Muslims are one of the most-discussed, least-understood people groups in our contemporary world—yet they comprise about 2,854 of the globe’s nearly 7,000 unreached people groups.
Yet tragically, there is only one Christian missionary for every 405,000 Muslims on the planet.1
When it comes to engaging Muslims, many are driven by godly, biblical motives. Others can be driven by intellectual pride, cultural bias, or other personal agendas. Though there are countless God-glorifying motives to take the gospel to our Muslim friends, neighbors, colleagues, and community members, consider just these five that I have found most compelling in my own life.
1. The Fame of Jesus
If we have a passion for the fame of Jesus Christ, we should be deeply concerned that he is accurately represented in the belief and thought of the peoples of the earth.
Consider that there are about 1.5 billion people in the world who at least formally believe the following: (1) there was a man named Jesus (or Isa), (2) he was a prophet, (3) he was virgin-born, (4) he was “messiah” (al Massih), and (4) he had something called the “gospel” (a book called the Injil). Yet an orthodox Muslims denies the most critical points of the gospel: Jesus’ sin-atoning death and resurrection, deity, and lordship.
It saddens me that, 2,000 years after the Apostle Paul warned the Galatians not to depart from the biblical gospel “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you” (1:8), a billion-and-a-half-plus Muslims in effect believe in an alternative Jesus. Moreover, they believe the exact thing described in Paul happened—that an angel came from heaven preaching, among other things, a “gospel” different from what is preserved for us in the New Testament.
600 years after Jesus specifically said, “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27), the writer of the Qur’an attributed these words Jesus instead: “You [God] know what is within myself, and I do not know what is within yourself” (Surat 5:116).
If Paul could say regarding the unbelieving Jews that they had “a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2), how much more should we burn for those who only have at best a disfigured version of Jesus preserved in their religious text, obscuring the fame of the true, risen Lord.
2. The Truth of the Bible
If you have ever shared Christ with a Muslim, you have probably been told at some point that the Bible has been corrupted and that the Qur’an is the final, supreme revelation of God. But that’s actually not quite what the Qur’an teaches. Rather, the Qur’an claims compatibility with the Bible, while at the same time inaccurately describing the contents of Christian doctrine.
Surah 5 says that the Gospel (or Injil, the book which Muslims believe contains Jesus’ message revealed to him by Allah) contains “guidance and light” and confirms the message of the Torah (Surah 5:46). The author of the Qur’an was so confident in Islam’s compatibility with the Bible that, in Surah 10:94, Muhammad is encouraged to compare the new revelations with those of the people of the book before him (Surat 10:94).
But in spite of these claims of continuity in revelation, the author of the Qur’an reveals an ignorance of the text of Scripture.
Consider that in Surah 5, on the final day of judgment, Allah asks Jesus, “O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, ‘Take me and my mother as deities besides Allah?’” Jesus essentially replies, “Of course not” (Surah 5:116).
The problem for the Muslim is that Jesus never told his followers to worship Mary as a god, and no true Christian—neither before nor after the writing of the Qur’an—practices this.
A similar misapprehension of Christian thought is exhibited again in Surah 5:73, which states, “Certainly they disbelieve who say: Allah is the third of the three.” The author’s implicit assumption is that Christians believe in three gods, when in fact Christian orthodoxy has always insisted upon one monotheistic, triune God.
Further, in Surah 112, an essentially creedal formulation of absolute monotheism (tawhid), the Qur’an states that God “neither begets nor is born”—a statement clearly aimed against the teaching that Jesus is the Son of God. Yet the Qur’an elsewhere assumes that for God to beget a son would require him to have a consort (Surah 6:101)—an argument clearly ignorant of the true, spiritual nature of Christ’s sonship according to the New Testament.
These errors in reporting and addressing Christian belief should be fatal to the Islamic belief that the Qur’anic text is not only inspired by also incorruptible and uncreated, existing in eternity past with Allah. However, the consequence of the Qur’an’s failure to accurately summarize the Christian doctrines it claims to disprove is that Muslims knowledgeable in their scriptures have been trained only in straw-man arguments against the biblical gospel.
For Christians who love the Bible and whose hearts burn with the apostolic fervor of seeing Jesus displayed on every page (cf. Luke 24:32), this reality should stir holy desires to patiently walk our Muslim friends through the genuine witness of Old and New Testaments to Christ. If we love the Christ-centered consistency of Scripture, we should love Muslims by sharing it with them.
3. The Power of the Cross
I once heard of a Muslim debater who compared the idea of Jesus dying for his sins to the experience of standing idly by the shoreline when, suddenly, a man runs and jumps into the ocean and drowns himself needlessly. This debater, like many Muslims, saw the concept of Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement is a total non sequitur in a system of spiritual merit gained through personal religious fervor. After all, if God simply accepts anyone who does enough works, Jesus’ death is no noble sacrifice; it’s suicide.
How can a Christian respond to this misapprehension? “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, ESV). We wield an incredible power: the message of the self-sacrificing Christ who willingly endured death out of unconditional obedient to the Father and unconditional love for his elect people. The message of the cross, over which so many Muslims stumble, is also the only message sufficient to regenerate and save them—and it happens to be the same message every well-taught disciple of Jesus knows by heart.
While it can be tempting to debate the peripheral issues of Islam (Muhammad’s conquests, the ages of Muhammad’s wives, the history of Allah-worship in Near East, etc.), the proclamation of Christ crucified and risen for sinners is the only effectual word in the work of saving souls. If we are both zealous for and well-versed in the grammar of the cross, we are better prepared to win souls than the most well-equipped, culturally-competent missionary who has yet to learn the language of Calvary. Even if we understand nothing but “Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2), we have sufficient reason to pursue Muslims on mission.
4. The Love of God
In spite of the fears many Westerners have towards Islamic fundamentalism, we must remember that no people group is excluded from the Great Commission.
Just as the Lord told Paul “I have many in this city (Corinth) who are my people” (Acts 18:10), so also God has already chosen for himself a people from among the Muslims of the world to hear the gospel, believe, and be saved, in spite of the odds. And that same God, in love, commanded us to make disciples of the Muslim peoples.
Though some in the world stir violence against Muslims in the name of Christianity, we follow Christ who himself refused to call down ten legions of angels to rescue himself from those arresting him (Matthew 26:53). Why should our attitude be any different from that of our Lord? The Christian missionary seeking to engage Muslims must be completely and wholly driven by love.
5. The Glory of God
John Piper has famously commented that missions exists because worship doesn’t. I would venture to go a step further: oftentimes, resistance to missions exists because worship is spreading.
A Lebanese friend of mine, who ministers in the realm of internet evangelism and Bible distribution in the Arabic world, once shared with me his conviction that the current surge in jihadism is ultimately a counter-reaction to Christian revival—not vice-versa, as we commonly assume. He traced the seeds of the current revival to the first translations of the Bible into modern Arabic, arguing that the decades-long resurgence of terrorism—a throwback in many ways to early Islamic conquest—is ultimately a ploy to slow the advance of the gospel. Whereas many Westerners only became conscious of Islam on 9/11, he believes—as do I—that Jesus was on the ground first.
If we find it difficult to believe that the Spirit of God could move so powerfully in the spiritual darkness of the Middle East, we are forgetting both God’s commitment to his own glory (Psalm 46:10, Isaiah 2:11) and the depth of our own darkness before Christ shone in us (2 Corinthians 4:6).
God is glorified in pouring out his love on stony hearts—both ours and those of all the nations to which he sends us. He is honored in causing the gospel to take root and bear fruit, even in the hardest of ground. He is glorified in doing the impossible.
Jesus Christ continues to send laborers into the harvest fields of the Islamic world. May we faithfully answer that call, driven by zeal for the fame of Jesus, the truth of the Bible, the power of the cross, the love of God, and the glory of God.