William Lane Craig’s question of the week (and my response)

William Lane Craig publishes a “question of the week” submitted to him, which he answers.  This week, the question was from a Muslim in Pakistan.  I have pasted the question below.  I thought it was a good exercise for me to write out how I would respond to the writer Muhammad.  I wrote out my response (before reading WLC’s response) and have put it below the question:

Dear Dr. Craig,

This is with reference to Q # 303 (Brazilian fire and Salvation through work) and evangelical doctrine of Salvation through faith alone. I quite agree with your analysis that Salvation through works alone does not make much sense. If a person has spent first 70 years of his life in sin and then it would be very hard for him to do enough good deeds later on in order to outweigh the bad deeds he had committed till the age of 70.

Hence Salvation through Work alone seems to be an extremist idea to me. However, I feel that Salvation through faith alone is equally an extremist idea and does not make sense either. If our salvation hinges on faith in the risen Christ, why do we have to do good deeds? What is their benefit to us ?

You might say that there are objective moral values and they need to be followed regardless of the fact that they do affect our salvation or not. Bible and Jesus also teach us to do good deeds. I agree with these assertions but the question still lingers for a person like me and many others (people who are primarily concerned with the bottom line result) that why do we have to take moral commandments/values so seriously when ultimately they are not going to count in our ‘scoring sheet’ in the hereafter. Of course there are objective moral values and Bible & Jesus Christ teach us to be good human beings. But Bible/Jesus Christ teach us lot of good things and no Christian can claim to fully adhere to these teachings. This is what evangelical Christianity teaches us that whatever good we do, we cannot merit God’s salvation which is an unmerited gift and comes with faith alone.

Suppose I am an evangelical Christian (by the way I am Muslim). How would you convince me not to commit adultery? There is a statement attributed to Jesus Christ in the Bible that “Whosoever sees a woman with lust has already committed adultery in his heart” and the way Christians have interpreted this statement is that here Jesus is setting the bar/standard which shows that no man can come up to the standard set by God. If this is true and it is the destiny of every man to commit adultery (I am assuming that no man is immune to lusting which I think is a fair assumption) then why not commit adultery which is sexual rather than adultery based on simple lusting? What’s so wrong with this approach?

If I am an evangelical Christian, my salvation would not depend on act of adultery but on my belief in risen Christ. I will still get salvation no matter how many acts of adultery I have committed. Yes, I would feel sorry after committing such an act and I would ask forgiveness from God and seek strength of Holy Spirit but I am a sinner after all comprising of weak flesh. I will again commit such an act and will ask forgiveness. This process may go on till my death !

Of course I do not endorse adultery and I know most Christians (including evangelical Christians) live a moral & upright life but there seems to be no logical reason why they should continue leading such a life given their evangelical beliefs. The common sense (which I know is not always right!) seems to indicate that Salvation should be dependent on combination of faith and good deeds and good deeds can’t be removed altogether from the criteria of salvation.

Appreciate your feedback on the above issue. Thanks

Muhammad
Pakistan

Now, here is my response:

Dear Muhammad,

I appreciate that you, as a Muslim, would thoughtfully engage a Christian on the topic of salvation.  And what an important topic it is!  As an opening comment, I think it would help you to understand the message of Christianity if you would read the New Testament from start to finish and take note as you’re going through, what it says about salvation (being saved).  The Christian Church is built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets with the Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20).  Therefore, it is important to listen not only to what Jesus said, but to what the apostles have to say as well on this subject.  As Biblical Christians, we believe that all of the Bible is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), so, no matter who the human author is, it is God speaking to us through him.

I would first like to point out that the Bible says that faith without works is “dead” and that a “dead faith” is not a saving faith (see James 2:14-26).  Likewise, the Bible tells us salvation is a free gift from God but then explains why works are important:  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10).  Jesus also stated on many occasions that an evidence that people truly love Him is that they obey His commandments.  When asked what the greatest commandment in the law was He said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37), and He said, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46) and “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). So I would say that based on these passages the answer is clear.  Works do not save us, but they are:

  1. Evidence that we are saved
  2. Evidence that we love God (God the Father, God the Son [Jesus Christ] and God the Holy Spirit)
  3. Work that God has prepared for us to do for Him in the world.

We are Christ’s hands and feet in the world and one of the means by which He accomplishes His will in the world.  Peter tells us “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). So, when we do good works, we are “administering God’s grace”!  What a privilege we have in doing that!

Now, specifically to answer your questions:

  1. If our salvation hinges on faith in the risen Christ, why do we have to do good deeds?  I would say, because if we truly love God, we will obey His commandments.
  2. Why do we have to take moral commandments/values so seriously when ultimately they are not going to count in our ‘scoring sheet’ in the hereafter?  Because God takes sin seriously – He hates sin.  If we truly love God, we will love what He loves and hate what He hates.
  3. Suppose I am an evangelical Christian (by the way I am Muslim). How would you convince me not to commit adultery? … then why not commit adultery which is sexual rather than adultery based on simple lusting? What’s so wrong with this approach?  See answer to #1 and #2!  Additionally, I want to point out that God has put these commandments in place not to “limit our fun”, because He knows the pain that we’ll experience if we sin, so he wants to spare us the pain.  To quote Pastor James MacDonald, “when God says don’t, He means don’t hurt yourself!” and “choose to sin, choose to suffer”.  So, these commandments, when followed, result in the best results for the human.  Just think of how much better our world would be if everyone truly lived by the 10 commandments!

A truly converted, regenerated Christ follower is a new creation.  He has been born again, the old things have passed away (2 Cor 5:17, John 3:3-7).  Now his attitude toward sin is different.  He no longer revels in it, but rather is grieved by any lingering fleshly desires he has.  The apostle John tells us that no one who is born of God will continue to sin (1 John 3:9).  This does not teach that we’ll be perfect in this life – it teaches that when are born again, we are given a new heart and a ‘sanctification process’ is begun by which we are daily being transformed into the image of Christ (2 Cor 3:18, Rom 8:29).  It teaches that we will not continue in a pattern of unrepentant sin if we are truly born again.

I hope this answers your question and I pray that you’ll find rest from the treadmill of good works, always wondering if it’ll be enough!

Blessings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,

Steve

Finally, here is the link where you can read William Lane Craig’s response:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/faith-and-works

Needless to say, I think it is a good exercise for all Christians to try to answer Muhammad’s questions (1 Peter 3:15)!

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