There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people and prayed to God always. (Acts 10:1-2)
A Prayerful Believer But Not A Christian
Religious people are easily identified. They are unlike the world in their demeanor, attitudes, and dispositions. There is a certain air about a religious person that shows the world devotion to a belief or a cause separating them from others. Sometimes it can be a type of clothing that distinguishes them or their manner of speech or deportment, suggesting a different kind of lifestyle. During the early days of the church, a Gentile named Cornelius was recognized as a religious man for many reasons. His life was one of pious devotion to the Lord God. He was unlike so many in the pagan world of idol worship, sensual pleasures, and self-importance. Cornelius stood in contrast to the world he served as a Roman military commander.
The household of Cornelius followed the ways of the Lord God with fear and reverence. His family honored God with respect and worship. As part of Roman society’s privileged, Cornelius and his family shared their blessings with others in many acts of benevolence. They were liberal in giving charity to those in need. The citizens of Caesarea knew of the kindness of the household of the Roman centurion who had done so much for them. Many of them also knew the Roman was a man of prayer. Cornelius was not a man of wrath and anger but a man of peace and prayer. He did not abuse his authority as a Roman military commander to neglect the Jewish population or any citizen of Caesarea. The people of the coastal town seventy miles from Jerusalem felt very secure with the Roman centurion Cornelius watching over them.
Cornelius was a devout, God-fearing man who gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God, but he was not a Christian. As good as his character and reputation were among the citizens of Caesarea and any respect he may have had among the early Christians for the type of religious man he was, in the eyes of God, he was lost and without hope. The story of Cornelius is the message of God’s grace and love. When the angel appeared to Cornelius, he did not suggest that Cornelius was saved. The angel did not tell the centurion what he needed to do to be saved but instructed him to send for a man. Following the instructions of the messenger of God, Cornelius sent two servants and a soldier to Joppa for the apostle Peter.
A few days following the angel’s visit, Peter and a company of six men arrived at the house of Cornelius. There was a gathering of family and friends to hear the words of Peter. As Peter began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon those gathered in Cornelius’s house as it had done on the twelve at Pentecost. Peter then baptized in water, for the remission of sins, those in the household of Cornelius. Later, the apostle will tell the apostles and brethren in Jerusalem that when he arrived at Cornelius’s house, he came to tell those assembled words by which they could be saved.
It is difficult to imagine a devout man, fearing God, benevolent, and praying always as lost, but Cornelius and his household were not saved because they were religious. God did not send the angel to tell Cornelius to send for Peter because Cornelius was already a Christian. The angel did not give instructions to Cornelius on what to do to be saved. This required a man to teach another man because the man was lost and required the word of truth to be taught. The baptism of the Holy Spirit did not save Cornelius and his household. It was a sign that God had opened the doors of the gospel to the Gentiles. Only when Peter baptized Cornelius and his household in water did they become Christians.
There are many religious and devout people in the world today. This does not make them Christians and give them eternal hope. Obedience to the will of God is how a man finds redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ. Until the heart obeys the word of God and finds the blood of Jesus in the waters of baptism, there is no salvation. You can be a great person like Cornelius, but you will not be saved. An angel will not save you. Follow the pattern of Cornelius and obey the word of the Lord.