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Unparalleled_Covers_3He told me his name was Tokar. "Like the song," he said.

"The song?"

"Yeah, you know--I'm a midnight Tokar."

"Ohhh."

This was the first Steve Miller Band-quoting Muslim cab driver I'd ever had the privilege of sharing time with.

I was in a city up north for a pastors conference and was going to meet some friends after hours at a restaurant downtown. But when Tokar and I arrived, I spent another thirty minutes just sitting in the cab at the curb, talking with my new friend.

How the conversation got started, I don't remember, but it went pretty deep fairly quickly. By the time we'd arrived, he'd already told me he and his wife were waiting for their last child to leave home so they could get a divorce and that he was reading a lot of self-help books.

Tokar's Muslim beliefs were nominal. But he had the same working understanding of life as nearly every other human being in the world: "do more good than bad."

"Do you want to get divorced?" I asked him.

"No. My wife wants it. She's a very depressed person. I want to help her but she says she doesn't love me any more and we are better if we are separate. So as soon as our last child goes--pffft." He made a gesture with his hand. "She's gone."

"What does your religion say about this?"

"Well, you know what they would say. It isn't right."

"So what do you do?"

"What can I do?"

"Love her."

"What do you think I'm doing?"

"Okay, right. I'm sorry."

"Every day," he said, "I just get up, do my thing. Try to stay out of the way. Just try to get through the day."

"That sounds like a terrible way to live."

"Yes."

"What would your religion say about that?"

"About what?"

"Just trying to get through the day."

"I don't know. They'd say it's not good. I should look on the brighter side."

"Look on the brighter side?" That wasn't the kind of thing I would've expected from Islamic theology. It sounded more like Joel Osteen. The more we talked, the more I discovered Tokar's theology was closer to Osteen's than to Islam's. I said, "So when it's all said and done, what happens? When it's all over."

"When it's all over? You go stand before God."

"And you hope he will let you into heaven?"

"Right."

"And how do you know if he will?"

"It's like--"--and I swear, I am not making this up; this is the exact illustration he used, which might as well have been cribbed from someone's fake illustration about sharing the gospel with somebody--"it's like there's a big scale."

I totally knew where he was going with this.

He continued: "And on one side is all your good, and on the other side is all your bad."

"And whichever side is weightiest, that's how you know if you made it."

"Exactly."

I just sort of let it hang there a while. Then I asked him: "Do you think your good outweighs your bad?"

He let that hang there a while. Then he softly said, "No."

"I don't think mine does either."

We all have, essentially, three ways to live: by goodness, by badness, or by the gospel. Or, to put it another way: law, license, or Lord.

Some people prefer to live for the moment, to get as much pleasure in as they can, and not think about tomorrow, not think about what comes after they die, not think about God, except perhaps to shake their fist at him or his church. Some people deny God by their words, avowing a decided atheism. Some people simply deny God by their life, embracing the functional atheism of living however they please. This is the "bad" or "licentious" way to live, although certainly people who've sold out to it don't think it's bad at all!

Some people prefer to live very religiously, very morally, minding all their p's and q's and keeping a tidy behavioral ledger running. They are doing their best to be good and think good and say good. They serve and give and sacrifice. But they don't love Jesus. They might even go to church, or they might think themselves too good for church. They may be atheists or religious people, but they are trying to "earn their keep" in the world either way, trusting that karma will save them or maybe those great big heavenly scales will tilt their way when it's all said and done.

I think if we're all honest, we will recognize that isn't likely. A lifetime's worth of good behavior cannot make up for the eternal glory we need to live with God forever.

So there I was in that cab with my friend, the midnight Tokar. He had admitted his good deeds would not outweigh his bad deeds. I admitted the same. He was staring not just into a dreary life of "getting by," he was staring into the unknown eternity, and I had unwittingly exposed his aimlessness. And his hopelessness.

So what do we do? We have three ways we can live, but in the end, the first two are really the same. They are both just self-salvation projects, and neither of them works.

But then there's Jesus. He alone offers a rest from trying to be good enough. He alone conquers our fears of being too bad. And when we see him clearly--see what love he has for broken sinners, see what hope he offers for wayward travelers, see what rest he provides for weary hearts, see what joy he pours out on parched souls, see what glory he shares with frail human beings--there's only one choice to make. This is what I told Tokar.

In the end, Christianity stands alone, not because it's a "better religion," but because it speaks a better word. Christianity is unparalleled, because Jesus Christ is.

Tokar shrugged.

Please don't shrug.

(This is an excerpt from my new book Unparalleled: How Christianity’s Uniqueness Makes it Compelling)


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One thought on “The Gospel, The Law, and The Steve Miller Band-Quoting Muslim Cab Driver”

  1. Cindy says:

    Now you made me buy the book!

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Jared C. Wilson


Jared C. Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, director of The Pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church, and author of more than ten books, including Gospel Wakefulness, The Pastor’s Justification, and The Prodigal Church. You can follow him on Twitter.

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