Having spent 9 formative years in Philadelphia parochial schools, I had a good head knowledge about God. From 5 years of age I studied and memorized the catechism which gave me a factual knowledge of the Almighty. Laboring under the assumption that I could work my way to heaven, I became an altar boy, learned to recite the Mass in Latin and willingly served at church at every opportunity. Even as a child I wanted to please God. Saturdays would give me the opportunity to confess my sins to the priest but all my religious duty never satisfied my conscience. Bible reading was discouraged. During his homily one Sunday, I remember the priest saying from the pulpit, "You don't need to read the Bible, that's what we're here for." All of this was a formula for failure.
I squandered my tumultuous teen years on drugs, sex and alcohol. One Friday evening while driving home from work, I stopped into a Christian book store out of curiosity. There were no other patrons in the store, so the owner turned his attention to me. Realizing I had no idea what I was looking for, the owner engaged me in a brief conversation but before I left he invited me to church. Disillusionment had brought my church attendance to a halt many years prior. Reluctantly I accepted his offer to attend because at this point I just wanted to leave. Two days later I decided to visit this church, which was a simple storefront building next to his bookstore. What a huge difference from the ornate architecture and stained glass windows of my childhood church! On a hot, humid August afternoon in Williamstown, NJ in that simple storefront, I heard a simple message that would change my life forever.
Granted, I already knew I was a sinner, you didn't have to convince me of that. I already believed in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and knew that He died for the sins of the world, but on that morning God opened my eyes to see that He died for me. "to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God." John 1:12 I also learned that good works would not warrant my entrance into heaven. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." Ephesians 2:8,9 My life was a jumbled mess and in response to the sermon I cried out to God that morning for help. I willingly gave up control of my life and turned it over to Jesus, believing He would change me from the inside out. "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved." Romans 10:9,10