Who was your role model that you looked up to when you were young? A movie star? An athlete? A teacher? I doubt there has ever been any kid anywhere who ever said, “I want to be like Cornelius.” As a Christian, we all should say, “I want to be like Cornelius.”… or should we? Certainly there are many Biblical people that would be wonderful role models. But let’s look at the kind of person that Cornelius was.
According to Acts 10, Cornelius lived in Caesarea. This ancient port was also the administrative city of Palestine on the Mediterranean coast of present-day Israel. Around 22-10 BC, Herod the Great, king of Judea, rebuilt the small settlement and enlarged it. He named it after the emperor, Caesar Augustus. (Encyclopedia Britannica, online). It was here that the centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, Cornelius, lived, breathed, worked, and modeled Christianity…not just for the people of his day, but because the writer of the Book of Acts under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit documented his lifestyle, Cornelius is a Biblical role model for us today…but he was missing a very important piece.
In the very short verse of Acts 10:2, we learn five things about Cornelius that makes him an example to follow:
1) Cornelius was a devout man. There was no question as to the beliefs he stood for. He showed deep religious feelings and commitment. He was totally committed to Christianity.
2) He was God-fearing, faithful, genuine, steadfast, unwavering, sincere. He was in it wholeheartedly. He was enthusiastic, zealous, and passionate.
3) Not only was Cornelius devout and God-fearing, but also his whole household. He was the leader of his home and his beliefs trickled down throughout his family, his servants…everyone in his house.
4) He gave alms generously to the people. Instead of seeking to steal from the people or make himself richer, we see a man who is giving away to others.
5) Cornelius prayed to God always. Cornelius is the first Gentile recorded in the Bible to become a Christian. When you continue reading in this Chapter 10, we see where God told Cornelius that his prayers had been heard and that he would send Peter to him to tell him what he needed to do. The catch is that Cornelius was living the Christian lifestyle better than most Christians do and Cornelius wasn’t actually yet a Christian.
Cornelius was “doing” all the right things….but he missed the “main” thing. He was being religious…but that is not enough to obtain eternal life. From the outside, he looked, smelled, walked, talked like a Christian. He worshipped the one true God. He gave to others. He prayed always. He even led all his household to believe in Christianity. If there had been a great big First Baptist Church of Caesarea, he would have been there every time the doors were open and he might have even been selected as a deacon, Sunday school teacher, usher, or some other committee to serve on. But Cornelius had yet to hear the gospel, repent of his sins, and give his life in surrender to God. So God sent Peter to him to tell him about Christ’s death and resurrection. After Peter preached to him, Cornelius became “born again.” Salvation does not hinge on us “doing” the right thing. It hinges on a “heart” thing. It comes when a person believes that Jesus is the only Son of God, who was born as a baby from a virgin, lived a sinless life, and was then crucified on a cross as the payment for our sins. He was then buried in a tomb for three days and rose again from the dead. One must also acknowledge their own sins and ask God to forgive them and he or she must willingly surrender their life to the control and leading of the Holy Spirit. Let’s not be just living through the motions. Let’s make sure our hearts have made the decision to make Christ Lord of our lives….and then live under the power of the Holy Spirit so that God would consider us devout, God fearing, bringing our household (and friends) to Christ, giving generously to other, and praying always.