From the world's perspective my first 34 years were very successful. I excelled in athletics, playing varsity baseball all the way through college, and winning a gold medal in springboard diving. After earning a master's degree in business, I channeled all my competitive energy into a rapid climb to the top of the corporate ladder. This enabled me to quickly obtain great wealth and recognition but it also led me into a hedonistic, pleasure-seeking lifestyle. I was corrupted by deceitful desires and had given myself over to sensuality, with a continual lust for more (Eph 4:19). I built my half million-dollar dream house in one of the most prestigious neighborhoods in Dallas, joined a fabulous country club and purchased a Mercedes 380 SL sports car and the universal sign of accomplishment - a gold Rolex watch. Yet with all this success and wealth, there was still a nagging void in my life. The Bible explains why: "for all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from God, but is from the world" (1 John 2:16).
As a devout Catholic, I faithfully participated in religious rituals and received the sacraments to gain acceptance from God and to avoid the fires of hell. In retrospect I was motivated more by a fear of hell than a desire to be with God. Some of my good works included being an altar boy for 7 years, teaching Catholic doctrine to high school students and initiating the first Little Rock Scripture Study at a Dallas Catholic Church. My religious activity gave me an external righteousness that covered my corrupt and depraved nature. I had a zeal for God but it wasn't based on biblical knowledge so I sought to establish my own righteousness before God (Rom. 10:1). Now I know how Satan destroys religious people for their lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).
My enslavement was all encompassing and I was powerless to do anything about it. Not only was I in bondage to sin but also to the legalism of Catholic traditions (Col. 2:8). The Catholic priests, like the Judaizers were false brethren who kept me in bondage (Gal. 2:4). Their confessional box was a place I dreaded to go. Week after week I had to confess the same sins to the same priest because I was disobedient, deceived, and enslaved to various lusts and pleasures (Titus 3:3). Many times I would disguise my voice so the priest wouldn't know it was me again. Undeniably I was ensnared by the devil, held captive by him to do his will (2 Tim. 2:26).
I had no way to discern truth from error because I was biblically ignorant. It wasn't that I didn't have a Bible, in fact, I had a huge one displayed on my coffee table as a sign of piety. I never opened it because priests had told me it was too difficult to understand. No one ever told me the Bible sets forth the truth plainly to every man's conscience (2 Cor. 4:2). Because of my lack of biblical knowledge I was easily deceived. I lived in error because I did not know the Scriptures or the power of God (Mat. 22:29). Satan, who deceives the whole world had blinded me from the truth of the Gospel (Rev. 12:9, 2 Cor 4:4). I was separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that was in me (Eph. 4:18).
Four words that describe my life with Jesus are liberated, forgiven, reconciled, and secured.
In 1981, after attending an apologetics seminar called "Evidence for the Christian Faith," the Bible became my sole authority in all matters of faith. I began searching for answers to questions that priests were never able to explain. I was amazed at how often the Bible contradicted Catholic teaching and tradition. Soon I faced a difficult dilemma. With my eternal destiny hanging in the balance I had to make a decision. Should I trust the Word of God or the teachings and traditions of the Catholic Church? Once I saw it from that perspective it became an easy decision. The truth of God's word began to set me free from the legalistic bondage of the Catholic Church. I read where Jesus came to release the captives, and to set free those who are downtrodden (Luke 4:18). He said, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32). The ransom payment for delivering sinners from the bondage of sin was the precious blood of Jesus. He gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:14). It is through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit that I can put to death the evil deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:13). By the grace of God, sin no longer is master over me. Thanks be to God that, though I was a slave of sin, by His power He made me a slave of righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18).
As a Catholic each time I confessed my sins to a priest he told me I was forgiven. But was I really? I never even knew what forgiveness meant or what God's justice demands as punishment for sin. Each time I entered the Catholic Church I saw Jesus hanging on a cross but I never knew why he had to die. I never knew, that is, until I read in the Bible that the penalty for sin is death, eternal separation from God in the lake of fire (Rom. 6:23, Rev. 20:14). The sin debt that must be paid to satisfy God's justice is death. Then I discovered "to forgive" means "to cancel a debt that is owed." So when God forgives a sinner He cancels the entire debt for all their sins - past, present and future. But how can a righteous judge let the guilty go unpunished? It is righteous only when someone else has paid the penalty. My substitute, Jesus Christ cancelled the certificate of debt against me. It was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14). Jesus suffered and died so that I could live. He was pierced for my transgressions. He was crushed for my iniquities. Oh how can it be that my God and Creator should die for me? The answer is profoundly given in one word , love. God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). My sin, not in part but the whole, was nailed to the cross. I bear it no more! God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on my behalf, so that I might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). This was the greatest news I had ever heard! No longer was I condemned to death but justified to life! I was acquitted because God the righteous judge saw that justice was served through His Only Son. Jesus abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:10) Through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:47).
When I came to understand I had been reconciled to God through the death of His Son, I realized I no longer needed priests offering sacrifices for my sins. Because by one sacrifice Jesus has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Heb. 10:14). No longer is there a sin barrier separating me from God (Isaiah 59:2). Jesus has given me access to the Father (Eph. 2:18). This was powerfully demonstrated at the atoning death of Christ when the veil that partitioned the holy of holies was torn open from top to bottom. Those who trust the redeeming work of Christ can exchange their ritualistic religion for an intimate relationship with almighty God. Through the blood of His cross Jesus is able to present me before God holy and blameless (Col. 1:20-22). Jesus changed my relationship with God from one of hostility to one of peace and harmony.
Each time I got on an airplane as a Catholic I experienced a nagging fear as to where I would spend eternity if the plane went down. I never knew if my sins were serious enough to warrant hell or if I had done enough good works to qualify for heaven. Now as a Christian I know eternal life is not determined by what I do for God but on what God has done for me. I no longer have to wonder about my eternal destiny. It is based on the assertive faithfulness of God. I am secure in Christ and nothing I do will ever change God's promises to me. Jesus promised that He will lose no one the Father has given Him. "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:39-40). I came to realize that eternal life, by its very nature, can never be terminated. From God's word I know that since God justified me He will also glorify me (Rom. 8:30). I know that I am held securely in the hands of the Father and the Son and no one can snatch me away (John 10:27-30). The Holy Spirit, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, seals everyone who hears and believes the Gospel of salvation in Christ (Eph.1: 13-14). Based on God's promises, I am more confident of spending eternity in heaven than one more day on earth.
I am eternally thankful that God has made me alive in Christ, healed my spiritual blindness to see His truth, forgiven my sins, declared me righteous and adopted me into His family. The life I live I now live for Him!