Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Salvation By Faith Alone

By Dallas M. Roark, Ph.D.

This is a rebuttal of Bassam Zawadi’s article entitled: "How To Attain Salvation According To The Bible? By Both Faith and Works or By Faith Alone?" (*)

First, I should indicate that you have very little idea of what the New Testament is about.

You quote a lot of verses but you are lacking the integrating concept concerning how the alleged differences relate to one another.

The biggest problem for you is that you reject the central issue that makes sense out of the seemingly different views.

Let me try to help you understand what is so neglected in your understanding.

First, you need to remember that the death of Jesus was foretold in the Old Testament. Isaiah 53 gives a descriptive picture of his death. Jesus warned his disciples that he would go to Jerusalem and die there. A great deal of the four gospels is spent on the last days of Jesus and his death and resurrection. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the crucial event in the life of Jesus. Christians cannot be indifferent to these events. Why would people want to cling to a person condemned as a criminal and crucified publicly with a crowd of people watching? The only reason is that a momentous event took place.

In the very beginning Jesus started preaching a revolutionary new message, "repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Mt. 4:17) Jesus affirmed what was good in the Law but it had been reduced to legalism. Jesus declared that he fulfilled the law and the prophets.

Very early in Jesus’ public life he began to indicate that Judaism would be eclipsed by what He taught. The rich man asked specifically what he should do, not what everyone else should do. When he claimed to fulfil the law, Jesus told him that it was not enough. "Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me." (Mt. 19:21) The command to follow Jesus would be meaningless apart from His being the Son of God.

A passage that Zawadi ignores is the story at the beginning of John’s gospel involving Nicodemus.

"One night he went to Jesus and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher sent by God. No one could perform the miracles you are doing unless God were with him." Jesus answered, "I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again." (John 3:2-3)

Jesus went on to declare:

"I am telling you the truth: we speak of what we know and report what we have seen, yet none of you is willing to accept our message. You do not believe me when I tell you about the things of this world; how will you ever believe me, then, when I tell you about the things of heaven? And no one has ever gone up to heaven except the Son of Man, who came down from heaven." As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the desert, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior. Those who believe in the Son are not judged; but those who do not believe have already been judged, because they have not believed in God's only Son." John 3:11-18

Jesus told Nicodemus that he would be lifted up on a pole like Moses lifted the bronze snake in the desert. The crucifixion is intimately connected to believing in Jesus and being given eternal life Nicodemus came humbly seeking answers and Jesus gave them. This conversation appeared at the beginning of the gospel of John (chapter 3) and there are a number of references to eternal life in the Gospel of John.

"...but those who drink the water that I will give them will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give them will become in them a spring which will provide them with life-giving water and give them eternal life." (John 4:14)

"Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, in the same way the Son gives life to those he wants to. Nor does the Father himself judge anyone. He has given his Son the full right to judge, so that all will honor the Son in the same way as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. "I am telling you the truth: those who hear my words and believe in him who sent me have eternal life. They will not be judged, but have already passed from death to life. ( John 5:21-24)

"And the Father, who sent me, also testifies on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his face, and you do not keep his message in your hearts, for you do not believe in the one whom he sent. You study the Scriptures, because you think that in them you will find eternal life. And these very Scriptures speak about me! Yet you are not willing to come to me in order to have life." (John 5:37-40)

"For what my Father wants is that all who see the Son and believe in him should have eternal life. And I will raise them to life on the last day." (John 6:40)

"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never die. No one can snatch them away from me. What my Father has given me is greater than everything, and no one can snatch them away from the Father's care. The Father and I are one." (John 10:17-30)

"After Jesus finished saying this, he looked up to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your Son, so that the Son may give glory to you. For you gave him authority over all people, so that he might give eternal life to all those you gave him. And eternal life means to know you, the only true God, and to know Jesus Christ, whom you sent. (John 17:1-3)

Second, in the last week of Jesus’ life he gave the disciples a New Covenant. No one but God could do this. Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh and could therefore make a New Covenant. The prophet Jeremiah describes this most vividly:

"The LORD says, "The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. Although I was like a husband to them, they did not keep that covenant. The new covenant that I will make with the people of Israel will be this: I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. None of them will have to teach a neighbor to know the LORD, because all will know me, from the least to the greatest. I will forgive their sins and I will no longer remember their wrongs. I, the LORD, have spoken." (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Good News Bible)

The event of the New Covenant is given in the Gospels:

"For I tell you, I will never eat it until it is given its full meaning in the Kingdom

of God." Then Jesus took a cup, gave thanks to God, and said, "Take this and share it among yourselves. I tell you that from now on I will not drink this wine until the Kingdom of God comes." Then he took a piece of bread, gave thanks to God, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in memory of me." In the same way, he gave them the cup after the supper, saying, "This cup is God's new covenant sealed with my blood, which is poured out for you." (Luke 22:17-20)

The terms 0f the New Covenant are different from those of the Old covenant. The Old Covenant was made with Abraham and the house of Israel and related to the Law. The New Covenant is related to all people who will receive it. The first Covenant was given to Abraham with the blood of animals being used to institute it. The second Covenant was sealed with Jesus’ own blood.

During the major part of Jesus’ ministry he lived as a Jew, taught the best of Judaism, and answered in agreement with Judaism where he could. For example, the rich young man asked the question: "teacher, what good thing must I do to receive eternal life?" The answer of Jesus was: "Keep the commandments if you want to enter life." (Mt. 19:16-17) This was the best in Judaism. There are other statements that Jesus made that are examples of the finest in Judaism. What are the two great commandments? His answer reflects the accepted views of Judaism that we love God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves.

When the question was asked about who is our neighbor Jesus gave an unpopular answer in his illustration of the despised Samaritan who did what was right in contrast to the Pharisee and the Levite. The sermon on the mount shows how Jesus went beyond legalism to the deeper meaning of the Law. Not only should you not kill, but you should not hate or even call a person a name. (Mt. 5:22)

However, after a period of time with the disciples he began to warn them that he would be put to death.

"From that time on Jesus began to say plainly to his disciples, "I must go to Jerusalem and suffer much from the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. I will be put to death, but three days later I will be raised to life." (Mt.16:21; see also Mark 8:31-39 and Luke 9:22-27)

"As they came down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Don't tell anyone about this vision you have seen until the Son of Man has been raised from death." (Mt. 17.9; see also Mark 9-9-13)

"Listen," he told them, "we are going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the teachers of the Law. They will condemn him to death." (Mt. 20:18; see also Mark 10:33-34 and Luke 18:32-34)

When Jesus had finished teaching all these things, he said to his disciples,

"In two days, as you know, it will be the Passover Festival, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified." Then the chief priests and the elders met together in the palace of Caiaphas, the High Priest, and made plans to arrest Jesus secretly and put him to death." (Mt. 26:1-4; see also Mark 14:1-3 and Luke 22:1-2)

"Early in the morning all the chief priests and the elders made their plans against Jesus to put him to death." (Mt. 27:1; see also Luke 22:66-71 and Mark 15:1)

"I have sinned by betraying an innocent man to he said. "What do we care about that?" they answered. "That is your business!" (Mt.27:4) The confession of Judas.

"The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask Pilate to set Barabbas free and have Jesus put to death." (Mt. 27:20; see also Mark 15:6-15 and Luke 23:18-19)

"When Pilate saw that it was no use to go on, but that a riot might break out, he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd, and said, "I am not responsible for the death of this man! This is your doing!" (Mt. 27:24)

"The whole crowd answered, "Let the responsibility for his death fall on us and on our children!" (Mt. 27:25)

The people who put him to death knew of his claim for rising from death on the third day. Consequently, they wanted to make sure that no false claims would be made.

"Give orders, then, for his tomb to be carefully guarded until the third day, so that his disciples will not be able to go and steal the body, and then tell the people that he was raised from death. This last lie would be even worse than the first one." (Mt. 27:64)

The angel at the tomb on Sunday morning declared, "Go quickly now, and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from death, and now he is going to Galilee ahead of you; there you will see him!' Remember what I have told you." (Mt. 28:7)

The Gospel of John has some other references to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

"So when he was raised from death, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and what Jesus had said." (John 2:22)

"When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me." (In saying this he indicated the kind of death he was going to suffer.)" (John 12:32–33)

"Pilate said to them, "Then you yourselves take him and try him according to your own law." They replied, "We are not allowed to put anyone to death." (This happened in order to make come true what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he would die.)" (John 18:31-32)

"There was a garden in the place where Jesus had been put to death, and in it there was a new tomb where no one had ever been buried." (John 19:41)

"This, then, was the third time Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from death." (John 21:14)

These are some of the statements about Jesus, by Jesus, and by others indicating that death was real, not a deception, and the resurrection was real also.

This central event is the only basis for the Christian movement. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus, there would be no need and justification for departing from Judaism. The Qur’an has not allowed you to even consider these statements in the New Testament. You have been blinded by the Qur’an.

After the resurrection, what happened? We read the following:

"The eleven disciples went to the hill in Galilee where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him, even though some of them doubted. Jesus drew near and said to them, "I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age." (Mt. 28:16-20)

Why did Jesus not tell them to obey the Law as the way to eternal life?

Why would Jesus make a statement like the following?

"Jesus answered him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me. Now that you have known me," he said to them, "you will know my Father also, and from now on you do know him and you have seen him." Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father; that is all we need." Jesus answered, "For a long time I have been with you all; yet you do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Why, then, do you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe, Philip, that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I have spoken to you," Jesus said to his disciples, "do not come from me. The Father, who remains in me, does his own work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. If not, believe because of the things I do." (John 14:6-11)

The last words of Jesus: "Before he was taken up, he gave instructions by the power of the Holy Spirit to the men he had chosen as his apostles. For forty days after his death he appeared to them many times in ways that proved beyond doubt that he was alive. They saw him, and he talked with them about the Kingdom of God. And when they came together, he gave them this order: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift I told you about, the gift my Father promised. John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." When the apostles met together with Jesus, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time give the Kingdom back to Israel?" Jesus said to them, "The times and occasions are set by my Father's own authority, and it is not for you to know when they will be. But when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:2-8)

So the New Covenant that Jesus made created a chasm between Judaism and the followers of Jesus. While they remained in Jerusalem they taught the people in the temple about Jesus crucifixion and resurrection and were persecuted for it. Their preaching to the crowds declared that Jesus was the central focus of salvation.

"Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, answered them, "Leaders of the people and elders: if we are being questioned today about the good deed done to the lame man and how he was healed, then you should all know, and all the people of Israel should know, that this man stands here before you completely well through the power of the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth---whom you crucified and whom God raised from death. Jesus is the one of whom the scripture says, 'The stone that you the builders despised turned out to be the most important of all.' Salvation is to be found through him alone; in all the world there is no one else whom God has given who can save us." The members of the Council were amazed to see how bold Peter and John were and to learn that they were ordinary men of no education. They realized then that they had been companions of Jesus. (Acts 4:8-13)

In the following, I will present some observations about quotes mis-used by Zawadi.

Zawadi wrote:

James, the half brother of Jesus also believed that salvation is attained by faith and good works...

James 2:20-26

20You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. 24You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

DMR replies: If you would examine the passage and refer back to Genesis 15:6 you will see that it declares that "Abraham believed the Lord and he reckoned it to him as righteousness." Period. There is no reference yet to doing anything. But Abraham’s faith was ready for doing what God commanded when the command came. Jump from chapter 15 to chapter 22 and you will see many things happening to Abraham, but in chapter 22, Isaac (not Ishmael) is a young boy able to converse with Abraham and this reflects many years later than the comments in 15:6.

So, Abraham was justified by his faith only.

James is obviously referring to people who claim to have faith but are without an transformation or commitment in their lives. James refers to people who assent to something being true, but not to faith as commitment where transformation begins to take place. The devils give an example of assent – they know God is alive, but there is no commitment to change or transformation.

Zawadi’s reasoning would conclude that Abraham was not justified by his faith until he went years later to sacrifice Isaac. If he had died before the Isaac event, on the basis of this reasoning he would not have gone to heaven.

Zawadi wrote:

Romans 4:2

If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. (contradicts James 2:21-22)

Romans 7:4

So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.

DMR replies:

Zawadi does not consider the time line in James’ statement. There is a considerable time between Abraham being declared justified by God and the issue about Isaac. The idea of James is that a person who is committed to Jesus as Lord will obey his commands and even then he has nothing to boast about. Claiming to be a Christian that has not begun a transformation (Rom. 12:1-3) is not better off than the demons who believe God exists but do not repent.

Zawawi quotes Rom. 7:4 as part of his assault on Paul’s faith commitment, but what does the whole verse say, "in order that we might bear fruit to God." Does this not describe transformation in Jesus?

The passages in Galatians are also not without a context. The Grace of God brings about change and transformation. Look at the contrast in the following passages:

"What human nature does is quite plain. It shows itself in immoral, filthy, and indecent actions; in worship of idols and witchcraft. People become enemies and they fight; they become jealous, angry, and ambitious. They separate into parties and groups; they are envious, get drunk, have orgies, and do other things like these. I warn you now as I have before: those who do these things will not possess the Kingdom of God. But the Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. There is no law against such things as these. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have put to death their human nature with all its passions and desires. The Spirit has given us life; he must also control our lives." (Gal. 5:19-25)

Zawadi wrote:

"There are a few more tricks that certain Christian missionaries try to pull to show that Jesus didn't want to emphasize on practicing the Law. If you face any of these problems then do not hesitate to contact me at"

DMR replies

What appears to be the real truth is that Zawadi is using his own tricks to mislead people. Verses quoted out of context can be deceptive. This is why I have given large blocks of text to show the situation. He shows little general understanding of the New Testament. The most important parts of the Gospels, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are rejected by Zawadi because the Qur’an rejects it. Why accept the Qur’an version in contrast to the historic account of the Gospel records? The Qur’an has blinded Zawadi to the most important facts of history: the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus.

Nevertheless, I invite your prayers for Zawadi that he may have an encounter with Jesus very much like that of the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus.