Hard Questions

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Atonement: Can You Really Be Certain of Salvation?

with 14 comments


I often hear my Christian friends say that one of the chief attractions of Christianity is the guaranteed salvation and atonement of sins offered to Christians. The Christian Doctrine of Salvation stipulates that the death of Christ on the cross was a sacrifice that atoned the sins of believers in Jesus divinity and crucifixion for their sake. Some have suggested that the absence of assured salvation in Islam is a serious handicap and a clear proof of the superiority of Christianity over Islam and of Jesus over Muhammad. Does Islam offer a solution to the problem of sin? Do we have an answer to the Doctrine of Atonement? How can a Muslim be sure of Salvation? they ask.

I will start by saying the belief that one will be saved is NOT in itself sufficient to guarantee salvation. The doctrine itself must be true before it can be used as a blank cheque and a season ticket to Paradise. It is, therefore important that the doctrine of salvation is scrutinised to determine its legitimacy and authenticity.

There will be nothing worse than a person indulging himself sure in the knowledge that he will be saved, only to discover that he was deluded and that he will have to answer for his deeds.

I have a few problems with this doctrine that I would like to discuss:

  1. Can we trace the doctrine reliably to Jesus himself? In other words, has Jesus himself ever said he was going to be crucified to atone for the sins of his followers?
  2. What is the fate of the righteous followers of previous prophets, like the older generations of Israel who lived and died without knowing Jesus? Why are they denied salvation? What about the Patriarchs themselves? They have never professed the trinity nor the doctrine of atonement.
  3. This doctrine in particular is very alien to natural justice and the universal virtue of individual responsibility. I mean, what would you say of a justice system that punishes the innocent and reward the guilty?
  4. What, according to the Gospels, are we to be saved from? Many New Testament passages speak of the saved entering the kingdom of God, so what is the fate of the non-saved? It appears to me that, there is a distinct lack of clarity with regard to the unsaved.

The real teaching of Jesus on Salvation is in full agreement with the teaching of Islam, both advocate personal responsibility and obedience to God. According to the synoptic Gospels, when a man asked Jesus saying Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus replied … You know the commandments.. Mark 10: 17-25, Mt 19: 16-24, Lk 18: 18-25

Why didn’t Jesus say to the man Just have faith in me as your lord and Savior, and rest assured that I will die for you to be saved?

The renowned biblical scholar and Dead Sea Scrolls expert Geza Vermes wrote in his excellent book “The Resurrection”:

In sum, whilst the idea of the resurrection lay in the periphery of the preaching of Jesus, based on the idea of the kingdom of God, St. Paul turned it into the centrepiece of his mystical and theological vision, which was soon to become the essence of the Christian message.

I believe what Vermes said here to be accurate. This doctrine was invented by Paul who was attempting to make sense of the perceived crucifixion and ascension of Jesus. Because of its human origin, it was liable to have holes in its integrity. Paul convinced his early followers that the risen Christ will return during their lifetime and they will all join him in the kingdom. When some of the faithful died without realising their hope of joining Christ, it became a problem that needed the doctrine to be fine tuned. So Paul made amendments and included the dead early Christians in the proposed salvation. Later, when the question of what will happen the righteous of older generation including the Patriarchs, another fine tuning was necessary, and a passage in 1 Peter suggested that during his stay in the tomb, the dead Jesus went and saved the prisoners of sheol ‘The domain of the Dead’.

Islam has a very simple and logical doctrine: Everyone will be raised from the dead to be judged according to his own deeds. Those who believed in The One God, and believed his messenger and were righteous will be saved. Others will be punished in proportion to their “balance sheet”. Forgiveness of sin is subject to the Will of God alone, and is only possible, though not guaranteed, for those who did not worship other gods besides The One God.

These principles are universal, and they apply to all human past and present, fairly and justly.

There is an incentive for people to act righteously and a deterrent for those who indulge in evil.

Related Posts:
On Jewish Christianity, Islam and the Gentiles
Thoughts on The Crucifixion

Written by Rasheed Gadir

May 2, 2008 at 2:45 pm

14 Responses

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  1. Rasheed,

    Thank you so much for this discussion. You certainly are a gifted writer. It has helped me so much to understand the doctrines and beliefs of Islam. This particular post has really got my juices going because it provides me a great opportunity to share with you what Mormon doctrine teaches about the questions you pose. I believe I can clarify and add to the many truths that you already understand. It will also help to differentiate what our doctrine teaches as opposed to what the Catholic and Protestant branches of Christianity teaches. I will post soon with these thoughts.

    Don

    May 3, 2008 at 9:39 pm

  2. >i>There is an incentive for people to act righteously and a deterrent for those who indulge in evil.

    Perhaps you would care to define acting righteously and indulging in evil? Seems to me that the murdering of people is absolutely evil – is this not the case?

    Additionally; I would refer the the four questions you posed and suggest that at best they are superficial aspersions with no knowledge of what scriptures say, or apparently even an attempt to understand the theology you refer to.

    Hard questions? Not really, simply off the cuff commentary with no basis in even a cursory knowledge of those things they refer to. If you want to criticize something, you should at least attempt an understanding of that thing first.

    JP

    May 4, 2008 at 5:35 pm

  3. JP

    Yes, of course murdering people is evil, ….so, what is your point?

    Maybe I don’t understand the theology of atonement, why not enlighten me, or correct me where I am wrong?

    In the absence of specifics, your comment is of very little use.

    Rasheed

    Rasheed

    May 5, 2008 at 12:27 am

  4. Maybe I don’t understand the theology of atonement
    This is exactly my point; if you do not understand a thing you should not criticize that thing.

    Yes, of course murdering people is evil, ….so, what is your point?
    murder is evil but the killing of infidels somehow imparts righteousness? The two ideas do not mesh.

    JP

    May 5, 2008 at 5:16 am

  5. Jp

    You are still avoiding to answer the questions that I have asked. Until you say exactly what you think was wrong with my understanding of the theology of atonement, you are only making generalised statements with no substance to them. You probably know that the paragraph you partially quoted from my comment was an invitation for you to correct me, and not an admission. I am still waiting for an argument to refute what I said.

    You say: …. but the killing of infidels somehow imparts righteousness, well, I believe this a diversion from the topic of the original post. What you are hinting at is not supported by evidence, simplistic and wrong.

    In any case, it is the Bible and not the Quran that orders the killing of infidels:
    Deuteronomy 13:6-10 [NIV]:
    “If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which [is] as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; [Namely], of the gods of the people which [are] round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the [one] end of the earth even unto the [other] end of the earth; Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

    Or how about exterminating whole cities, killing young and old, man and woman, and even cattle in Joshua 6:19-21

    Rasheed

    May 5, 2008 at 1:03 pm

  6. Rasheed,

    Please don’t take the beligerence of some personally. I am here at your invitation to share with you my understanding of Christ’s doctrine. I am 41 years old and have grown up in the Mormon religion, including serving a two-year mission to the people of Spain when I was 19. I even spent time in the city of Ceuta, which is in Morroco. I had the opportunity to give away copies of the Book of Mormon in Arabic to the Muslim people. I hope that you receive what I have to offer in the spirit of brotherhood, we being members of God’s family and sharing the same fathers, Adam and Noah. Here are my thoughts regarding the questions you posed in the above post. They represent teachings from the Bible and LDS scripture (The Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price). These are all available for viewing at LDS.org :

    Question 1: Can we trace the doctrine (of the Atonement/Crucifixion) reliably to Jesus himself? In other words, has Jesus himself ever said he was going to be crucified to atone for the sins of his followers?

    Please take a look at the following references:
    Isaiah Chapter 53 – Isaiah speaks Messianically—Messiah’s humiliation and sufferings set forth—He makes his soul an offering for sin and makes intercession for transgressors

    Zechariah Chapter 12 – Christ is speaking (pre-mortal): In the last days, the Jews shall look upon Jesus whom they crucified, and there shall be great mourning.

    Matt 20:17-19 and Matt 26:2 – Jesus predicts his crucifixion and resurrection to his disciples. “17 And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them,
    18 Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death,
    19 And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.

    This is Christ’s doctrine and central to the Plan of Salvation. It is what gave Adam and Eve hope, after being cast out of the Garden. It is what has given all their children hope, even until today.

    Question 2: What is the fate of the righteous followers of previous prophets, like the older generations of Israel who lived and died without knowing Jesus? Why are they denied salvation? What about the Patriarchs themselves? They have never professed the trinity nor the doctrine of atonement.

    The righteous followers of the prophets prior to Jesus are saved by their obedience to His laws and commandments AND via His grace. They had faith and hope in the Atonement to come, just as I have faith and hope that the Atonement happened. The Patriarchs taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac is a similitude of the Father’s sacrifice of His “Only Son”, Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon teaches this in Jacob 4:5 (Jacob, the brother of Nephi and the son of Lehi the Israelite prophet) –

    “5 Behold, they believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name, and also we worship the Father in his name. And for this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to him; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness, even as it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son.”

    The Patriarchs never expressed the concept of the Nicean Trinity, because this is a relatively new concept that came as a result of the Council of Nicea, during the Great Apostacy. The Nicean Creed is not something Jesus taught. There certainly is a Trinity, but each is a distinct and separate being, something that was revealed again to the earth in the Spring of 1820 (see Joseph Smith History of the First Vision).

    Question 3: This doctrine in particular is very alien to natural justice and the universal virtue of individual responsibility. I mean, what would you say of a justice system that punishes the innocent and reward the guilty?

    Christ atoned for the sins of all man, believer and non-believer. However, one must believe AND follow (be obedient to the commandments) in order to take advantage of this act of grace. It is by His grace we are saved (for we cannot do it ourselves), but it is by our works that we will be judged worthy to receive His grace. This doctrine is unique among Christian faiths, but is true. I will provide references if you would like to see for yourself.

    Question 4: What, according to the Gospels, are we to be saved from? Many New Testament passages speak of the saved entering the kingdom of God, so what is the fate of the non-saved? It appears to me that, there is a distinct lack of clarity with regard to the unsaved.

    Ahh, now this is an incredibly insightful question. It is one for which the Book of Mormon provides astounding clarity in Alma 42. This is the Nephite prophet Alma speaking to his wayward son, Alma the Younger. Here are some of the highlights (here is the link http://scriptures.lds.org/en/alma/42/9#9 ):

    4 And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God….
    7 And now, ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will.
    8 Now behold, it was not expedient that man should be reclaimed from this temporal death, for that would destroy the great plan of happiness.
    9 Therefore, as the soul could never die, and the fall had brought upon all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal, that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord, it was expedient that mankind should be reclaimed from this spiritual death….
    13 Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state; for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice. Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God.
    14 And thus we see that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence.
    15 And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also…
    22 But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the claw, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God…
    25 What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God…
    27 Therefore, O my son, whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds.

    This teaches the following principles: 1) Mortality is a probationary state to prepare to live in God’s heavenly kingdom. 2) Adam, Eve, and the human family suffer a spiritual death in that our sins prevent us from returning to live with God since no unclean thing can dwell in His presence. Our spirits are separated from God. 3) Because of the Fall of Adam, his body (as well as those of his children) became corrupt and would experience a physical death: a separation of the spirit from the body. 4) We are given the agency to choose for ourselves. We can obey or disobey God. 5) It is God’s plan to reclaim our spirits from the spiritual death but not the temporal death. This is not to say that a resurrection would not occur, but simply that a separation of our body and spirit would be allowed to happen first. 6) God is perfectly just and merciful. Both justice AND mercy must be satisfied, otherwise God would cease to be God. 7) Our free agency allows us to partake of Jesus’ Atonement and be saved from spiritual death (through repentance and baptism), but we are never to be compelled.

    All who obtain a body in this life will be resurrected AFTER experiencing the temporal death. This is a gift available to all no matter their works in this life as a result of Christ’s resurrection.

    One last thought. I hope that you consider the truthfulness of the these teachings by listening to your heart as well as your mind. In other words, do they make sense and provide a sense of understanding, peace and clarity? There are many things that I still do not understand and I have “aha” moments every time I study the scriptures. I believe those are times when I receive revelation intended only for me directly from God. They are little confirmations that I’m on the right track, particularly when they square with the words of our latter-day prophets.

    Ciao for now.

    Don

    Don

    May 5, 2008 at 9:08 pm

  7. As I re-read my previous comment, I realized that I did not answer a very important question: What happens to those who never had the opportunity to know for themselves about Christ and His gospel of repentance and baptism? Our doctrine teaches that there is a state after death where our spirits dwell, called the Spirit World. Those who never new Christ will be given the opportunity to receive His Gospel there and then choose whether to accept or reject it. That is the reason for Mormon temples. We perform the ordinance of baptism for our kindred dead there. We believe that they will be able to reject or accept this baptism according to the knowledge they receive in the Spirit World and by their own free will and choice. This is why Mormons are so into genealogy! We have to actually establish who these people are before we do the work. As a side note, the Jews (and lately the Catholic Church) find this work to be offensive to their beliefs. We have been asked by Jewish leaders to refrain from performing these ordinances for victims of the Holocaust (unless they are our own ancestors) and the Catholic Church has recently prohibited the LDS Church from photographing parish vital records.

    Don

    May 5, 2008 at 9:25 pm

  8. Dear Don,

    First, let me thank you for your kindness, and of course , I receive your comments and friendship in the spirit of brotherhood.

    I have gone through your extensive contributions more than once, and I found numerous areas where our beliefs overlap, and others where we have clear differences.

    Examples of the former, are your rejection of the concept of Original Sin- if I understood you correctly, and your belief in a universal resurrection of ALL humans to face the judgement of God.

    There are also major disagreements in our understanding of the Oneness of God, the Trinity, the Divinity of Jesus and the pre-existence of Jesus,

    It seems this conversation is going to be fascinating,

    I feel that I need a little time to study what you have written and write a proper response.

    In the mean time, I would like to ask you about your understanding of the trinity: In your view, Are any of the distinct persons of the trinity subordinate of another? Can there be different wills of the persons of the trinity? If yes, which person’s view will be prevalent? and if not, why not?

    To get an idea of the areas in your comment where I feel, we need to talk more about, follow this link please , scroll down to your comments, and look at the highlights

    Best Regards

    Rasheed

    Rasheed

    May 9, 2008 at 2:05 am

  9. Rasheed,

    Excellent questions, and I must say the link you gave is VERY cool. I like how you can highlight things for further review and study.

    Our doctrine teaches that the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost comprise the Godhead. The Father and the Son have an exact likeness. They are perfected, glorified and exhalted beings. This also means they have immortal bodies of flesh and bone. The Holy Ghost is like unto them, but without a body, his soul comprising only a spirit. These distinct beings are one, but not in the sense of the concept of the Nicean Trinity, but rather in purpose, thought, intent, and appearance. The Son and the Holy Ghost is subordinate to the Father, but there never is a disagreement between these perfect beings because they represent all truth and light. There is only one “best way”, and as perfect beings, they act this way together. This is a godly attribute. If there was disagreement, one of three would cease to be God.

    Here are some references for further study:

    http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=bbd508f54922d010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=29ec2f2324d98010VgnVCM1000004d82620a_

    This next one is a recent talk given by one of the Quorum of 12 Apostles, Jeffery Holland. Elder Holland was the president of Brigham Young University in 1984 when I was there as a college freshman. May I point out the following highlight:

    “Indeed no less a source than the stalwart Harper’s Bible Dictionary records that “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the [New Testament].”3”

    http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=f318118dd536c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=00d51b3e50cf5110VgnVCM100000176f620a____&hideNav=1___

    Don

    May 10, 2008 at 12:23 am

  10. The first link doesn’t take you to the topic I wanted. Type into the search “Godhead”. It will pull up the references

    Don

    May 10, 2008 at 12:25 am

  11. Don

    This is just a quick – off topic comment.

    Since you liked it, I have sent you an invitation for the highlighting, bookmark tool ‘Diigo’ . Please give it a try.

    Rasheed

    Rasheed

    May 10, 2008 at 2:32 pm

  12. Rasheed,

    Thanks. I saw that. I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, but I look forward to it.

    Don

    Don

    May 12, 2008 at 7:19 pm

  13. Dear Don,

    Some of the topics you raised deserve to be given their own space on this blog, I, therefore, wrote a post to respond to one of the main points you raised.

    Best regards

    Rasheed

    Rasheed

    May 15, 2008 at 8:55 pm

  14. Rasheed,

    I wanted to attempt to go through your problems with the Atonement and attempt to explain it as you asked. I will address each question individually.

    1. Can we trace the doctrine reliably to Jesus himself? In other words, has Jesus himself ever said he was going to be crucified to atone for the sins of his followers?

    In Matthew 16:21 & 24 and 17:9, 22-23 Jesus addresses his crucifixion and resurrection. In Matthew 26:27-28 Jesus addresses the sacrifice of his blood. And this is only what I found while skimming through the book of Matthew! The doctrine of the atonement is most definitely in the Gospels.

    2. What is the fate of the righteous followers of previous prophets, like the older generations of Israel who lived and died without knowing Jesus? Why are they denied salvation? What about the Patriarchs themselves? They have never professed the trinity nor the doctrine of atonement.

    The state of Abraham is addressed in the book of Hebrews. In Genesis it says Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. The older generations were not denied salvation, they were looking forward it to appearing in its fullness in Jesus Christ. As I have said before, salvation is not based on understanding fully developed doctrine. It is based on having faith in the promises of God.

    In the Old Testament God promised salvation, not through obedience to the Law, but through a Messiah to come. Jesus quotes God from the book of Exodus saying, “I AM (a name of God) the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” These Patriarchs were considered living after their death, which can only mean that they were granted salvation.

    3. This doctrine in particular is very alien to natural justice and the universal virtue of individual responsibility. I mean, what would you say of a justice system that punishes the innocent and reward the guilty?

    The doctrines of justice in the Old Testament were different than what Islam understands. God’s justice demanded a blood sacrifice as the penalty for sin. This is where the sacrificial system comes into play. A spotless lamb (or calf or goat) would be sacrificed and die in the place of the human offender. In the same way, Jesus was the spotless lamb that died in the place of all who would accept him.

    The one idea you have to understand is that we are all guilty of sin. Paul quotes the Old Testament in Romans 3:10-12 when he says “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

    By God’s holy standards, no amount of good deeds is acceptable. Picture this, you stand before a judge accused of stealing. Do you tell him about all the times you didn’t steal? Or the times you didn’t kill someone? No! It doesn’t matter. You are guilty. We are all in the same state according to Old Testament Judaism.

    Keep in mind here that today’s Jews are separated from Biblical Judaism by thousands of years of God’s silence. Their religion today is a shell of what it once was because everything pointed to a Messiah. Without the anticipation of Messiah, there is a sense of abandonment. It has been 2,400 years since the final prophet of the Old Testament. Miracles and God’s inspiration have grown silent. The temple has been destroyed and the daily sacrifice ceased. What do the Jews have to look forward to? Most have stopped even teaching about the Messiah. It is a sad state.

    4. What, according to the Gospels, are we to be saved from? Many New Testament passages speak of the saved entering the kingdom of God, so what is the fate of the non-saved? It appears to me that, there is a distinct lack of clarity with regard to the unsaved.

    Jesus actually speaks about Hell and judgment more than any other topic in the Gospels. He speaks of a place of eternal judgment; of weeping and gnashing of teeth. There is no lack of clarity here. The dead will be judged according to their deeds. Were it not for a saving faith in the promises of God, all would be condemned.

    On a final note, you missed the point of the story of the Rich Young Man you quoted from. Jesus knew the man’s heart. He knew his wealth stood between him and God. It was more important for the man to keep his possessions and forsake God. This is idolatry, and Jesus was exposing where this man (and many of us) was not keeping the Law. You see the young man thought he was meeting God’s standards until Jesus exposed his heart and showed him that while he wasn’t bowing before a wooden statue, he was worshiping an idol instead of God.

    The Old Testament tells us that ‘man looks at the outside, but God knows the heart.’ And elsewhere that ‘the hearts of men are not to be trusted for they are desperately wicked.’ Anytime you see the Jews turn back to God it always talks about their hearts turning. This is where Islam and Judeo-Christianity stand in stark contrast.

    Feel free to ask for clarification to any of my answers either here or by e-mail.

    Andrew

    http://seekingtheface.wordpress.com

    Andrew

    June 4, 2008 at 5:30 pm


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