Can a person who doesn’t know Christ capture God’s interest? Does God consider anything they do to be good, or are all their actions sinful in His sight? An interesting event takes place in Acts 10 that answers those questions. Before a supernatural encounter with God, the Apostle Peter considered non-Jews (Gentiles) to be so sinful that he wouldn’t even set foot in a Gentile’s house, let alone hold a conversation and share the Gospel with them. But after his experience with God, it changed how he regarded people of other cultures and ethnicity.
“At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, ‘Cornelius!’ Cornelius stared at him in fear. ‘What is it, Lord?’ he asked. The angel answered, ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’” (Acts 10:1-5; 11:14)
Did you catch what the angel said to Cornelius? God had taken note of this soldier’s prayers and his generosity to the poor BEFORE HE WAS SAVED. Now, before you label me a heretic, I’m NOT saying that our good deeds EARN us points with God, or a relationship with Him. I’m just making the observation that God had heard Cornelius’ prayers and approved of his philanthropy before he had received Christ.
Cornelius was a sinner, just like the rest of us. He needed to know that Jesus had given His life so that he could be forgiven and his sins removed from his account. Cornelius was a good sinner (some people are bad sinners). He believed that there is one true God, creator of the earth and the heavens. That didn’t save him, though. That’s why he was to call Peter.
There are many like Cornelius around us, good people who are kind, compassionate, honest, and generous. Some are also religious. But none of them have the absolute assurance they will go to Heaven. That’s where we come in. We have the message of eternal life freely available through Jesus Christ.
Paul advised Christ-followers to “be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of GRACE, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:5–6). We don’t have to browbeat people into believing the Gospel. Like Cornelius, some are ready to believe. We’d probably have more opportunities to share the Gospel if we’d focus on the good things people are doing instead of focusing on their faults.
The Gospel is a message of grace and relationship, not of law and rules. Many people “hope” they will go to Heaven, but assume it depends on whether they are good enough. Others think they are too bad to ever go to Heaven. Whatever they think, God wants to use you and me to share the Good News of His love and sacrifice for them.
Understanding grace has a profound effect. Listen to how it impacted the Colossian people. “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and UNDERSTOOD GOD’S GRACE in all its truth.” (Colossians 1:6)
A book that is helping me to view evangelism differently is “God Space” by Doug Pollock. I recommend it to anyone who wants to have more spiritual conversations.