When I think about my religious or spiritual experience during the first 45 years of my life, it would be most accurately described by words such as rituals, rules and regulations. From the time that I was baptized as an infant in the Catholic church, I virtually never missed mass. It was part of every weekend’s ritual. I took “holy communion” at most services and carefully avoided all “mortal” sins (according to Catholic teachings, these are the sins that will send a person to hell). Any “venial sins” (according to Catholic teachings, these are the minor sins) I committed, I would dutifully confess to a priest once every month or so, but these confessions never really changed the way I lived my life or provided me with any lasting victory over these sins.
Along with my three brothers, I attended Catholic school from kindergarten through the tenth grade. I vividly remember my “first communion” while I was in second grade in Catholic school. I was dressed in white—from my shirt and tie right down to my socks and shoes—to symbolize purity. My confirmation by the bishop of the diocese took place when I was in fourth grade in Parochial school. “But these confessions never really changed the way I lived my life or provided me with any lasting victory over these sins.”
Throughout my childhood and into my teen years, I tried to be a “good Catholic.” Even when I married my wife, who is an Episcopalian, we had a “con-celebrated” ceremony with priests from both churches participating. For the next several years, I went through all the right motions, and almost never considered becoming inactive or dropping out. I was comfortable with the church that I had known all my life and had no desire to compare or change religions. I essentially never questioned or doubted what I was being taught, but faithfully followed the teachings of the Catholic church.
But God changed all that when He caused one of His servants, named Jim, to intersect my path and initiate a friendship. I met Jim at work, where he and I were both employed as accountants. We began walking together during our lunch breaks to get some much-needed exercise and our walks included many talks. I noticed that Jim often brought Scripture into our conversations and was able to quote many verses from the Bible. For any question that I brought up (and I tend to be very inquisitive), Jim always seemed to have an answer from the Bible, which made quite an impression upon me. I found that I could not refute anything that he said. Growing up as a Catholic, I had respect for the Bible, even though I never read it for myself. Over a period of several months, Jim’s talking to me about spiritual things really got my attention.
I listened to some sermons on cassette tapes that Jim gave to me. The first message made a huge impression on me. The pastor gave the following illustration: If you were sick, you wouldn’t just go to the pharmacy and say, “Just give me a bottle of pills, any kind of pills, because I am sick. I just need some medicine.” They would want to know exactly what type of illness you had and then give you a specific kind of medicine designed just for that illness. You would never think of saying, “It doesn’t matter what kind of medicine you give me—just give me any bottle of pills. And don’t bother giving me any instructions on how many to take and when to take them—I’ll just take a handful whenever I feel sick.” You are probably thinking “that would be crazy”. But many people have that mentality about religion—it doesn’t matter what teaching you are hearing, or how much, just as long as you are sincere and believe something. “But it DOES matter what you are hearing and believing.” But it DOES matter what you are hearing and believing. The Bible is the book that contains God’s plan of salvation.
As I listened to the sermons on cassette tapes, and the things Jim had to say to me, I realized I was finally getting the truth right from God’s Word. When Jim invited me to visit his church, Lehigh Valley Baptist Church, I readily went with him and very much enjoyed the preaching. Soon after that, I did a Bible study with Jim to learn more about how to be saved. (Note: salvation, saved, and born again are Biblical terms referring to the forgiveness of sins by God and the rescue of a person from the power and penalty of that sin. This is God’s requirement for everlasting life.)
At the conclusion of the Bible study, I prayed a prayer to be saved. However, I was so trained to follow rituals and do what was expected of me, that I did not realize that I had simply gone through the motions of a false profession, without truly repenting of my sin and trusting in Jesus Christ alone as my Savior.
But, God was gracious and merciful to me. I continued under the regular influence of good Bible preaching, and it was not long before I realized that my life had not changed and that I was still unsaved. The Bible teaches clearly that when a person gets saved, he becomes a “new creature” and “old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) I felt the same old way, trapped in mechanical rituals without a changed heart.
I continued to hear the truth of God’s Word at each and every service, and God continued to convict me about my lost condition. In September of 2003, while driving to church, I was thinking about my lost condition before God and certain eternity in hell. I was scared and had come to the end of myself. I cried out to God, “What do I need to do to be saved”? I had nowhere else to turn, but to Jesus. As Jesus says in the Bible in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
As I continued to pray to God, I let go of any dependence I had upon my religion or self-righteousness for my salvation; I repented of my sins and put my faith totally and completely in what Jesus Christ had done for me on the cross of Calvary as my only means of salvation. At that moment of surrender and commitment, I sensed Christ’s presence and the peace that only He can give in my heart. I knew I was now saved!
Since then, God has changed my heart. I have seen God at work in my life, answering prayers, giving me a burden for those who do not yet know Jesus as their Savior, and giving me victory over sin in my life. I praise the Lord for seeing me, this lost “Religious” man, and patiently working in my life to bring me to Jesus for eternal salvation.
If you are a member of any religious denomination, and feel you are just “going through the motions” of a variety of rituals, but you don’t see any real change in your life, please consider a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as the answer to your situation. My personal relationship with Jesus Christ has not only changed my life in this world, but has also given me assurance of Eternal Salvation in the world to come. Will you give Jesus the opportunity to do the same things for you in your life?