The Dialogue on Christianity
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 Godat 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.