"How Can a Person Experience Forgiveness of Sin?"
In making a comparison of Islam and Christianity, the Qur'an and the Bible, one finds many points of intersection and overlap. In fact, throughout all the religions of the world, we find more or less general agreement that man is sinful and must somehow make atonement (payment) for those sins to God (or an array of pagan gods). As one of the strong monotheistic faiths, Islam pictures very graphically the prevailing concept of forgiveness found in all religious systems apart from Christianity. Basically, Islam states that man must somehow satisfy God's judgment for his sins through his own efforts or good works.
At this point Islam and Christianity take parallel (or maybe divergent) courses. First we will look at the straight forward teaching of Islam regarding sin and forgiveness.
The Qur'an teaches clearly, "Every soul will taste of death. And ye will be paid on the Day of Resurrection only that which ye have fairly earned. Whoso is removed from the Fire and is also made to enter Paradise, he indeed is triumphant," (Surah 3, al-i-Imran, the Family of Imran: 185). As the prophet Muhammad explained it, on the Judgment Day God will judge each individual with a set of just balances. Each person's fate will be decided when his good deeds are weighed on the balances against his bad deeds, thus determining whether he is sent to everlasting paradise or eternal hell.
When the issues of sin, forgiveness and atonement are mentioned in the Qur'an the emphasis is always upon the necessity of doing as many good works as possible during life. This is in order to outweigh the sins which the just, all knowing God will have accumulated for each person at the day of Judgment. Because the Qur'an teaches that sin is more powerful than man and that it is impossible for men to conquer sin, it is therefore vital that the devout Muslim do a great number of good works to counterbalance all his sins.
In the Qur'an atonement and forgiveness have different meanings. Atonement is defined as a "covering: in this world," while forgiveness is the ultimate removal of sins on the Day of Resurrection. The Muslim is concerned mostly with forgiveness, which he can obtain through doing good works. It is recorded in the Hadith (traditional sayings attributed to the prophet Muhammad) that the prophet Muhammad once said the Mua'thIbn Jabal, "If you do an evil deed, do also beside it a good deed, and it will be blotted out."
Consequently, throughout the Qur'an are found various lists of good works which are sufficient to cancel out one's sins and earn forgiveness. These include giving of alms, fasting, pilgrimage to the House of Allah (Mecca), reading and memorizing the Qur'an, striving in the way of Allah to protect and promote Islam and saying the creed. When such deeds are performed according to the instructions of the Qur'an, the promise is given, "Allah hath prepared for them forgiveness and a vast reward" (Surah 33, Al-Ahzab, The Clans: 35).
When a person needs to obtain forgiveness for the sin of killing (provided that it is accidental), he can either set free a slave and pay blood-money to the murdered person's family or "whoso hath not the wherewithal must fast two consecutive months" (Surah 4, An-Nisa, Women: 92). To obtain forgiveness for a false oath, an individual can feed 10 needy people--just as he would feed his own family--or clothe 10 people, or set free a slave, or fast for three days. However, there are three sins which the Qur'an specifies cannot be forgiven under any circumstances: apostasy, killing a believer and polytheism (shirk). For these sins no restitution can be accepted.
The prophet Muhammad taught that God is merciful, but only to those who truly submit themselves to all of the laws of Islam as revealed in the Qur'an. "And when the Qur'an is recited, give ear to it and pay heed, that ye may obtain mercy" (Surah, 7, Al-A'raf, The Heights: 204). Thus, forgiveness in Islam, while it is hopefully anticipated, remains tentative and uncertain until the final weighing of the balances on the Day of Judgment.
Christian Faith Contrasts
The Christian faith presents a striking contrast in regard to the solution to man's sinful condition and the need for God's forgiveness. God's word teaches that our holy, just and yet loving God has bridged the great gap which separates sinful man from Him by sending His Son Jesus to die on the cross in our place to pay the penalty for our sins. This is the precious truth of John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life."
The Bible makes it clear that even though most men believe that they are seeking after God and trying to please Him through their good works, it is not possible for anyone to achieve salvation that way. It is God who is seeking for man, even as Jesus declared, "The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost," (Luke 19:10). Through the shed blood of His perfect Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, God offers to sinful man a free pardon.
We learn in the New Testiment book of Romans, "We aren't saved from sin's grasp by knowing the commandments of God, because we can't and don't keep them, but God put into effect a different plan to save us. He sent His own Son in a human body like ours --except that ours are sinful--and destroyed sin's control over us by giving Himself as a sacrifice for our sins....Those who are still under the control of their old sinful selves, bent on following their old evil desires, can never please God. But you are not like that. You are controlled by your new nature....Your spirit will live, for Christ has pardoned it," (Romans 8:3,8-10, LB).
In order to experience God's forgiveness, therefore, we must begin by admitting our lost state--our helpless inability to do anything worthwhile in God's sight to attain salvation. The Bible says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," (Romans 3:23). The prophet Isaiah wrote, "For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment," (Isaiah 64:6). No matter how righteous we try to be, we are condemned by James 2:10: "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all." Moreover, Jesus defined sin as an issue of the heart and attitude, not just the outward action--thus condemning anger along with murder, and lust along with adultery (Matthew 5:21-48).
Once we recognize our sin, we then receive God's free gift of forgiveness and eternal life which was purchased through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. By this act of faith, we become children of God, according to His promise: "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even tho those who believe in His name," (John 1:12). This truth is further clarified in Ephesians 2:8-10, "Because of His kindness you have been saved through trusting Christ. And even trusting is not of yourselves, it too is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good we have done, so none of us can take any credit for it. It is God Himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus" (LB).
The marvel of salvation through Christ is simply that the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ comes, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to live His life within every person who accepts Christ's payment on the cross for his sins. Whereas the prophet Muhammad said, "Do good to live," Jesus says, "Live a new life to do good."
The only condition that God demands for salvation is that we accept or believe in Jesus His Son as Savior. "God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life; (I John 5:11, 12). Hebrews 10:12 tells us, "He (Christ) . . . offered one sacrifice for sins for all time.
Through the exercise of God's supernatural love and power, man can experience total forgiveness by a just God. The Bible sums up this truth in Romans 56:8-11: "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation."
(Adapted from Tide of the Supernatural by Kundan Massey, Here's Life Publishers)
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