The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. Proverbs 4:18
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)
In my last post I said in conclusion that, “revelation is a progressive dynamic.” It is dynamic in that it is living and moving. God is a living Person. And though He is not developing or changing, He is infinite in all His attributes. That means we will never exhaust the knowledge of God. Our understanding of God will eternally be progressive. We will never fully plumb the depths or scale the heights of His glory. There will always be more to look forward to. But this doesn’t mean that what we have attained to is not sure or certain. We can know truth in certainty. I certainly know my wife. But I certainly do not know everything about my wife. God has appeared and acted in earth-time. This He has done most gloriously and definitively in His Son, Jesus Christ. The things which Jesus accomplished in His life, death, and resurrection are certain. And this knowledge (revelation) is ordained by God to bring salvation to those who hear and believe.
Cornelius, the Roman officer who converted to Christ, is a good example of the progressive nature of revelation. We learn of him in Acts chapters 10-11. And what we learn about this man may upset some of our dogmatics about how God works. It certainly upset the assumptions and prejudices of many of the devout Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Here’s what we know of this man from the testimony of Scripture:
- He was devout and feared God, was kind and generous to the Jewish people, and prayed continually. (Acts 10:2)
- Though he was not a born-again Christian, his prayers were still heard by God. (Acts 10:4, 31)
- He tried to worship Peter when Peter first came to his house. (Acts 10:25)
- He knew about the man called Jesus of Nazareth; about His powerful and miraculous ministry. (Acts 10:37-38)
- He apparently either had not heard of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, or had not yet heard the clear implications of His resurrection.
- He was instructed by an angel to send for Peter, who would “speak words to him by which he would be saved.” (Acts 11:14)
- Peter explained the significance of Christ’s resurrection (the gospel!): “…this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 10:42-43)
- He and the others who were listening to Peter’s sermon believed what they heard about Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of forgiveness of sins – for the Holy Spirit fell upon them, bearing witness to their faith. (Acts 10:44-45; 11:17-18)
- He was subsequently baptized in water in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 10:48)
Can you see how there is a progression in Cornelius’ coming to Christ? God was at work in Cornelius’ life and thoughts well before Peter came to him. Cornelius was an object of God’s mercy. He was responding to the truth he had received from God. But there was still a lot of confusion and false beliefs in his mind. God was apparently not offended by what Cornelius didn’t know. But as he responded to the light he enjoyed, God was pleased to give him more light (see 10:35). Cornelius, as a polytheistic Roman, was no doubt accustomed to the belief that there are many gods and many incarnations of gods. He had probably been a Caesar worshipper. He fell down to worship Peter when Peter first came to his house. Peter took advantage of that “teachable moment” and made Cornelius stop! But God was apparently willing to overlook this level of spiritual confusion while Cornelius was following the upward call of God to Christ.
As a Gentile convert to Judaism, Cornelius likely understood Jehovah God to be the supreme God and the Creator of the universe. He likely was accustomed to the laws of Moses and was “devoutly” seeking to abide by those laws. And sadly, like multitudes of the devout Jews, he either had no confidence that he would be accepted by God or his confidence was based upon the false premise of successfully keeping the law. The angel who spoke to him told him to send for Peter, who would speak words to him by which he would be saved. The knowledge of God as Creator and Law-giver had not saved him. But it had prepared him for the grace which was to be revealed in Jesus. The Law had become a schoolmaster that led him to Jesus. The Law had not become a means of attaining salvation.
When Cornelius heard about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and of the promise of forgiveness of sins to all who believe, he gladly believed! He received the gospel truth and accepted the salvation that was offered him in Christ. And the Holy Spirit fell upon him, bearing witness to the faith he had as a gift from God. The progression of years of revelation had found its fulfillment in Christ.
There is no doubt that Cornelius was now “saved” in the fullest sense of the term. His sins were removed. His past was forgiven. His future was secure in Christ. But it is no doubt that his mind was still a mix of right and wrong beliefs. It would take months and years of ongoing revelation and New Testament teaching to rid his thought systems of the tentacles of a lifetime of heathen beliefs. He still had much to learn. And with each successive insight into the glory of God in Christ there would be new levels of freedom and joy.
Cornelius is not an exception to the way God works. God is always at work in a life before any person comes on the scene. God is the initiator and completor of faith. Salvation rests upon His shoulders, yes, even upon the shoulders that bore the Cross to Calvary. Blessed be the name of the Lord.