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Question: What do Muslims and Christians believe about getting into heaven? How do these different belief systems affect the level of confidence that each one can have about the afterlife?
Answer: This is Pastor Tim from Unlocking the Bible. Pastor Smith asked me to thank you for your good question and answer you. It sounds like you are asking about the difference in confidence, or assurance, that a Muslim versus a Christian believer can have that they will go to heaven.
The place to start in answering this question is to ask: What is the basis for Muslim confidence? I am speaking generally, but I believe that a Muslim can have confidence to the degree that he or she has lived/is living a good life. So, a person’s confidence may grow when they feel they’re living a life that is pleasing to God, and it will likely diminish when they feel they are not living a life that is pleasing to God. I suspect that, in practice, this is why a Muslim would say, “Only God knows.” How can you know if you’ve lived a good enough life? Only God truly knows if a person has lived a life that is pleasing to him.
What Christian Confidence Is Not
True Christian confidence (or assurance of heaven) is very different. Although many Christians live like the Muslim basis for confidence is the same as the Christian basis (like it all depends on them living a good enough life to “win” or “earn” salvation), this is the opposite of what the Bible teaches. Here are a couple of passages that show this is not the basis for Christian confidence:
1. Romans 3:23
There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
There is no distinction, every person – Muslim, Jew, or Christian – falls short of God’s standard. None of us are able to live a life that is pleasing to God.
2. Romans 6:23
The wages of sin is death.
In other words, what we earn from the life that we live (wages) is not salvation, but death.
3. Galatians 3:11
No one is justified before God by [keeping] the law.
No one will be able to stand before God and say to him, “I did everything in your law that you asked me to do.”
So, if the basis of Christian confidence isn’t living a life that is pleasing to God, then what is the basis of our assurance/confidence?
What Christian Confidence Is
The short answer: Jesus Christ lived a perfect life in our place and died for our sins, so that all who place their faith in him are righteous in God’s sight.
1. Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Salvation is by grace, not good works. If it were by works, we would have something to boast about because we did it! Grace is unmerited, undeserved, unearned favor.
2. John 6:28-29
Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
Faith brings us near to Jesus (like in a marriage), and everything that belongs to him (righteousness and life) becomes ours, and everything that’s ours (sin) becomes his.
So, according to Jesus, the “works” we must do to go to heaven are not trying to live a good enough life, but believing in him.
3. Romans 3:23
The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Wages are what we earn. What we earn by our life is death. A gift is something that is given to you, not something you earn Eternal life (or heaven) is a gift. This is great news for sinners like us!
4. 1 John 5:11-12
This is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life, whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
Eternal life (or heaven) does not depend on living a good enough life, it depends on faith in the Son. It is his gift to give, and all who belong to him (by faith) have it.
Confidence in Christ
I’m not saying it doesn’t matter how you live in the Christian faith. A person who truly believes in Christ and sees the gift of grace offered to them will be changed by it (and live differently). We can have assurance or confidence, not because we’ve lived such good lives that God is somehow indebted to us and has to save us. No! We can have confidence because our salvation is based on the finished work of Christ (in living a perfect life and dying on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins).
That is why the apostle Paul says, “Now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22).
The righteousness of God has been manifested (made known) in a new way, apart from the law. What is this new way? Through faith in Jesus Christ.
Please let me know if I can help in any further way.
Your friend, Pastor Tim