Christianity and Islam: What American Christians need to know about Muslims
As long as I can remember I’ve been a Christian. It’s not up to me to say exactly when God decided that I became “saved,” but I can’t point to any single moment when I think that happened.
Yet through my life, my answer to the questions “how do you know you’re ‘saved,’ or “how do you know you’re a Christian” has changed.
At one point, I used to speak about talking with my mother about Jesus when I was very young, and asking Jesus to come into my life.
At other points, I’ve talked about making a deliberate life choice to try to serve God.
But those answers no longer work for me. Part of the reason is that I’ve thought through several experiences I had years ago with new Christians.
One of them, “Nancy,” was a woman my first wife Rosa and I met shortly after we were married. I don’t remember why Nancy visited our church, but when we met her that day, and learned that she was very interested in hearing all about Jesus, we brought her home for lunch. We spent the whole afternoon talking about Jesus, and about the Bible, and prayer a sinner’s prayer with her.
Nancy became an enthusiastic member of the church, and regularly studied the Bible with us. Rosa and I eventually lost touch with her, but I have no doubt that Nancy is still a faithful Christian.
The interesting thing about my experience with Nancy is that while we were praying that first afternoon I had the very strong sense that the “sinner’s prayer” didn’t really matter, and that Nancy already had saving faith. She didn’t know a lot about the Bible or about Jesus, but she clearly believed that he had died for her. We prayed with because … well, that’s what we were supposed to do (it couldn’t hurt, so why not?) But I’ve never been under the illusion that I had anything at all to do with the fact that she is a Christian. I’m 100% sure that she was “saved” already, and that praying with her did not mean a whole lot as far as her relationship with God was concerned.
I’ve had other experiences in which I prayed with people for the first time to accept Jesus, while sensing that the prayer was meaningless. These people already believed, even if they had not spoken a prayer. On the other hand, I’ve prayed with a bunch of people who said that they wanted to change their lives – and who, I think, really did want to follow Jesus, if only for a moment – but have clearly decided not to be Christian. So praying the prayer in a moment of faith did NOT lead to true conversion.
Partly as a result of these experiences, I’ve come to conclude that the “sinner’s prayer” does not mean a whole lot. Many people pray it, yet do not become Christian for the long haul. Others do NOT pray it, yet still become faithful followers of Christ.
Having prayed a “sinner’s prayer” is not much of a test of who is and is not truly Christian (not really a surprise, since the Bible does not teach us to use a “sinner’s prayer”). And most of my Christian brothers and sisters know already that being baptized or being active in a church also does not mean that someone is Christian. So is there any way we can distinguish Christian from non-Christian? Is there a way that we can help people to know themselves whether they have “saving faith?”
I believe there is. So when I talk about Islam in churches today, or teach about the Bible, I begin by explaining that I know I’m a Christian because I have sensed God telling me that Christianity is “right.”
There are two reasons that I take this approach. First, I have heard literally hundreds of people tell their story of how they came to become Christian. (No exaggeration: I spent seven years in a church in which every week a different member or guest gave a personal testimony of how they found Jesus.)
I’ve heard all kinds of fascinating stories. But in every case – and I mean every case – people who appear to be sincere followers can talk about how God has spoken to them. Every Christian I’ve heard from can talk about a time in their life when they sensed something from God which told them that they were truly children of God.
So when I talk about how I know I’m a Christian, I tell people that I’ve sensed that God has told me that Christianity is the way to go. It’s the truth, and it really does connect me to all true Christians.
Why am I sharing this on a blog about Islam?
The difference between me and my Muslims friends is that, for whatever reason, God has not convinced them to become Christian. Some Muslims I know used to be “Christian” in some sense; others have heard about Christianity, and have yet decided against following Jesus. And many Muslims, including some of the above, have shared with me that they really feel that God wants them to be Muslim.
Apparently, God chooses to speak to some people about Christ, but not others. Why? I don’t know. But since a relationship with Jesus seems to depend on God speaking to people, then it’s not really my job to convince anyone of anything. My job is to do my best to tell the truth about Christianity, Islam, and everything else, then let God say whatever he wants to whoever he wants.
Helping modern readers engage with ancient biblical texts
Mostly on the Bible