Christo-centric Identifications and Practical Applications
The following is the final article in a seven-part series on Identity Development and Transformation. This series is geared for Muslims who are leaving Islam and embracing Jesus Christ as Lord, as well as those ministering to them.
Identity Development and Transformation in Christ Series:
- Muslim Identity – To be or not to be Muslim? [Available Oct 9, 2017]
- Flexibility of the term “Muslim” [Available Oct 16, 2017]
- Shahada and Muslim Identity [Available Oct 23, 2017]
- Transitional Identity [Available Oct 30, 2017]
- Christo-centric Identity [Available Nov 6, 2017]
- Christo-centric Identity for Former Muslims [Available Nov 13, 2017]
- Identity Applications [Available Nov 20, 2017]
The Christo-centric identifications
In this series we have traced the spiritual journey now being taken by millions of Muslims. This pilgrimage begins with Muslim identity and transitions to a new identity centered on Christ, in which Islam and Muhammad are left behind. For new believers, individual identity centers on Christ, and collective identity likewise finds its locus in the Body of Christ. The fact that so many Muslims are courageously making this journey is a testament to the prayers and outreach of many Christians!
Becoming Disciples of Christ
We are not talking about rocket science here. This journey is nothing less than discipleship—taking on the character of Christ. Those who have discipled people in any context will be well equipped to disciples Muslim background disciples of the Lord Jesus (MBDLJs).
Though Muslim are not different in nature than other people, tendencies exist within Islam that must be overcome by MBDLJs in an intentionally repentant way. The old Youth With a Mission axiom encourages: “Living in the Opposite Spirit.” These Christo-centric applications will likely make the difference in MBDLJs thriving spiritually, or floundering spiritually. I write these things as an MBDLJ myself, who has pastored other MBDLJs, and who observed the development of ministry to Muslims over several decades. This does not mean that all of Islam’s teachings regarding character are antithetical to those of the Bible. Many Muslims are pious, hospitable and trustworthy to an exemplary level.
Four Christo-centric identifications
These Christo-centric identifications are not an exhaustive list, but are particularly important in ministry to Muslims:
- Honoring God
- Hunger for the Word of God
Applying Christo-centric identifications
Our ministry to Muslims must move beyond the theoretical to practical applications. Each of the above-mentioned character qualities come from a study of the life of Jesus Christ.
Rev. Don McCurry astutely teaches that Islam is the religion of the carnal man, the natural man. 1 Despite the outward appearances of a theo-centric (God-centered) religion, Islam is man-centered and McCurry is exactly correct. Any system that teaches salvation by works will promote humanism and self-righteousness. Islam views itself haughtily. Muslims must swim against the current of their theology if they are to remain spiritually humble. According to the Qur’an, Allah had Muhammad recite after his final hajj: “This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion” (Sura 5:3). Muslims view Muhammad as al-Insan al-Kamal (“the perfect, or complete, man”). The Islamic Jesus, on the other hand, departed this world while young and could not provide the example of a husband, father, and governor, which Muhammad could.
Paul spoke of the emptying or kenosis of Christ as an example to all believers: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant” (Phil 2:5-7).
For MBDLJs, the humble attitude of Jesus counts for everything. They, like other converts to Christ, cannot rely on a riveting personal testimony, which can puff up the believer, but must walk humbly with Christ day by day. Those discipling MBDLJs should avoid putting them in situations where they will be prone to the rush of pride. Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Mt 23:12). James, the half-brother of Jesus, no doubt reflected on Jesus’ character when he states: “He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:6).
Islam promotes an ends-justify-the-means policy based on the example of Muhammad and the Hadith sayings: “Narrated Umm Kulthum bint Uqba: ‘That she heard Allah’s Apostle saying, “He who makes peace between the people by inventing good information or saying good things, is not a liar.”’” (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 49, Number 857). Though Muslims are taught that Muhammad’s prophetic utterances were infallible, a reading of the Sira (biography) of the prophet indicates his honesty ethic was far from watertight.
Muslims who leave Muhammad and Islam for the Lord Jesus Christ are presented with the stark difference. Jesus is Himself “the Truth” (Jn 14:6). Jesus was completely honest in all His dealings. Jesus, unlike Muhammad, did not rationalize lying. Jesus’ main complaint against the Pharisees was that lack of internal honesty known as hypocrisy, literally “play-acting.”
Dishonesty and gossip are perhaps the two sins which keep newer MBDLJ churches and fellowship groups from growing as they should. Without honesty it is impossible to build trust. Without trust, it is impossible for a church to grow into a spiritual family as it should. People will keep their distance from those they feel are dishonest.
Honesty at all times and at all costs is also of utmost importance among missionaries. We may be tempted to “arrange the facts” in such a way in which the overall picture is dishonest. Aaron arranged the facts in the matter of the Golden Calf. His shameful report to Moses was as follows: “I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them tear it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf” (Ex 32:24). Aaron conveniently left out the incriminating fact that he himself fashioned the Golden Calf with his own hand! (Ex 32:4). Extreme care must be taken to promote truthfulness in everything related to ministry to Muslims. Paul mentions as the first component of spiritual armor having one’s loins girded with truth (Eph 6:14).
3. Honoring God
The full thought here is: “Honoring God, even if it means embracing the shame of Christ.” Honor-shame teaching has come to the fore in ministry to Muslims, and that is fine. We should not think, however, that honoring God equates to receiving or retaining honor in the eyes of the unbelieving community. Of the many fears confronting Muslims, the fear of being considered a shame is the most fearsome of all. In many Muslim contexts, receiving Jesus Christ as Lord is the greatest honor one can bring to God and simultaneously the greatest shame one could bring upon oneself and one’s family. Neither the missionary not the convert decides how this will fully play out. The community largely decides it within its context. Praise God that in some contexts, like Iran, enough Muslims are leaving Islam for Christ that the social stigma of doing so has largely been broken down.
The honor-shame dynamic relates directly to humility and honesty. If proud MBDLJs seek to exalt themselves, their fellowships will be plagued by infighting and “strong-man” shenanigans. Jesus had a few things to say about honor-shame dynamics. Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees begins with this indictment, “They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues” (Mt 23:6). The Gentiles were not exempt from the Lord’s correction when He admonishes His disciples—who were always seeking to be the greatest amongst themselves: “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant” (Mk 10:42-43).
The author of Hebrews exhorts wavering Messianic Jews to embrace the disgraced Jesus. We would do well to encourage MBDLJs with the same words: “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come (Heb 13:11-14, emphasis added). In eternity, everything will be clear. The climate of fear that pervades Islam will have faded away. The once-despised Jesus, whom Isaiah, by the Holy Spirit described as “one from whom men hide their face,” (53:3) will be exalted as King of kings and Lord of lords.
- Hunger for the Word of God
In this case, the first may indeed be last and the last first, for everything stated above flows from the Bible. Many Muslims are familiar with the hunger associated with fasting during Ramadan. Sufis exhibit a hunger for the presence of God which appeals to many Muslims. Still other Muslims hunger for some elusive type of righteousness and piety.
My experience has been that MBDLJs who develop an immediate, intense and insatiable desire for the Bible, the Word of God, are those MBDLJs who flourish spiritually. Hussain Andaryas of Afghan Christian Media has always impressed me as such a person. He has not rested on the laurels of an amazing testimony, or that he was imprisoned and persecuted by fanatical Muslims. Hussain has pressed on to internalize the Bible and it now flows out of him naturally, notes or no notes.
Someone recently posted on an online forum if anyone knew of a good book to give a new disciple from Muslim background. I should hope this was in addition to the Bible, but one cannot be too sure these days! (We must keep in mind that Muslims are taught to recite the Qur’an as a meritorious act, whether or not they can understand the Arabic.) Jesus Christ is the Word of God. MBDLJs who want to draw closer to Jesus cannot hope to get there but by saturating themselves with the Bible.
God, by His grace, is leading increasing numbers of Muslims on a spiritual journey to Jesus. The Holy Spirit glorifies the Son (Jn 16:14). The Spirit today is endowing these new disciples to identify with the Lord Jesus in the characteristics of humility, honesty, honoring God, and hunger for the Word of God. This is not a work of will-power, but of the Spirit.
I encourage those ministering to this new and spiritually-open generation of Muslim inquirers and MBDLs. Patience and prayer are needed as these break through the confining bonds of Islam, the Shahadah confession, and Muslim identity, which is founded upon Muhammad. Even if the movement markets itself as a “Jesus Movement” or “Insider Movement,” if no break with Islam exists, there is no real identification with the real and risen Lord Jesus.
The new believers from Muslim background are finding their individual identity in Jesus, and their collective identity in the Body of Christ. This is a process of transformation in which the key questions related to spiritual identity converge upon Christ. To God be the glory.
- For lecture examples see: https://vimeo.com/album/4689971 ↩