Finding forgiveness for sins and peace with God are very important to anyone who is not an atheist or an agnostic. The acknowledgement that there is One who inhabits eternity brings with it a sense of awe and also that unsettled feeling of being unworthy to be in His presence. Like Adam and Eve some of us try to hide from Him only to find that we cannot escape. Since the time of Cain and Abel people have brought sacrifices to hopefully make themselves acceptable to God.
It is not very difficult to establish our need for some kind of salvation. People have with them the guilt of sin. When the law of God is brought into their consciences, people realize that they have broken His commandments. One writer made this appeal:
“You repent to God, you don’t tell other people what you did, but you talk to God and tell Him you’re sorry and He forgives you, because He is the only one who can forgive you. There isn’t anybody else to forgive you except Him. When you are honest, and sincere, and say “God forgive me”, He forgives because He is the Merciful.”
Here is repentance before God, sorrow for sin, and an appeal to the forgiveness that only God can give. Here is the stipulation of honest sincerity that is often enjoined upon those seeking to find peace in their hearts. But here also is heresy. The above direction on repentance to find forgiveness was authored by a follower of Islam.
Catholic theologian Hilaire Belloc wrote (1938) of “The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed” and warned of the coming resurgence of the Muslim faith. He echoed St. John Damascene (A.D. 749) who wrote about Mohammed centuries earlier as a man “who devised his own heresy.” He pointed out that the heresy centered on changing the view of Jesus Christ, stating that he did not claim to be the Son of God, and that he was not crucified (it was only his shadow on the cross). St. John Damascene showed how Mohammed denied the substitutionary death and the resurrection of Christ. The whole concept of redemption was ruined in this heresy.
The denial of Christ and His substitutionary death and His resurrection gave rise to a religious system that is rigorously focused on how well the worshiper does his religious duty. How then is he to be forgiven? More instructions from Islam:
“The stain of sin on our souls can be removed, not by the suffering or death of any other person, whether the latter be willing or unwilling, but by our own repentance, turning away from evil and doing good.” (Note the rejection of Christ’s sacrifice here.) Moreover, Muslims state that forgiveness and hope of heaven is tied to faith and living a righteous life. “The Muslim’s faith and righteousness will both make him live in perfect harmony with Allah Almighty.” So here is perfection for the one who has the right faith accompanied by righteousness. There is a caveat. “He is compassionate, All-Forgiving, but only for those who deserve it.” Who deserves this forgiveness? For the Muslim, faith is pre-eminent, in that without belief in their God and his prophet (Mohammed), regardless of any other works, no one can be saved.
I remember a series of revival services from years ago. I was seated next to a pastor after a particularly searching message. He confided, “I checked myself, whether I had done anything that should make me feel convicted, and I realized that I had not.” The message had been very sober, and very probing. It caused introspection. But that pastor’s response bothered me. Something was not right. When we search ourselves, what are we to lean on? Are we to lean on whether or not we’ve done anything that might bother our peace? If so, then we are right in line with the message of the Muslims. Am I faithful and am I righteous?
When Paul wrote, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves” he was focusing on the indwelling Christ. “Know ye not your own selves,” he continued, “how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Cor. 13:5). We are to rest our confidence in Christ. If we are not reprobates, He dwells in us. Is Jesus living in us? Then we have confidence. Our faith is not in our selves and how faithful and righteous we are. If so we are leaning on a “sweet frame” that will prove to fall. These words written by Edward Mote in a classic hymn capture the truth.
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
Experience shows us that we need more than ourselves, our faith, our righteousness to lean on. The sense of angst, the inner uncertainty, the hollow self, show our defenselessness against the truth that we need a redeemer. Fly to Christ! He is our hope, our defense, our redeemer.
It is cultish to focus on ourselves and whether we somehow deserve forgiveness. It is cultish to trust in our own efforts to try to maintain a right standing with God. How do we know when enough perfection is attained, when the works are good enough, when the faith is in pure enough form? (Muslims cannot be sure that even Mohammed went to heaven.) That is the domain of the religions of the world that leave people without assurance of salvation. This is the domain of man without a savior.
Contrast that with the confidence of the inspired Apostle. “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10). If we found grace when we were God’s enemies, how much more does that grace encourage us now that we are reconciled? It is through the grace of Christ and Christ alone that we have any hope of a right standing with God.
Christ is central to everything in our Christian walk, from the beginning to end. If we forget that in preaching or in seeking, we sink to the level of the schemes of men that have resulted in the cults and heresies that have plagued our world. How are we righteous before God? It is in our ongoing relationship with the Lord Jesus.
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).