Life in a predominantly Muslim city has its fair share of blessings and challenges. On the one hand, my wife and I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and hospitality of our Muslim friends and neighbors. On holidays they often come to our door bearing sweet treats and well wishes. We have been encouraged by their willingness to offer help to our foreign family, and impressed by their loyalty to their own.
On the other hand, we are deeply saddened by what Muslims believe about the Bible, Jesus, and humanity’s relationship with God. We don’t totally blame them for their misinformed views — they have been taught lies about Christianity from childhood. These lies pose little threat to our faith as their corrosive power is no match for the hope we have in Christ and the strength we gain from his body in our city (both foreigners and locals), a strength that keeps us as close to him as we’ve ever been.
But these lies are a real and tangible obstacle to the eternal joy of those who believe them. These untruths are like spiritual blinders that keep Muslims from knowing the love of Christ.
Three Common Lies
In our ministry of meeting and sharing the glories of Christ with misinformed Muslims we have observed the same lies popping up time and again. In order to remove these obstacles of misinformation, certain answers, comprised of Scripture and stories, and offered in love, have proven helpful. These answers are in no way my own. I stand on the shoulders of the faithful who have gone before me, but I have used them and seen how effective they can be in removing the stumbling block of misinformation.
Consider the following three lies about the Bible, Jesus, and our relationship with God, and the responses that can disarm them.
1. The Bible Has Been Changed
This is a foundational argument many Muslims use against Christianity. Muslims rely on this falsehood to buttress their own beliefs because they know the contradictions between the New Testament and the Koran cannot be reconciled. Though little proof is offered when pressed, some I have spoken with have tried to explain stories of priests changing the Bible for money. So, how should we respond?
We know that God’s word is true (John 17:17) and unchanging (Matthew 24:35; Isaiah 40:8). Unfortunately, a biblical response to this untruth does little good given that Muslims don’t accept the validity of the source being cited. We could, of course, get into the historical reliability of the Gospels and even offer to buy them a plane ticket to Manchester, England, to view the oldest known gospel manuscript, but conversations about fragments and codexes can be a bit cumbersome, and flights to England are expensive.
What has proven effective is a story. When Muslims think about the Holy Books, they think of four different books: the Law, the Psalms and Prophets, the Gospels, and the Koran. While they believe the fourth book cannot be changed, they maintain that the first three were. In order to illustrate the foolishness of believing that God allowed the first three to be changed but protected the fourth, the following story of the king and his four treasures can be helpful.
There once was a king who had four treasures that he kept locked away in four separate towers. When his enemy heard this, he made plans to steal the king’s treasures one by one. At night the enemy came and stole the first treasure. The next morning when the king learned that his first treasure had been stolen he did nothing. Nor did he do anything when the enemy stole the second treasure. When the enemy stole the third treasure, the king finally decided to put guards around the tower containing the fourth treasure.
The ineptitude of the king in this story is readily apparent. Why would he allow his first three treasures to be stolen? Was he too weak or too stupid? Is that what Muslims believe about God? The answer is invariably no.
2. Jesus Was a Prophet Who Never Died
These lies go straight to the heart of what we believe and always have. Other religions might concur with Islam on these points, but Christ’s divinity, death, and resurrection are the backbones of our faith. How should we respond?
If we have been able to establish at least some measure of confidence in the reliability of the Gospels, we should be able to address this lie convincingly and completely. Jesus claimed to exist before Abraham (John 8:58) and accepted worship from his disciples who said, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33). Why were the Jews seeking to kill Jesus? “Because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). In regards to his death and resurrection, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus appeared to over five hundred people after being raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:6).
Without the hope of eternal life, which is found in Christ’s death and resurrection, “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). When explaining to Muslims that Christ’s divinity, death, and resurrection are the very foundation of our faith, an attitude in line with Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:19 is helpful. A friend of mine once responded to a Muslim acquaintance with despair that if Jesus wasn’t the Son of God and didn’t rise from the dead, he had no hope. The man immediately became deeply concerned and the entire tone of the conversation changed.
3. Our Works Will Earn Favor with God
Like any works-based religion, Islam espouses a gross misunderstanding of the severity of our sin and the state of humanity’s relationship with God. One problem with this is that none of us can be assured of our salvation. Have we done enough? Secondly, in works-based religions, good deeds become a kind of spiritual currency. If people believe they have enough good works stored up in their salvation account, they can make a withdrawal if they come across a particularly tempting sin in which they want to engage. How should we respond?
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “There is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 53:3; see also Romans 3:12). If we rely on our good works to cleanse our unrighteousness, we stand utterly hopeless and condemned before a perfect God. Our guilt, shame, and weakness are complete and deserving of eternal punishment. We have broken our relationship with God, and no amount of good deeds can ever earn his favor back.
There is another story we tell in response to this lie that often makes our Muslim friends stop and think. Imagine you are outside at a cafe drinking a latte when a bird flies overhead and drops an unwelcome surprise into your cup. You go to the barista and explain what happened and hand him your latte. The barista grabs a pack of sugar, adds it to your cup, and gives it back to you. You kindly explain again that your latte is dirty, so you don’t want it. This time the barista adds some cream to it and gives it back to you again. “No,” you say, “you don’t understand. This latte is contaminated; it is dirty. I need a new latte.”
There is no good thing that the barista could add to make that latte clean. There is no good thing we can add to our hearts to make them clean. We need new hearts, which is exactly what Christ gives us when we believe in him (Ezekiel 36:26).
Is Truth Enough?
As important as a perfect and true Bible verse or a well-told story is love. The type of love Christ calls us to have for our neighbors and friends, especially our Muslim neighbors and friends, is the type of love that enters into the lives of those enslaved by lies and seeks to set them free. It is a foot-washing love (John 13:1–17). His love is self-sacrificing, putting the needs of others first (Philippians 2:3–4) — especially their eternal needs. Without that love, even the best Bible verse or story will likely fall on deaf ears. Without that love, the truth in our mouths is nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1).
God is not surprised that millions of people are misinformed about his word, his Son, and their relationship with him. He has given us his word, stories to tell, and a great love in our hearts so that we can remove the stumbling block of misinformation from the lives of millions of lost souls. God is at work, and what a blessing it is to be able to join him in it.