Acts Chapter 10
This chapter is well known, for it shows Peter’s revelation from God that salvation is not merely for the Jews, but for Gentiles as well. But, there is another foundational truth that is often overlooked, yet a truth which is even more relevant to our generation. Each of us knows that salvation is available to all people, regardless of nationality, regardless of past sins, regardless of financial status, etc. There is no one group that the Lord favors above any other, salvation is offered to each of us equally, and it is our choice whether to accept this or to turn away from it.
No, in this passage, we see Cornelius, a centurion and devout man who “gives alms generously to the poor,” Cornelius who “prays to God always.” And, one day in prayer, a vision comes to him from the Lord, telling him to send for Simon Peter. And Cornelius does the most amazing thing, he obeys. Rather than questioning, or arguing against theological precepts, rather than exalting his own wisdom and knowledge, he simply obeys the Lord. And, this is paramount, because his obedience shows the true state of his heart. His devotion was displayed in that he gave alms, and that he prayed to the Lord always, and the state of his heart itself is displayed in his obedience to the Lord. Jesus Himself teaches us that “not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom, but he who does the will of My Father” (Matthew 7:21). St Paul teaches us that “It is not the hearers of the word of God who are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.” (Romans 2:13), and James admonishes us to be “doers of the Law, and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves.” (James 1:22). See, it’s this idea that our devotion alone is not enough to make us a follower of Jesus; merely hearing, learning, and knowing the commandments of God are not enough, if we don’t truly obey them.
Peter arrives and begins preaching to them, and we see the same teaching. “In every nation, whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” It’s this combination, this synergy. Yes, we must know what He says, but the purpose of knowledge can never be knowledge in itself. We must learn the knowledge for the purpose of applying it to our lives. Knowing what He expects of us does not profit us if we don’t obey those things. Our justification is not a one time event, but an ongoing process. While this statement does not deny justification by faith, it clearly demonstrates that it is not by faith alone.
Rather, our salvation, our justification, is this process that combines our faith with the righteous deeds that our faith demands. The Scriptures tell us that the demons themselves believe in God; Satan himself knows the Scriptures better than even the most well versed theologian of our time. Merely believing is far from enough, merely memorizing the Scriptures is of no profit to our souls. It is when we accept Jesus as our Lord, when we humbly obey His commandments as His servants, then we are justified in His sight. When we forgive others as He has forgiven us; when we obey His commandment to truly love our neighbor; then we can be the icon of Christ standing for the world to behold. When we not only pray for the salvation of the souls of the hungry, but also sacrifice our own luxury to feed them; then we see a faith that is able to reach out and be profitable for the salvation of men. Justification in Scripture is always by faith, but it is always a faith displayed through deeds. It is this consummate synergy of the two working together. Jesus commands us to love our neighbor, to love one another, and St John tells us that we should not love “in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18).
May we all, brothers and sisters, learn this. May none of us be merely hearers of the word of God, deceiving ourselves, but rather be doers of the word as well. May we read the words of our Lord not merely for the sake of knowing them, but rather for the sake of living them. The great commission given by Jesus to each of us was not to teach all nations to argue interpretations, hermeneutics, all while seeking the path of least resistance, but rather, to “make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.”
Christ is in our midst.