Muslims worldwide generally consider Christians immoral, since America’s TV, film and music industries often seem bent on encouraging self-indulgence and loose living. Muslims find further support for their conclusion in unparalleled Western divorce rates. Most Muslims also consider Christians violent, due to the way Western nations have interfered in the affairs of other nations. This has involved covert assassinations carried out by Western operatives, leading to the installation of brutal dictators. It’s involved military invasions and numerous targeted drone strikes. The bloodshed and devastation resulting from the Western invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq alone are staggering. And such interference dates back to the age of European empires. Today much of the Middle East is in chaos, due in large part to Western interference.
Though Muslims explain what they count Christian morality’s failures in many different ways, few understand biblical teaching on morality. Some think the doctrine that God accepts sinners by grace licenses Christians to live carelessly. But biblically, God gives his grace only to sinners who truly want to become like Jesus. "To be a Christian," says Bishop Stephen Neill, "means to be like Jesus Christ." And Jesus flatly condemned both sexual immorality and violent aggression. Far from licensing careless living, God’s grace frees us to obey him out of gratitude, not just fear or duty.
Other Muslims blame Christians’ perceived moral failures on Christianity’s lack of a sharia-like law, addressing the whole of life. But Jesus didn’t give his community an extensive law because he knew that, on its own, it couldn’t possibly
But if Jesus’ moral standards seem unattainable, it’s because God wants Jesus’ moral character reproduced in us. This enables us to express his love for others practically, in every sphere of life: personal, domestic, business and political. We thus keep Jesus’ two great commandments—to love God supremely and our neighbor as ourselves—fully satisfying God’s moral requirements. On our own, we can’t do this. But if we let him, God’s Spirit will teach us how to apply the law of love in each new situation and will empower us to do so.
Rather than bury us under a mountain of laws, Jesus opened the way for us to know the same life-giving relationship with God that shaped his entire life. As we live in intimate dependence on God, he produces Jesus’ character in us—including joy, peace, patience, gentleness and self-control. That’s why Jesus emphasized the heart, as well as its sins. He knew that sins like pride, which we so easily excuse, are the very ones that turn us away from God.
Instead of founding a coercion-driven empire, Jesus inaugurated God’s rule in and through the lives of all who truly submit to him—a counter-cultural revolution that proceeds from the inside out. As ordinary members of his community allow his love and liberty to transform them, God’s life in them touches everything around them.