Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in and said to him, “Cornelius!” 4 And fixing his gaze on him and being much alarmed, he said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 Now dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; 6 he is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea.” 7 When the angel who was speaking to him had left, he summoned two of his [e]servants and a devout soldier of those who were his personal attendants, 8 and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa (Acts10:1-8)
Cornelius is perhaps the prime example in the New Testament of those who are neither Jew nor Christian yet are God-fearing and upright. His charitable works and prayers were noted by God (v4) who, contrary to what I believed for many years delights in and rewards those who seek Him and exercise compassion towards others. That applies whether or not they know Christ as Lord and Saviour, which Cornelius assuredly did not at that stage. Nor is this “prevenient grace”, it is effectual common grace: he and his household were God-fearing and morally upright by nature. What such people are doing, particularly when they exercise compassion is serving Christ, though they don’t currently know as much. In due time they shall be informed that in as much as they showed kindness to the least of their fellow human beings, they did so to Christ as Son of Man (Mt25:40).
Cornelius was unsaved and religiously untaught – he worshipped Peter the moment he met him (vv25,26). For Cornelius to be a true disciple and become “conformed to the image of God’s Son” (Rom8:29) so that He might reign with Him in the ages to come, something more was required. He needed to be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit, which duly occurred. As we shall see in the next post that was somewhat to the Apostle Peter’s surprise.
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Related post: God-fearing Jews at Pentecost