Catholicism – A Family Tradition
I was raised in a large family, the fifth born of six children. Each week I attended Catholic Church with my mom and siblings. My mom was the overseer of our religious education and Catholic upbringing. Even on vacations, she would faithfully load us up into the station wagon and head for the nearest Catholic Church. She saw to it that each of her children was taught the Catholic faith. She also gave us a Bible in our younger years – though we seldom read it.
While my mom supervised and ensured our religious upbringing, Dad on the other hand was disinterested and seldom involved himself with the family’s religious affairs. Though he never protested our involvement with the Church, Dad himself never attended church when I was younger, except for weddings and funerals. I found out why later in life. Apparently, he was disillusioned with the Church after a couple of unpleasant incidents. He may have had other reasons, or perhaps they were just an excuse. Either way, Dad did not attend Mass regularly until the last few years of his life.
My father enjoyed bird watching, and when he was not working overtime on the weekends, he would often be out enjoying God’s creation. I recall him explaining to Mom that he felt closer to God in the great outdoors then in any church. This made sense to me – where better to find and communicate with the Creator then out in His creation. Later in life, after he was diagnosed with lung cancer, he told Mom that he needed to go to confession – he needed to repent. From then, until he died, he attended Mass regularly.
Ritual and Superstition
It was my mom who was the one who loyally and diligently made sure that we attended church each weekend and on Holy Days of Obligation. She also saw to it that each of her six children attended religious education through the twelfth grade. Mom would remind us to say grace at dinner – including a Hail Mary most nights. She also had a large picture of what was supposed to be Jesus in the living room with eyes that seemed to follow you around. I vividly remember coming home drunk one night and looking at that picture and saying – with great conviction – “What are you looking at?” before stumbling down the stairs.
My mom also had me carry a “Sacred Heart of Jesus” card in my wallet. I recall one night at the bar, as I was withdrawing money for the next beer, this card fell out. Embarrassed by the icon, I said to my friend, “I ought to chuck this.” To which he responded seriously, “Oh no, I would not do that, your mother is trying to watch out for you.” Even though my buddies and I never spoke much about God, we believed in His existence and the supernatural realm. Therefore, certain things were taboo – including throwing out a card that was meant to protect me.
My twelve years of religious education were, for the most part, quite boring. We memorized a number of prayers and became familiar with several stories in the Bible. We were also taught Catholic doctrines from the Catechism. And, of course, we were encouraged to live good lives, love God and our neighbor, and remain faithful Catholics. We were also exhorted to shun the moral depravity and social woes pervading our society.
A few early events in my Catholic upbringing stand out. I recall the time when some teenagers were outside our classroom throwing rocks at the window. After a few hits, our religious education teacher stopped and began to pray out loud. She prayed, “Evil spirits be gone! Lord, remove the evil spirits!” We all chuckled. She was a nice lady I thought, but totally out of touch with reality.
During my senior year, religious education was held at a private home. We would talk about many life issues. One evening, we even meditated with the lights turned down low. Yet, not once, did we ever read from the Bible. Though I received a New Testament for my Confirmation, I do not recall ever reading from any Bible except a Children’s Picture Bible when I was young. The only time I heard God’s Word was during the weekly readings at Mass and during religious education when the teacher would relate one of the Bible stories.
My weekend attendance at Mass was rather non-eventful. Usually I arrived late, would leave right after Communion, and heard little of what was said. I do remember when a group of women testified of their experiences at Fatima. Supposedly, an apparition of Mary had appeared there in the past, and miracles were still being claimed. The women pulled out their rosary beads and announced that they had turned into gold while on pilgrimage. Though I was young, this intrigued me – miracles, reported healings, signs, and wonders were to me evidence that there was a supernatural realm.
Other memories included a priest who could say the Mass faster than any other. If we arrived a few minutes late, which we often did, he would have us blessed and out the door in thirty minutes. Then there were the intimidating priests who spoke of hellfire and brimstone, mortal sins that meant sure damnation, and the Devil. Of course, there also were priests who spoke about God’s love and how we should be good Christians and follow the commandments to insure our entrance into heaven.
I particularly remember when one priest expounded on the Bible verse which says, “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”1 I thought these words by Jesus Himself were quite extreme. Were not my eyes priceless – why would I pluck them out? But down deep, I knew my eyes had caused me to sin. Furthermore, there was something far more valuable then my “priceless” eye, which was my soul – although at the time I did not really understand this inner conviction.
Though I remember certain sermons, several Scripture passages, and a few specific events, to be honest, most of the time I was oblivious to what was being said. Attending Mass was simply the duty of every good Catholic. Though I knew it was important to be a good person, most of the church ritual seemed rather pointless. I jokingly referred to church as Catholic calisthenics – kneel, sit, stand – kneel, sit, stand. This was my way of expressing a deep-seated belief that much of this “church thing” was ultimately a futile endeavor. The truth is, though I knew the prayers and the routine, my heart and mind were usually adrift in other thoughts.
Questioning My Religion
There were moments of questioning. Once, I asked my mom what the difference was between Catholics and Protestants. She told me that some Protestants did not want to follow all the rules. Some wanted the “liberty” to divorce, or violate other rules, and so they started their own denomination. This satisfied me at the time because my Catholic neighbors appeared conservative, while my Protestant neighbors appeared more liberal. As Jesus said, “Ye shall know them by their fruits,”2 and from my point of view, the Catholic “fruit” was superior.
I remember asking a couple priests and religious education teachers questions about evolution, where the races came from, the afterlife, and how we knew for sure that what we believed is true. Their answers seemed weak and unconvincing. I thought, “Perhaps no one really knows the answers to life’s most fundamental questions.”
During supper one night, I recall Dad talking with Mom about a couple of new co-workers who claimed to be born-again Christians. He explained to Mom, somewhat perplexed, that they were rather lazy and unfaithful at their jobs. He was not sarcastic – he truly appeared puzzled. At that time, I had no idea what a born-again Christian was. However, I could tell from my dad’s reaction that they must be people who claimed to be good.
Later, when I was a little older, perhaps sixteen, two of my female neighbors were said to have become born-again Christians. But they also were rumored to have smoked pot and to have loose morals. So, at the ripe age of sixteen I determined, with my very limited knowledge, that they were part of a cult. And certainly, I thought, no cult offered answers to life’s most important questions.
As I passed through my upper teen years and into my early twenties, pessimism began to set in. My dad had died and the healing Mass had no lasting effect. Other hopes and dreams seemed unattainable; those that were did not satisfy for long. I remember that even during my dad’s battle with lung cancer, the sense of God’s presence remained far away. In addition, the sufferings of this world became more personal and chronic. Furthermore, religion did not seem to hold the answer. I knew there was a God, but He was distant. There seemed to be a gulf that separated me from Him.
The Voice of Conscience
During this time, the only “spiritual” voice that I did perceive was my conscience – that inner voice that tells a person what is right and what is wrong. Yet, even that inner voice was growing ever fainter. Sins that paralyzed me with guilt when I was younger were committed without hesitation by the time I was twenty. Small sins were completely ignored, and justified, while larger ones were easier to commit with each new transgression.
I convinced myself that I could sin in “small” ways, while remaining a “good person.” I hoped, at least in this way, I would eventually end up in heaven after a stay in Purgatory. These so-called venial sins included drinking, gossip, lust, and pride. But driving drunk, stealing, and premarital sex were more serious infractions in my mind. These I tried to avoid. Furthermore, I determined to work hard, take care of the environment, help my family, and do good works whenever convenient in order to offset my lesser sins.
At this time, I was unaware that Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”3 Nor did I know that drunkenness, or any other “venial” sin would damn me: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”4 I never saw myself as a fornicator or a drunkard until some years later.
Guilt Followed by Penance
This leads me to another routine that I practiced. Whenever I would get overly guilt ridden, I would go to confession. I then would perform the required penance, which usually included saying a couple Our Father’s, several Hail Mary’s, a Glory Be, and an Act of Contrition, and in some cases, a good work. After penance, I would have a false sense of feeling cleansed. There was a sense of peace, and for a short while I convinced myself that my conscience was clean. Ironically, I would usually end up at the bar later that same evening with one stipulation: I would only have a couple beers.
On one of those occasions, I recall a friend at the bar asking me why I was only having a couple drinks that night. I explained to him that I had just gone to confession. To which he asked, “Are you not getting drunk any more?” I replied, “Of course, I’ll get drunk again in a few weeks, this confession bit only lasts for awhile.”
My hope was that when I died my death would occur right after going to confession. This may sound foolish, and I never really thought it through at the time, but I hoped that the Lord might receive me if I had recently confessed my sins. If I could refrain from so-called mortal sin—between when I went to confession and when I died—then I felt my chances were good. And certainly, I thought, confession would shorten my stay in purgatory.
Success and Pessimism
By 1991, at the age of twenty-six, I was a successful engineer with my own house, a nice new car I owned outright, and no debt (not even school loans). I was a driven worker and was able to pay my way through college to earn a bachelors degree in electrical engineering. Once I graduated, I ascended the corporate ladder rapidly.
It was now my fourth year in industry, the sky was the limit, income was good, company awards were rolling in, and offers were regularly presented. Despite this outward success, my cynical outlook on life only grew, and troubles seemed to multiply. My health was failing. In addition, my father’s death five years earlier caused family difficulties and pain.
As things went downhill, though from the outside few noticed, I began to think more about the meaning of life and the big picture. Even if I had perfect health and everything else I could dream of – what then? Financial success did not gratify me. Growing fame at work left me empty. Various lusts were never satisfied. Life seemed so shallow and pointless. And worse, I would eventually die and none of it would matter.
As I would soon find out, my assessment of life was identical to what King Solomon had concluded 3000 years earlier: “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit… Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”5
Lust and Frustration
During this season of outward success (but inward despair), my boss hired a young attractive secretary. I was single, and he asked if I approved of the new hire. I did and was delighted! It seemed my boss wanted to retain me so much so that he hired a pretty girl to work near me. What I never would have guessed is how this event would soon change my life forever.
There was a mutual attraction. Though we flirted, we did not date. The reason—she was a new Christian. I assured her that I was a Christian, too. But she would just say, “Jim, you need Jesus.” When I finally realized that dating was out of the question, I turned cold on her. I even informed her that she was a hypocrite. She dressed provocatively, and even worse, she never recycled! I told her that both were terribly wrong. Shortly after my accusations, to my surprise, I noticed that this brand new Christian began dressing more conservatively. She even began recycling!
Yet, this did not satisfy me. In fact, her very presence was a source of frustration. I remember on one occasion that a few of us were working late, including her. I could not understand why I detested this girl, and yet I was drawn to her. On this particular night, the copier jammed. I proceeded to air my frustration with a string of curse words. Yet, this girl was silent; she did not even look up. I was fuming. How smug and self-righteous she was. I knew what she was thinking. How dare she judge me! When I returned to my desk, I told another co-worker that she was a great big hypocrite. He replied, “Jim, she didn’t say a word to you, why does she bother you so much?”
You Take the Bible Seriously?
Some time after this episode, I began to question this girl about the Bible and Christianity. I asked her many questions. Questions like: If science has proven evolution is true, how can you take the Bible seriously? Do you really believe in all those fanciful tales when scholars have disproved so much of the Bible? What makes the Bible different from the other holy books? How do you know that Jesus rose from the dead? Maybe He was a fraud.
To most of my questions she simply stated, “Jim, I know the Bible is true. You should read it for yourself.” Concerning evolution, she laughed and confidently asked, “Jim, do you really believe that nonsense?” She also alluded to biblical prophecies that were fulfilled. But most of the time, she would simply smile and say again that I needed Jesus.
During this time, my health continued its downward spiral. I had always dealt with health issues, but now the chronic dizziness, nausea, sweats, and gastrointestinal problems made my frequent work travel extremely difficult. I even wrote in my medical records that 1992 was the worst year of my life. Again, in 1993, I wrote that “this year” is worse then the worst year of my life. I was seeking every medical specialist I could. It seemed that every week I subjected myself to some new unpleasant test or evaluation – always seeking a cure.
I’m a Hypocrite!
I was also burdened with much soul-searching throughout this time. At one point during those months, I remember asking God something like this: “If the Bible is true and you want to save me, why did you not send somebody who knew the facts—the evidence? Am I not worth sending the best? Why do you not send someone who knows how to answer the difficult questions?” Ironically, though I was blind to it at the time, God had already sent His best to me—His only begotten Son—the Word of God! And this girl was the instrument that God chose to point me to Him. Down deep, I knew she had a relationship with the Living God, but I wanted answers.
Finally, I realized my hypocrisy. I had been playing religion to quiet my guilty conscience, but I was unwilling to read the Bible to see if the path that I was on was true. What if I were wrong? What if I were headed towards hell? If the Bible was truly God’s Word, would I have to give up my lifestyle? Though I was descending into more and more misery, there were certain sins that I did not want to repent of – I liked them. No, I loved them. But, were they worth spending eternity in hell? At last, I determined to read the Bible for myself.
Flight from Hell to Heaven
It was early 1994 when I began reading the Bible. During this time, a new warehouseman was hired. Incredibly, he was a Bible-believing Christian! I realized God had now answered my earlier prayer, but it was not until I began to search for Him. Actually, He was drawing me towards Him. This warehouseman was able to help me find answers to many of my questions. In addition, my Christian co-workers suggested that I listen to a local Christian radio station, which I also began doing.
As I read the Bible, the Holy Spirit’s conviction intensified, particularly concerning the sin of lust. I knew that God could see my thought life, and though I struggled to stop this sin, I kept returning to it. During this time I was scheduled to go on a business trip to California. Because of my deteriorating health, I dreaded these trips. At one point on this business trip, I was in my hotel room with a Bible in one hand and a remote control in the other. The battle to turn from my sin was so intense that I would shake. One minute I would be reading the Bible, the next minute I would be flipping on a pay-per-view movie.
My flight home was an even worse nightmare. I was sick the night before, missed my early flight, and was in a nauseous sweat for most of the long trip home. When I finally arrived back in New York, I was more determined then ever to study the entire Bible to determine if it was truly God’s Word.
I do not know the exact day the Lord saved me, but it was during the first part of 1994 that I truly began calling on the Lord. And as I would read later: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”6 While I had cried out to the Lord to help me on previous occasions, it was during this period that I truly repented and asked Jesus Christ to save me.
Repentance is different than penance. As a Catholic, I would go to Confession and confess my sins to a priest. The prescribed penance, involving certain prayers and good works, was meant to earn God’s forgiveness. In contrast, biblical repentance literally means to change your mind—to turn from your way and surrender to God’s way. It is not only confessing our sins to God, but also turning from them and trusting in the Savior. Repentance is not a bandage to cover sins, nor a bribe to pay for sins, nor a method to appease God. Instead, biblical repentance means acknowledging that my way is wrong and leading to destruction, and then turning to the Lord alone to save me and change me.
Many Infallible Proofs
In the months that followed, I began to discover that the Bible was abounding with internal and external evidence. For example, Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 contained graphic, detailed descriptions of the crucifixion. The fact that they were penned hundreds of years before the Messiah’s advent confirmed God Himself inspired these words. I soon learned that Jesus fulfilled dozens of prophecies written centuries before His birth. These included His precise lineage, birthplace, ministry, the manner of His death, the purpose of His death, and His subsequent resurrection – all prophesied centuries before He was born. Fulfilled prophecy, as evidence of the Bible’s divine inspiration, is something that I never recalled hearing while attending the Catholic Church.
As I studied the Scriptures, my confidence in God’s Word increased. “Last Day’s” Bible prophecies coming into focus in our current generation, offered additional proof. Furthermore, scientific insights foreseen in the Bible presented powerful evidence. For example, 4,000 years ago Job wrote that the earth free floats in space.7 In contrast, other “holy books” claimed the earth sat on the back of an animal. Moses wrote that blood is the source of life and health.8 Yet physicians practiced bloodletting as a cure for disease until recent years. The apostle Paul wrote that each star is unique at a time when the stars were believed to be the same.9 Over the years I’ve also read the Book of Mormon, the Koran (Qu’ran) and an array of other religious writings. What a difference! For example, the Book of Mormon contains no specific fulfilled prophecies and was not even “revealed” until the 19th century. Furthermore, the Book of Mormon declares that Native Americans descended from Jews – which has been disproved by DNA research, archeology, linguistics, and a vast array of other evidence.
Specific fulfilled prophecies are also absent in the Koran and Hadith. In addition, the Koran and Hadith include numerous documented historical errors, and contain many myths. The Eastern writings also contradict true science, have no specific fulfilled prophecies, and contain many myths.
As a Catholic, I had never known the many evidences confirming the Word of God. In fact, I was told that the Bible was accurate only in regards to faith and morals. In other words, it was God-inspired when it came to spiritually related things, but we should not necessarily take all the stories as literal history.
Sadly, the Catholic Church defends their dogmas more than the inspired Word of God. Today, Catholic apologetic ministries use Scriptures in an attempt to defend their Church dogmas, instead of defending and proclaiming the inerrancy of God’s Word. However, God commands His people to proclaim His Word because: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God…”10 And Jesus warned us not to replace the Word of God with man’s traditions.11
Insights into Life’s Ultimate Questions
As I grew in the Lord, all the prophetic and scientific evidence was important to me, but it was the spiritual insights that were the most vital. For example, answers to why we were created, where our conscience came from, and what eternity holds, were all answered in the pages of Scripture.
In the beginning God created everything very good. We find that Adam and Eve had a loving relationship with God.12 There was no ritual or religion. This is how God intended it to be. However, after man’s rebellion, religion emerged. Religion is man’s efforts to reach or appease God by his own effort or merit. In contrast, the Creator offers freely the gift of eternal life and a restored fellowship with Him for all those who will place their trust in Jesus Christ. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”13
In the beginning, God warned that the penalty for any sin was death—physical and spiritual.14 But the good news is that Jesus paid our full penalty on the cross. When a person repents of their sins and believes on Jesus, he is freely reconciled back to God based on faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross.
God desires to reconcile us back to Himself—as it was in the beginning. Therefore our very purpose in being created is to know and serve God eternally. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”15
Besides explaining why we were created, the Bible is also the only book that explains where our conscience came from. Scripture tells us that God has given every man a conscience. Con means with, and science means knowledge. Therefore, we each have knowledge of God’s moral law written on our heart. This separates mankind from the animals and makes us moral beings, created in God’s image. God’s Word explains that the moral law is written on every man’s heart, bearing witness with each person’s conscience that there is a Lawgiver and that we need a Savior.16 Jesus Christ, as Creator and Lawgiver, has revealed this light to every man.17
And the Bible answers many other fundamental questions. For instance, God’s Word explains the origin of sin, suffering, and death. When mankind rebelled, suffering and death resulted. No other book offers a plausible explanation. And through Jesus’ substitutionary death, restoration with God and a loving, eternal relationship with Him is offered freely to all who will receive Christ!18
Asking My Priest
In those first months of reading the Bible, I still attended the Catholic Church. However, it soon became apparent that I had to make a choice. This was not easy. But I knew I needed to choose God over convenience. When I explained that I was leaving the Catholic Church, my mom asked me to at least meet with the priest before leaving. So I decided to compile a list of biblical questions and then call him for an appointment.
When we met I asked him several questions: “Why does the Church teach us to pray to Mary and the saints? Nowhere in the Bible do we find a believer praying to anyone accept God.” The priest had no answer. “Where do we find purgatory in the Bible?” He agreed that purgatory is not specifically taught in the Bible. “The Bible teaches that we are saved by grace through faith in what Jesus did. Why does the Church teach salvation through the sacraments and good works?” The priest said that works were important, but seemed confused. Ultimately, he said we must each find our own way. I asked, “But if the Bible is true, and we can prove it, why are you in a system that contradicts it?” He only repeated that we each needed to find are own way.
Over the years I’ve spoken with several Catholic prelates and was surprised to find that most do not know the Scriptures very well. Those who do, including several popular Catholic apologists, choose to twist the Scriptures to support Catholic doctrines. Sadly, the apostle Peter warned that there would be some who would twist the Scriptures to their own destruction.19 However, for all those who search God’s Word without preconceived bias, they will find the simple and glorious gospel.
Seeking to Establish Their Own Righteousness
God’s Word explains, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags….”20 No righteous act on our part could pay the penalty for previous sins committed. The penalty for any sin is death,21 and the penalty has to be paid if God is a just judge. The Bible is clear. We each have broken His Ten Commandments and the penalty has to be paid. Using His name in vain even once is blasphemy.22 Having hatred or calling someone Raca (a “fool”—said with hateful malice) is murder in God’s eyes.23 One lie makes us liars under the evil one’s sway.24 And as James explains, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”25
The good news though is that through the cross, God’s justice was met and His mercy extended. As a Catholic, I was taught that when Jesus died for us, He opened the gates of heaven and made access “possible.” Now it was up to me to keep the commandments, receive the sacraments, and earn the right to pass through those gates. I was also taught that even if I did live a “good” life, I would most likely only enter heaven after a purifying season in purgatory. Purgatory was where my lingering “minor” sins would be expiated (atoned or paid for).
As a Catholic, I was familiar with several tenuous hopes. Catholics, who remained close to the “Saints,” and especially the “Blessed Mother,” would have an insider as their advocate when Jesus judged them. Catholics, who refrained from mortal sins and remained in good standing with the Church, could minimize their time spent in purgatory. As spiritual descendents of the apostle Peter, Catholics could maintain their valuable heritage by obeying the Church and the pope. There were other claimed benefits to being Catholic, but every one revolved around my own merit or standing within the Church.
How this differed from so many verses I had now read: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”26 “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace…”27 “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us….”28 “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish….”29
Salvation is a gift from God based on the merits of Christ alone. Jesus’ own words confirm this truth: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”30 When some Jews asked Jesus how to earn God’s favor through works, Jesus replied, “…This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.”31
I could continue, but suffice to say, I never understood grace until I searched the Scriptures. Every significant doctrine that I even remotely understood in Catholicism undermined the complete sufficiency of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. Said simply, I thought Jesus only opened the gates of heaven, but I needed to deserve (earn) entrance in order to pass through. Yet, Jesus’ cry from the cross, “It is finished,”32 meaning “paid in full,” revealed that there was nothing I, or anyone else, could add to His redemptive work.
Now as I searched the Word of God, I found that the Catholic Church was guilty of the same offense as the Jewish religious leaders of Christ’s day. “For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”33
The Simplicity of the Gospel
Salvation by works is religion, but God offers a restored relationship through Christ based on faith alone. Though our pride drives us to earn eternal life, only when we humbly submit to our Creator on His terms can we be saved and reconciled back to God.
The Bible’s clear and simple message was so different from what the Catholic “religion” had taught me. God’s Word commands everyone to repent and trust in Jesus Christ, not in a religion.34 The Bible admonishes all to follow Jesus, not a church.35 The Scriptures proclaim Christ and His Word, never a denomination or a system.36 The Bible commands all to look to God, not any man-made organization.37 We are exhorted to abide in God’s Word, not a Catechism. 38
A couple years after being saved, I began teaching the Word of God to young children. What I learned from these five and six year olds confirmed the simplicity of the Gospel. These youngsters naturally understood that they were sinners, that there was a Creator-God, and that they needed His mercy and grace. Their young and tender consciences (which were not yet seared) bore witness to these truths.
By reading the Scriptures, I discovered another clear reason that salvation must be simple, and that it cannot be earned. The Bible declares that God is both holy and loving. I understood God’s holiness as I examined His law, the Ten Commandments. And I recognized God’s love as I looked to the cross. Jesus, the Creator of all things, died in my place—for me! There was no greater demonstration of love in the entire world. In fact, the Bible plainly states, “God is love.”39 This means that God in His very nature (essence or being) is love. He is fundamentally and essentially LOVE.40
Yet, I felt these two characteristics were at odds. At first, God’s love and holiness appeared to me as conflicting attributes. However, God’s Word opened my eyes. If God is perfect love, He also must be perfect righteousness. Therefore, He must always do what is right. For instance, God, Who is love, could never lie. He could never steal, deceive, go back on His Word, or be unfaithful. God as love demands from His very nature that He be perfectly righteous. And His holiness demands that He is perfect in love. These characteristics are inseparable. Anything less and God would not be perfect, nor would heaven be paradise.
Therefore salvation had to be so simple that anyone from anywhere could receive it. And that is exactly what our loving and holy God offers to everyone who has been chosen in Him from before the foundation of the world.41 Salvation based on what He has done—freely offered to all who will believe!
God is the source of every good gift.42 And salvation is the greatest gift from the Giver of all things. Though it is simple to repent and believe (so simple a child could do it), our pride poses an insurmountable hurdle. To receive this gift means admitting that our way is wrong. It means confessing that our way to heaven is actually leading to hell. It means acknowledging that we have offended our Creator by ignoring our God-given conscience and sinning anyway. It means trusting in Jesus alone and turning from our sin. It means dropping the arrogance of our pride and coming humbly before God. It is then that the hurdle is removed.
Here is our choice: we can continue to gratify our self with all the temporary enjoyments and sinful pleasures this world offers, or we can submit to our Creator—the Giver of every truly good gift, and trust that His way is best.
Shortly after beginning my new life in Christ, this precious girl I mentioned earlier left to work for another company. Ironically, she would again be used in a similar way with a lady who attended the same Catholic Church that I did while growing up. I saw the wisdom in the Lord moving her on because many in my office thought I got “saved” so I could date her. Once she left, they could see that this was not the case.
As I began my new life in Christ, I was hoping for a complete physical healing, though I knew the Scriptures did not guarantee this. In fact, several verses promised hardship and tribulation. Although my health seemed better at times, my physical healing never came. Ultimately, it will in heaven!
Since becoming a Christian, my life has actually been more difficult in many ways, but now I have Jesus carrying me through every storm. Best of all, I went beyond King Solomon and found that life now has purpose and heaven is my destination. Every prayer, every Bible study, every witnessing opportunity, even giving a cup of water in His name, has eternal value.43 As a Christian, this life is the closest to hell I will ever experience. But for an unbeliever who never comes to faith in Jesus Christ, this is the closest to heaven they will ever experience. Today, eternal life with Jesus motivates me to share the truth whenever possible.
So to conclude, please consider the value of your soul. Count the cost. Realize that nothing is worth forsaking your Creator and forfeiting eternal life. My prayer is that you will trust in the only One qualified to say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.”44
Jim Tetlow produced a book and video on Marian apparitions entitled “Messages from Heaven.”
1 Matthew 5:29
2 Matthew 7:16
3 Matthew 5:27, 28
4 1Corinthians 6:9, 10
5 Ecclesiastes 1:14; 2:17
6 Romans 10:13
7 Job 26:7
8 Leviticus 17:11
9 1 Corinthians 15:41
10 2 Timothy 3:16
11 Mark 5:7-13
12 Genesis 3:8; Ephesians 3:9; Revelation 4:11
13 Romans 6:23
14 Genesis 2:17
15 John 17:3
16 Romans 2:15; Genesis 2:9; 3:22
17 John 1:9
18 John 1:12
19 2 Peter 3:16
20 Isaiah 64:6
21 Ezekiel 18:20
22 Exodus 20:7
23 1 John 3:15; Matthew 5:21, 22
24 Matthew 5:33-37
25 James 2:10
26 Ephesians 2:8, 9
27 Romans 11:6
28 Titus 3:5
29 John 10:28
30 John 3:16
31 John 6:29
32 John 19:30
33 Romans 10:2-4
34 Acts 2:38
35 John 12:26
36 1 Corinthians 1:23
37 Isaiah 45:22
38 John 8:31
39 1John 4:16
40 Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary. 1 John 4:8, God is love.
41 Ephesians 1:4
42 James 1:17
43 Mark 9:41
44 John 14:6