My name is Paul; I am the eleventh child of a large Roman Catholic Family, which totaled fourteen children—seven boys and seven girls. Some of my earliest memories include my parents walking us up to Saint Mary’s Church, which was one block up the street from our house. We would file into the church, my father and mother first, then us children from smallest to largest behind them. We then sat on a pew close to the front. At that time in the early 1960’s, there were many big families. However, we were the largest in the parish, and my father was quite proud of his brood.
From a very young age, we were taught right from wrong, but it was not explained to us why. Any questions were always answered, “Because I said so,” or “Mom said so.” The Roman Church was always referred to as “the one, true, holy Roman Apostolic Church.” It was the final authority. We were taught that the decisions it made were guaranteed to be infallible. The Pope was always correct, because he was Christ’s vicar on earth. I remember being taught that any church other than the “one true holy Roman Apostolic Church” was a false church, and consequently, its members would go to hell.
I felt proud and fortunate to be so “lucky” to grow up in this church, yet at the same time it seemed to me very unfair of God to send people from other churches to hell if they where “good.” After all, there were others I liked, and some seemed to love God, but they did not belong to the Roman Catholic Church. These were the very beginnings of mental conflicts over spiritual matters that in latter years would nearly drive me insane.
I was also taught that man had a free will. If I chose what was right and participated in the Roman Catholic Church’s sacraments, this would merit grace from God. Yet, as hard as I tried I was unable to stop sinning. I was taught that sin was bad and it made God (and my dad) very angry with me. I was also taught in communion the Eucharist wafer was the actual physical body of Jesus, and it could not be consumed in a state of sin. To leave the state of sin and be able to have communion, I would have to go to a priest and confess my sins, then he gave me my penance. It was only after doing the penance would the priest forgive my sins. In my young mind, I accepted all of this as a way of making God happy with me.
In our large family, we constantly fought with our brothers and sisters over things such as toys and food. The temptation of stealing cookies out of the pantry overwhelmed me many times. The consequences of doing this were cookies, then guilt, and shame. I tried to put my sins out of my mind. I tried to hide them. I tried to hide from God. Try that sometime! Of course, my mother would get angry, “Who stole the cookies?” In my fear of punishment from my angry father, I would lie to her and then feel even worse about myself. To go to confession scared me to death. I would feel my heart pounding even thinking about it. The guilt and shame would trap me. I thought at that time, the only way to rid myself of this guilt was to go to confession and do penance. The penance was always something such as saying ten “Hail Marys” and four “our Fathers.” It was never to go your mother and tell her you lied and replace what you stole. I distinctly remember walking away from confession one day with a lightened heart when suddenly a dark realization struck me, the only way I would ever get to heaven was if I died in a state of grace. The only way I would die in a state of grace would be if I were killed immediately after leaving the confessional! I knew that I could not be sin free for any length of time! This thought greatly disturbed me. I was about eight years old at the time.
In our house, my parents had many statues and crucifixes with the dead body of Christ hanging on them. The biggest, a statue of the Virgin Mary, was on top of the television in our large dining room. It was mandatory to pray the rosary every night at nine p.m., and then we kids had to go to bed. After years of praying the rosary, and as my leg bones began to grow faster, I developed large bumps on my knees that would hurt intensely as I knelt to pray. I could not understand why we had to repeat the same prayers over and over again; did not God hear us the first time? It was so monotonous that I could barely maintain my posture; I would try to put these things out of my mind as I mumbled the words. In my mind, God and the devil were fighting each other, the devil was very powerful, and God needed all the help He could get from us by doing our penance. My father also had a small statue of Saint Michael the archangel fighting the devil. It depicted Saint Michael with his sword outstretched standing on the devil. One day, my next oldest brother, Joe, showed me that if you turned it upside down it looked like the devil was winning over Saint Michael. I remember that this frightened us.
My older brothers eventually quit going to Mass, praying the rosary, and generally being a part of the family. Sometimes my older brothers would sneak out the window at night and smoke cigarettes. If my father found out, he would beat them in anger. I could never figure out why it was okay for my mother and father to smoke, but not my older brothers. To me smoking was obviously bad for you and therefore wrong. It seemed to me that there was a double standard. If you drank, smoked, or swore, all you would need to do was go to church and do penance, and everything would be all right again.
My older teenage brothers grew up in the late 1960s. We lived in southern California, and going to the beach was a big part of our lives. My older brothers were experienced surfers. While we were children, we idolized them. We thought they were “cool.” The rock & roll drug culture and the Vietnam War were going full blast by this time. My older brothers, knowing they would probably be drafted, took us under their wings as they realized they might never see us again. They started taking us places with them, buying us hamburgers and going surfing. This was a big treat to us younger brothers and for the first time in my life, I felt a real camaraderie, and it felt good.
My father always seemed distant from us boys. He rarely showed affection to us. Running his large machine shop to provide for his fourteen children, not to mention his employees’ and their families, he was too busy to have time or energy to spend elsewhere. Besides, he never explained things or answered my deep questions about life. Perhaps he did not know the answers.
As we younger boys began surfing with our older brothers, the “generation gap” between our parents and us seemed to grow into the size of a canyon. As my body matured, my sins now included those of a sexual nature. I was taught that sex was for making babies and nothing else. The guilt and shame resulting from my sin was unbearable. In short, about the age of sixteen, a connection was made in my mind. I found that by changing the way I felt, I could alleviate some of the pain from guilt and shame. I learned that by drinking and smoking pot I could make myself feel “good.”
By the time I was twenty years old, I had progressed to a hardcore drug addict. My mind was a seething cauldron of deep mental and spiritual conflicts most of which I could not even articulate. If I had free will, why did I always choose what was evil? Obviously, I was evil or possibly even possessed. In the midst of all this, I noticed a profound change in some of my friends; they quit partying (drinking and smoking pot) and seemed genuinely happy. They invited me to hear some bands play on a Saturday night. That sounded like fun to me, so I went with them. After the music, a man got up and started preaching the Bible from the Gospels. I was familiar with the Gospels, yet in the Catholic Church Christ seemed to be still hanging on the cross. This was much different; here Christ seemed to be alive and risen! The man talked about sin and the need to repent; to turn from sin. He spoke of receiving Christ and confessing Him before men. This was a huge Evangelical church; there were thousands of people there. My mind and heart were so focused on what the preacher was saying, I felt like I was the only person there, and God Himself was speaking through His word directly to me! The Spirit of God cut right into my heart and convicted me of my sin. I broke down in tears sobbing; it was as if scales fell from my eyes. Deep in my heart, it was revealed to me that the Bible was God’s Word and Christ was risen and alive. The preacher said that we should come forward knowing that we are sinners and believe on Jesus Christ for salvation as the Scripture states, “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” Feeling as if it were God’s grace within me, I believed on Jesus Christ for salvation. People prayed with me, and got my address.
After that evening, I noticed a profound change in myself. I felt clean; I did not want to do the sinful things that I used to do. God gave me a thirst to learn his Word. I read the Bible and prayed diligently three times a day. The church followed up with me and sent Bible studies in the mail. I participated in a correspondence course for about a year. I memorized many verses from the Bible at that time. I remember, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” Some of these verses would literally changed my life in later years.
Shortly after being “born again,” I became increasingly aware that what the Bible taught and what the Roman Catholic Church taught were two entirely different things. Praying the rosary directly conflicted with what Christ taught, “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” As a child, I was taught that the Virgin Mary was more likely to hear our prayers because she was Christ’s mother, and that she was a co-mediator with Christ, but my Bible unapologetically stated; “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…” I believed as a child that the Roman Catholic priests were on a higher level of holiness than ordinary people, and I was taught to address them as “father” or “holy father.” Again, this directly conflicted with Christ’s teaching, “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.” The whole notion of man’s free will “meriting grace” was a contradiction in terms because the Bible says, “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” Meriting is a work and therefore nullifies grace! Besides, God is indebted to no man. The Roman Catholic Church’s use of statues and crucifixes with the dead body of Christ hanging on them appeared to me to be breaking the second commandment in Exodus 20:4-5. I then realized that a crucifix depicting the dead body of Christ on the cross was a false representation. He had risen from the dead! Besides, any attempt by man to depict God is a false image, because, being creatures we can never capture His transcendence. The Catholic Church’s teachings about not eating meat on Fridays and not eating before communion, plus the fact that priests where not allowed to marry, directly contradicted the Bible. “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.”
Then I could not find in the Bible anything about the Pope being Christ’s successor, or “vicar.” It appeared to me that people had a tendency to worship the Pope, by bowing to him and kissing his ring. Again, this completely contradicted the principles laid down in the Bible when Cornelius fell down at the apostle Peter’s feet and worshipped him. “But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.” Also, “That no flesh should glory in His presence.” There are repeated warnings in the Bible of false prophets, false teachers, false christs, and the great apostasy, or falling away from the truth. Christ Himself says; “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is the Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it where possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” Realizing all these things only left me with one possible frightful conclusion. Little did I realize, my studies where just beginning. Christ’s teaching, that it was impossible for the elect to be deceived, simply mystified me.
As I said earlier, by the time I was twenty years old I had developed into a full-blown drug addict. This “saved experience” occurred when I was seventeen years old. I still lived at home and with much conflict. A year or so after this experience, I began giving into the temptations of my past. I was overcome by my own lust. I became an enigma of being saved and walking in the Lord, then falling from grace and into grievous sin. I doubted many times that I was saved. In my own body, it seemed as though there were two natures. On one hand, I had accepted Jesus Christ. I confessed Him with my mouth; I could not deny that He was Lord or that His Word was the absolute truth. However, on the other hand I was damned to hell, because when I fell into sin I knew what the Bible said: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkard, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” It seemed I was saved or damned to hell depending upon what I did or did not do. I did not realize it at the time, but it was the same works-based righteousness of the Roman Church all over again. When I counseled with other Christians, they told me that we are saved based upon what Christ did, but it is up to us to believe and accept that. I accepted Jesus; therefore, I must be saved. These conflicts warred in my mind in various forms, yet they remained outside my awareness at the time. Nobody had the answers that would help me resolve the conflicts I felt I was between God’s law and God’s grace. Christians around me contradicted themselves as they told me we are saved by grace, but you have to do this, that, and the other thing. Drugs offered temporary relief from my torments. Yet the drugs created a bigger problem than the solution they offered. By the time I was twenty-seven years old my choices were to either die or go to prison. The church did not seem to be able to help me. My “help” came in the form of “self-help” programs. It seemed to me, at the time, that man had deeper problems, and that the Bible simply did not deal with them. I thought that I needed psychotherapy and “self-help,” along with Christianity to help me. I quit using drugs out of sheer necessity and most of my serious problems left. I slowly and painfully became a responsible citizen and within two years I got married, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. I married a wonderful Christian woman. It was a great struggle for me to provide for my family. Although we had severe marital difficulties right from the beginning, we never saw divorce as an option. We knew in our heart of hearts that the Lord promised to lead us in all truth, and that these trials were for our sanctification. We planned to stick it out, even if it meant hardship.
Home schooling appealed to us greatly, for a few reasons. We believed that it was wrong to separate a young child from his mother. It seemed to us that public schools were, put simply, institutions of humanistic indoctrination. To give our children to the state in order that they may teach them their values, morals, and beliefs, was clearly wrong to us. Our only other option, private school, was not affordable at the time. Besides, we firmly believed that children are a gift from God and their training was the parents’ responsibility.
Since my wife grew up in an Evangelical background, church going was very important to her. In my case, going to church had a tendency to bring out my deepest conflicts: the requirements of God’s law and holy living against the grace in Christ—in spite of my sinfulness. Church had a tendency to “rub me the wrong way.” I resented going. At the time, I thought that church was optional. On many Sundays I would have rather gone surfing, yet my wife knew in her heart that the husband was the spiritual leader of the family and it was our biblical responsibility to raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. This caused conflicts in our marriage and fights would ensue. Resentments built up in my wife. Looking back, my wife realized that she was trying to fit me into the “church scene” thinking this would fix me, when all along it was a form of self-righteousness. She knew that the law was good, but her deep resentments against me were reminding her that not even she kept the law of God. During her turmoil, God began to press on her heart to pray for me, bringing me in love before the Father, earnestly, and expectantly, resting on the promises of God. God gave her the strength and courage to do this.
At first, our young family visited a large evangelical church where most of our extended family and peers went. This church from outer appearances had it all: programs for every age group, huge orchestra, drama team, various support groups, single groups, divorcee groups, and etcetera. Despite my lack of enthusiasm, I went. I thought I was very different from the people who attended the church. Everyone had a happy face; I would put a smiley face on, regardless of the way I felt. I knew for certain that these people did not have the raging conflicts and sins that I had. Being so different from the seemingly perfect people around me, I felt there was something seriously wrong with me. The people who attended there seemed to be in a completely different category than I was in. Yet, at the same time I remembered; “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” In addition, “…they that be whole need not a physician but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Well, I knew for certain that I was not righteous; I definitely qualified there. Looking back, I now realize that two things helped cause these conflicts. First, the humanism that I tried to mix with Christianity told me that I was different, my problems were because I was a “victim” of my environment and that I had a “disease”, and not because of sin. Secondly, I believed the leaders of that church did not know, or could not/did not explain the true biblical doctrine of grace! Today I know that true Christianity does not mix with anything else! I have also come to realize that like myself, all Christians struggle at times, but even more, Christ is able to empathize with believers, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”
Soon we felt that the church was “too large” and “impersonal” for our liking. We also desired teaching that was more substantial. We found that many people moved on to another nearby church. It was much smaller, averaging several hundred people on Sunday as opposed to several thousand people. A Bible club was offered to teach young children key scripture verses and play together with other Christian children. We took our children to this program for several years. I tried to fit into this church, but I felt superficial. My problems at the previous church just followed me. I sensed something was terribly amiss; yet I could never quire put my finger on it. The teaching was always lightweight, usually consisting of a Bible verse followed by a short sermon of application. Though we could not see it at the time, the teachings were based upon some of the same false assumptions that the Roman Catholic Church had and not founded upon Biblical principles.
My conflicts were not resolved! The focus of Sunday worship services seemed to be the music. I remember many times the frustration that we (and other members) felt after the band and/or congregation sang out our fifth praise song! “Preach the Bible,” I screamed inside my head. We were starving for the meat of God’s Word and did not even know it! The following week seldom picked up the Bible verse we left off at; it was another section, another theme, another analogy, and another modern application with seemingly no sense of continuity or focus.
Meanwhile Back at Home
My wife diligently taught our young boys the Bible. After the third time reading the entire Bible to our boys, she again came to Revelation. My wife realized that she could not teach Revelation to our children because she herself did not fully understand it. There were so many divergent opinions concerning its interpretation, with many people contradicting each other! She began having doubts concerning whether she was teaching correct doctrine or not. Meanwhile I was so caught up in providing the daily needs of my family that I had become apathetic, and shied away from areas that brought out conflict. The Lord pressed on my wife’s heart to diligently seek the truth that she may properly teach biblical doctrine to our children. In home schooling our children with a classical education, we understood the necessity of seeing all subjects through the light of scripture. History (His-story) is very important, the history of the church of utmost importance.
Studying church history, she began with the early church fathers defending orthodoxy against heresy. One day when I came home from work, she asked me if I knew what had happened at the Council of Ephesus in 431. I did not, so she proceeded to tell me about how Pelagius, a British monk, denied that the human race had fallen in Adam. Pelagius denied original sin, the total depravity of man, and predestination. Against this, Augustine taught that every man is conceived in sin and can be saved only through the grace of God according to His good pleasure. The questions began piling up and engaging my own curiosity. “Total depravity” sounded like a good description of me, and I thought that maybe I had read the word “predestination” in Romans or Ephesians. My wife then told me that Pelagius’ teachings were condemned as heresy at Ephesus. She also told me that the Synod of Orange in 529 condemned Semi-Pelagianism, which taught that it is up to the individual to accept or refuse God’s offer of grace. I found all of this very compelling. I began to suspect that somewhere in all this there might be answers to my conflicts. When my wife reached the time of the Reformation, questions concerning these things began to pile up. Why was there a split between Roman Catholicism and the Reformers? Does man have a “free will?” Who was Luther? Who was Calvin? The only thing I knew about them was that when I was a child my mother told me they where devils. As a little boy, I thought anyone with the name Luther probably was a devil. The time to discern between true biblical doctrine and error was at hand. The foremost questions in our minds were, “How did God redeem us?” “What exactly is grace?” Moreover, “Why did God save the very worst of sinners like us?” We could understand why God would redeem “good people,” but not people like ourselves. On what basis were we saved? My wife and I both accepted and professed Christ. However, was this the very basis by which we are saved, our own accepting and receiving Him? If it is, was that not works? The Bible clearly stated: “But if it be works, then it is no more grace.”
God’s election of certain individuals to salvation is the opening doctrine of the nature of His grace. Without God’s election there would be no salvation, because being dead in trespasses and sins, man is just a rotting corpse and is in enmity against God. None of the churches that we previously visited taught about predestination and election. They steered clear of it, yet, all throughout the gospels, Christ makes mention of the elect of God. Predestination and election are a major theme in the New Testament, being mentioned no less than forty-seven times. God’s predestination and election are directly related to the prophecies given to the Lord’s chosen servants, the prophets. The prophets prophesied the future because God declared it from the beginning! “Remember the former things of old: for I am GOD, and there is none else: I am GOD, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.” God, being God, has created all things for the purpose of bringing glory to Himself. If there were one molecule not in His control, then He would cease being God. Scripture tells us that; “For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by Him, and for Him: And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.” Being omniscient, He knows all things, and even further, has determined all things.
Today, I know predestination and election are God’s “secret weapon” that are used to humble the sinful pride of man who thinks that salvation is within man’s power. By this, He redeems a chosen people for Himself to worship Him in spirit and in truth. I challenge you, the reader, to read the entire first chapter of Ephesians. While you are doing this, take specific note of the action verbs, and take note of who is doing the action.
The realization that God chose us, that we did not choose him, and further, this was predestined before the foundation of the world caused an explosion in our minds. As a family, we became voracious readers. Rather than make us proud, it humbled us to the dust. Why God would choose rebellious sinners such as us is beyond our comprehension. Knowing that God is sovereign in all things, including salvation, is a prerequisite for a proper biblical understanding of the doctrine of grace and redemption, not to mention the doctrines of propitiation, justification, and sanctification.
When God revealed these wonderful truths to us from His Word, our family experienced the most wonderful resolution. Questions and doubts that plagued us were answered. So elegant in its simplicity, Gods election resolved the problem caused by works against grace. It is God’s election of grace unto salvation, or nothing at all! Because, anything man does to merit grace is a work of the flesh. Grace is completely unmerited; otherwise, it is not grace. We also understood why there are so many problems in so many mainstream “evangelical” churches. Because these same, having departed from orthodox, historical biblical doctrines, are relying upon man’s carnal reasoning and methods rather than upon what the Bible teaches. Many exclaim, “We can’t teach that, it’s too controversial!” or, “People won’t like that!”
It is strange that God does not have the same fears. His truths are set forth plainly in scripture, which they either ignore or twist to their own destruction. Sure, it hurts man’s pride, but is not that pride the very root of sin itself? Many others also have declared, “If we taught that, our churches would be so small.” To such, God’s Word answers, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” The apostle Paul declares; “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth…” This same apostle emphatically declared; “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” For those that still think that belief is within their own power, the Lord Jesus states; “…this is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent” and again, “…Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.” Belief is the result of salvation, not the cause of it! Any gospel other than this is “another” gospel!
Today, I no longer take one verse from the Bible, here and there, and attempt to build my own theology. I read whole sections and books of Scripture and let the words plainly speak for themselves, comparing scripture with scripture. I reject all humanism and psychology based upon the false notions of people like Freud and Rogers. True biblical counseling is a good thing. Yet, those who have a biblical knowledge of the doctrines of grace, justification, and sanctification seem to be few and far between. Today I know that I cannot manufacture in myself the fruit of the Holy Spirit; love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, apart from the Holy Spirit of God. Those are God’s attributes, not my own, and He gives those qualities to those who humbly submit to Him.
Regarding our will: today I know that my will is within God’s will and power and not outside of it. I realize that if His will had not overpowered mine and caused me to believe, repent, and seek Him, I would be among the lost, confused, and damned.
I have shared my personal story with you in the hope that this would encourage and exhort you to humble yourself before God, to read His Word, the Bible. Study to know what it teaches, and pray that God would lead you to find a Bible believing church that teaches the whole Word of God. If you are not familiar with the Bible and want to know more, please allow me to suggest starting with a gospel such as Matthew, or John, then (or in the same day) read the book of Romans. Try to read Romans in one sitting, then, go over it again more slowly.
Finally dear reader; know that “…God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you.”
I welcome your comments or questions. You can email me at:
 Ephesians 2:8-9
 1 John 1:8-10
 Matthew 6:7
 1Timothy 2:5
 Matthew 23:9
 Romans 11:6
 1Timothy 4:1-3
 1 Corinthians1:29
 Matthew 7:15-20; 2Thessalonians 2
 Matthew 24:23, 24
 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10
 1 John 1:8
 Matthew 9:12, 13
 Hebrews 4:15
 Kuiper, The Church in History p.39
 Romans 11 :6
 Isaiah 46:9-11
 Colossians 1:16-17
 Ephesians 1:4
 2 Peter 3:14-16
 Matthew 7:13, 14
 Romans 1:16
 Galatians 1:8, 9
 John 6:29
 John 6:65
 1 Peter 5:5-8