Saved from the Train to Destruction

John M. Turack

(Lt. Col., USAF Ret.)

During the terrible holocaust in the middle of the 20th century, the Germans employed trains to carry Jews and their sympathizers to their physical destruction.  A few were saved.  From birth, we are all on a religious train bound for eternal destruction.  It is the course of events set in motion by our father Adam in his garden rebellion, which we confirm with our own individual rebellion against our kind Creator.  Some travel through life in austere train cars of humanism with no care or inkling of their destination or destiny.  Others, like me, began life on the ornate, gold encrusted, scarlet draped, comfortable sleeping cars of Roman Catholicism, lulled into complacency with an expectation that our works and God’s grace will land us in heaven some day.  The only one who can deliver them, our one mediator the Lord Jesus Christ, rescues a few.[1] This is the story of my rescue from the “train to destruction” by the love of the sovereign God of the universe.

Leaving the Station

I was born in Norfolk, Virginia USA to a Navy family.  My parents agreed to raise me Catholic although my mother was raised Baptist.  When she married my father she became a nominal Catholic, only attending Mass at Baptisms, first Holy Communion, Confirmation and Marriage.  The photo to the right was taken at the time of my confirmation in 1973.  My father grew up Catholic, but had some problems with abuses by his church leadership in New York.  He took my two older sisters, my younger brother and me five miles to church faithfully until we were able to get there on our own or chose not to go.  I attended catechism and confirmation classes and was part of a youth folk group that led singing at Saturday night services.  The church was not the center of my life, but it was a very real part in satisfying my attraction to the things of God.

Church was our place for religion in our lives, which allowed us to “clean up” with confession and communion at the end of a week.  We considered ourselves good Catholics, but did not do many of the things devoted Catholics did.  We did not have pictures of Jesus or saints, candles, statues, holy water, or crucifixes in our home and none of us prayed the Rosary (nor were we encouraged at church to do so).  We had small Bibles that we got at first Holy Communion, but we did not feel a need to read them since the priests told us about the history of God’s actions in ancient times.

I had no concept of a personal relationship with a living Savior.  Along those same lines, we never had priests or nuns over for dinner or just to visit.  In his youth, my father was an altar boy and had priests drop by before dinner, give a blessing after dinner, and expect some “payment”.  Often payment was in the form of alcohol.  He saw this as an abuse of position.  He also did not like the waste of building and then air-conditioning our large cement Catholic Church and refused to give beyond the Catholic school tuition he paid for my brother.  The church would not perform a marriage for his brother who married a Methodist, and it rejected my sister who was divorced.  Though these offenses affected my father personally, I did not feel the personal sting of these issues, and I liked the discipline of the Catholic Church and the well-ordered services.  That would continue as I attended the United States Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs to become an Air Force officer where I became active in the Catholic Chapel and Choir.

How Shall They Hear?

As I consider the events leading to my deliverance, I cannot help but think of my friend who lived one street over.  I sometimes walked home with this daughter of the Baptist pastor in our neighborhood, but she never once in the twelve years I attended school with her told me I was destined for hell or, more positively, that I could personally know God’s love.  She never invited me to her church though I was sometimes curious about the differences among the denominations.  I had a very close friend who is now a Presbyterian minister, but in all our years of school and Boy Scouts the subject of the only way to heaven never came up.  My friends probably saw me as very confident in my religion, and comfortable with the traditions of the Catholic Church.  But we must not assume Catholics will reject the effectual call of God if they are chosen from the foundation of the world to be redeemed by the blood of His Lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ.  As the scripture says, “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the beloved.”[2]

We must not refuse when prompted by the Holy Spirit to speak to those without hope.  In the book of Romans the Holy Spirit says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.  How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?  And how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach, except they be sent?  As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” [3]

I was at the Air Force Academy and had an acquaintance who shocked me one day.  She said, “Our relationship can’t get any closer than it is because you are a Catholic and I cannot be unequally yoked with you since I am a Christian.” What a statement!  I was not interested in her as more than a friend at that point, but with that statement she turned and walked out of my life.  Scripture plainly says,

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?  And what communion hath light with darkness?[4]

We need more godly young people who will say, “God says this is wrong, so I’m not going to do this.”  I wondered once again if there was that big a difference between Catholicism and other denominations.  I began reading my Bible more and found some troubling inconsistencies between it and the religion I practiced during the remainder of my four years at the Academy.

Years of Questioning

It started at confession at the Academy after I came back from a leave.  I confessed the same contentions with my brother that I did at my home parish, but the priest at the Academy said, “That’s not a big deal.  That is just normal interactions with a brother.”  At home I was given penance, but at college I was told it was not to be considered sin.  This troubled me because I realized sin is just subjective to the church, not truth-based.

As I continued to read my Catholic Bible, I approached the priest one day and asked what “Paraklete” meant.  He seemed troubled and asked where I ran across that word.  I told him that in my Bible study I saw that the Lord Jesus would be our paraklete with the Father when we sin.  First John explains it clearer in the King James Version, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.  And if any man sin, we have an Advocate (parakletos in the Greek) with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” [5]

To this day I don’t know whether he was more troubled that I was searching my Bible or that I found that we have one completely capable Intercessor who made atonement for our sins as our Expiator.  Since Jesus Christ the righteous is our Advocate, why would we request intercession from any other?  The book of Hebrews says Jesus saves us to the uttermost (completely) and ever lives to make intercession for us.[6]  We don’t need to petition Mary or dead Catholic saints when we can go directly to the perfect Son of God who prays for us to His Father!  As I alluded in the introduction, Paul wrote young pastor Timothy, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”[7]  Any other veneration or supplication is false worship and disrespects our Lord’s sacrifice.

One More Sacrament

Though I began to be enlightened by God’s Word, I stayed in the Catholic Church and married Chris Gwinn on the day of my graduation and commissioning as an Air Force officer.  Ironically, Chris also grew up Baptist as did my mother, but was not saved until years after our marriage.  The Chapel did not require that she convert to Catholicism, so we married in the Catholic chapel as the photos below show.

We attended the nearest Catholic church when we got to our first Air Force assignment, but found liberal theology that sounded new age, so I was open to attend the Evangelical chapel near us.  When I came home at night in Washington D.C., we would tune into Evangelical Christian radio and listen to sound Bible teachers who seemed to shine the light of the scriptures as a living truth, not a document of history.

In fact, it was listening to these teachers that I first realized that Jesus was physically raised from the dead because God had accepted His perfect sacrifice for our sins.  Please read the teaching of Paul to the Ephesians; “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.[8]

God Accepted Jesus’ sacrifice as full payment for our sins!  We are forgiven completely and the book of Ephesians goes on to proclaim, “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.” [9]

It was God’s gift, His Son’s work, and the Spirit’s leading; so where was the place for works, traditions, supplications to saints, purgatory, and other trappings of Catholicism?  If our works could save us, then God did not need to sacrifice the life of His only Son, but there was no other way.  We do not need to wonder if we are good enough, because we know Jesus is without sin, and we are justified in Him!

Delivered from the Train to Destruction

It was as dramatic as any Special Forces rescue of a doomed man in the clutches of the enemy.  I consider it nothing less than a miracle of God that six months after our marriage my unsaved wife spoke to me the truth she heard in the Baptist church growing up and I heard the Holy Spirit convicting me of sin and calling me from the way of destruction.  After listening to one of our regular radio preachers, Chris told me that Jesus died to pay for my sins and that I could have a personal relationship with Him.  I responded without hesitation and I desired to follow my Savior and put all my trust in His finished work on the cross.  Some would say that at that point I accepted Christ, but Ephesians makes it clear that it is we who are accepted in the beloved.[10]  He is God.  Chris was saved several years later when God reached down and revealed to her real life in Him.  We have nine children and sometimes have to explain “No we are no longer Catholic, but are open to the blessings our sovereign God will give us.”

In my further study, I found a verse, which clearly proclaims that Jesus “by Himself” purged our sins, meaning that there is no need for a place called Purgatory to perfect us, because the work is done.[11]  The Bible says that by one offering Jesus perfected sanctified believers forever in the eyes of God.[12]  How many will spend eternity in hell thinking, “Just a little bit longer…”?  Praise God! He finished the work of justification and keeps us through His work of sanctification!

I read the Apostle Peter’s first epistle in which the Spirit tells us that our only “indulgence” paying for sin comes from the blood of Jesus, not silver and gold.[13]  We don’t need to be rich so we can buy forgiveness of our sins because Jesus paid it all!  Jesus’ was, is, and always will be sufficient to reconcile us to God.  We serve Him out of gratitude and a desire to glorify God, not to win favor.  Trusting Jesus plus anything proclaims that His sacrifice was insufficient.

Some pray to statues of Mary, name churches after her, pray to her while fingering beads, or consider her a co-redemtrix, but she considered herself co-redeemed with us.  “And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.  For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”[14]

Mary needed a Savior like all fallen humans; she was not born without sin.  Additionally, Matthew tells us in his gospel that Mary had at least seven children, making claims that she was forever a virgin patently false.  The people wondered, “Is not this the carpenter’s son?  Is not His mother called Mary?  And His brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?  And His sisters, are they not all with us?  Whence then hath this Man all these things?[15]

Mary was blessed among women, but only God is to be adored and worshipped!  The book of Hebrews corrects those who would crucify afresh the Son of God and put Him to an open shame.[16]  The Catholic Mass purports to be a weekly sacrifice of our Savior and the crucifix leaves Him in perpetual shame on a graven image worn and displayed by many.  The book of Hebrews further says that Jesus made one sacrifice for sins forever.[17] Jesus sits in glory today at the right hand of the Father![18]

I could give additional examples from scripture of truths that are contrary to what is practiced in the Catholic Church.  Jesus Himself taught, when giving His model for prayer, that we should not pray with vain repetitions, and yet “The Lord’s Prayer” is repeated over and over.[19]  I attended a Catholic wedding of a nephew and stood behind a relative who delighted in the fact that he had been out of the church for twenty years but could without effort say the parts of the Mass along with the priest.  It was vain repetition that meant nothing to him.

What to do about Catholic Discontent

If you suspect the ornate Catholic train car you are on is headed to a place of destruction, and you realize you want to get off, don’t move to the drab train car of humanism or some other false religion!  I spoke to my father who was dying of cancer.  The nurses, doctors, and neighbors all loved this giving, easy-going man.  He knew he was literally in his last days on earth.  He asked me to speak at the funeral because he had rejected Catholicism but also did not want a preacher.  He had arranged almost everything: from the funeral plans, the care of his wife, even to the care of his once beautiful lawn, he planned everything in detail.  He had planned even the suit of clothes he would wear at death, but he did not have a robe of spotless white for the judgment following death.  I make that conclusion because I challenged him that he had taken care of all the physical details, but not the spiritual.  I had witnessed to him often and asked if he was ready to submit to God and trust Jesus for his salvation.  He said he could never submit to God and did not believe the Bible.  He thought his goodness would count for something and that the pains he had suffered would reduce his time in the (fictional) Purgatory.  He wanted me to keep my message short and light during the funeral and to be sure to say the “Lord’s Prayer” and sing “Jesus Loves Me.”  In my drafted words, which he approved, I said Jesus loves those who obey Him and we can only call God our Father if we trust in the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.  To my knowledge he never did that because I was with my father to his dying breath.

Dear friend, if you are awakened to the anti-biblical nature of Catholicism, do not just drop out as my close relative did and make light of the fact that you can still recite the vain repetitions while absenting yourself from any influence of God.  Do not reject God and go to hell with a chip on your shoulder about a false church and reject the true Savior.  God calls His own to Himself.[20]  If He is calling you today, I encourage you to respond and submit to Him, for one day every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, “For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’  So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”[21]

The account I give will be that I was made righteous by the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.  My sinful heart was washed white by the precious blood of the spotless Lamb of God, and I was transformed into His image by the power of the Holy Spirit.[22]  What will you say?  Where is your trust?  Are you fitted for destruction or for life?

John Turack

[1] 1 Timothy 2:5

[2] Ephesians 1:4-6

[3] Romans 10:13-15

[4] 1 Corinthians 6:14

[5] 1 John 2:1-2

[6] Hebrews 7:25

[7] 1Timothy 2:5

[8] Ephesians 1:18-23

[9] Ephesians 2:8-9

[10] Ephesians 1:6

[11] Hebrews 1:3

[12] Hebrews 10:14

[13] 1 Peter 1:18-19

[14] Luke 1:46-48

[15] Matthew 13:55-56

[16] Hebrews 6:6

[17] Hebrews 10:12

[18] Matthew 26:64

[19] Matthew 6:7

[20] Romans 9:18-23

[21] Romans 14:11-12

[22] 2 Corinthians 3:18