From Religion to Relationship
Many people talk about "religion" versus "relationship", but in my case, it truly defines my coming to know Jesus Christ. Based on some questions that have been asked, I would like to take a moment to share my testimony in this area.
I was raised as a Catholic and most of my mother's family are still devout Catholics. From a child, I knew I wanted to be close to God. While in 5th grade, a visiting priest addressed our class and informed us that the closest we could get to God was to become priests and nuns. Well, that sealed it for me. I decided that I wanted to be a nun and began volunteering to help clean the convent while in school as preparation for this transition.
Although I never became a nun (thankfully my family talked me out of it), I still remained a Catholic and believed the church's teachings. I venerated Mary whether through prayer, through the rosary, through song. I believed that the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) was the One, True Church and that no one could gain access to Heaven outside of the authority of the church. I believed that the Pope was the vicar of Christ on earth. I believed that the Eucharist of which I partook was the body and blood of Jesus Christ. I faithfully went through the sacraments that were supposed to bring me into fuller relationship with God - Baptism, Communion, and Confirmation.
Still even as an adult, I longed to be close to God and felt there was a void. I was active in church: teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, leading the dance ministry, serving on the HIV and Breast Cancer committees, etc. Yet, in spite all of this activity, I never felt that I really knew God. I even tried to read the Bible, but it was Greek to me. This only served to convince me more that the church was right, since they claimed that they were the only ones who could properly interpret Scripture.
I knew the Catholic rituals, but I just didn't know God. I was really beginning to get discouraged. If after ALL THIS I still didn't know God then what in the world would I have to do?
Further, I began to notice a lot of hypocrisy in the church - fornication, adultery, idolatry, pedophilia, abortion, homosexuality, etc. THIS was the church of God? It really made no sense to me and I felt like giving up on God. If THIS was the church, then I would be better off in the world because there was apparently no difference. Was God a hypocrite?
At this point, I issued God a challenge. I told Him, "If you are real, then you are going to have to show me because I am about to just forget all of this." True to His nature, He answered my prayer.
Circumstances occurred in my life that placed me in a position of being in a different town than my immediate family. Even once relocated, I found and joined a local Catholic church. Yet, God still began to show me that there was just something wrong.
It was at this time that I first encountered the truths of God. A family member shared with me a tape she had been given by a friend, which was produced by the Omega Church & Ministries Center in Atlanta, GA. As I listened to the tape, I heard things I had never heard before. However, I KNEW that I was hearing the truth for the first time in my life. It was only by the supernatural power of God that my eyes were opened to even know the truth as I heard it. One thing became crystal clear: If the Bible said what these people were saying, then my entire religious belief system up until that time had been rooted in something that was false.
I then began a quest to find out what the Bible really said. I found the nearest Christian store and purchased a Bible along with a number of books on Catholicism. I began a devout study of the Word of God to see whether it supported my beliefs as a Catholic. I was shocked to learn that it did not. There was no Scriptural basis for most of what I had been taught.
From that time on, God began to teach me and lead me through His Word as I spent time in prayer and study with Him in my own quiet places. Although I had previously not understood God's word, now He began to reveal its meaning to me. It wasn't an exercise of using my own intellect, but was by revelation. God began to impart understanding to me of what had previously been incomprehensible in my opinion. He showed me how Scripture reveals Scripture and gave me the faith and confidence to know that the Scriptures are the words of God.
So, this is how I came to know the Lord; and to understand that there is more to serving God than just following religious rituals. God desires to know each of us intimately and for us to know Him. The Bible says:
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" John 10:27
Don't be satisfied with defining your relationship with God based on your adherence to religious dictates (regardless of the denomination or church). But seek God in prayer, fasting and study so that Christ may be formed IN you (Galatians 4:19); that you may know Him even as you are known.
I offer sincere thanks and praise to our Lord Jesus Christ for delivering me from the system of Babylon. God is no respecter of persons. If you feel that your relationship with the Lord is not what it should be, seek Him for truth, ask Him to show you the things in your life which may be hindering you from knowing Him. Lastly let nothing - family, friends, previous beliefs - stand in your way to coming in right relationship with God. As Paul said, count it all as dung in order to win Christ; for that is what is most important.