Treadmills, Bondage, Tombstones, and Grace – Bernard R. Hertel

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  • Treadmills, Bondage, Tombstones, and Grace – Bernard R. Hertel

As a child, I tried desperately to be good, yet constantly failed. I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1944 to a “good” Catholic family. Along with my older brother and sister, I went to Catholic grade school, high school, and college. I liked all the priests and nuns who taught us in our home parish, St Nicholas. Although I considered it a privilege to be chosen to serve Mass, I knew my overt and covert sins put me under God’s wrath. Each night after dinner, we said the rosary. My mother, sister, brother, and I took turns washing and drying dishes while Dad and the others took turn leading and answering the Hail Marys. My friends later told me that they always knew not to come over too soon after supper, or they would be corralled into joining in on the rosary.

Treadmill Living

I kept trying harder to be good, failing again and again, while making confessions to the priest so that I would not go to hell. Staying out of the fire of hell was a strong motivation. Yet, my sin nature triumphed. I felt as though I was on a treadmill—commit those favorite sins, feel guilty, rush to find a priest, confess, and feel safe—only to fall again. I was in bondage to my sin nature and to a sacramental system that demanded I be dependent upon the priest and a hope-for-salvation.

It was true of me when the apostle John said, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”1

The apostle Paul described my situation, “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins. Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”2

Divergent Drive

During high school, we commonly had career days. One constant presentation was by priests, brothers, or nuns suggesting that maybe “you too” have a calling from God to that higher spirituality of the religious life. I doubted that I was good enough to get in; yet, I felt a desire to do something to get into God’s good graces. After all, I had a lot to make up for all my sin. Maybe, if I became a priest, He would look upon me with favor and keep me out of hell. The summer after freshman year of high school, we visited a novitiate in Arlington Heights, Illinois. The priest who was in charge of vocations wrote to me for about a year, he also sent me fliers and newsletters. I decided to visit the novitiate with my family that summer, on a vacation that took us through the Chicago area. I was disheartened that the building and location looked nothing like the pictures. I returned to Messmer High School, the Catholic school I had been attending. In the next two years, I experienced two conflicting forces within me: an increasing attraction to the high school girls that were in my classes, as adolescence emerged into manhood, and an apposing allure and gravitation to a priestly, celibate vocation. I had trouble reconciling these two divergent drives.

Seminary Life

Meanwhile, our parish had increasing numbers of young men going to St Francis Seminary on the south side of Milwaukee. By the summer of my junior year of high school, I decided that I had to f ind out if I had a vocation. The pastor at our parish, Monsignor Stehling, suggested the way to find out was to attend seminary. So, at the beginning of my senior year, I switched from Messmer High School to De Sales Prep Seminary.

I bonded with the forty other guys in my class as we lived, ate, and roomed together. It was the closest familiarity I had experienced up until that point in my life; perhaps it was similar to the bonding or camaraderie often described in the military at war, when men need to depend upon one another. I greatly enjoyed that initial experience.

However, I still struggled with sin, continuing on the treadmill of trespasses, feeling guilty, finding a priest, confessing, and hoping again. I got creative, trying different confessors. Maybe I would find one more lenient, more understanding, more accepting of my sin. In the end, I was still a lost sinner, trying harder, yet unable to stop sinning. I was still on the treadmill and in bondage.

I remember envisioning myself living to a ripe old age, trying very hard to be good, always turning over a new leaf, but just at the last minute of my life doing some stupid sin and losing it all, ending up in hell. The anxiety frustrated me.

Also, it was during my third and fourth year in the seminary that Vatican II was being implemented. Eating meat on Fridays was no longer a mortal sin, whereas only a few weeks earlier people supposedly went to hell—for all eternity—for eating meat on Fridays. This change disturbed me and raised some doubts. The liberal culture of the 1960’s also caused me to doubt my ability to live a celibate life. So, after four years, I left the seminary in 1966.

Married with Children

During the following twenty-three years, I met my wife Mary, a former nun, and we raised three daughters, Laura, Sarah, and Allison. We were good Catholics: going to Mass each week, attending the sacraments, getting our children baptized and confirmed, distributing communion at Mass, teaching catechism, et cetera. We trusted “the one true church” implicitly.

In 1988, we were teaching a confirmation class to thirteen sophomores. We, along with the students, were given a Catholic Bible by one couple in our Catholic church. We began reading it. I particularly liked the words in red, the indication that Jesus is the one speaking. The words seemed to speak to my deep inner needs, and Jesus Christ seemed so compassionate and loving.

At this same time, our local public school was attempting to introduce sex education into the curriculum. About three hundred parents, many who were Christians, were working against this. Through this group, we were introduced to Christian radio. I liked the conservative perspective. We went to our local priest to ask the church to help us fight against this curriculum. Instead of helping us, they came out endorsing it, and they even suggested they would help teach the sex education teachers. A red flag went up in our consciences; we were confused. So, we tried the following: 3

  1. Moving to a more conservative Catholic parish.

  2. Reading more Bible.

  3. Listening to the conservative Christian radio.

  4. Finding a Catholic dogma book and comparing it with Scripture.

A Life Changing Message

I remember first hearing the clear gospel message while driving on a business trip to Burlington, Iowa. As I drove, I was surfing for a Christian station while listening to the radio. Some preacher gave the message: “We are all sinners, deserving of hell – not able to make it to heaven on our own.” I knew I was a sinner; I could relate to that. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”4 “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.’”5 “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”6

The preacher was talking about me. He said that Christ had died for our sins. I had heard that before—but now I heard that he had died for “my” sins. “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”7

The message continued: He was buried and rose again according to the Scriptures. Whosoever believes on Him shall have eternal life. That was simple. It was so simple that I did not feel inclined to believe it. My whole background predisposed me to expect “to do something.” I expected a quid pro quo; i.e., I do something in order to get something. I had a merit mentality that presumed I could gain God’s favor with enough good works. My religious background predisposed me to reject a free gift.

Yet, after turning this over in my mind for a number of days, I realized it had to be true. By God’s grace, I repented of the merit mentality, believed in Jesus Christ, and received from Him the gift of salvation. I knew that from my track record of sin and failure, if it were left up to me to attain or maintain my salvation, I would fail. I only needed to believe on the finished work of Christ on Calvary to be saved. Many verses confirmed this simple truth:

  • For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life…He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.8

  • But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.9

  • And brought them out, and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”10

  • Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:11

  • Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.12

  • But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.13

  • That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.14

  • But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.15

Truth Clarified

As I kept reading Scripture, I found more and more error that the “one true church” espoused. I studied Roman Catholicism and the Bible. What I discovered in Roman Catholicism was death instead of life. Here are some of the tombstones:

1. It became clear that you could not have two final authorities: Scripture and tradition. Rome ultimately holds tradition above Scripture. “All scripture is inspired by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness: so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”16

2. Rome holds to a doctrine of Purgatory. “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”17 “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”18 These Biblical concepts negate purgatory.

3. Rome holds that Mary was sinless from birth, yet the Scripture has recorded her own words voicing the need of a savior. And, as the Bible makes clear, only sinners need to be saved. “And Mary said, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.’”19

4. Rome encourages the use of the Rosary. “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.”20

5. Rome encourages prayers to Mary because they say she is the mediatrix to God. “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”21 “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”22

6. Roman Catholicism calls the Mass a propitiatory, unbloody re-sacrificing of Christ on Calvary. “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.”23 “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.”24

7. Rome presumes a sacerdotal approach to God – saying we need to use the sacraments and the priestly system to approach God. “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”25 Christ has given us direct access to God: “And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent.”26

In Catholicism we called the priest Father and Reverend. “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.”27 “He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant forever: holy and reverend is his name.”28 Another Bible text states that we are the priests –“Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”29

Roman Catholicism says that you sin the sin of presumption to think that you are saved without merit, but the Bible says you can know that you have eternal life.“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.”30 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”31 “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life: and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”32

Sharing the Message

I hope that no one gets the impression that I am against Catholic people. I love the Catholics I know and realize that most are very sincere in their beliefs, very sincere. Sincerity will not save, however. I love these people but object to a system that masks the truth and garbles the gospel. The truth of the gospel will set people free—free from the penalty of sin—free from a dead works approach to salvation on the installment basis. My hope and prayer is that all my Catholic relatives, friends, and acquaintances, will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

When I realized that the Roman Catholic Church had deceived me, I was exceedingly angry. How could they tell me all those years they were “the one true church” and that they were the only pathway to heaven? In John’s gospel, we read, “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”33

I attempted to tell all my relatives what I had learned—how Christ had died for my sins—and that belief on Christ alone is what saves. It is my earnest desire that they know and understand the truth. Some have believed. All, however, are now more fully accountable before God after having been exposed to the truth.

Since I have believed on Jesus Christ alone for my salvation, I have eternal security. I know I am going to heaven when I die. I no longer need to be anxious, but rather can rest upon the finished work of Christ.

  • And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.34

  • All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.35

  • To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.36

  • Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.37

  • For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.38

Trusting what the Bible says gives me a great sense of security.

Ongoing Battle

I still fall into sin. Being a born-again Christian does not negate the “old sin nature.” Besides being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the old sin nature still resides within and is at war against the Holy Spirit. However, Christ died for all my sins: past, present, and future. When He died, of course, all my sins were future, for I had not yet been born. Sin is no longer the issue. I am no longer anxious about my destiny. In fact, I learned that man sins because he is a sinner, rather than becoming a sinner because he sins. Think about that. Do we see ourselves as good, only occasionally sinning, or as a sinner who occasionally does something righteous? But, the Bible calls our righteousness filthy rags, in other words, abominable. In actuality, our goodness is mere self-righteousness, which is condemned by God. The Bible says we all are sinners: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”39 “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”40 Sinners need a savior; we cannot save ourselves. Jesus Christ did it for us. Jesus is the Savior.

Walk of Faith

Most recently, I have been learning more about how to walk in the Spirit. “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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”41

Believers still have an old sin nature, so I am still tempted and still do sin. However, it is liberating to reckon and count on the truth that the power of sin no longer enslaves me. Because of what Christ did on Calvary, and because the Holy Spirit indwells me, I do not have to sin. I can now choose to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. I try to read and study Scripture consistently. As I read the Word and gain God’s viewpoint, by the new nature, I will respond against the old sin nature by following the Holy Spirit’s desires for my life. My day-by-day goal is to walk in the Holy Spirit, i.e., to abide in Christ.

  • Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine; so neither can you unless you abide in Me.42

  • It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.43

  • …contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.44

  • For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.45

  • Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Jesus Christ.46

  • That in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.47

  • See then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.48

Yielding myself to the Holy Spirit is the goal. I know that as I abide in the Holy Spirit, Christ will use me as a willing instrument and spiritual fruit will occur. None of this can be credited to me, because I died, and now Christ lives in me. “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”49 Bernie Hertel must diminish and Jesus Christ must be magnified. To Him be the glory. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”50

Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of my faith. The Holy Spirit will conform me to the image of Jesus Christ over time—through trials, through fellowship with believers, and through knowledge of His Word. I wait with expectation and excitement to see how God will continue to work in my life.

If you have tried to be religious: doing good, keeping the Ten Commandments, doing the sacraments, following church rules, et cetera, in order to win God’s approval, then may I invite you to repent (change your mind). Change your mind about how sinful man becomes saved. “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”51

I invite you to repent of any “merit mentality”—attempted good works to earn God’s favor and approbation. Change your mind about how salvation is attained. Give up the quid pro quo, the need-to-work-to-get idea, and accept GRACE, the truth that salvation is a gift. Salvation is free and yours for the acceptance of Jesus Christ. The work was done on Calvary. It is finished! “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.”52 “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”53

An Invitation

If you are a Catholic, we love you and want you to know the truth. Do not trust what any sinful man says. God’s inspired Word, the Bible, is TRUTH. “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”54 It is trustworthy. Read Scripture! Begin by reading the Gospel of John. Read the epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians. Check what Scripture says against what any church or man says. The Holy Spirit will help you. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”55 Pray for wisdom, so that God’s Holy Spirit will lead you to the truth.

If you have Catholic relatives or friends, pray for them; share with them the gospel of grace:

how Christ died for sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again. Boldly challenge them to trust Christ alone as their Savior. Remember to allow the Spirit of God to move their hearts. He convicts them of their sin and moves them toward Christ as Savior. You may give them this testimony or, better yet, share your own.

Some of you know that I am an insurance agent. One of my habits is reading local death notices to see if any former clients have died. It is amazing what people put down on paper to summarize what thirty, fifty or even eighty or more years represent. Whether I live a short while or quite a while the following is true:

Bernie Hertel

Here I am, Bernard R. Hertel, husband of Mary, father of Laura, Sarah, Allison, and grandfather of Katherine and David. I was born a sinner on December 16, 1944, into a Catholic family, and I lived by man’s religion for 44 years. I tried repeatedly to do what was right, but I continually failed. I offended God and my fellow man in thought, word, deed, by omission and commission. I deserve eternal hell. Yes, I deserve hell—eternally. Yet, God in His infinite mercy extended His love to me while I was yet unrighteous, showing me how God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, came to die for my sins, was buried according to the Scriptures, and rose again to prove that my sins were propitiated and fully paid for by Jesus Christ. Scripture says that whosoever believes on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved. I believed God that this Scripture is true and faithful, and that faith was counted unto me for righteousness. My sin was imputed (charged) to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ’s righteousness was imputed to me. God did it all! God gets all the glory! Jesus Christ is to be magnified! Amen.


If you have any questions or comments please email me at: brhertel@wi.rr.com


1 John 8: 44

2 Ephesians 2:1-3

4 Romans 3:23

5 Romans 3:10-12

6 Isaiah 64:6

7 Romans 5:6-8

8 John 3:16, 36

9 John 20:31

10 Acts 16:30, 31

11 Romans 5:1

12 Galatians 2:16

13 Galatians 3:22

14 Titus 3:7

15 Hebrews 11:6

16 2 Timothy 3:16, 17

17 Hebrews 9:27, 28

18 2 Corinthians 5:8

19 Luke 1:46, 47

20 Matthew 6:7

21 1Timothy 2:5

22 John 14:6

23 Hebrews 9:22

24 Hebrews 10:12-14

25 Hebrews 4:14–16

26 Matthew 27:51

27 Matthew 23:9

28 Psalms 111:9

29 1Peter 2:5

30 John 10:27-30

31 John 5:24

32 1John 5:11-13

33 John 14:6

34 John 10:28

35 John 6:37

36 1Peter 1:4, 5

37 Hebrews 7:25

38 Romans 8:38, 39

39 Jeremiah 17:9

40 Genesis 6:5

41 Ephesians 2:8-10

42 John 15:4

43 Galatians 5:1

44 Jude 3

45 Romans 6:14

46 Romans 6:11

47 Ephesians 4:22-24

48 Ephesians 5:17-19

49 Romans 6:2b-4

50 Romans 12:1, 2

51 Romans 4:4, 5

52 Acts 10:43

53 Revelation 22:17

54 John 17:17

55 James 1:5