In order to understand my response to being a quadriplegic you need to understand what I believe because this governs how I respond to my present how respond to my circumstances. So I thought it might be helpful for me to outline my core convictions. So here goes with the first one.
I confess that I am a sinner and without hope except for God’s grace. By this I mean that I was born into a state of rebellion against God and have continued that rebellion by my motivations, attitudes, choices and actions. I would have no hope apart from God. This may sound startling but it is absolutely true. The Bible teaches that all people – that includes me, are actively rebelling against the authority of God. We are sinners because we sin and we sin because we are sinners.
I naturally see myself in the most favorable light possible. For instance, I only become inpatient because I’m tired or because I’m sick or I’m not being treated well… I think you get the idea. My most natural tendency is to cover up my impatience or to excuse it. At the same time, I’ve become pretty adept at putting my best foot forward and make a good impression on others. Oh, I’m not always as bad as I could be but at the heart of things I am selfish and self-centered. In God’s word, Jesus tells me to love God with all my heart, soul and strength and to love my neighbor as myself. But if I am honest, I must confess that I love myself with all my heart, soul and strength. I simply prefer things my way. Even when I try to please God, do I do it with all my heart soul and strength? No. I just can’t pull it off.
There is a narrative in the Bible that helps to clarify these statements. In Acts 10 we find the account of Peter’s interaction with a man named Cornelius. From this account of Cornelius, we learn that even good people need forgiveness in order to be accepted by him.
Luke initially describes Cornelius in such a way that he is to be admired. You could almost say that he is exemplary in his character. Consider how the Bible characterizes him:
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man, who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people and prayed continually to God.
Let’s make some observations.
The name Cornelius is not a Jewish name. Cornelius is a Gentile. This would have been a red flag to Jews reading this book. Gentiles were not regarded as worthy subjects of salvation. Everybody knew that God loved the Jews and that implied, so they thought, that he hated the gentiles.
Cornelius was a centurion, attached to the Italian regiment. That is he was a member of the Roman military. The Romans organized their army around the centurion and his men. Each centurion had 80 to 100 men under his command. F. F. Bruce quotes an ancient historian (Polybus) who suggests that “centurions were the backbone of the Roman army. Centurions were not required to be bold or adventurous so much as they were required to be good leaders of a steady and prudent mind. They were not prone to be offensive and start fighting, but rather they were to be able when overwhelmed and hard pressed, to stand fast and die at their post if necessary.” A centurion was required to exercise good judgment and be of loyal character. He had to be even-tempered and able to handle authority. He was noted for his stability. He was dependable and most of all, he was loyal.
Cornelius had worked his way up the hard way. He was like a non-commissioned officer in our military. He had proved himself in the military campaigns of Rome and was rewarded for his service by promotion. The hard work and loyalty of Cornelius had paid off. He had been promoted to a position of authority and had most likely retired with a nice pension and the bonus of being awarded Roman citizenship.Cornelius had proved himself to be a hard worker. He was loyal, stable and respected.
Next, we are told that Cornelius was devout and feared God. The term devout suggests that Cornelius was godly or pious. That is, he was morally upright. V. 22 suggests that he was upright or righteous. Cornelius was very concerned to do the right thing.
V. 2 tells us that he prayed to God regularly. When you combine these facts, what kind of impression do you get? You begin to picture Cornelius as a pretty religious man. This was not uncommon. Historians inform us that many of the soldiers in the Roman arm were sincerely religious. And as a matter of fact, the NT holds centurions in high regard. Centurions are mentioned fairly often in the NT and almost always with admiration. Jesus himself praised a centurion for his faith, saying that he had not found anything like it in Israel.
Luke uses another word to describe Cornelius in this connection. He is called God-fearing. This term has special significance in religious settings. It describes a category of gentiles who were adherents to the Jewish synagogues, but were not full converts to Judaism. They were attracted to the worship of the living and true God. They attempted to attain the high ethical standards of the law of God. But they hesitated to submit to circumcision, the dietary standards and other rituals regarding ceremonial cleanness and to temple worship in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, these God-fearers were almost converts, and became fertile contacts for the rapid spread of the gospel of Christ. Thus, Cornelius was a sincerely religious man, who was attracted to the God of the Bible.
Notice that Cornelius was a good family man. When v. 2 describes Cornelius as sincerely religious, it is also speaking of his family. He feared God with all his household… this seems to indicate that he had a church in his house. He was actively leading his family in what he regarded as the true worship of God. This is further demonstrated in v. 24, where we see him calling his entire household to listen to the message of Peter. Moreover, some have suggested that the name Cornelius indicates that his Latin heritage was from a good and well-known family. From all indications, Cornelius was a good family man.
v. 2 further depicts Cornelius to be both compassionate and generous. Luke says he gave alms generously to the people… Thus, we understand that his religion was not empty but that it also impacted his lifestyle. He was quick to open his wallet or checkbook and give to those in need.
Finally, notice v. 22. This scene comes after Cornelius has had a vision in which he is commanded to send for Simon Peter in Joppa. Immediately, he dispatches two of his servants and one of his soldiers to get Peter. Get the picture? The boss sends three of his workers on an errand.
V.22 describes their unbiased impression of their boss: Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to dome to his house and to hear what you have to say.Think about this for a minute. Who is making these statements? They are made by men who know Cornelius intimately. Two are his servants and the third is a soldier, who also attends him.
Now, notice what they have to say about him. They call him upright and God-fearing. So far, there is nothing new. We have already discussed these attributes. But they go on to assert that he well-spoken of by the whole Jewish nation.
Think of it! Cornelius, a gentile, is well respected by all the Jewish people. How do Jews and gentiles normally get along? Like a cat and a dog in bag. They hate each other. You would expect animosity and bitterness. But all the Jewish people respect Cornelius! He had a good reputation in the community.
Let’s review for a moment. So far, we have discovered that Cornelius:
- Proved himself to be a hard worker. He was loyal, stable and respected. He worked himself up the hard way. He was patriotic.
- Was a sincerely religious man, who was attracted to the God of the Bible.
- Was a good family man.
- Was both compassionate and generous to the needy.
- Had a good reputation in the community.Now let me show you a stark reality.We have just been extolling the virtues of Cornelius. He is a model man; he exhibits many noble characteristics. But now consider Acts 11.14. This verse is Peter’s restatement of Cornelius’s account of the vision he had. He saw an angel who told Cornelius to go and get Peter because v. 14: He will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.
These are all traits that every Christian should emulate. Cornelius is a good example for us to follow.
Do you see what we are taught? Cornelius had to hear and receive the message of the gospel from Peter before he could be saved. In other words, even though Cornelius was such a fine person, he was not saved until he heard and received Peter’s message of salvation through Jesus.We think of Cornelius as a nice guy, a model citizen, who possesses many noble qualities. He is a good man.
Several years ago now, Angelo Bruno, the reputed head of a Philadelphia mafia family was gunned down as he left his home one morning. Later that day, a news reporter interviewed another mafia chieftain named Philip Testa. He said this concerning his former rival, “He was a good man. He never hurt nobody. He went to church. He loved his family. He was a good man.” The irony of the situation is laughable — one gangster calling another gangster “good”.
This is how we must seem to God when we look at ourselves or our friends and neighbors and think of them as good. In his Word God tells us that our righteousness, that is our best efforts, is as filthy rags.
A person may exhibit many fine character traits and not be approved by God! Cornelius was a good man. But our “good” is a relative term. High and noble qualities do not make a person acceptable to God.
Lesson: You can seem to be a really good person and need to be forgiven! Even good people need God’s help to become a Christian.
To put it another way, nice people need Jesus. Romans 3 gives us what I call a “God’s-eye-view” of humankind and enlightens our understanding. The Holy Spirit inspires Paul to group together several Old Testament scriptures that describe everyone. What is true of all people is obviously also true of the nice people that we know. Listen to how God sees them (and us!):
Romans 3:10-20: … as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
What are we to make of these teachings? How are we to apply this passage to our situation?
Some people live very moral lives. In fact, many Christians should feel ashamed that some non-Christians live more exemplary lives than we do.
As Christians we should strive to emulate an exemplary lifestyle. People who look at our lives should say: That is how I should be. I should live this way.”
But even so, we should remember that we can never be good enough to deserve God’s grace. We are sinners at heart; redeemed sinners, sinners saved by God’s grace. Our good works are never the basis of our acceptance with God. We simply cannot be good enough to merit God’s approval.
“Good people” need to hear and receive the gospel of Christ. Remember that we use the term good in a relative sense. God uses it in an absolute sense. He demands perfection. This means that those nice people that live next to you, or those nice people in your family or at your work, need to know about Jesus if they are to be saved. Let that sink in. There are many “respectable” people whom you know that are unacceptable to God. Learn to see people as God sees them…
Examine yourself. Are you trusting in your good works as the basis for your acceptance with God? I hope not. Because you can never be good enough.
I once had a golden retriever named Paz. He loved to go for a run with me. Since we lived out in the country, when we got on a desolate road, I would release him from his leash and he would run ahead of me. Paz delighted to run in a ditch and get all muddy and nasty looking. Worse yet, his favorite thing was to find some manure or a dead animal and roll in it. I couldn’t stop him. He loved it! To make matters even worse, he thought that he smelled just wonderful. So just about the time I was to run up a steep hill, here would come Pazzy. He wanted to run close to me and show off his new aroma! I was huffing and puffing to get up the hill. Then I would literally gag on the stench of my beautiful dog who thought that he was so wonderful.
What we think of as “good,” God regards as stinking rags.
Friends, acceptance with God comes only through Christ. Nice guys – good people need the gospel.