By Kurt Baney
I don’t know when I was saved. I only know that I am.
I didn’t come to this conclusion on a whim. I lived the first 37 years of my life as a Roman Catholic. I consistently attended mass and received the sacraments. During my Catholic upbringing, the Bible was always conspicuously displayed at home, along with the crucifix, St Christopher medals, and other religious artifacts. But the Bible never had significance for me.
The Word of God was never preached during Catholic services. It was read and identified as “Paul’s epistle to the Romans” or the “gospel according to St. Luke”. The priest would never explain the meaning of what he read. For 37 years, I only knew the Bible to be something read at a religious ceremony.
When my wife of twelve years divorced me, I found myself without a church. Divorce was not condoned by the Catholic Church, so I was “excommunicated” – discarded by the church whose teachings I had faithfully followed.
I began dating a woman whose next door neighbor was the pastor of a Bible-based church. When I attended this church, I heard the Word of God preached for the first time. I learned about a loving, merciful God. I learned that God the Father sent His only begotten Son to die on the cross for my sins (John 3:16, 1 John 4:9-10).
Suddenly the “epistles” and “gospels” I had heard read many years earlier started making sense. The books of the Bible came alive for me. The book of Ephesians for example, was a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the church in the city of Ephesus (which is in modern day Turkey). Paul wrote the letter while in prison in Rome. In the book of Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 8 and 9, Paul declares a fundamental truth of Scripture:
“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.”
For the first time, I realized that the Catholic Church had buried Biblical truth under man-made traditions, such as abstaining from meat and using “holy water”. I learned that religious rituals do not save souls. I discovered that no one is saved because they attend a church or because they have been baptized.
Grace is a gift of God. My faith is a gift of God. Salvation requires my faith and trust in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Without faith, salvation is impossible. Contrary to what I had been taught, there is absolutely nothing I can do to earn my salvation. Being a “good person” will not do it. A lifetime of good works will not do it.
That is because my good works are tainted. Let me explain. If I am kind to my neighbor, in all likelihood I am doing it to hear someone say “You are a really good person!” My good works are tainted with self pride. If I tell someone they have a very nice house, chances are that I am coveting, rather than admiring it. Coveting my neighbor’s house breaks the tenth Commandment. If I break the tenth Commandment, I dishonor my parents and break the fifth Commandment. Since God demands perfection, if I break any Commandment, I break them all! (James 2:10)
All men need forgiveness, because all men are sinners. I was born a sinner, and will be a sinner all my life. The Ten Commandments reveal to me the righteous standard of God. They enlighten me as to the serious nature of sin.
Sinners think they are “good” because they have no true understanding of God’s Law, and “good” becomes subjective. Scripture tells us that we are already condemned (John 3:18). The Commandments show us our true state. In the book of Romans, the Bible tells us “There is none righteous, no not one.” (Romans 3:10) And Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
The Ten Commandments convinced me that I am a sinner and that I need a Savior. Through a saving faith in Jesus Christ, my sins are forgiven, and I can look forward to eternal life.
I did not know a loving, merciful God until I began reading the Bible.
Even after years of reading the Bible, I still had doubts about my salvation. I looked for assurances, and while I found many encouraging verses, doubt continued to lurk in the recesses of my mind. These doubts continued until I read a book by J. C. Ryle. John Charles Ryle (1816 -1900) was the first Bishop of Liverpool for the Church of England. In his book he said it requires the co-operation of all Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity to make a man a real Christian. It requires the election of God the Father, the blood and intercession of God the Son, and the sanctification of God the Holy Spirit. I knew God the Father and God the Son, but I knew very little about God the Holy Spirit.
All I knew from my Catholic catechism was that the third person of the Trinity was the “Holy Ghost”, and that three persons in one God was a mystery. I was taught that to believe in the Trinity took an act of faith.
- C. Ryle explained that the work of the Holy Spirit is just as essential as the work of the Father and the Son to make a man a real Christian. He explained that the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the truth – that we are sinners before a Holy God, deserving eternal punishment.
I cannot tell you the day, the month, or even the year the Holy Spirit began His work in me. But I did notice one day that I had changed. I noticed certain effects of His presence in my soul. I had a greater understanding of Scripture. (The Bible has no meaning without the work of the Holy Spirit.) All Scripture was written under His inspiration. The Holy Spirit alone opened my eyes to the real extent of my guilt and corruption before God.
By nature we all think we can work out our salvation by being a good person. In our blindness we rationalize that we can make our peace with God before we die. The Holy Spirit delivers us from this miserable blindness. He revealed to me that nothing but the blood of Jesus can atone for my sins.
The effects of the Holy Spirit’s presence in my soul are evidence that I am traveling in the way that leads to everlasting life. The “Fruits of the Spirit” are becoming more evident in my life. The Fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galations 5:22-23) The Bible tells us that a tree may be known by its fruit (Matthew 7:17). A true Christian may be known by his habits, tastes, and affections.
In one of the Apostle John’s epistles to the early church, he said “These things I have written to you who believe in the Name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). I know that I have eternal life because I believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross for my sins, and rose again from the dead three days later.
This is evidence of my eternal salvation. I don’t know when I was saved. I only know that I am.