Recently I was having a conversation with a Muslim man I have known for several years. We don’t see each other often but when we do, we have interesting faith discussions. He is very devout.
At one point in our conversation, he shocked me when he said something like:
“I’m the best person I know.”
He went on to say how he faithfully practices sawm (fasting), salat (5 times a day prayer), zakat (alms giving for the poor), and so forth. I didn’t ask but he even told me how much money he gives a year to the poor of his country back in the Middle East!
I asked him why he works so hard this way to be “right with God.” He said with real compulsion and conviction:
“I have to!”
Underneath those words, I could hear him really saying:
“I can’t let up if I want to make it to paradise!”
It seems to me that this man is like a lot of people I have met who call themselves either “Muslims” or “Christians.” Their hope for paradise or heaven is largely based in their minds on what they do or don’t do. Their hope for a good afterlife is based on how well they keep the rules of their faith in this life.
I have noticed over the years – in myself and others – that living in that kind of religious “performance” mentality to become “right with God” creates one of two things. And neither one of them are good!
Here they are:
#1) Discouragement – this is the attitude of resignation. “I will never measure up. I have tried but I just can’t keep all the rules. So. . .why try? I just have to accept the fact that I will be in hell.” This person just goes on living as they please with no real heart repentance to God.
#2) Pride – this is the attitude of self-confidence that “If anyone is going to paradise, it should be me. I faithfully keep the rules of my faith. When I look around, I see that most people are not devout like I am. God will surely have mercy on me after all I have done for Him.” This person bridles their sinful desires as best they can but. . .they too live a life with no real heart repentance to God.
Isa al Masih – wonderful Jesus – told a story about what makes a person right with God. Here it is (from the Injil, the Good News of Luke, chapter 18, verses 9-14):
Jesus told a story to some people who were sure they were right with God. They looked down on everybody else. He said to them,
“Two men went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee (a religious expert and leader). The other was a tax collector (a liar, a cheater). The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself. ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people,’ he said. ‘I am not like robbers or those who do other evil things. I am not like those who commit adultery. I am not even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. And I give a tenth of all I get.’
But the tax collector stood not very far away. He would not even look up to heaven. He beat his chest and said, ‘God, have mercy on me. I am a sinner.’
I tell you, the tax collector went home accepted by God (right with God). But not the Pharisee. Everyone who lifts himself up will be brought down. And anyone who is brought down will be lifted up.”
What can we learn about being “right with God” from the story of Jesus?
While it is important to do our best to live a holy, pure life as we walk though this world, it is not our outer “religious performance” that most pleases God.
It is a heart broken before Him over our own sinfulness – an inner sorrow that leads to a new, holy life lived out of genuine love for Him.
This was the prayer of Dawud (David) in the Zabur (Psalms), chapter 51, verses 17:
“The way to please you
is to feel sorrow
deep in our hearts (for our sins).
This. . .you won’t refuse.” (CEV)
“. . .a humble spirit, O God;
you will not reject a humble and repentant heart.” (GNT)
I believe this. . .this is the man or woman who is on the way to becoming “right with God.”