John stood staring out the window at the blowing rain as Bryan made coffee. Light glinted off the racing drops like frightened cat’s eyes.
“So what brings you out in a storm like this, John?”
“My storm,” he said too abruptly.
“And what is that supposed to mean?”
“It’s something you said.”
This seemed melodramatic. He knew he appeared to be foolish, as if he were not strong enough to sort out his feelings, to make logical categories for such things. He felt childlike, vulnerable. But he had committed, like a parachutist stepping out of the plane’s belly.
“Look, I used to be an altar boy. I always thought things were all right. I used to try to live by what the church said, but I’ve really never had any sense of religion meaning anything much. I thought I might be as good as anyone else, so I never worried about it.”
“A few weeks back I heard you say something about death and a final location—that we live beyond it. You just mentioned it. But I’ve not been able to get those words out of my mind. I’ve been bothered with the thought that if there is even a remote possibility that you are right, then it is only reasonable to consider it. I just wanted to talk with you about it, that’s all.”
“You used to be one type of person; now you’re another. Maybe you know something. I mean…I feel awkward talking about this. Religion is a private thing, I know. Forgive the drama; but I’m unused to it.”
These last words stumbled out stupidly. But he had parachuted out now; he felt somewhat relieved. He had rehearsed a better beginning, but this would have to do.
“You’re serious, aren’t you, John?”
How Things Began
Bryan wasn’t sure of all John had stirring in his mind. It was true that he was different now and he was aware that the difference was apparent, but this was the first time anyone had made much of it to him face to face.
Bryan: So everybody knows about the changes, huh?
John: I guess everyone has been able to tell the difference—not that everyone likes it, mind you. Look, I thought you might be willing to talk about it. Don’t hesitate to tell me to leave if I’m being too personal.
Bryan: It’s OK. I’ll tell you what happened.
With this, Bryan looked carefully at John. He wanted to be sure that he wanted to know and could tolerate what he would likely have to say.
Money is the beginning place, John. You’re probably aware that money was first for most of my career. I was so completely wrapped up in getting things, and just the intrigue of the chase for it, that I never really considered Christianity at all. I don’t mean that I never entered a church, but that going to church never meant anything. I’m not sure now that I ever heard the truth anyway in those church services back then. Going to church was a function of respectability—kind of an unwritten policy for the management of the company. Had I continued the way I was going, though, I guess I would be a good candidate for a pretty hot hell.
There is that word again. John had never liked using it even as a curse word. But lately the word had more significance. He thought he could go there—if it really were there.
I don’t suppose that other people would have considered my lifestyle so unusual at the time. I guess you have always thought of me as fairly normal—at least before the changes. But now I feel very badly about it all. I was just totally focused on myself. I lived a type of double life—pretending to be kind, respectful, generous, etc.—but it was all just a means of getting what I wanted. That was the heart of it.
I had to lie sometimes to get things going my way. At times the lies grew. I’d feel fairly rotten if I were caught, but I would rationalize it all and keep right on being dishonest. It was standard practice in my work. I didn’t mind falsifying the paperwork at the office to make the company look better—and me look better.
There were also some relational problems I let myself get into. I won’t go into that. My wife and I have promised not to make the details public knowledge. At any rate, my marriage survived, but sometimes I wonder how. It was quite a mess around our place for a while. I felt some remorse but soon got over it.
And, oh yeah, I had the typical laughs at the Christians—just feeling superior because I wasn’t troubled with all the things that bothered them. They seemed so different from the rest of us. There were a few pious types at the office. We had a lot of fun with them. I’m honestly not sure all of them have the best views of Christianity to this day, but I don’t ride them like I used to. I wasn’t concerned then about anything but what made me look good—and the money. This sort of thing.
John: We’ve got some “born again” types in my section. Our office is a comedian’s paradise, and those guys really get it. To be honest with you, one of the reasons all of this has never appealed to me was that being a Christian seemed to invite such ridicule from everyone. I mean, they have even laughed at you, especially on the trips when you won’t go out like you used to. I’ve kind of secretively respected you, though. I mean, I laughed, but I wasn’t laughing inside.
Bryan: You know, I didn’t have much conscience about my life at that time. Compared to others I thought I was doing as well as the next guy. But now and then I would have a considerable bout with my thoughts—you know, in those reflective moments when you can’t help but think about how you are living life, what you are missing, and all that—well, during those times, I almost had to shake my head and force myself to forget the way I really was as a person.
John: Was this God working on you? I mean, did you think of it like that?
Bryan: Not really, at first. I was totally ignorant of that sort of thing. I didn’t know that by waking a person up to his sin, God was possibly beginning His work of converting him. And I have to admit that I loved my sins so much that I didn’t want to leave them. I just didn’t like what they produced as far as bad feelings or painful circumstances. I wouldn’t have known how to quit them anyway. Besides, all of this deep thinking was so troubling to me that I would rather have forgotten it all—like I said, I would shake my head and toss the thoughts out.
John: So could you—I mean, could you forget them?
Bryan: Yes, I could for a while at least. But then they seemed to come back worse than they had been.
John: I have some similar kinds of feelings sometimes. Not really sometimes—often! That is, I’ve been feeling like all of my actions are being seen by God—like He even understands my motives and doesn’t miss the slightest move I make.
Bryan: Of course, you’ve never let me know that before, but that is exactly what began to happen in my case.
John: What sort of things would get you started?
Bryan: A lot of things really. Somehow sickness or the death of a friend would bring it all back. My father’s cancer hit me pretty hard. I thought I would never be able to get over the question, “Where is Dad now?” You knew him. He didn’t care at all about God. I had a lot of nights of weighty thoughts about that. And then I would say, “What about me?”
John: Could you shove those thoughts out when you were ready?
Bryan: Not as well, because by then the thought of my own sins was beginning to get quite a good hold on my conscience. If I ever did think about going on like I always had been (even though I really wanted to live the old way), these kinds of thoughts would torment me twice as much.
John: So what did you do?
Bryan: I did what I thought was logical. I assumed that reforming my life would help ease it all. Seriously, I thought that if I didn’t do that, I would be in bad trouble with God.
John: So, did you reform?
Bryan: I did. I quit some of my sins and even stopped spending time with some of my friends. I also started some religious activities, such as praying, reading the Bible, trying to be sorry for sin, speaking more truthfully, attending a more serious-minded church, etc.
I really did make some apparent progress…for a while, but finally all those thoughts of dying and emptiness and guilt came back to me no matter how much I tried to reform.
Dying. John rose from the table with a confused look on his face. He had sent a barrage of questions Bryan’s way. What he had heard was getting to him. Bryan was describing his own dilemma. After pouring some coffee from the pot on the counter, he returned to his chair.
John: Why weren’t you feeling any different if you had genuinely reformed? I mean, reforming is just what I’m trying to do, Bryan. But that didn’t work for you?
Bryan: Fortunately, I was going to this new church where people actually read the Bible. I began to hear things like, “All our righteousness is like filthy rags”; “By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified”; “There is none righteous, no not one”; and things like that. The Bible seemed full of this sort of thing.
So I began to reason with myself like this: “If all my righteousness is like filthy rags, and if by the deeds of the law I cannot be justified, and if there is none righteous, not even me, then it is foolish to think of getting to heaven by any attempts at keeping laws.”
Then I thought about this: Suppose a man owed a debt of ten thousand dollars to a store, and then began to feel bad about running up such a bill. But then, after that, he paid cash for everything else he bought. Would paying cash for everything else in the future take care of the debt already incurred?
John: So how does that apply?
Bryan: Well, I saw that I had built up quite a debt myself in God’s ledgers. If I could have been perfect from that time on, it still wouldn’t erase all the sins I had done in the past. “How can I free myself from being damned for all the sins I’ve already committed?” This was my first question.
Bryan: Another thing was that, even with all of the reforming I was attempting to do, when I looked more closely I still saw new sin in my life everyday. This time I was seeing sin, consistently, right in with the best that I could do.
Bryan stood up in a rather deliberate way and walked over to the counter. Leaning against it, he studied John’s expression while he talked. He hoped he was not too “preachy.”
Do you know what I mean? Through all my reforming, I was in one sense kind of proud of having impressed God—at least as I saw it. I would never have said that; but it was true, because impressing God with my new lifestyle is exactly what I had hoped I had accomplished. I thought surely that I had pleased God with my faithfulness, etc. But I actually saw that I was committing enough sin mixed with any one of these acts of reformation to be guilty of hell, even if my former life had been perfect. So I saw that I had an original debt which was huge, and I also saw that I was continuing to sin every day, even when I tried to do right. This was all bad enough, but then I saw something even more disturbing.
The Ultimate Test
John was taken aback by Bryan’s description of his condition. What could be hopeless than facing a huge debt of sin with more sin being added to it daily? He asked…
John: What was that?
Bryan: It was this. Someone asked, “What is the greatest command of all time?” I immediately thought, “Surely I am keeping this one, if it is so basic, so fundamental a command.” But I was surprised at what I found. The answer given was from something Jesus said: “The greatest command is, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.” That troubled me. I felt that I loved God—at least I thought that I must love Him if I even wanted to be with Him in heaven—but those qualifying statements really bothered me. Did I love Him with all my heart? Impossible.
John: What are you saying?
Bryan: I mean that I began to see that I wasn’t even getting close to loving God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. Now, I knew, of course, that any sin against God was worthy of penalty. But I thought I could outweigh the penalty with good thoughts and actions. But then I found that not loving God was the most pervasive sin of all and that I committed it all the time. God is the highest authority. So here is the highest command from the highest authority, and I was breaking that command every day—every minute! I couldn’t get around that. Every time I broke a lesser command, I was breaking the greatest command!
John: I don’t quite understand that.
He did understand it. He was afraid-afraid of hearing something that would cost him or disappoint him, yet enjoying the flow of this conversation on the other hand. He wanted intensely to know. All the talk at work was so superficial, protected. This was provoking and important. Was he acting too eager? For the first time he was getting answers that he could understand. His posture changed indicating that he was not through. He didn’t want this to end.
Bryan: You see, I knew the teaching that Jesus gave when He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commands.” So, I was seeing that my so called “small sins” (and there are differing degrees of sins) were really coupled with the biggest one—that of not loving God. To sin in any way was not to love God with all my heart. Every sin was a double sin, joined to the worst sin. I felt really bad about all of that. I was very uncomfortable thinking about it. It seemed that all I did stemmed from an unloving heart, even when I tried to do good things. If the root was wrong, the fruit must have been wrong also.
So you see I was pretty well boxed in! I had years of sins before my reformation which were not forgiven, and I was even sinning while I was trying to reform. And the sin I was doing was the worst kind of sin since I was breaking the greatest command of the highest authority nonstop.
John: And so what did you do?
A light beamed through the room. A car was turning around in the neighbors drive. He glanced at the light but didn’t comment. Light was what he needed now. He repeated,
“What did you do?”
Bryan: Do! I couldn’t think of any thing to do. I had really been trying hard to show God that I was a good person, worthy of heaven. I had a lot of faith in myself, but all of that was draining out of me very quickly. I couldn’t get the words “damned” and “hell” out of my mind. I don’t mean that I was cursing out of frustration, but that I was beginning to get the picture that I was damned. I had offended a holy God—that’s really what sin is—and damned is what I was, and hell is where I was going! My reformation wasn’t working out at all. That was really frustrating. Those thoughts were like blisters on my hands—they were impossible to avoid.
It was at this point that I talked with my friend Ben. Haven’t I mentioned him to you? He told me that unless somehow I could obtain the righteousness of One who had never sinned (Ben was speaking of Christ, of course)—unless I could have His righteousness as a gift—then neither my so-called righteousness nor even the combined attempted righteousness of the whole world of people like myself could save me.
John: You have mentioned him before. He works for my illustrious competition! You know, I told you that I met him once at some meeting downtown. Nice enough guy. So he was talking to you at that time? Do you think he led you the right way?
Bryan: Well, if he had told me this earlier—that is, when I thought I was doing so well—I would have thought he was insane. But now that I saw myself more clearly, I thought that what he was saying was the only hope. In other words, if there was to be any way out, his idea seemed the only logical one. And, as I said, the only person fitting that description of having never sinned was Jesus Christ.
John: I’ve always known about Christ. He surely didn’t tell you anything you didn’t already know.
Bryan: He told me plenty, but he was going to have to repeat it later. I was still smarting under the blow of realizing my own sinfulness. I didn’t get all of what he was saying at first. It was like a foreign language. Now I know that he explained it all perfectly, but that my ears were still not yet opened by God to hear it all. The Bible says, you know, that spiritual things are not understood by those without Christ because they are to be spiritually discerned. I know now that God was saying that the life must be changed by God before all of this would make full sense.
But it was at this point that the whole direction of things got complicated and confusing because of another reason altogether.
John rose from his seat and came over to lean against the counter across from Bryan. His movement was rather animated.
John: What do you mean? What happened?
Bryan: Well, I went with a friend to a church to hear someone preach. The man preaching was sincere, I could tell. My friend was concerned about me because I was acting very distracted at work. He was one of those Christians who had formerly been in my jokes. I appreciated his concern. And so I went, feeling ready for some relief.
The pastor spoke and it was quite moving. Then he asked for people to come to the front of the auditorium if they needed to be converted. I felt strange about it, but I went. I was almost tearful in fact. And my friend went with me. The pastor talked with me there for a few moments; then someone else spoke with me and prayed with me. He told me that I could be converted if I prayed something he called “the sinner’s prayer” because God never lies and if He said you would be changed by coming to Him then you would.
I did pray a prayer with him, and he assured me that I was now a Christian. I now know that it was a kind of simple prayer often used in such situations. I don’t blame him for leading me that way—I don’t doubt there have been many people who have really come to Christ like that. But the whole thing really gave me some trouble. I was even baptized a few weeks after that. I mean, I know that baptism is right—I had seen it in the Bible—but I agreed to it without really understanding what had happened, or rather, what hadn’t happened.
John: Slow down a bit, if you can, and let me hear what you are trying to say. You sound as though this situation confused the whole thing considerably. I was baptized and confirmed and all of that also, when I was a child. But I don’t have any sense that anything is different about me because of that either.
Bryan: You’re right about confusing everything. I went through with all of that quite enthusiastically. I was hungry for some relief. The screws of all this conviction were being turned tighter and tighter. But later I found that nothing much had changed in me at all. I really had not yet been made a Christian.
Actually, a couple of verses of Scripture came to me in my reading which began to make me sit up and listen. I am so thankful that I saw them, or else I could still be living under a false profession of belief.
The first was in John 10:27 where Christ said: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” And the other had to do with the story of the soils where He said that the seed (that is, the Word of God) which falls on the rocky soil first springs up with joy and then withers away. I saw between these two verses how I had been confused. In fact, I would eventually find that I was just like that soil which could not nurture a surviving plant, that soil which produced what looked like a Christian, but was really not one at all.
John: So you are just saying that going through that experience didn’t make you any more a true Christian than all of the other things you had done previously. Is that right? I heard a preacher late at night on television say essentially the same thing. I mean that he said, “Just pray this prayer and you will be all right.” I have to admit that I did it just like you. But I’m not all right.
Bryan: This is where my friend Ben began to explain it all again. It began to make sense to me. I asked him first, though, to explain the Scriptures I was seeing in the Bible. His interpretation of John 10:27 was just like mine, only more insightful.
That verse says, again: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Earlier in the passage Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.” So He’s talking here about a relationship that goes both ways.
He showed me that the Bible teaches that the surest way of knowing if you are one of His, one of His sheep, is to look at the issue of knowing Him. He said that it was one thing just to know the history of Christ and even to identify with Christ like you would with anyone on the pages of a book. The real test was to know Him as a person. He showed me John 17:3 where Christ said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” In another part of the Bible, in Hebrews 8, God said of every true believer, “…all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.”
I asked him how I could know if I knew Him? He said that the principal issues brought out in the Bible are right in that passage: “My sheep hear my voice….and they follow me.” In other words, without communication, or the disclosing of Himself to us, there is no knowing at all. And without following, or obedience, there is no evidence of knowing either. The one is internal and the other external. If a person calls himself a follower, he said, but does not follow, then he is not a follower no matter how convinced he is that he is a Christian. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.
John: Did all of that make sense?
Bryan: I say it did! I knew upon closer examination that all I had experienced was an emotional relief but not actual relief. I really had not met Christ at the point when I prayed that prayer. I didn’t know him. I had not been called by God—that is the term the Bible often uses—to be “called.” The Bible says that the message of the cross is foolishness to some and a stumbling block to others, but to the called it is the power of God unto salvation. I had prayed a “sinner’s prayer,” but I didn’t know Him, nor did I have a heart yet to follow Him out of love. I didn’t have a changed heart. I hated hell, but I didn’t love God. Oh, I could do some of the religious things, but I didn’t have the new heart which longs to obey God passionately, which is the real sign of loving Him.
All my previous attempts to reform were only on the outside. My inner desires were really the same, even though I tried to force them to be religious. I was really too proud to do all the sins I wanted to do. My heart was a whole lot worse than my actions—if you know what I mean.
Bryan had much more to say that he had learned from his friend Ben. He continued.
Bryan: Ben also took me to Matthew 7:21-23, which reads,
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawless-ness!”
That explained a lot. Here are sincere people who use the name of Jesus and do some religious things, supernatural things. But Jesus had just said in the verse before this, “by their fruits you will know them.” And now He is saying that a mere profession of belief is not enough, nor are supernatural powers that can be counterfeited by Satan—a new heart must be evidenced by an obedient life.
No one will get to heaven except “he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” That is another way of emphasizing the idea that a new heart that follows God is the genuine evidence of a changed man.
I used to have an orange tree at my old house. It bore some sad looking oranges those first years, but it never bore lemons. And if a person calls himself a Christian and doesn’t bear the fruit of a Christian, he just isn’t a Christian, no matter what he says. A changed heart loves obedience. And though the believer is certainly capable of sin and really does sin, he sins out of weakness more than through the old rebellion, apathy, or the self-righteous assumption that God is impressed with him.
Christ was saying that only persons with that new heart will enter heaven. He doesn’t really know the others. He knows all about them, but He doesn’t know them in any intimate way—they are really law-breakers at heart. Nothing has changed in them, except that they now use religious language.
All of that realization will come as quite a surprise to these religious people in the future. I saw myself in all of that. I had been sincere, but I didn’t know Christ, and I was still a law-breaker at heart myself. But in saying this I don’t want you to misunderstand me—I still sin even as a true Christian, but there really is a difference. I wish I could just give you my story without that confusing part, but I’ve given it to you exactly as it happened. I had a false start, I guess.
John: How can anyone ever be good enough to get into heaven?
Bryan: No one can. Only Christ is righteous, and we must have His righteousness applied to our account. Do you remember what Ben told me at first? Unless I had the righteousness of someone else who had lived perfectly, all of my righteousness and all of the so-called righteousness of all the world wouldn’t get me out of my dilemma.
Let me show you something I wrote down from a sermon I heard a couple of years ago. It makes a great deal of sense, but it takes some explaining.
Bryan: It’s in the back of my Bible. It will take me a minute to find it.
While Bryan flipped through his Bible, John looked up at the ceiling, stretched, and then rubbed his eyes and face. The Bible had always been a revered book to him—revered and untouched. He found it intriguing that someone could really use it like a textbook.
Here it is. I wrote down that justification—I’ll explain that in a minute—that we are justified meritoriously by the righteousness of Christ (that is, the gift of Christ’s righteousness alone is worthy of, or merits, the acceptance of the Father); we are justified effectively by the death of Christ; we are justified instrumentally by the faith of the believer; and we are justified declaratively by the good works coming from the believer. Am I losing you?
John: Maybe, but I think it is just the point where most of my questions lie. Explain.
Bryan: It’s really easier to explain than that, but I like the way that was put. Let me bring it down to words we can understand. Let’s see. First let me try to explain this word justification. Someone said that to be justified is to be “just-as-if-I’d never sinned, and just-as-if-I’d kept the law.”
This will make it easier. Think of two ledgers.
He held up a paper from his Bible in each hand to illustrate the idea.
The first ledger is yours and it contains the record of your sin—all of your sins from the beginning throughout your whole life, past, present, and future. The other ledger is Christ’s. It contains His righteousness with not even a hint of sin. Well, when Christ died He completely erased the penalty we earned by taking on Himself the believer’s sins. Because of this, all the proper and perfectly just anger of the Father due each of us as sinners was borne by Christ. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death. Since Christ had no sin and He was really divine, He had no death to die for Himself. His life was of such a caliber that He could die for the believer as a substitute on the cross. That takes care of the sin account, the debt. But then, beyond that, He applied His own righteousness to the account of the believer.
Now you not only have your sins dealt with thoroughly, so as to appease the just wrath of God which you deserved; but, if you are a believer, you have the positive righteousness of Christ on your account as well. Now you can be received by God the Father through the righteousness of His Son. So, in simple terms, justification means that we, though we are certainly sinners (and we can’t deny that), are declared to be righteous before God on the basis of what Christ has done. Because of Christ I am “just-as-if-I’d never sinned” and “just-as-if-I’d kept the Law.” Justified.
John: This is getting a bit clearer. Show me the Bible passages on that.
Bryan quickly found the passage he was looking for in answer to John’s question.
Bryan: There are many passages, but let me just read one to you. It’s found in Romans three. The writer, Paul, has just described the awful state of man in the beginning of the chapter, what he really is apart from Christ. Then he starts to write about the insanity of thinking we can impress God with our own righteousness. This is called trying to live by the law in order to be saved. This is what I was doing when I said that I had reformed as an attempt to be accepted by God. Listen to it:
…By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed…even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe …for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation….
Paul piled up all the big words in one paragraph. But I think this will make a lot of sense if you just follow it through carefully. He’s really just talking about how we always fail in being righteous on our own by trying to earn salvation. Then he says there is a way to get that righteousness—through Christ who died as a propitiation (I’ll explain that word in a minute). Righteousness is given to us as a gift.
Nobody—no flesh, no human (this is what he means)—will be justified or declared to be right before God on the basis of his own merit no matter how much he has tried to live by the laws of God. This is so because these laws were given, at least in part, to show us just how sinful we are. They are the very thing that make us shut up our boasting about our own righteousness. The failure to live by these laws successfully drives us to seeking the righteousness of someone else. We need God’s righteousness. That’s our hope. Christ came as the righteous Son of God, and He lived righteously throughout His earthly life, even under great pressure to sin. He is the one who died for us who believe on Him.
Now look at that phrase for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That means that we are not able to be like God. His glory is His character and power. We are not like Him; we all fall short, no matter how hard we try. You remember what a time I had learning that lesson. Now it makes so much sense.
It says here that Christ is the propitiation, or some translations will say “atonement,” for our sins. (I sound like a theologian, don’t I? But you’ll find this is basic, once you get used to it.) That means that Christ bore the just wrath of a holy God for the sins that were on my account. He placated His wrath. He appeased God by taking my sins on Himself. He bore my guilt completely. And then He rose again to prove that His death was not the mere death of a martyr, but, just what He promised, a death in the place of sinners. Christ was dead for me, and Christ was raised to confirm it. The Bible says that God love me enough to send His Son to do this for me—even though I could never begin to deserve it!
John: I’m beginning to understand this better than I ever did before. It really is foolish to trust yourself to be good enough to be accepted by God on your own. Isn’t that what you’re saying?
Bryan: Exactly. You used the word “trust.” That’s the concept here. We are not to trust ourselves, but rather, we are to trust the only One Who ever could satisfy those just demand of the law—Christ. We say that we come to believe in Christ. That means that we are to trust in Christ as our only hope, our only sure hope of salvation. That belief is more than just a mental acceptance of the truths about Christ and His death and resurrection; it means to believe by resting our entire case or hopes of salvation on Him and what He accomplished for those who are His.
Of course, the Bible makes it plain that the faith we have has to be a “repenting faith”—that is, a faith that comes because you hate to go the direction you are going, a faith that has turned from our own control, our sin, our views, our pleasure, our self-righteousness, to Christ. That was exactly what I longed to do; so that part was already working in me fairly strongly. I long to get rid of that sin of mine, that sense of slavery to it. To repent means to have a deep change of mind or change of heart about my sin and my solutions, to the point of letting loose of those sins in my heart and trusting Christ. And Christ’s power in me as a true Christian helps me to do just that.
I couldn’t just come to Christ still wanting to live the old way. What would that mean? It would mean that I just wanted an insurance policy instead of a living Lord to be my Savior. He wouldn’t deal with me like that. Do you know what I mean? You see, as Ben said, we are either trusting ourselves or Christ, and this Christ we are trusting is the Lord Jesus Christ. We accept Him as He is. And that is where the true Christian life begins.
I thought and thought about all this, reading and praying about it all. But one thing made it difficult to come to Christ.
John: What was that?
John thought, one thing. He felt so close to this new relationship with Christ. He wouldn’t say it, but he wished he could just reach out empty hands and take this salvation, no matter what it cost. He almost wished he could leave now. He had heard enough. He was anxious to wrestle with it. There was tension inside, but also hope.
Bryan: It was my intense feeling that God wouldn’t have died for me, that He wouldn’t accept me now that I saw myself as the sinner I really was. You have to remember that I felt really low about myself. I guess I thought it would be somewhat of a presumption for Him to invest His life in me.
John: I think I know the feeling.
Bryan: But Ben made something clear to me once more. He told me that every promise in the Bible was true and could be believed. And he showed me where Christ invited me to come to Him and where He said that He was forgiving to all who did. I simply thought it through. Maybe I should say I thought about it until it came through. Christ satisfied God’s law, not I—not on your life, never! Everybody who ever came to Christ before me was a sinner, even though I felt I must have been the most hypocritical of them all. There are so many illustrations of such sinners coming to Christ I felt finally that I could be among them. It was at this point that I prayed very intently about this whole thing.
John: Did that help?
Bryan: Not at first. I prayed about this issue of repentance and faith several times. I was very serious about it. I didn’t want to go through what had happened earlier when I was mistaken about it all.
John: I don’t know, Bryan. All of this is rather long and involved with you. Yet you seem so sure and different from everyone else. Now you are praying again about the same thing you had originally prayed about at the church where you went forward. So what happened? Didn’t you think about quitting?
Bryan: I thought about that a hundred times, but I just couldn’t.
John: Why not?
Bryan: Because I couldn’t be convinced that what I now understood was false or foolish. I knew it was true. I felt like the disciples when Jesus asked them if they would go away with all the rest who were leaving Jesus. Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
So I didn’t go away. I rested all my hopes on Christ. I repented and trusted Him. And, as I have seen it, God has received me into His family because of Christ. Just as my father-in-law accepted me into his family because of his beloved daughter whom I married, God has accepted me into His eternal family because of His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ the Lord.
John: It’s obvious that your life is different. As you said, true Christians have hearts that love to obey God. I can see that in you. I don’t mean that everything you’ve said is obvious to me just yet. But so much is clearer now. I want to think about it all. I don’t think I could keep from thinking about it if I tried.
The rain was still coming down in sheets as John left the house for his car. Bryan went upstairs to join his wife who was trying to sleep. She was curious though. They talked about John’s questions and then prayed. They knew just what he was thinking.
Man is sinful. Romans 3:23; Galatians 3:22
Man deserves God’s just judgment. Hell is God’s ultimate expression of that judgment. Romans 1:18-19; Hebrews 9:27; Matthew 10:28
Only Christ (fully God—fully man) has satisfied the Father by His perfect life. The Father said of the Son, “In You I am well pleased.” By taking on our sins and dying on the cross, He fully appeased the Father’s wrath against sin as the righteous substitute for all who would believe on Him. By rising from the dead, He proved that His substitution for us was complete, and that He has ultimate power over sin and death. He is alive today in that same glorified body in heaven. 1 Peter 1:18-21; Romans 5:6-11; 1 Corinthians 15:1-19
There is therefore no other hope for you than Christ and the pardon for sin He is able to give as the only adequate sin-bearer. Only through union with Christ as your sin-bearer can you be declared righteous even though you are a sinner. To stand before God without Christ as your substitute is certain damnation. Colossians 1:13; 2 Timothy 1:12; Romans 4:1-8; John 3:36
This righteousness is applied when the guilty person repents and believes in Christ. Repentance is not only a rejection of bad works, but also of what the sinner thinks are his good works, which are self-righteous. All are sin. Belief or faith is more than just mental, but includes a trusting of the entire life on Christ on the basis of His work on the cross in the believer’s place. Acts 17:30; Luke 13:3; John 3:16-21; Romans 1:16; Romans 10:4
It is this repentant, trusting person who is justified in God’s sight and will spend eternity in heaven. The believer is indwelt by the Spirit of God in order to cause him to will and to act of God’s good pleasure. John 6:47; 1 Peter 1:3-5; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 2 Timothy 1:14; Philippians 2:12-13
The forgiven, justified believer in Christ gains assurance of his new life in Christ by:
- The Spirit’s communication to him—which is an inward confidence communicated to him by the Spirit who indwells him. John 10:27; Romans 8:16
- The actual change in direction, affection, and obedience in his life. Matthew 12:33; Matthew 13:23; 1 John 3:4-10
- The trustworthiness of God’s promises to him. John 6:47; John 10:27-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; Jude 24