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From Catholicism to Christ

December 2015 | by Gearoid Marley

How can I be right with the one, true and holy God? Have you ever pondered that question? The question haunted me ever since I was a boy.

I only discovered the answer when I was 23 years old. Do you know this all-holy, eternal God personally: the one who created you and continues to give life to all?

Whether you are religious or have no religion, this story has relevance to you, for all of us will stand before God one day. To be right with God, our great need is to be born again (John 3:3) and be converted, by grace through faith in Christ alone. As you read my story, I pray you too will be faced with the question, ‘How can I truly know God?’

Catholic family

I grew up in a ‘good Catholic home’. This means that we attended mass every Sunday. We were involved in special devotions, novenas and missions. We fasted at Lent and honoured our church and its priests. Some of my relations were priests and nuns.

We prayed for them regularly as they were ‘serving God in Africa’. At school I learned about the seven sacraments of the Catholic church (Catholic catechism, Article 1210: The seven sacraments are christening, confession, the eucharist or Holy Communion, confirmation, matrimony, holy orders, extreme unction). I had ‘the three sacraments of initiation’. I was religious but not yet a Christian.

During my childhood something happened to make me think about serving God. I had a fall, cut my head and needed an emergency operation to remove a blood clot. I still have the scar! At the time I wondered why God had spared me; now I know the answer.

After this, I wanted to serve God as a priest. My parish priest said that I was too young. A few years later I would have my dream realised. At 18, I was drawn to the Society of Missions to Africa (SMA). I went on a pilgrimage to do penance and seek guidance regarding the priesthood. My parents were supportive and my aunt, who was a nun, was especially supportive.

Maynooth

In September 1993, I was accepted to study with SMA priests at the national seminary in Maynooth, Ireland. I was there for two years. We studied philosophy and arts, and we read the lives of famous Catholic saints. One of these was St Augustine of Hippo.

He quoted the Bible and wrote of Christ as a personal Saviour. I began to read the Bible for myself and discovered the inconsistencies between the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and the Bible.

These errors included Mary’s so-called sinless nature, confession to a priest, purgatory, transubstantiation and prayers to the saints. I read some Roman Catholic theologians, but their teachings often contradicted each other, or, worse still, the Bible.

I left the seminary in 1995. I had been willing to give up everything for my church, including a family of my own. I thought God had finished with me. I was wrong! However, he had to humble me and show me my true self, before I would seek him for forgiveness.

London

In 1997 I travelled to London. I met David, a work colleague who was a true Christian. He explained the biblical way of salvation. He answered many questions including, ‘How could I be right with the all-holy God?’

The answer is through faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). Works after salvation were important, but only after I became a Christian (Ephesians 2:10).On my nursing course, I also met some Christian student nurses and they again shared the gospel with me.

I attended their Christian Union meetings, where I heard gospel sermons for the first time. I went to an evangelical church where I heard clear Bible teaching.

On Sunday 8 February 1998, I finally became a Christian. I was listening to a church service on the radio. The preacher preached a gospel sermon on the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

The preacher said something different — that, ‘The Good Samaritan is Christ’. We are like the man on the road. Our sin has cut us off from God. We wrongly think we can earn favour with God. Works cannot save you, but faith in Christ alone will. How? We need to repent and believe in Christ alone as our Saviour. Through faith in Christ, God forgives us our sin and changes our hearts.

I knelt at my bed and confessed my sin. I told the Lord all my sinful thoughts and actions. I admitted that my self-righteousness and religion were worthless. I pleaded with him to forgive me for Christ’s sake.

Salvation

As I prayed, I felt this great weight of sin lift off my soul. I was born again. I had become a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). I now knew that God was my heavenly Father and I was his for ever. I knew at last that I was reconciled to the all-holy God.

Not everyone has such clear experiences of God’s mercy and grace. However, all true Christians can echo these words from the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’: ‘I once was lost, but now I’m found; Was blind, but now I see’. I had been seeking Christ, but the Good Shepherd sought me and saved me. I was now converted from the religion of Rome, through Christ alone.

I went to church that morning and the people recognised the change. One of the clearest evidences for me was that I no longer cursed and swore. Until then, it had been second nature to me.

There were other new evidences — a love for God; love for the Lord Jesus; a delight in his Word, and a joy in meeting with God’s people. I had a deep hunger to read the Bible. I carried it everywhere with me. I learned the privilege and joy of true sincere heartfelt prayer to God.

My prayers before this had been ritualistic and repetitious. I attended the church’s midweek Bible study and prayer meeting and heard the people really pray. They rejoiced that the Lord had heard and answered their prayers for my salvation.

Lessons

I was now a true Christian, but still quite naive. I attended a Charismatic church, but their insistence on ‘speaking in tongues’ perplexed me. You see, I had already spoken in tongues before my conversion!

I listened to a sermon entitled ‘Being filled with the Spirit’. In summary, the Holy Spirit never contradicts the Scriptures. So I studied the Bible avidly and became convinced of the errors of the Charismatic movement, including their claim to speak in divine tongues.

After this, I went through times of testing. However, the Lord brought me through and I began to read helpful Christian books. I also studied the Bible with a friend in the church.

There is much more that has happened since those early days in February 1998. I studied for the pastoral ministry at an evangelical theological seminary. I met and married my lovely, godly wife, Elizabeth, and we have the gift of two precious daughters.

I pastored a church for seven years and now serve the Lord in an itinerant ministry with the Protestant Truth Society. It is amazing that I, who had been training to preach religion, have been called to preach the gospel of God’s sovereign grace.

Loved

I have related how the Lord led me from Rome to Christ. He who loved me with an ‘everlasting love’ (Jeremiah 31:3) humbled me, convicted me of my sin and converted me by grace. To him be all the glory!

What about you? Whether you are religious or not, good works cannot save anyone. The only Saviour of people like you and me is the Lord Jesus Christ. He said to those who were religious, ‘Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I shall give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28).

I was religious, but I was not a Christian. I trusted my church, but I had not trusted Christ as my Saviour. What about you?

Gearoid Marley

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Evangelistic