The Sunday following September 11, 2001, my husband and I were in church listening to our priest give the homily. We were eager to hear what he had to say, until he said "..we need to forgive those people who attacked us." After that, my husband said he never would go to [our] church again. And I agreed. We would never return to the Catholic Church again.
That choice may seem over-reactive, but the truth was that I had lost hope in the Catholic Church long before that day. After 31 years as a Catholic, my relationship with Christ was not growing, I still did not know how to read the Bible, I found the church to be too liberal, too passive, and too politically correct, and quite frankly, Mass was dreadful; yet I managed to put on a good face to encourage my husband and children most Sundays.
But worse yet, I was about to discover a frightening truth: I was not a Christian. I was not saved, and had my husband and I remained in the Catholic Church, we would have died in our sins.
As an adult, I had tried to be a good Catholic: I had chosen to be confirmed; I arranged for my husband and me to have our marriage blessed in the church; I dragged myself to Mass, when I could; we donated to the church building fund; I volunteered at a Crisis Pregnancy Center; I tried to donate blood during the church blood drive; I even attempted to follow the dietary laws by abstaining from meat on Fridays. That lasted about one Friday.
I thought I could please God by obeying the teachings of the Catholic Church. Yet, the more I did, the more I noticed that it was not enough. I could not volunteer enough, donate enough, or follow the church`s dietary laws at all. I could not even give enough blood because I was underweight. How would I ever please God?
On top of this struggle, I vainly attempted to read and understand Scripture. I desired to know God`s Word, but it was not clear to me. I had attended Catholic school for six years, and never once was I required to bring a Bible to school with me, nor did I have to read from the Bible in the classroom. In fact, I remember seeing Bible references in my catechism book and wondering, "What is that?"
Shortly after I left the church, I searched for the Truth. Once I visited a website which suggested that if Catholics would just read their Bibles, they would leave the Catholic Church. The site also talked about how to get saved. I had heard this phrase a lot, but I did not understand. I wondered how important it was.
I did not want to die in my sins and be separated from God forever. I wanted to have a relationship with Christ; therefore, I asked God to forgive me for my past and to change my heart, and I asked Him to show me where to find a Bible church, if one existed.
It would be two-and-a-half years before God directed me to a new church. It was small and intimate, everyone brought their Bibles, recited Scripture together and sang Hymns, communion was only once a month, and church was two hours long!
More importantly, the pastor was joyful, and he loved God and God's Word. He preached for an hour, sometimes longer, directly from the Bible. He made sense of God's Word. After that first day, I knew this was where we needed to be. I realized that after those long two-and-a-half years, God truly was preparing my heart for this time.
Within a year, my husband and I were baptized. Yes, our parents had baptized us as Catholics when we were infants, but we understood now that infant baptism was traditional and done for the wrong reasons. This baptism was our choice and done in obedience. Christ commands us to repent and be baptized. Babies cannot repent and choose baptism.
Baptism comes after repentance and salvation. You cannot repent unless you understand that you are a sinner and need a Savior. Once you repent and trust in Christ as your Savior, you are saved. Once you are saved, you desire to obey God and His commandments. You desire also to profess your faith publicly to other Christians through baptism.
Now that I am a Christian, I have a different world view, different eyes to see my past and present sins. Yes, Christians still sin because they are not perfect in Christ, yet. But the difference between my old self and my new self is that now I know my sin because God puts it on my heart, and I am uncomfortable about my thoughts or my actions.
Before I became a Christian, I thought I was a pretty good person, and I did not consider that some of the things I did or said or thought were actually all that bad. There are things that we say and do and think and feel that are offensive to God; therefore, we can never be good enough to stand before Him. He is so Perfect and Holy that His standards are unattainable. Unsaved people believe that God will waive those offenses that man deems small, but those little things are just as offensive.
As a Catholic I believed I would go to heaven simply because I was Catholic, made my sacraments, and was working toward being a decent Catholic by following most of the traditions and precepts with the intent to please God and lessen my suffering and time in Purgatory; however, I have since learned that now I will have eternal life only because of what Jesus did on the Cross for me. And gratefully there is no Purgatory in which I will pay for my sins because Jesus has already done that once and for all.
We cannot please God by obeying religious practices, as man-made religions require. We can not tithe, pray, be morally good, be charitable, volunteer to help others, meet dietary laws, fast, or go to religious services enough. We cannot even read God`s Word enough.
I once made up my own god - what I thought he should be like. I justified, protected, and hid my sin. I made my own rules to live by and measured others by my standards. I was a bitter, angry, and miserable person, yet I thought the rest of the world had the problem.
God put it on every man`s heart to desire to know Him. Christ died for us, in our place, because of sin, that we may live. We must believe and trust that He is all that we need for salvation, (to be saved, to have eternal life, to go to heaven.) He is like our Ambassador in heaven. Once we are saved, we belong to Christ forever, and the Father will know us, too. But anyone who chooses to stand on his own merit before God will fall short and end up in hell.
For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Salvation is God`s gift, through our faith in Christ, not by ourselves, and not of our works, in case anyone thinks he can boast about them. If you humble yourself before Him, He will change your life forever.