qur'an, the Hadiths, and Muslims scholarship allow room for and even strongly agree with this biblical understanding of man's condition, which is the basis for the biblical understanding of assurance of salvation.
The Basis for Biblical Assurance
Salvation is a gift received, not earned by deeds. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast." If Christians believed that salvation was earned by good works, then claims to assurance would be boastful. However, rather than boasting about one's own goodness, the Christian is proclaiming the Greatness and Goodness of God! While one may take pride in their work, there is no room for pride when one receives a gift. This humble position of weakness that is the foundation for Christian assurance is seen in Romans 5:6-8, " For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
Even though some will disagree with this account, it must be realized that this understanding of events provides the tangible basis for the confidence Christians profess. In addition to the logical rationale, the Bible gives a revelational rationale for assurance of salvation. The New Testament Book of Ephesians speaks of God's own guarantee of future salvation in Isa al-Masiih, "In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation -- having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory" (1:13-14). Ephesians 4:30 also speaks of the Spirit's seal on the believer until the day of redemption.
In Romans 8:9 a test is revealed, "However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, it indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him." When the Spirit of Christ dwells in a person, something wonderful happens, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Romans 8:16). The testimony of the Bible concerning the Christians assurance of salvation is forcefully stated, "And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:11-13).
Not to believe the Word of God about assurance is equivalent to calling God a liar. If God reveals this truth in His unchangeable Holy Book, the Bible, then it is arrogant for a Christian not to believe in assurance of salvation. The condition of the promise must be satisfied if the benefit is to be received. When one receives the gift of salvation in Isa al-Masiih, the basis for both assurance of salvation and truly righteous living are established. Would you consider the gift of eternal life that Isa al-Masiih offers you for forgiveness of sin and compare it with the uncertainty of good works? If you accept this gift by faith alone, you can experience a new life peace, joy, and confidence .
Ali, Abdullah Yusuf. The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an. (Beltsville, Maryland: Amana Publications, 1989).
Kateregga, Badru D. and David W. Shenk. A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue. (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1997).
Parshall, Phil. Inside the Community: Understanding Muslims Through Their Traditions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994).
Woodberry, J. Dudley. "Different Diagnoses of the Human Condition". Muslims and Christians on the Emmaus Road. J. Dudley Woodberry, editor. (Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1989).
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