The Gentecost accounts (Acts 10, 11) present how a “good” man named Cornelius and others who were with him were saved. From these accounts, we should note many key truths about how a person, even a good man, is to be saved.
Cornelius was a high-level military official in the Roman army. He was a “devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people and prayed to God always” (10:2). His servants said that he was “a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews” (10:22). These statements reveal that Cornelius was truly an exemplary man.
One day, he saw an angel of God in a vision (10:3). The angel came to him and informed him that his prayers and alms were “come up for a memorial before God” (10:4). The angel then instructed Cornelius about what he was to do. Because we are given four separate records of this angelic encounter (10:3-7; 22; 30-32; 11:13-14), we know that God has greatly stressed to us this event in Cornelius’ life. Interestingly, we are given key information in the last record that is not provided in any of the others: the angel told Cornelius to send for Peter, who would tell him words, whereby he and his entire house would be saved (11:13-14).
Based on the information provided, we learn many important truths about how this good man was not saved. First, he was not saved by being a good man. Though he was an exemplary man in many ways, he still needed to be saved. His good deeds of giving alms to people did not save him. His being religious did not save him. His fear of God did not save him. Though he prayed to God continually, his doing so did not save him. His being just in his dealings with others did not save him. Though he was a model citizen who had a good reputation among all the Jews, he was not saved.
Furthermore, though he had an authentic encounter with a true angel of God, that supernatural experience did not save him. What’s more, though God had heard his prayers and remembered his alms, he still was not saved!
After the angelic encounter, Cornelius immediately sent for Peter (10:7-8; 33). Peter came to him. Upon seeing Peter coming in, “Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. But Peter took him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I myself also am a man'” (10:25-26). Peter was the Christ-chosen leader of the apostolic company. He thus was the top religious leader among the disciples of Jesus. Cornelius met this supreme religious figure and did homage to him, but his doing so did not save him. We thus learn that meeting and doing homage to any mere man, even the supreme religious leader of one’s time, will not save a person.
After Cornelius explained to Peter why he had sent for him (10:30-33), we read how Cornelius was finally saved. As the angel had told him, to be saved, Cornelius had to hear words from Peter whereby he would be saved. . . .
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