ESV - 35 But in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
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I think that the greater New Testament witness will demonstrate that is not those who are righteous whom God calls to be saved; in fact, God saves people specifically because they are Not righteous. We are all in need of the righteousness of Christ, whose death covers our sin and whose resurrection gives us life; by God's standard, no one is righteous. If we look at the verse in its context, Peter has come to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile, and has discovered that Cornelius has been given a divine revelation. It is at this realization that Peter says: "In truth, I understand that God doesn't show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears him and does righteousness is acceptable in His sight." The center of this verse is God's impartiality on an ethnic level; He is not just the God of the Jews, but He is also the God of the Gentiles, and is extending His salvation to them. I don't believe the verse to be saying that righteousness is a prerequisite for salvation; even Cornelius' alms and prayers should be understood, in light of the bulk of NT anthropology, to be an Outgrowth of the grace of God, not the reason for it being bestowed. Cornelius' alms and prayer may indicate that he is in a place of willingness or readiness for the Gospel message, but not that he is somehow a "worthy candidate." God calls the unworthy, the sick, the sinners, to repentance.
We can learn a few things from this verse by examining the surrounding verses:
- "In every nation"—this means God does not exclusively accept Jews. God had formed an old covenant with the people of Israel: they would be His people, and He would be their God. This was how things had been for centuries, until Peter saw the Holy Spirit come upon the Gentile Cornelius. In Acts 10:35, Peter acknowledges that although the gospel was originally spread among the Jews, God's grace was also available to people of all nations.
- "Anyone who fears Him and does what is right"—the Greek word for "what is right" is used 90 more times in the New Testament, and every other time, it is translated "righteousness," or, just before God. Does this mean that non-Jews need to become righteous on their own before god accepts them? Peter doesn't think so. A few verses later (in the same speech), he says that "everyone who believes in Him [Jesus] receives forgiveness of sins" (Ac 10:43). So how does believing in Jesus make one righteous, or just before God? Peter gives us the answer in verse 42: "this is the One [Jesus] who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead." Because Jesus is the judge, He has the power to justify people from every nation. Because He is Lord, people from every nation will follow Him.Paul deals with the issue of righteousness to great lengths in the books of Romans and Galatians. Acts was written to record history, but these letters were penned to provide more in-depth explanation of Christian doctrine.
Romans 3:10-11 "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God." (See also Psalms 14:1-3 and Isaiah 64:) I personally do not believe that an individual becomes righteous even after the salvation experience. Righteousness is "imputed" i.e laid to his account. We are declared righteous by Christ's finished work on Calvary and his resurrection. A believer who has walked with God for 20 years is no more righteous than someone who was just saved 5 minutes ago. We are declared righteous in Christ. If we were truly righteous there would be no need to confess our sins because there would be no sin to confess, right? If we look at Hebrews 11, the resounding proclamation is: "By Faith". Oh yes, their faith was evidenced by their actions but their action was in direct response to taking God at his Word and acting upon it. Faith first, works second. Hebrews 11:13 "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." Hebrews 11:39-40 "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect."
There is absolutely no doubt that the angel of God was sent to Cornelius because of his wonderful attitude to God and his neighbor. The Angel actually announced that as reason why he came from God. His prayers are a memorial of honor that God acknowledges through the Angel. The fact is, his deeds were so wonderful they caught God's attention. His giving and devotion prior to his salvation experience were highly regarded. Yes I know that though he did all these wonderful things that caught God's attention, it was not sufficient to buy salvation and no one could pay the price except God. Still it remains true from Peter's summation that God will visit such rare types and make sure they get the chance to be saved. If Peter had just mentioned every nation, then it could be interpreted differently, but the scripture says "whoever fears Him and works righteousness, is accepted with Him." Jesus' main target was the lost and desperate sinner and I indeed fit that category, but these Scriptures make it very clear that fearing God and good deeds done by people of any nationality will also be acknowledged by God and rewarded with the chance to be saved. Some people would say that good deeds done prior to salvation are worthless and will never be acknowledged by God. These scriptures show the opposite. 2Ch 16:9 For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars. I will add these Scriptures to reinforce the fact that Cornelius was not a proselyte as some have tried to make out he was saved before he heard the Gospel from Peter’s lips............. “He told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send someone to Joppa for a man whose full name is Simon Peter. He will speak words to you by which you and all your family will be saved.’” Acts 11:13-14 GNB https://www.bible.com/296/act.11.13-14.gnb The experience of Cornelius is a classic example of this scripture.
This is a great passage of Scripture as we see the Gospel being spread outside the confines of the Jewish people. Peter realizes that that Gospel is for everyone, and that everyone can find a personal relationship with Christ. With regards to the Salvation of Cornelius and what it means for everyone else, it is important to recognize a few things about Cornelius. 1) It is not said that Cornelius was accepted on account of his good works, those works were simply an evidence of true piety in his heart, it was proof that he feared and loved God, not a meritorious ground of acceptance. 2) He embraced the Savior when he was offered to him. The circumstance makes an essential difference between Cornelius and those who depend on their morality. They do not embrace the Lord Jesus, and they are, therefore, totally unlike Cornelius. His example should not be used by those who neglect Christ, this passage does not give evidence that they will be accepted. The above two points come from Albert Barnes. Just continue reading the passage and you see Peter proclaiming Christ. It's always, all about Christ. Morality doesn't save, for none of us are moral enough. Only grace, that comes about by the atoning work of Christ is sufficient to forgive our sins. Being moral is good, but being moral has no power to forgive the immoral.
Another explanation could be that the fear of the Lord is equated with faith and, as we know from Scripture, faith that is alive and vibrant produces good works. Abraham's faith, which produced an offering, his only son, was credited to him as righteousness before God. Could it be that this is the type of faith that Cornelius has and that Peter, being very familiar with this dynamic of faith and righteousness, recognizes this quality in Cornelius and the corresponding grace that God provides in response? The Bible has much to say about the abundant blessings that come from the fear of the Lord. This man clearly had a vibrant, life-giving relationship with God. I believe Peter was sent to complete this relationship by telling him about Jesus. It was, heretofore, incomplete. However, I cannot definitely say that Cornelius would have been sentenced to hell if it wasn't for Peter's message that led to completeness. This is not for me to say and I don't think the Bible is definitive on this type of situation, so we shouldn't be either.
Here's a 'monkey wrench' of a verse that goes along with Acts 10, Matthew 5:20, "For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." Whats He saying? They were a pretty slack bunch. But, I like John Gill's commentary on this verse, "....There will be no admission into heaven without a righteousness: it was the loss of righteousness which removed Adam out of his earthly paradise; and it is not agreeable to the justice of God, to admit man into his heavenly paradise without one; yea, it is contrary to his nature, and would be destructive to the comfort of saints, to receive an unrighteous person into his kingdom and glory. A "pharisaical" righteousness will never bring a person thither; nor will any righteousness of man's, be it what it will, because the best is imperfect; it must be a righteousness exceeding that of the Scribes and Pharisees; and such is the righteousness of the saints: indeed their inherent righteousness, or the sanctification of the Spirit, is preferable to any righteousness of a natural man; it exceeds it in its 'author', 'nature', 'effects', and 'usefulness'; yea, even works of righteousness done by believers are greatly preferable to any done by such men as are here mentioned: but, above all, the righteousness of Christ, which is imputed to them, and received by faith, is infinitely more excellent in its author, perfection, purity, and use; and which is their only right and title to eternal glory; and without which no man will be admitted into that glorious state."
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