The issue is not how we may make the Cross inoffensive. We cannot. The question is: How may we best present that message? Greear suggests building the presentation around three words: cleansing, victory, and story. The Bible is the story of how Jesus Christ came to earth to remove our defilement and shame and defeat the curse of death.
The Gospel gives purification from sin. Jesus taught that defilement is an inside out proposition; it comes from the heart. Mark 7:14-16:
And when he had called all the people [unto him], he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one [of you], and understand: There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.
Islam, indeed all “religion”, is consumed with an outward defilement, but it’s only an outward symbol of true defilement: our sinful hearts. Nothing but the blood of Jesus can wash away my sins. Only the shed blood of Christ from His cross is able to cleanse my defiled heart.
Another great Biblical passage that illustrates this is Mark 5:24-34. Muslims relate well to the woman who suffered with the issue of blood insofar that they immediately understand the rejection with which this woman lived. (Muslim women are not permitted to participate in prayers or fasting while in their menstrual cycle.) They are moved at the story of a woman who would have been unable to serve or pray to God for twelve years. They recognize her alienation and despair. They are shocked when she touches Jesus, because her touch would have defiled Jesus; at least in their thinking. But Jesus does not recoil in disgust or harangue this woman. Instead He called her “daughter” and assured her that because of her faith in Him, she had indeed been made whole. Muslims learn that with Jesus touching the unclean thing not only did not make Him unclean, but made the unclean one clean.
Another aspect of defilement is shame. When Adam and Eve fell they were ashamed of their nakedness. Listen to how Greear connects this with Islam:
Muslims are so driven to seek the honor that comes from others…because, as naked souls, they are missing the honor that comes from being approved and accepted by God. The loss of God’s approval has left a void they desperately try to fill with the admiration and respect of the community.
Of course, this desire to “maintain honor” leads to all sorts of atrocities, like honor killings. Only the love and acceptance of God is able to diminish the dependence on receiving honor from others. Only the Gospel can cleanse our defilement and shame. The Cross was the only way that God could look upon, and have fellowship with the unclean. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness so that we may have fellowship with God (1 John 1:9).
The Gospel is the only victory over the power of sin and death. One reason why Muslims are offended by the Cross is because it is viewed as weakness. That would be a correct view, if Christ was still dead! We should never talk about the Cross without also talking about the empty tomb! The resurrection needs to be mentioned along with the crucifixion, and there is no better word to describe the resurrection than victory. Christ’s resurrection was not an adjustment to the plan, it was the goal all along (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34; Romans 7:24-25; Galatians 2:20). The resurrection is the sum of the entire Biblical presentation of salvation, and it was certainly the key element of the Apostles’ preaching (Acts 1:22; 4:2, 33; 17:18; 24:21).
Keep in mind the strong Muslim belief that God has no partners; a belief with which we agree and actually practice, as opposed to our Islamic friends. Here is what I mean. Any religion that believes and practices works righteousness makes an emphatic statement that we are partnering with God for our salvation. The Gospel alone demonstrates that salvation is entirely of God. Isaiah 43:11, “I, [even] I, [am] the Lord; and beside me [there is] no savior.”
Trying to show Muslims that our logic about God’s nature is superior to theirs may not be nearly as effective as showing them how all the stories of the Bible point to Jesus. Quoting proof-texts from the Bible that prove our position will probably not be very effective either, as Muslims will likely just quote back equally dogmatic verse from the Qur’an that contradict the verse we give. The best idea is to demonstrate how the Bible really tells one continuous story of God keeping His promise to save mankind by coming in Jesus Christ to die for our sins and begin a new creation.
Muslims are already curious about the prophets spoken of in the Qur’an, and the stories of the prophets in the Qur’an are incredibly incomplete. The amazing thing is that the Qur’an instructs Muslims to consult the “people of the Book” – that’s Christians – for clarification on details of the prophets’ lives (Surah 5:68-69; 10:94).
Greear states that in places around the world where Muslims are coming to believe in Jesus, it is happening, in large part, through small group Bible study. He quotes one missions strategist who says…
“It is more effective to group people and win them (together) than it is to win them (individually) and group them.”
Rather than witnessing to a Muslim friend by asking “If you were to die today and stand before God…” invite them to a Bible study; not necessarily at your church, but in your house. Here again is Greear:
When I first lived in a Muslim country, I thought I needed to share the whole Gospel in the first spiritual conversation I had with a Muslim. It was overwhelming for them, and felt pretty awkward on my end. Much better, I believe, to simply aim at creating an interest in studying the Bible. It is as they are studying through the major stories of the Bible that Muslims can most easily encounter the Gospel.
Themes to Emphasize
- The centrality of the promise – The promise of salvation is first given in Genesis 3:15, and the rest of Biblical history unfolds and fulfills that promise. How each story plays a part in the development of the drama should be demonstrated.
- The reunion of God and man – God is acting in the Bible to restore what Adam and Eve lost in the Garden. The stories of the prophets chronicle God’s actions to remove the poison of the curse that separated man from Him in the Garden.
- That salvation belongs to God – From the moment man first needed salvation, God has taught man to look to him for it. He has taught that salvation only belongs to Him (Isaiah 43:10-11; Revelation 7:9).
- The role of God’s Word in men’s lives – From the first creation, God’s Word has been His instrument of creation and guidance. He reveals, heals, and recreates through His Word. He gives it the highest place of honor.
- The trustworthiness of God – It is not a limitation on God when He binds Himself to His promise. Rather, His power is demonstrated in His ability to keep all His promises. The scriptures demonstrate over and over that God always keeps His promises.
- The substitutionary sacrifice – This has been a key element of God’s relationship to man since the Fall. Salvation by substitution is a key theme in many of the Bible’s stories, and dominates the Old Testament Temple imagery.
- The difference in works based religion and salvation by faith – All religions can be characterized as either “I obey, therefore I am accepted” or “I am accepted, therefore I obey.” The Gospel alone teaches acceptance prior to obedience, with acceptance being based not on our merit but on God’s mercy in Christ.
- The glory of God in salvation – God has acted in the Bible in a way designed to bring glory to His name. The scripture often explains that the reason God has acted as He has is to demonstrate His righteousness and mercy (Romans 3:25-26) to glorify His power (Psalm 106:7-8; Ezekiel 36:22-23).
This has been by no means an exhaustive study. By every measurement it has been introductory and general. My prayer and heart’s desire is that this series has helped knock down fears and stereotypes that we may have towards Muslims and Islam. I hope that we have been convicted and encouraged to engage Muslims, not for the sake of argument but of friendship, and with a desire to see them turn to the one, true God. I want to be confident and ready to communicate the Gospel to Muslims in a way that they will grasp it. Be encouraged, the Holy Spirit is our helper in explaining the unchanging Gospel in a way that our hearers will understand.
To the chief Musician on Neginoth, A Psalm [or] Song.
God be merciful unto us, and bless us; [and] cause his face to shine upon us; Selah. That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations. Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth. Selah. Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. [Then] shall the earth yield her increase; [and] God, [even] our own God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.