There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius,
a centurion of the band called the Italian band, A devout
man, and one that feared God with all his house, which
gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.
And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and
one that feareth God, and of good report among all the
nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel
to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.
And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until
this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house,
and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing,
And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms
are had in remembrance in the sight of God. (Acts 10:30-31)
We see in the account of Cornelius seven specific things that he practiced; good things, the things that made him a good person. But these things were not enough for Cornelius to be saved, and they are not enough for us to be saved, either.
- Being devout - There are many people wholly devoted to their cause or to their religion, people who appear very devout or pious, and yet they worship the wrong things, or the wrong god. Their devotion is useless: Israel, despite all her outward devoutness, was not pleasing to God. In fact, here is what He said to them, regarding their piousness:
Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. (Isaiah 1:13-15)
- Fearing God - Fear of God in and of itself is not good enough. Even the devil and his demons fear God, and tremble in His holy presence:
Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. (James 2:19)
- Giving alms - We can give lots of money to the poor, but if we do it for any other reason than love of God, it is useless to us.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. (1Corinthians 13:3)
- Praying - Many who pray are only hypocrites, such as Jesus addressed in Matthew 6:5-7. They pray often, but mostly for show. God does not hear or respond to their prayers; in fact, Jesus said, they already had their reward! Sinners also pray, sometimes quite frequently and earnestly, but God will not hear their prayers, either. He makes it clear, however, that it is not because He is not able, it is because of their unconfessed and unrepented sin:
Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:1-2)
- Being a just person - It doesn’t matter what man thinks of us; We can be great and just in the eyes of other people, but Scripture tells us that God looks on our hearts, and if our hearts are not right, nothing about us impresses God, no matter how impressive we may seem to people!
For the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart. (I Samuel 16:7)
- Fasting - Many people follow a regimen or ritual of fasting for religious reasons. Fasting is a spiritual discipline that we are instructed to do (see Matthew 6:16: the instruction given is WHEN you fast, not IF you fast!) but a practice of fasting will not save us. The hypocrites of Jesus’ time fasted weekly, and He was not in the least bit impressed with their show of piety.
Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. (Matthew 6:16 -18)
- Having a good reputation in the community - As we’ve seen, there are hundreds of thousands of good, moral, upright people; people who have the respect of their friends and neighbors because of the quality of the life they lead. Their lives demonstrate every good and desirable behavior, but if they have not responded to the gospel by accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, then all their good works and all their good reputation will not save them. Jesus said:
I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)
The Bible tells us that Cornelius believed the gospel message of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and was saved. There was only one way for Cornelius to be saved, and the same thing is true today. There is only one way to be saved, there is only one way to get to heaven, and that is through Jesus Christ. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that merely being a good person is good enough.