Sometimes we understand our own religion by comparing it with another. Islam-especially since September 11-is in the news. Let’s compare.
Christianity is the only world religion that promises freedom. This freedom is rooted in the premise that “Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8). Sinners are in bondage, as any drug addict or drunk or sexual sinner will have to admit. Likewise, one who cannot control his appetite, temper, or selfish thoughts. All sin and are, by nature, in bondage. But “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34, 36). The freedom from sin comes not from what we do but what God does for us. We are saved, not by our works, but by the work of Christ, Who by His grace gives us salvation as a free gift.
Islam recognizes a need to be freed from enslavement to one’s evil ways. The Taliban outlawed the playing of music, watching television, photography. Women were made to wear their tent-like garb with webbed eye-holes. Violators were whipped with steel rods. By enforcing such harsh regulations to be rid of sin and evil, they put themselves and others into cultural and political bondage.
In Christianity, virtue comes not through external rules, but from a changed heart that no longer wants to sin and that wants to love and serve others. One can readily see the connection between this spiritual freedom and political freedom. Someone who is virtuous from the inside does not need a strong political power to keep him in line. Because he governs himself, he can be (except for his sinful flesh) self governing.
A religion which enforces good behavior by rules is a religion of legalism. The Islamic religion is one of legalism. Through faith in Jesus Christ, Christianity promises forgiveness of sins and a new life which desires to do good works. Islam’s priority is to impose Koranic law. Christianity’s priority is saving souls. Islam focuses on societies. Christianity focuses on individuals. When Islamic missionaries came to certain African countries, they tried to take over the government. Christian missionaries came to the same countries to build churches, schools, and hospitals.
Legalism cannot change the heart. Lots of rules “have no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23). Islamic students who come to the United States often have big behavioral problems. Having been brought up in a society that tries to make bad behavior impossible with Taliban-like restrictions, when they find themselves in a society without those external restraints, they often go wild, indulging in all kinds of debauchery. Even the September 11 hijackers, we are told, spent their last nights in sleazy strip bars. In legalistic religions, morality is purely external and must be enforced by restrictive rules or whip-bearing Virtue Police.
Islam-and all other legalistic religions-view true Christianity as a threat Hence, the imprisoning of relief workers and the martyrdom of many who become Christians in Islamic countries.
Since the days of Cain and Able, legalism has been at war with Christianity. Legalism is natural religion. If we take our eyes off Christ (crucified and risen again) our Source of forgiveness and life, we will become legalists. We will become Islamic, if not in name, then in practice. Then, when you go off to college or otherwise leave home-when the rules no longer restrain-your life, too, will be filled with evil that you will think of as freedom.
God has given you the means to keep your focus on the Lord Jesus Christ. He gives you His Word. He gives you His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. “If you continue in My Word then you are my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” Jesus promised (John 8:32, 33).
When people were liberated from the oppression of the Taliban, men lined up at the barber shops to shave their beards. Women cast away their repressive garb. They played their music. They dug up their buried TV sets. They smiled, danced in the streets, and hugged their liberators. Gene Edward Veith (in Word Magazine) comments: “If the Afghans were so happy at the merest taste of personal freedom, imagine their joy, burdened as they have been by a legalistic religion, if they could know the freedom of the Gospel.”
You know it. Rejoice in it. “Be not entangled again in the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).