Author: Ron Graham
The Good Man Cornelius
—What did he lack?
Cornelius, whose story is told in Acts 10, is a most interesting case of conversion. Cornelius had an extremely high standing with God. Yet he still needed to “be saved”.
1 The Goodness of Cornelius
- Cornelius was a centurion (Acts 10:1). This means he was the captain of around 80-100 soldiers in the Roman army. His responsibility was to keep the peace and to enforce the law.
- Cornelius was a devout man and one who feared God (Acts 10:2). From the story, we gather that he was a Gentile. However certain Gentiles were God-fearers, meaning that they rejected pagan religion and worshipped the true God.
- His household also joined him in his devotion to God (Acts 10:2). His wife, children, and servants shared his godliness, and there were no idols in his house.
- Cornelius gave many alms to the Jewish people. He was generous in charitable gifts to the poor, and he did not distribute his alms with partiality or prejudice.
- He prayed to God continually (Acts 10:2). Cornelius gave thanks to God and sought help from God. He was seeking God always in his prayers. His prayers and alms "ascended as a memorial before God" (Acts 10:4).
- Cornelius was a just man (Acts 10:22). He was not a man who thought evil, spoke evil, or did evil. He was a righteous man.
- He had a good reputation "well spoken of by the entire nation" (Acts 10:22).
- He received a vision from an angel of God (Acts 10:22, Acts 10:3-4). That's a rare privilege.
- Cornelius and his household were baptized with the Holy Spirit, just as the apostles had been on the day of Pentecost! (Acts 10:44-45, 11:15).
The more you think about this description of Cornelius, the more you realise how good he was. Peter said, "In every nation God welcomes the man who fears God and does what is right" (Acts 10:34-35). If anyone qualified for this, surely Cornelius did.
2 What Cornelius Lacked
As good as they were, Cornelius and his household still needed to be saved (Acts 11:14). God wanted more from them, and they stood ready to obey.
- Cornelius needed to believe in Christ (Acts 10:36-43). "every one who believes in him has received forgiveness of sins" (Acts 10:43). Without this faith, the goodness of Cornelius and his household was not enough to save them.
- Cornelius needed to repent. He and his family were "granted the repentance that leads to life" (Acts 11:17-18). As good as they were, they had to come to God with a contrite and penitent heart.
- Cornelius needed to be baptized. Peter "ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 10:47-48). Nobody could forbid them baptism, nor could they refuse it.
3 Cornelius Our Example
If we want to be saved like Cornelius, should we not try to be a good person like him, do the same things he was told to do, and to be as zealous about it as he was?