by Matt Slick
This chat occurred on a Muslim helpline where people could ask questions and receive answers from a qualified Muslim authority. This allowed me to take my time in answering him and forming my statements. Following is the chat.
Ihsan: Hello. Welcome to xxxxxxxx.com. How may I help you today?
Matt: Hi. How is someone forgiven of his sins in Islam?
Ihsan: Are you a born Muslim, a convert, or a non-Muslim?
Matt: I am a Christian.
Ihsan: Sins are forgiven by repenting to god and doing good deeds.
Ihsan: Why do you ask?
Matt: So repenting is a good deed, and there are other good deeds he must do....So then your forgiveness of sins depends on how good you are, right?
Ihsan: Yes because a person should follow up the bad deeds with good deeds.
Matt: Are you doing enough good deeds to be forgiven of your sins?
Ihsan: There is never enough. And we don't know, but we keep on trying. In the end we will not enter paradise because of our good deeds but by God's mercy.
Matt: If you are not doing enough to be forgiven of your sins, and since forgiveness of your sins depends upon you repenting (which is a good deed) and doing other good deeds (which you cannot do enough of), then it means that you are not forgiven.
Ihsan: How do you know? Do you know the unseen
Matt: I am going by what you said. You told me that you must repent and do good deeds. Then you can be forgiven. I asked you if you are doing enough good deeds but you said "there is never enough". If there is never enough good deeds that you can do, and yet forgiveness is dependent upon your good deeds, then you cannot be forgiven.
Ihsan: No it is not. If you do something bad to someone you ask for forgiveness. And then you try your best to make that person happy. By being good to them. God is above this, but from the part of us, we have to show god we are really sorry for what we did. By doing good deeds, God wipes out the bad deeds and rewards us.
Matt: Ok, then I have a question. To appeal to one's sincerity and good works in order to be forgiven by your God, is to appeal to the goodness of your own heart and your ability to do good things. How is this not prideful?
Ihsan: That is not prideful, since we do our good deeds sincerely for God not wanting any reward from anyone.
Matt: But isn’t an appeal to the sincerity of your own heart an appeal to the goodness of your own heart since “sincerity” is good? Therefore, is this not an appeal to your own value, your own ability, your own goodness, etc.? Please tell me how this is NOT being prideful by implying that God will forgive you based on how good you are? I do not know about you, but I know that I am not good enough to face my God. He is way too holy for me, and my heart is touched by sin. As for me, I would never dare to try and stand before his infinite holiness and appeal my forgiveness of sins against him, based on any good thing in me, since I know I’m not good enough. It seems to me that to do the opposite of that, too appeal to the goodness of your own heart, insincerity, and good works, is prideful.
Ihsan: Okay so your basing your forgiveness on what?
Matt: In the work and goodness of God, not me.
Ihsan: Okay so what is the difference between what I said and what your saying.
Matt: The difference between what you’re saying (forgiveness by the goodness of your own heart and deeds) and the Christian belief is that in Christianity we are not good enough, even in our sincere repentance, to please the infinite God (Isaiah 64:6). We cannot keep the law of God perfectly and God is holy and perfect (1 Peter 1:16). He requires holiness and perfection (Matthew 5:48). In Christianity, Jesus is God in flesh (John 1:1, 14) who never sinned (1 Peter 2:22). He fulfilled the law perfectly. So since he did everything perfectly with a perfectly sincere heart and perfectly good deeds, then what we do is trust in what HE did, not in what we do. We trust in what Jesus has done for us in taking our sins and suffering the punishment of the law which is death (Romans 6:23) by dying on the cross with those sins. Therefore, what we need to do is trust in his goodness, his sincerity, his death on the cross, and we can be forgiven of our sins. This way, we do not appeal to our pride or our ability, but in God’s ability and perfection.
Ihsan: Okay. Is there anything else I can help you with for now?
Matt: lol... I appreciate you taking the time to dialogue with me. But a final question is, why would you want me to give up the free gift of forgiveness of sins in my Lord Jesus, for forgiveness of sins in your religion that requires good works?
Ihsan: No problem. :) Here are 5 brief ebooks that I recommend you to start reading for getting a good understanding of Islam…
Of course, he couldn't answer the questions and I believe it's because his theology does not allow him to progress any further than the limitation of good works and his own effort necessitate.