Does Islam teach salvation by works?

by Matt Slick

guiltGenerally speaking, there are only two methods of salvation in all the religions of the world: grace and works. Christianity is a religion of salvation by grace alone: "For by grace through faith you have been saved, not of works..." (Eph. 2:8-9). All other systems rely totally or in part on the works of the believer to merit salvation. Mormons, for example, say that you are saved by grace through faith after all you can do. In Roman Catholicism, God's grace is infused into a believer that enables him to do good works by which he is judged for salvation. In Islam, forgiveness is based on a combination of Allah's grace and the Muslim's works. On the Day of Judgment, if a Muslim's good works outweigh his bad ones and if Allah so wills it, he may be forgiven of all his sins and then enter into Paradise. Therefore, Islam is a religion of salvation by works because it combines man's works with Allah's grace. Consider the following verses from the Qur'an.

  1. Surah 5:9, "To those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath Allah promised forgiveness and a great reward."
  2. Surah 42:26, "And He listens to those who believe and do deeds of righteousness, and gives them increase of His Bounty: but for the Unbelievers their is a terrible Penalty."
  3. Surah 8:29, "O ye who believe! If ye fear Allah, He will grant you a criterion (to judge between right and wrong), remove from you (all) evil (that may afflict) you, and forgive you: for Allah is the Lord of grace unbounded.

Of course, the Muslims will tell us the Qur'an teaches that Allah is gracious to them and that they do not earn their forgiveness. I acknowledge this. The Qur'an says, "...Allah is the Lord of grace unbounded," (Surah 8:29), and also, "...But Allah will choose for his special mercy whom he will - for Allah is lord of grace abounding," (Surah 2:105). But, as you can see from the quotes 1, 2, and 3 above, Allah's forgiveness is tied to the Muslim's works. Therefore, I ask the question, how is it really grace if it is also by works? Isn't grace the unmerited favor from God? It would seem the Islamic system of salvation is more a reward than grace.

For further confirmation that Allah's grace is dependent upon the deeds of faithful Muslims here are more quotes from the Qur'an:

  1. Surah 33:70-71, "O ye who believe! Fear Allah, and (always) say a word directed to the Right: 71 That He may make your conduct whole and sound and forgive you your sins: He that obeys Allah and His Apostle, has already attained the highest achievement."
  2. Surah 49:14, "The desert Arabs say, “We believe.” Say, “Ye have no faith; but ye (only)say, ‘We have submitted our wills to Allah,’ For not yet has Faith entered your hearts. But if ye obey Allah and His Apostle, He will not belittle aught of your deeds: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”

Notice how the Qur'an teaches forgiveness based upon Allah's grace and man's works. Can any Muslim be assured of his salvation before his God? No.1 Numerous Muslims have told me that they do not know if they will make it to Heaven because they do not know if their good deeds outweigh their bad ones. Unlike Christianity where we have assurance of salvation (John 6:47, 1 John 5:13), there is no assurance in Islam because it rests in part on the obedience and good works of Muslims. Unlike Christianity where salvation is an unearned, free gift from God (Rom. 4:3, Eph. 2:8-9), the Muslim can at best only hope he has performed enough good works to outweigh his bad ones and that Allah so wills to forgive him.

Another requirement for forgiveness for the Muslim is sincerity when repenting of sins.

  1. Surah 66:8, " O ye who believe! Turn to Allah with sincere repentance: In the hope that your Lord will remove from you your ills and admit you to Gardens beneath which Rivers flow - the Day that Allah will not permit to be humiliated the Prophet and those who believe with him. Their Light will run forward before them and by their right hands, while they say, “Our Lord! Perfect our Light for us, and grant us Forgiveness: for Thou hast power over all things.”
  2. Surah 4:17, "Allah accept the repentance of those who do evil in ignorance and repent soon afterwards; to them will Allah turn in mercy: For Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom."

I am not saying that we should not be sincere when repenting of our sins. But, the problem with sincerity is that it can easily become a form of pride. After all, if a person says he is truly sincere enough to be forgiven of his sins, then isn't he appealing to something within himself, a finite sinner, as part of the basis of receiving forgiveness from a holy and infinite God? Is that not presumptive and prideful to do? Furthermore, the issue of sincerity is a subjective thing. How do you know you are being sincere enough? Is it because the Muslim simply believes he is? It seems to me that at best, the Muslim can only hope he is sincere enough. But how can he really know for sure? Instead, the Bible says that the heart is desperately wicked and deceitful and cannot be trusted (Jer. 17:9).

In Christianity, we appeal to the work of Christ on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24) completely and totally and nothing in ourselves as a basis for forgiveness because no good thing dwells within us (Rom. 7:18), that is, apart from Christ. We sincerely believe in Christ, but we never claim that forgiveness is in any way merited or gained because of our sincerity or our works. Rather, our forgiveness is based on faith and trust in God in what He has done for us in Christ. Salvation in Christianity is God-centered. In Islam, forgiveness of sins is man-centered in that it is dependent upon man's sincerity and man's works in combination with Allah's forgiveness.

Both Christianity and Islam teach that we must have faith in God, but in Christianity this faith in God is enough to save us (Rom. 5:1, Eph. 2:8-9). In Islam, faith in God is not enough. In Islam, the Muslim's works will be weighed on the Day of Judgment, and it will then be decided who is saved and who is not--based upon whether the person was a Muslim, whether or not they were sincere in repentance and whether or not they performed enough good works to outweigh the bad ones.

Please consider the following verses from the Qur'an about how a Muslim's deeds are weighed in the balance on Judgment Day to see if he might be saved or not.

  1.  Surah 23:102-103, "Then those whose balance (of good deeds) is heavy - they will attain salvation:  103 But those whose balance is light, will be those who have lost their souls, in Hell will they abide."
  2. Surah 21:47, "We shall set up scales of justice for the Day of Judgment, so that not a soul will be dealt with unjustly in the least, and if there be (no more than) the weight of a mustard seed, We will bring it (to account): and enough are We to take account."
  3. Surah 18:105, "They are those who deny the Signs of their Lord and the fact of their having to meet Him (in the Hereafter): vain will be their works, nor shall We, on the Day of Judgment, give them any weight."

Is the Islamic system of salvation really enough to save Muslims? They will say that it is, but as a Christian, I cannot see how anyone in Islam can have security and honest expectation of obtaining Paradise. How can anyone who must be completely sincere in repentance and be required to perform more good works than bad ever hope to make it to Heaven?

The problem with being saved by God's grace and human works is that human works are never sufficient to please God. God is infinite and holy. How can we finite sinners ever hope to please God by our deeds?

Muslims need the Gospel

Instead of relying in any way on our own works, the Gospel of Jesus teaches us that we do not have to do that. The Gospel of Jesus is that He died for our sins and rose again from the dead (1 Cor. 15:1-4). He fulfilled all the Law, so we don't have to (Rom. 8:3-4). He took our place and received the punishment due our sins (2 Cor. 5:21). Because we are sinners and cannot please an infinitely Holy God on our own and because we can never fulfill the Law of God perfectly and because God's eyes are too pure to look upon evil (Hab. 1:13), salvation must be by total grace (Eph. 2:8). Salvation must be the work of God - not of man (Gal. 2:21).

1 John 5:13 says, "These things were written so you may know you have eternal life..." Can the Muslim say he knows he has eternal life? He cannot. I know I do as a Christian precisely because it is not of my works. So, why would a Muslim want me to give up my assurance and free gift of salvation found in Jesus for the Islamic system of works that, at best, only provides the possibility of salvation if I have been sincere enough and if I have done enough good works?


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  • 1. There are many Muslims who believe that if a Muslim dies in battle defending Allah, that he is guaranteed to go to heaven.