- If God just forgives all Christians and none of them go to hell, why would any Christian do good when they can sin all they want?
I remember being asked this question by two children, a girl and a boy about twelve and ten years old, after one of my engagements in Hong Kong. Apparently they were sent to me by their mother. When they asked me their question, I could not help but smile, because I remembered asking the same question of Christians when I was their age, also urged on by my parents.
In Islam, the reward for following sharia (a law) is heaven, and the deterrent for disobedience is hell. Why would anyone make the hard moral decisions if they were promised the reward regardless? Since the solution to man’s problem in Islam is a law, the gospel’s idea of a heart transformed by God is foreign to many Muslims—as it was to these children.
When the young siblings in Hong Kong asked me their question, I sat down next to them, nodded toward their mother and asked them a question in return: “Do you love your mom?”
Slightly taken aback, they answered emphatically, “Of course!” Smiling, I asked them a simple question: “When she asks you to do something, like clean your room, what do you think would make her happier: if you cleaned your room because you love her, or if you cleaned your room because you were afraid she would punish you?”
Without hesitation, the sister answered, “Because we love her.” And as the words left her lips, the realization was apparent on her face: obedience under the shadow of threat is hardly obedience at all, but compulsion. Christian obedience, devoid of threat and rooted in love, is what God truly wants.
I began to explain to her and her brother that when we respond to the gospel and live as children of God, our Father changes our hearts and makes us want to obey out of love. For the next few minutes they continued asking me questions in earnest, clearly unfinished when their mother whisked them away.
The disjuncture between sharia and the gospel leads to other common questions that Muslims ask Christians. But right now let’s address an important question about Jesus and the Father. . .
- If Jesus Is God, Why Did Jesus Never Say “I am God”?
The Quran informs Muslims that Jesus never claimed to be divine. Rather, people began to believe this after Jesus left the earth (Quran 5.116–117). So we believed that later Christians were responsible for corrupting the true Christianity.
Why did Jesus not boldly and publicly proclaim his deity? This is a good question, but a good answer is readily available: He did not want to announce his identity right away. This is stated explicitly at the beginning of Mark’s gospel (see Mark 1:34 NIV). Jesus wanted to keep his identity a secret for a time. There were a variety of reasons why (see Mark 1:45; 3:6). Jesus did not want to be killed until it was the right time (John 7:30).
So Jesus did not want to publicly proclaim his identity. This is known among scholars as the “Messianic Secret.” When the days of his death and ascension were approaching, he headed straight for Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). That is when he was arrested and taken before the Sanhedrin to reveal his identity.
As a Muslim, I did not concede this point until I realized something surprising. Both Muslims and Christians agree Jesus is the Messiah, but in the Gospels Jesus only publicly proclaimed that he is the Messiah one time. That one location is at his trial before the Sanhedrin, the very passage where Jesus claims to be God.
To repeat, the one time in the Gospels that Jesus publicly claimed to be the Messiah was the same time he publicly claimed to be God. Since Muslims believe Jesus was the Messiah even though he publicly proclaimed it only once, we cannot demand he proclaim his deity more often or more boldly. He was not in the business of proclaiming his identity over and over again. He chose to wait for the right moment.
Also, though Jesus did not often proclaim his identity publicly, the Gospels inform their readers of his identity through the narrative of the text (for example, see Mark 1:1; 1:11; 3:11).
Throughout his Gospel, Mark is preparing the reader for the moment that the Messianic Secret will be revealed, when Jesus will tell everyone who he really is, tying together all his words and deeds. This makes 14:62, the climax and divine revelation, all the more powerful and important to understand. It is there that Jesus claims to be the divine Son of Man from Daniel 7 and the One sitting on the throne of God from Psalm 110:1.
After reading Mark through the lens of Jewish scripture I could no longer avoid the obvious. From introduction to climax, Mark’s Gospel is an exposition of the deity of Jesus. The first biography of Jesus ever written is designed to teach that Jesus is Yahweh.
— Nabeel Qureshi, No God but One: Allah or Jesus?
How to Use This Book
No God but One: Allah or Jesus? is for people who need the answers to these questions:
- Can we be confident that Christianity or Islam is true?
- What are the differences between Islam and Christianity? And do those differences really make a difference?
- Is the truth worth dying for?
It took Nabeel Qureshi four years to answer these questions, and they remain so important to him that he has studied them for another decade beyond. No God but One is his brief answer. It’s perfect for independent study or group discussion.