In today’s world, there are many people who believe that one can go to Heaven by just being a “good person.” It is true that there are many people out there who think about God and who want to do good toward others, however, is this enough for God to bless them with a home in Heaven when they die or at the Judgment? This is a subject that I have recently pondered while reading about a very notable person in the Bible named Cornelius.
In Acts chapter 10, we meet Cornelius who was described as a centurion from a band called the “Italian band.” Cornelius, a Gentile, was what we would consider today to be a “good person.” Acts 10:2 describes him in this way; “A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.” It is apparent that Cornelius was a very good man, and who was very mindful of God on a daily basis. Cornelius did as much good as he knew how to do, but was this enough?
No! God had bigger plans for Cornelius. God visited Cornelius to deliver him a special message. “He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do” (Acts 10:3-6). After this vision, Cornelius did just as God instructed him to do. He sent some of his servants to seek out Peter who was staying with Simon the tanner.
At close to the same time, God worked to complete His Plan for Cornelius through Peter, also. While still in Simon the Tanner’s house, Peter was told by the Holy Spirit that three men from Cornelius’ house was looking for him. Peter was on his host’s roof at the time, and when he received this message, he quickly came down to meet the men. It is important to note that when Cornelius’ men spoke with Peter about their purpose in coming, they spoke very highly of their master, calling him a “just man” and “one that feareth God” and was of “good report” (Acts 10:22). This further shows that Cornelius was indeed a very good man.
When Peter met Cornelius, he mentioned that it was an unusual occurrence for a Jew, which Peter was, to be in the same company with Gentiles, which was what Cornelius and his household were. Under the Old Law, the Jews were God’s chosen people. Many Jews considered the disobedient Gentiles to be “unclean.” After Peter spoke to Cornelius and his family about Jesus’ birth, life and resurrection, the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his household and they were able to speak in tongues and do other miraculous things. Once Peter sees that a family of Gentiles was given the miraculous ability to speak in foreign languages, he commanded Cornelius’ entire household to be baptized. Seeing the Gentiles miraculously speak in foreign languages, proved to the Jews that the Gentiles could receive salvation.
We can learn several lessons from the account of Cornelius. One is that after Christ’s death and resurrection, the Jews were no longer the chosen people of God. As seen in Acts Chapter 10, both Jews and Gentiles who were baptized into Christ were now God’s chosen people. The next lesson is that although Cornelius was a good and God-fearing man, he was not saved until he was baptized into Christ. This goes against the idea that many people today have when they think that if a person is merely a “good person,” who believes in God and who treats others well, then that person will be able to go to Heaven. These people often either are members of a denomination or do not attend worship services of the church of Christ as they ought. I Peter 3:21 says, “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:”. Baptism saves.
Cornelius’ baptism shows that being good is not the only requirement to go to Heaven, but obedience is also a requirement. Being baptized into Christ and attending the worship services of the church of Christ on a weekly basis are a must, as well as other acts of obedience. A person can learn how to be a moral person from going to denominational churches or from modeling themselves after others who are moral, but unless he or she also conducts his or her life in obedience to God’s commandments, a person still cannot win a home in Heaven. Christ only built His church (Matthew 16:18), and He never built any denominations. Christ never sinned (II Corinthians 5:21). All other accountable people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and although some people act in more “good” ways than others, none of us earn the right to go to Heaven (Romans 3:10, 23). We are saved by grace, but in order to partake of that grace, we must have faith and do the works that God commands us to do (Ephesians 2:8, Hebrews 5:9).
We must set ourselves apart from others through our obedience to God. We do this by having an obedient faith and thus by doing good works. We do good works not to earn salvation, but we do them, because God commands them. We are not set apart by believing in God only, because even the devil believes in God, and he is certainly not going to Heaven! “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:19-20). Merely believing in God is not enough, though it is important. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24). “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (John 14:21). Of course, one can only win a home in Heaven if he or she follows the Plan of Salvation, which is to Hear (Romans 10:17), Believe (Mark 16:16), Repent (Acts 2:38), Confess (Matthew 10:32), Be Baptized (Acts 22:16; I Peter 3:17-22) and Remain Faithful Until Death (Revelations 2:10). May we all work to do God’s Will each and every day, and conduct ourselves in faith and obedience to God Word!