Sins can be transformed into good deeds

If you have made wrong decisions and messed up your life and now you are heavily in debt — and suddenly you are given an offer to start over again, all your debts are cleared and your credit is good — then you don’t make any more bad decisions.

This is what spiritually happens when someone accepts Islam.

All previous sins are forgiven by God and a believer starts a new life with no sins to his or her credit. As God says, “Tell the nonbelievers if they cease from disbelief their past will be forgiven to them” (Quran 8:38). Prophet Muhammad said, “Islam demolishes all the previous sins” (Book of Muslim).

But the actual answer to today’s question is a person’s past plays an important role when joining Islam. Let us get you directly to the Quran: “... they who repent and attain to faith and do righteous deeds: for it is they whose bad deeds God will transform into good ones — seeing that God is indeed much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace” (25:70).

Past sins and ungodly acts can be transformed into good deeds, provided one does good from now on. This is like being given money to make a fresh start, equal to the amount of the debt that you were under.   

— Muhammad Haq, Anniston Islamic Center

The past shouldn’t haunt a believer

When it comes to the broad, theological convictions of my Christian faith (the faith I share with most who would identify as Christian), a person’s past is just that — the past.

As the Apostle Paul puts it in Romans 6:6: “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed …”

As a Christian, I believe that the “old self” is dead, no more, being left behind. In many ways, I believe that is the very essence of the call of Jesus: to die to ourselves completely, to live each day less and less for ourselves, and to take on more and more of who Jesus is.

In that regard, the only role a believer’s past plays in joining the faith is that it serves as the chronological vehicle that brings them to the point of wanting, deciding, accepting the faith. In short, a person’s past cannot keep them from joining the faith, being a follower of Christ.

The other side of that coin, however, is that our pasts very much play a more personal role when it comes to joining the faith.

While the general theological consensus of orthodox Christianity may be that a person’s past cannot keep them from joining a church/faith, there are very real cultural, psychological and self-driven reasons a person’s past might prevent them from joining. For example, if a person believes his tattoos will be used as a visible cue for judgment, or if a person who has led a “wild” life prior to their arrival in a faith community is kept at arm’s length as a result.

Our pasts are very real parts of what make us who we, what shape our personalities, convictions and attraction towards one faith community or another.

So while I would say that a person’s past plays no role when joining the faith, I would only say that with the understanding that it shouldn’t play a role, though it most certainly can in the hearts, minds and memories of those around them and themselves.

— Chris Thomas, First Baptist Church of Williams, Jacksonville