International (MNN) — Any time someone places their faith and eternity in Jesus Christ’s hands is a moment worth celebrating. But is it possible to celebrate too soon?
George Houssney, founder and president of Horizons International, has had 50 years of ministry alongside Muslims. During that time, he has seen many Muslims convert to Christianity only to leave the faith between a year and three years later. It’s enough of a pattern that he felt the need to investigate.
After interviews, study, discussion, and reflection upon his own decades of experience, he came to a conclusion: “many Muslims become Christians religiously, but not spiritually.”
For many Muslim-to-Christian converts, Christianity isn’t as important as an alternative to Islam is. Many grow up in strict religious environments, partaking in regular rituals, worship, prayer, and study. Even if they become disillusioned with Islam itself, they may struggle to break free of their religious roots. Christianity allows them to continue being “religious”
Often, Houssney says, Christians are too excited to think twice. “They walk into a church, say ‘I want to become a Christian.’ The pastor comes and says, ‘Oh, that’s great. Let’s baptize you next week or next month.’ And those people have not understood the cross. They’ve not understood Christ and why he came to earth.”
Houssney once met a man who was going to be baptized the day after their meeting. After a lengthy conversation, he discovered that the man did not believe Jesus had died on the cross or been resurrected and still believed Mohammad was God’s prophet. When Houssney informed the man’s pastor, the pastor was shocked and postponed the baptism in favor of discipleship.
“We assume if they want to become Christians that they have understood what that means,” Houssney says. Instead, Christians need “to make sure they understand the cross, the redemptive work of Christ and what it does to them, giving up everything for Christ, surrendering their lives, not just adopting another religion.”
But why Christianity? Aren’t there other alternative religions Muslim converts could move to? That’s where the Gospel message comes in; Houssney says Christ’s mercy can be a double-edged sword if presented incorrectly.
“If they get exposed to an alternative, which is Christianity, which is not a religion of rules and laws and do’s and don’ts but a religion of grace, salvation by faith alone where there’s nothing you can do to earn your salvation, it gives them a lot of peace,” Houssney says. “But then there’s a job we have to do as explaining to them that grace does not mean license.”
Many people are attracted to grace because it frees them of strict religious responsibilities. Unfortunately, they often take that freedom too far. Sometimes, “they don’t do anything, including they no longer read the Bible or go to church or pray or anything.”
So what’s the answer? In a word, discipleship.
“If we make the Gospel too easy and too cheap, it won’t last long,” Houssney says. “Easy come, easy go. So, right from the start, they need to understand what they’re getting themselves into. You can’t trick them into the kingdom and then later on, ‘Hey, you know what, there’s a cost to this.’ They have to count the cost before they step into it.”
Converts need to understand that following Christ means taking on an eternal focus. It means saying “no” to worldliness and materialism. It means enduring persecution and pressure from the outside world.
“They need to understand its commitment to following Christ the rest of their lives, and you can only communicate that message by modeling it,” Houssney says. “When a Christian lives out the Christian faith, they demonstrate a prayer life. Trust in God in all circumstances, joy in the Lord, the fruits of the Spirit.”
Reaching Muslims should not be difficult, Houssney insists. Often, people think they need to have deep spiritual understanding of Islam and its relationship to Christianity, or that they need to know exactly which phrases and arguments will win someone over. In reality, it’s just about living like Christ and opening oneself to the Holy Spirit’s voice.
“That gives them an introduction to Christianity, then what they hear is what helps them get to the next step,” Houssney says.
“It’s easier than you think.”
Header photo courtesy of Unsplash.