“As a Roman Catholic I have always been a Christian and when I die God will judge me by the good I have done in my life.” That is what I had believed from a child, until a school friend challenged me to rethink my belief and see what the Bible actually said.
Polish Catholic Foundations
From the moment I was born, the influence of the Roman Catholic religion was present. I was born, with my twin brother, on 29th June 1970, in Halifax, England. That date was not insignificant, for it was Saint Peter and Paul’s Day in the Roman Catholic calendar. It was therefore natural for my mother to name my brother and me, “Paul” and “Peter,” after these “Roman Catholic saints.” As Polish Catholics, “saints” and their “names-days” featured prominently in my parents’ lives. It was the lives of Roman Catholic saints, which would have an impact on my understanding of what it meant to be a Christian.
My parents had left their native Poland in the 1960s to come to England for a new and better life. Poland was still under the dark shadow of communism and the British Isles offered opportunity and hope. They settled in the northern English town of Halifax, where with many other Eastern European immigrants, my father found work in the local mills. My mother, a trained midwife, eventually found work in the hospital where I would be born. My parents were typical Polish Catholics. They did not particularly question their faith, but followed it like a faithful animal its master—obediently but without understanding. Catholicism had always been the warp and woof of the Polish nation. It is said that to be Polish is to be Catholic; Catholicism ran through a Pole like the blood in his veins. Of course, not every single Pole was Catholic, but the vast majority was. It was that which historically set apart Poles from their eastern neighbors on the map of Europe. As one writer has said, speaking of the times when my parents were born and growing up in Poland, “The Roman Catholic Church has no more faithful followers in the world than are to be found in Poland. Here is no sophisticated modernity, but a simple solid faith expressed freely in every form of human life.”
Ignorance and Darkness
And so my childhood was very Polish and very Catholic with its language, food, customs, and religion. My brother and I were baptized into the Catholic Church as infants. As was the tradition, Paul and I had people who were set aside as our godparents; these were people, who along with our parents, would have the task of ensuring we were brought up in the Catholic faith. That rite of baptism was meant to wash me from my (original) sin. I, being a baby, was entirely ignorant of this and ignorant of what the truth was; I needed a work of God’s grace in my inner being to spiritually awaken me, and not a work of a priest’s hands pouring water over me. I needed to consciously turn from my sin to the Savior. I needed a personal faith in Jesus, and not a faith that my parents or godparents had on my behalf. The apostle Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”1 A conscious repentance and faith in Jesus must come first. I needed an inward working by God’s Spirit to give me a sense of my sin against God, and a faith in the Savior Jesus. I, however, was yet an infant unable to believe and very far from the Savior.
Every Sunday my parents took my brother, older sister, and myself to Polish Mass. Very little of it ever made any sense to me. I would sit in the pew and watch and listen, as the priest would go through all the formalities and ceremonies. I do not ever remember the priest encouraging anyone to read the Bible. The Bible itself was a “closed book” to me. Here was this “tome” with all its pages—what did it all mean? If only I had been told what the Bible says of itself: “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth”2 and “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.”3 But all was darkness when it came to understanding; such things were only for the priest to know, and not for us who were “simple.”
Praying for the Dead
In those early years of growing up in the Catholic Church I accepted what I was told, believing that my prayers, participating in the church sacraments such as attending confession, going to Mass, and being a good person would earn me the right to get to heaven. Of course, even after doing all these things, I could never be sure of heaven. And so, I was taught that there was a place called purgatory, where all the sins that I had not made amends for would be dealt with—here would be the place where I would have to suffer for a time. One childhood memory was of my brother and I snuggling up in my grandmother’s bed in the morning and she would teach us what to pray. One of those prayers was for the dead.
People in the church would constantly give the priest money to say a Mass for their loved ones in purgatory. If that was done, then their relatives’ time would not be so long, and they would sooner be in heaven. Oh, how that pain and misunderstanding could have been alleviated for so many people, if only they knew what God had said in His Word. The Bible has nothing to say about purgatory, but everything to say about a Savior who endures all the suffering necessary for the sin of all who belong to Him.
There are those wonderful, consoling words we find in the Bible: “Every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.”4 The priest and the Mass can do nothing for the dead, but for those who believe, Christ has suffered all the punishment necessary: hell itself—“one sacrifice for sins for ever.” But I still had not truly recognized who Christ was and what He had accomplished on the cross.
Called by God?
At the age of about seven, my brother and I had what would be called our “First Communion.” This was supposed to be a very important event, confirming what our faith was to mean to us. At the time, I did not understand its significance, but I must h ave sensed its importance, because my brother and I had to get dressed in white suits (I am pictured on the right in the photograph with Father Gaik in the centre), which had been specially made for us, and then attend a ceremony at the church, where the priest blessed us. There was something else that was significant on that occasion. I recall having a special meal at our home, when friends came to visit. The guest of honor was our Polish priest, Father Tadeusz Gaik. He was a gentle man and had suffered imprisonment during the Second World War under the Nazis in Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps. (An acquaintance of Father Gaik whilst in Poland was Karol Wojtyła, who would in time become known as Pope John Paul II.) I, therefore, respected Father Gaik, and as was instilled in us, the priest was above all other men. It was what he brought that day that would shape my thinking for the next few years of my life. As the guests gathered around, he presented a container with various folded-up pieces of paper. On each paper was written a career in life. The one that I picked out had written on it “KSIĄDZ”—it was the Polish word for “PRIEST.” There was no question: God had spoken. From then on, I was resolute on becoming a priest for God.
Saints and Missionaries
Growing up in a Polish Catholic home, my parents involved my sister, brother, and me not only in Mass on Sundays but also our lives as children were active, attending and participating in Polish Catholic festivals, processions, gatherings, and events. As a young Catholic, I took an interest in the “Catholic saints” and remember coming across a book telling of their miraculous and sacrificial lives. One story, told by a teacher in the Catholic school I attended, had a great impression on me. He spoke of a particular man who wore a heavy chain around his waist, which would wear away his flesh. The point was, that in suffering in this way, he was making amends for his sin. But in glorifying this act of suffering, this denied the “perfect” suffering that Christ suffered, once and for all, for His people on the cross. Such stories of “saints” fortified me in my thinking to live and suffer for God, but in this zeal for the Catholic religion I did not realize how blasphemous it was to claim that my suffering could atone for my sin. I did not realize that by trying to earn my salvation by “good works,” I was stealing away Christ’s glory and seeking to be a “co-savior.” I did not understand that God does not share His glory or His work of salvation with another: “I, even I am LORD, and beside me there is no Savior.”5
Inspired by the saints, and with an apparent calling from God, I had set my vision on becoming a priest for God. I particularly became attracted to a Catholic missionary movement known as the Verona Fathers, primarily through contact with one of their priests. I began to collect literature about them and, in particular, became fascinated with Daniel Comboni, the missionary priest to Africa who founded the Verona Fathers. His life and sacrifice gripped me, and by the age of ten I was all set to attend the Verona Fathers’ boarding school. At this school I could learn more about my “faith,” about becoming a priest, and even perhaps a missionary. To me the life of a priest was a life pleasing to God, and I was very excited. But “providence” had other plans for me. After some thought, my mother did not want to let me go out of her sight, and I ended up staying at home and attending a local school. Perhaps, if I had gone, things may have turned out very differently.
Fallen Men and False Mediators
I continued being active in the church. From a young age to the age of eighteen, my brother and I were altar boys, ministering to the priest as he performed the Mass. This also meant attending to the priest on other occasions, such as Friday Mass and masses in other towns. Being so much closer to the priest, I began to see that this was a mere man, with faults. Following Father Gaik’s death, we had a younger, more confident (and more rotund) priest who was very different. Over time, the mask of religion began to fall away and reveal a man not devoted to God, but to himself. He lived in luxury and had little about him to attract a young Catholic wanting to serve God. My brother and I would also sing Polish hymns before the c ongregation (I am pictured on the left in the photograph). I recall another priest, who trained us in our singing, as likeable but quite worldly in his habits. Some of the priests did appear sincere, and one, in particular, lived a very ascetic and humble life. But all these men ultimately kept me from God.
These “men of God” stood between God and me, not as mediators, but barriers. They never encouraged me to read the Bible; they never emphasized to me the enormity of my sin; they never explained the finished sacrifice of Christ on the cross; above all, they never urged me to look to Jesus as the all-sufficient Savior. Instead, they emphasized their own position, the position of the Church and its sacraments, saints, and Mary above or equal to Christ. Yet, I did not understand that the only way to God, the only way to obtain peace with God, was through the Lord Jesus Christ. It was through Him with no add-ons. The Bible is very clear: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”6 These “men of God” were blind, leading me, their blind follower. I had met, known, and respected so many of them, and yet none had led me to the One True Mediator.
A Challenge from a Friend
Throughout my teens, I continued to attend the local Polish Catholic church in Halifax, but my interest in the priesthood began to fade. I began to grow discontented with the church, and within myself I began to ask questions. A school friend, who claimed to be a true Christian, challenged me as to whether the Catholic Church was teaching according to the Bible, and whether I was living according to the Bible. I normally retorted with the usual claims of a Catholic: that the Catholic religion was the oldest church in the world with Peter as the first pope. This I said in pride and ignorance, knowing only the version of history that the Church had taught me. I had not been brave enough, or bothered enough, to check what the reality was. I had never examined history’s testimony regarding the Catholic Church and the Christian faith. Most important of all, I had not considered the Bible’s testimony, and in particular, what it said regarding Christ.
I continued having the verbal sparring with my friend, but as time passed by, my whole belief system began to crumble. By the time I finished secondary school, at eighteen years of age, I was in doubt about whether there really was a God at all. At that point I left the Catholic Church, disillusioned and confused. I had not left earlier out of loyalty to my mother. I began to attend a Protestant church with my Christian school friend, and over the next year or so sought to learn what the truth was. Little by little I began to believe again there really was a God, and at this point thought I had become a Christian. But it was not until a couple years had passed that I saw something still very much amiss in my life.
Ignorant of the Gospel
At the age of twenty, I had returned to my second year of university with some confidence that I had a real belief in God. I involved myself in the university Christian Union and for a time was happy. But as I got to know, in particular, a few of the Christians there, I began to realize they had something in them that I did not have. Perhaps it was just a few words they shared about what they had found in the Bible, or perhaps it was the way they prayed—I knew I was missing something. More and more I began to see that I did not understand what it was to be a Christian. I recall one Christian Union meeting where the guest speaker threw out a question for us all to consider: “What is the gospel?” I was sitting next to a girl who had apparently just become a Christian. We sat there and looked at each other, but neither of us had much to say. Perhaps she was young in her faith and understanding, but deep down I knew that for me something was not quite right. I now know that the gospel is the very heart of the Christian faith. The word “gospel” means “good news;” it is good news that Christ came to suffer the punishment that sinners deserve and thus save them completely. The apostle Paul proudly proclaimed, “I declare unto you the gospel…By which also ye are saved…that Christ died for our sins.”7 Sitting there in that meeting, I knew this in my head, but not knowing it personally in my heart, how could I ever grasp that this was “good news”?
What is the Truth?
Things seemed to come to a head in the summer of 1991. I had volunteered to go to Poland for two weeks with a student Christian organization to tell people about Christianity. As my parents came from Poland, and I could speak Polish, I saw this as an ideal opportunity to share my “faith in God” with my “fellow Poles.” Perhaps I was no longer a Catholic, but I still had that “missionary” spirit. As I went out with other students onto the streets and the beach in the Polish coastal town, I would tell people that they needed to give their lives wholeheartedly to Christ—it was not enough for them to simply go to church and say their prayers; their whole lives should be different. Those things that I said were true, but I still had not grasped that my “good life” was not good enough to get me to heaven. As it is written of the Jews in the Bible, I had “a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”8 I needed the righteousness Christ to save me, and not my own “righteousness.”
Inside, however, God was working; I realized something was wrong. I became conscious that what I was telling people was not the entire message. I lacked conviction that this was “the truth” that could give them a new life in Christ. In fact, I was conscious that I did not appear to have that new life. And so, whenever I had the opportunity, I listened to these Christians sharing the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, straining to understand “the truth.” When I was asked to give my testimony to the people on the promenade, I was troubled. As I began to share what I believed was my faith, I faltered.
I returned to England with a heavy heart. I began to talk to Christian friends and read books, searching for an answer. One friend pointedly asked me, “Why do you believe?” I tried to give him various reasons, but his response to this was: “I believe it because it is the Truth.” I knew then and there that I could not say that. Could not Islam or Buddhism or any other religion also have the answer? Could they not be the “truth?” What is it that sets apart the Truth?
Light Breaking Through the Darkness
And so I carried on asking, reading, and searching. Outwardly, everything seemed fine to my acquaintances. I was enjoying my studies and friendships at university, but inwardly I was in darkness wondering what the truth to life was. It was the winter of 1991, with a few weeks still remaining of my study before the Christmas break, when everything changed. I was in my room sitting at my desk listening to an audiotape. What I was listening to was taken from the Bible (1 Corinthians, chapter 1) concerning Jesus Christ and how it appeared foolish to people that He needed to die on the cross. Here are some of the words I heard:
We in our foolishness thought we were wise,
He played the fool and He opened our eyes.
We in our weakness believed we were strong,
He became helpless to show we were wrong.
In that moment it was as if the light came and dispelled my darkness. For the first time in my heart, I grasped why Jesus Christ had to die on the cross. I saw that I was not good enough or strong enough to save myself and get into heaven. It took Jesus, the perfect Son of God, to die on the cross—carrying my sin and guilt. Only He could fully take the punishment for what I had done wrong and so cleanse me from all my sins.
For years, I had been trying to earn my way into heaven. I wanted God to accept me because of the good things I had done. The years in the Catholic Church had instilled in me that good works save. Above all, my sinful human pride had convinced me that I could do something to earn heaven. Now I realized this was foolishness; the Bible tells us very clearly, “There is none righteous…there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”9 We are all helpless to save ourselves—we need an all-powerful Savior. Every other religion and belief system tells us in some way it depends on us, whether it is through good deeds, keeping all the commandments, carrying out rites and sacraments, working together, thinking hard enough, or making the right decisions. This is what the Catholic Church teaches, and it is no different from all the other religions of the world. But, the Bible tells us it is not you or I, but God alone in Christ that can save. “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”10 In that moment, I knew Christ as my Savior. I trusted Christ alone to save me.
Rejoicing in the Saviour
I rejoice that my salvation is all of Christ and does not depend on me. Following my salvation in Christ, in April 1992, I was baptized out of obedience to my Savior, and in identification with what He had already done for and in me. He had washed me of my sins, and in Him I had been buried with my old life of sinfulness and raised again to a new life. That is what baptism symbolizes—God’s inner work in a sinner. And it is because of what God has done for me in Christ that, in thankfulness and love, I now seek to please Him, in obeying His Word—the Bible. Now, being a new creation in Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit, I strive to do good—not to earn heaven, but because heaven is already mine because of Christ and what He accomplished for me.
“Come to the Saviour”
Those are the words with which I would like to end. I would urge you, dear reader, to “Come to the Savior.” It may be that you are a Catholic. It may be that you are relying on Jesus Christ plus your good works. Or, it may be that you are not a Catholic by name, but “by practice”—you are relying on your good deeds and your own efforts to be right with God and enter heaven. Perhaps, even you do not have a strong belief in God, but you are “hedging your bets” by relying on the “good things” that you have done in your life. I would say strongly but lovingly to you: “Do not be deceived!” The Bible speaks clearly to us, that not only have we “all sinned,” but we have all “come short of the glory of God.”11 And, there is nothing we can do to make up that distance between God and ourselves. It is no good saying, “I will do my best and God will take care of the rest.” The Bible solemnly tells us: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”12
I had been so long deceived in the Catholic Church. Even when I left the Church, that deception remained in my heart, and I believed I could do something to earn my salvation. But all that we can “do” is “believe” on the One who has done all that was needed for salvation. Jesus Himself said: “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”13 I am overwhelmed that God had mercy on me, and opened up my heart to see my insufficiency and Christ’s perfect sufficiency. Even now He is calling with the Gospel—the good news that there is a Savior. Will you acknowledge your sin and your inability to save yourself? Will you turn to the Savior now? Christ died on the cross, but three days later He rose triumphantly from the dead and sits enthroned in heaven. He hears when we call to Him. Will you “fall to your knees” and call to Him? He has accomplished all that was needed to save a sinner like you. I urge you that you turn from anything and anyone as a means of salvation, and trust only in Christ. The Bible has this wonderful promise: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”14 It is not the priest, not the pope, not the saints, not even Mary, but only on the Lord Jesus Christ we are to call. With all my heart I say this: “Come to the only true Savior, Jesus Christ.”
I end with two Bible verses that are precious to me; “For God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
“Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:24b)
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ul. Babimojska 8/12
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1 Acts 2:38
2 Psalm 119:103
3 Psalm 119:130
4 Hebrews 10:11, 12
5 Isaiah 43:11
6 1 Timothy 2:5
7 1 Corinthians 15:1-3
8 Romans 10:2
9 Romans 3:10, 12
10 Ephesians 2:8, 9
11 Romans 3:23
12 James 2:10
13 John 6:29
14 Romans 10:13